Increase Mather Criticism - Essay

Moses Coit Tyler (essay date 1878)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Virginia: Its Literature During the Remainder of the First Period," in A History of American Literature, Vol. I, 1878. Reprint by G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1881, pp. 60-92.

[In the following excerpt, first published in 1878, Tyler praises Mather for his simple, straightforward literary style.]

… Of the six sons of Richard Mather, four became famous preachers, two of them in Ireland and in England, other two in New England; the greatest of them all being the youngest, born at Dorchester, June twenty-first, 1639, and at his birth adorned with the name of Increase, in grateful recognition of "the increase of every sort, wherewith God favored the country about the...

(The entire section is 2193 words.)

Williston Walker (essay date 1901)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Increase Mather," in Ten New England Leaders, Silver, Burnett and Company, 1901, pp. 175-213.

[In the following excerpt, Walker offers an overview of Mather's life, paying particular attention to the influences on Mather as a young man, and to his conflicts with Harvard College in his later years.]

Increase Mather was born on June 21, 1639, in that home in Dorchester into which we have already glanced in considering the career of his father, Richard. Popular tradition represents Puritan names as Biblical or fantastically religious to a degree not true of them in general. If one looks over a list of Puritan emigrants or a catalogue of early church...

(The entire section is 8280 words.)

Kenneth Ballard Murdock (essay date 1925)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Dolefull Witchcraft," in Increase Mather: The Foremost American Puritan, 1925. Reprint by Russell & Russell, 1966, pp. 287-316.

[In the following excerpt from a work first published in 1925, Murdock recounts Mather's involvement in the witch trials and argues that Mather has been unfairly labeled throughout history as a proponent of the executions when he was instead a voice for temperance and moderation.]

A month after his arrival home, Mather wrote to the Earl of Nottingham, thanking him for his efforts toward securing the charter, and assuring him "that the Generallity of their Majties Subjects (so far as I can understand) doe with all...

(The entire section is 10118 words.)

Vernon Louis Parrington (essay date 1927)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Mather Dynasty," in Main Currents in American Thought, Vol. I, 1927. Reprint by Harcourt Brace & Company, 1954, pp. 99-118.

[In the following excerpt, first published in 1927, Parrington assesses Mather as a religious and politically influential figure.]

… The Mathers were a singularly provocative family, capable, ambitious, certain to have a finger in every pie baking in the theocratic oven. From the emigrant Richard with the great voice, chief architect of the Cambridge Platform, to the provincial Cotton, the family combativeness and love of publicity put their marks on New England history. Of the three generations, certainly Increase Mather was...

(The entire section is 3182 words.)

William J. Scheick (essay date 1971)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Anonymity and Art in the Life and Death of That Reverend Man of God, Mr. Richard Mather," in American Literature, Vol. XLII, No. 4, January, 1971, pp.457-67.

[In the following essay, Scheick examines Increase Mather's biography of his father, Richard Mather, paying particular attention to Increase's use of paternal imagery in a familial, spiritual, and communal sense.]

It is true that in many respects the intention of New England Puritan biographies is identical to that of their sermons. Both reflect an attempt to convey religious instruction regarding the conduct of one's life on earth; both likewise seek to stimulate the reader to the practice of imitatio...

(The entire section is 4535 words.)

Robert Middlekauff (essay date 1971)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Invisible World," in The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728, Oxford University Press, Inc., 1971, pp. 139-61.

[In the following essay, Middlekauff asserts that while Mather's stated purpose in his scientific writings was to discredit scientific explanations of natural occurances, it was also this interest in science and his knowledge of the difference between appearance and reality that enabled him to help end the witch trials.]

While the controversy with Stoddard was brewing, but before it reached a boil, Increase Mather was thinking about another matter that affected his ideas about the Church in New England: nature and an...

(The entire section is 9941 words.)

Mason I. Lowance, Jr. (essay date 1974)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Science and Pseudoscience," in Increase Mather, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1974, pp. 76-106.

[In the following excerpt, Lowance analyzes Mather's attempts to combine scientific knowledge with theology to formulate explanations for occurrences in both nature and society, and also praises Mather for being forward-thinking and progressive in his scientific writings.]

… Concomitant with the rise of interest in natural revelation was the growing awareness of the universe as a resource for scientific exploration. Although Increase Mather late in his life endorsed the scientific approach to inoculation against smallpox and even wrote a defense of the practice in...

(The entire section is 10051 words.)

Mason I. Lowance, Jr. and David Watters (essay date 1977)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Increase Mather's New Jerusalem: Millennialism in Late Seventeenth-Century New England," in Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, Vol. 87, 1978, pp. 343-408.

[In the following essay, first presented as a lecture at the 1977 American Antiquarian Society annual meeting, Lowance and Watters maintain that "New Jerusalem" reveals Mather's vision of life during the millenniumthe thousand-year period that follows Christian Judgment, during which Christ will reign on earth. The authors also discuss Mather's language, use of symbolism, and his metaphorical and literal interpretations of the scriptures.]

In a recent issue of the...

(The entire section is 6275 words.)

Richard Weisman (essay date 1984)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Salem Witchcraft Prosecutions: The Invisible World at the Vanishing Point," in Witchcraft, Magic, and Religion in 17th-Century Massachusetts, Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1984, pp. 160-83.

[In the following excerpt, Weisman assesses Mather's Cases of Conscience as an attempt to end theological uncertainties about the accusations of witchcraft.]

… Even before the Salem trials, there are ample indications that the clergy regarded the discovery of witchcraft as problematic. In the pre-Salem litigations, adherence to theological strictures had rendered the translation of popular suspicions into convictive proofs inoperational....

(The entire section is 3238 words.)

David Levin (essay date 1985)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Did the Mathers Disagree about the Salem Witchcraft Trials?," in Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, Vol. 95, 1985, pp. 19-38.

[In the following essay, Levin questions whether Increase Mather and his son Cotton disagreed about the witch trials and studies the roles for which they are most remembered.]

The question that I have posed may seem at first to be antiquarian in the narrowest sense. One of my colleagues suggested that I make the title more provocative by asking, Did the Mathers disagree about the Salem trials, and who cares? What could be more parochial than asking whether two embattled ministers, serving in the same congregation,...

(The entire section is 6614 words.)

Daniel B. Shea (essay date 1988)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Mathers," in Spiritual Autobiography in Early America, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988, pp. 152-63.

[In the following excerpt, Shea examines the narrative style and some key terminology of Mather's autobiography.]

Except for the Adamses, who came later, no American family rivaled the Mathers in an hereditary inclination toward biography and autobiography. The biography of the first American Mather, Richard (1596-1669), was written by his son Increase, who told his readers that although he would remain anonymous he wrote with the authority of one closely acquainted with his subject and aided by his subject's manuscripts, including an autobiography...

(The entire section is 3573 words.)