THE wish which some good people in this country have expressed, for a return of Puritanism, is one which, charitably construed, may be attributed chiefly to ignorance. At this distance, under the softening but deceiving touch of time, it is easy to mistake the austerity, intolerance, and rigid formalism of Puritanism for the higher qualities of character imparted by true religion, the need of which is so strongly felt in all lands; but a closer view of Puritanism will convince any candid observer that were Puritan ways, customs, and ideas of morality to become again prevalent here, may of those who are now foremost in asserting the country’s need of Puritanism would be foremost in raising an outcry against it.
It is well known, for example, that Puritanism was very tolerant of indulgence in intoxicating drink. The following “ordination bill,” dated at Hartford, Conn., in 1784, is one that has been recently printed as a curiosity:—
“To keeping ministers
” 2 mugs tody
” 5 segars,
” 1 pint wine
” 3 lodgings,
” 3 bitters,
” 3 breakfasts,
“15 boles punch,
“11 bottles of wine,
” 5 mugs flip
” 3 boles punch,
” 3 boles tody,
Alice Morse Earle, well known as an authority upon facts of Puritan history, says of this bill, of which she was the modern discoverer: “I sadly fear me, that at that Hartford ordination, our parson ancestors got grievously ‘gilded,’ to use a choice ‘red-lattice’ phrase.”
The same authority mentions other ordination bills which included among the items of expense barrels of rum and cider and metheglin, bowls of flip and punch, toddy, etc.
Not quite so bad as this, but no more justifiable from a Christian standpoint, was a feast held on the occasion of the ordination of Dr. Cummings as pastor of the Old South Church, of Boston, in 1761, which is thus described:—
“There were six tables that held one with another eighteen persons each, upon each table a good rich plum pudding, a dish of boiled pork and fowls, and a corn’d leg of pork with sauce proper for it, a leg of bacon, a piece of alamode beef, a leg of mutton with caper sauce, a roast line of veal, a roast turkey, a venison paste, besides chess cakes and tarts, cheese and butter. Half a dozen cooks were employed upon this occasion, upwards of twenty tenders to wait upon the tables; they had the best of old cider, one barrel of Lisbon wine, punch in plenty before and after dinner, made of old Barbados spirit. The cost of this moderate dinner was upwards of fifty pounds lawful money.”
The dinner given at the dedication of the Old Tunnel Meeting House, of Lynn, Mass., in 1682, is described as follows:—
“Dainty meats were on ye table in great plenty, bearstake, deer meat, rabbit, and fowle, both wild and from ye barnyard. Luscious puddings we likewise had in abundance, mostly apple and berry, but some of corn meal with small bits of sewet baked therein, also pyes and tarts. We had some pleasant fruits; as apples, nuts, and wild grapes, and to crown all we had plenty of good cider and ye inspiring Barbadoes drink. Mr. Shepard and most of ye ministers were grave and prudent at table, discoursing much upon ye great points of ye dedication sermon and in silence laboring upon ye food before them. But I will not risque to say on which they dwelt with most relish, ye discourse or ye dinner.”
The following relates to a different matter, but is no less characteristic of Puritan times. It is a leaf from the diary of Obadiah Turner, dated at Lynn, Mass., two and a half centuries ago. The diary was discovered recently by an antiquarian, and the extract was published in the Christian Advocate, of this city:—
“1646. Iune ye 3. Allen Bridges hath bin chose to wake ye sleepers in meeting. And being mch proude of his place, must needs have a fox taile fixed to ye end of a long staff wherewith he may brush ye faces of them yt will have napps in time of discourse; likewise a sharp thorne wherewith he may prick such as be most sounde. On ye laste Lord his day, as hee strutted about ye meeting house, hee did spy Mr. Tomlins sleeping with much comforte, hjs head kept steadie by being in ye corner, and hjs hand grasping ye rail. And so spying, Allen did quicklie thrust his staff behind Dame Ballard and give hjm a grievous prick vppon ye hand. Wherevppon Mr. Tomlins did spring vpp mch above ye floore and with terrible force strike with his hand against ye wall, and also, to ye great wonder of all, prophainlie exclaim, in a loude voice, cuss ye woodchuck; he dreaming, as it seemed, yt a woodchuck had seized and bit his hand. But on coming to know where hee was and ye great scandal hee had committed, he seemed mch abashed, but did not speake. And I think hee will not soone againe go to lseepe in meeting. Ye women may sometimes sleepe and none know it, by reason of their enormous bonnets. Mr. Whiting doth pleasantly say yt from ye pulpit hee doth seem to be preaching to stacks of straw with men sitting here and there among them.”
Certainly there can be no good reason for desiring a return to Puritan ways, or as some deluded persons have expressed it, “a rain of Puritanism.” The independence of Puritanism which the country achieved through the efforts of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and their co-laborers, is as worthy of perpetuation as is its independence of Great Britain.