Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Puritan

The Puritans were men who derived a peculiar character from the daily contemplation of superior beings and eternal interests. Not content with acknowledging in general terms an overruling Providence, they habitually ascribed every event to the will of the Great Being, for whose power was nothing too vast, for whose inspection nothing was too minute. To know Him, to serve Him, to enjoy Him, was with them the greatest end of existence. They rejected with contempt the ceremonio0us homage which other sects substituted for the pure worship of the soul. They aspired to gaze upon the intolerable brightness of the Deity, and to commune with Him, face to face. Hence their contempt for worldly distinctions. The difference between the greatest and the meanest seemed to vanish, when compared with the boundless interval which separated the whole race from Him on whom their eyes where constantly fixed. If they were unacquainted the works of philosophers and poets, they were deeply read in the oracles of God.

Thus the Puritan was made up of two different men: one, all self-abasement, penitence, gratitude, passion; the other, proud, calm, inflexible, sagacious. People who saw nothing of the godly but their uncouth visages, and heard nothing from them but their groans and their hymns, might laugh at them. But those had little reason to laugh who encountered them in the hall of debate, or on the field of battle. They brought to civil and military affairs a coolness of judgment and an immutability of purpose which some writers have thought inconsistent with their religious zeal, but which were, in fact, the effects of it. The intensity of their feelings on one subject made them tranquil on every other. Death had lost its terrors, and pleasure its charms. They had their smiles and their tears, their raptures and their sorrows; but not for the things of the world. Enthusiasm had made them stoic, had cleared their minds from vulgar passion and prejudice, and raised them above the influence of danger and corruption. It sometimes might lead them to pursue unwise ends, but never to choose unwise means. We acknowledge that the tone of their minds was often injured by straining after things too high for mortal reach, and they too often fell into the vices of intolerance and extreme austerity. Yet, when all circumstances are taken into consideration, we do not hesitate to pronounce them a brave, a wise, and honest and useful people.

~Macaulay, 1894

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