Cotton Mather’s MAGNALIA CHRISTI AMERICANA; OR THE ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF NEW ENGLAND FROM ITS FIRST PLANTING, IN THE YEAR 1620, UNTO THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1698 is commonly referred to, and dismissed, as a fairly authoritative and substantial picture of the Puritan theocracy in New England. It is a history of Puritanism in the New World and much of it is true; but it is the product of a dogmatic, neurotic, tyrannical clergyman who failed to discriminate between facts and legends, the laws and the superstitions, of the early colonial period. Mather gives as much prominence and weight to accounts of witches and repentant criminals as he does to the biographies of church leaders, and the entire history is conditioned by the belief that God’s will was done in early New England.
If the book is taken not as a history but as an impassioned product of the Puritan character in all of its dedication and its blindness, the experience of reading the book becomes a time-experiment by which one can gaze into the working of a mind three hundred years removed from our own. Great writers do not allow such strange, backward glimpses; their comments have a timelessness that makes their minds contemporary. But Mather is no great writer, and when he speaks he reveals himself as his times made him: pedantic, intemperate, and superstitious, yet an educated, religious man. From such personalities much of the distinctive character of America developed, and if the...
(The entire section is 1633 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Magnalia Christi Americana Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!