Nonfiction > Trent and Wells, eds. > Colonial Prose and Poetry
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Trent and Wells, eds.  Colonial Prose and Poetry.  1901.
 
Vol. II. The Beginnings of Americanism: 1650–1710
Michael Wigglesworth
 
MICHAEL WIGGLESWORTH, the most popular of early New England poets, was born in England, probably in Yorkshire in 1631, and died in 1705, at Maiden, Massachusetts, where he had been for nearly fifty years pastor. He was of sturdy Puritan parentage, was brought by his father to Charlestown when he was but seven years old, and soon taken thence to New Haven. Here he was fitted for Harvard, from which he graduated in the class of 1651. He taught there as tutor till 1654, preaching occasionally in Charlestown and in Maiden. He was called to the latter place in 1654, but not actually ordained till two years later. Meantime his father had died. The son in his autobiography pays a warm tribute to the father’s self-sacrifice and pious trust in devoting him to the ministry. “God let him live to see how acceptable to himself this service was in giving his only son to God and bringing him up to learning.”  1
  The father’s health had been frail, and the son seems to have inherited a feeble constitution. Ill-health delayed his ordination as we have seen, and it frequently interrupted his ministry. It was during these periods of enforced leisure that he composed his doggerel epitome of Calvinistic theology, The Day of Doom or a Poetical Description of the Great and Last Judgment. This was first published in 1662, and attained immediately a phenomenal popularity. Eighteen hundred copies were sold within a year, and for the next century it held a secure place in Puritan households. As late as 1828 it was stated that many aged persons were still alive who could repeat it, as it had been taught them with their catechism; and the more widely one reads in the voluminous sermons of that generation, the more fair will its representation of prevailing theology in New England appear. It satisfied for that age a taste for the shudder in literature, a taste not schooled in New England to demand the artistic expression which had been given to allied themes by Dante and by Milton. It is one of the strange ironies of literature, that the fierce denunciations of the reprobate, and the terrible images of damnation with which the poem abounds, should have been penned by a man whom we know to have been in life a frail and genial philanthropist, so cheerful that some of his friends thought he could not be so sick as he averred. Dr. Peabody used to call him “a man of the beatitudes,” ministering not alone to the spiritual but to the physical needs of his flock, having studied medicine for that purpose. He found favor even with the gentler sex, for he was at least thrice married, to Mary Reyner, Martha Mudge, and Sybil (Avery) Sparhawk. His descendants played an honorable part in the history of New England.  2
  Beside the Day of Doom, Wigglesworth wrote God’s Controversy with New England, and a very popular meditation on the “Necessity, End, and Usefulness of Affliction,” which he called Meat out of the Eater, The following epitaph upon him is attributed to Cotton Mather:—
        “His pen did once Meat from the Eater take
And now he’s gone beyond the Eater’s reach.
His body once so thin was next to none
From hence he’s to unbodied spirits flown.
Once his rare skill did all diseases heal
And he doth nothing now uneasy feel.
He to his paradise is joyful come
And waits with joy to see his Day of Doom.”
  3
 
        
The Day of Doom.
  
To the Christian Reader.
  
READER, I am a fool
And have adventurèd
To play the fool this once for Christ,
The more his fame to spread.
If this my foolishness
Help thee to be more wise,
I have attainèd what I seek,
And what I only prize.
  
Thou wonderest, perhaps,
That I in print appear,
Who to the pulpit dwell so nigh,
Yet come so seldom there.
The God of Heaven knows
What grief to me it is,
To be withheld from serving Christ;
No sorrow like to this.
  
This is the sorest pain
That I have felt or feel;
Yet have I stood some shocks that might
Make stronger men to reel.
I find more true delight
In serving of the Lord,
Than all the good things upon Earth,
Without it, can afford.
  
And could my strength endure
That work I count so dear,
Not all the riches of Peru
Should hire me to forbear.
But I’m a prisoner,
Under a heavy chain;
Almighty God’s afflicting hand
Doth me by force restrain.
  
Yet some (I know) do judge
Mine inability
To come abroad and do Christ’s work.
To be melancholy;
And that I’m not so weak
As I myself conceit;
But who in other things have found
Me so conceited yet?
  
Or who of all my friends
That have my trials seen,
Can tell the time in sevèn years
When I have dumpish been?
Some think my voice is strong,
Most times when I do preach;
But ten days after, what I feel
And suffer few can reach.
  
My prison’d thoughts break forth,
When open’d is the door,
With greater force and violence,
And strain my voice the more.
But vainly do they tell
That I am growing stronger,
Who hear me speak in half an hour,
Till I can speak no longer.
  
Some for because they see not
My cheerfulness to fail,
Nor that I am disconsolate,
Do think I nothing ail.
If they had borne my griefs,
Their courage might have fail’d them,
And all the town (perhaps) have known
(Once and again) what ail’d them.
  
But why should I complain
That have so good a God,
That doth mine heart with comfort fill
Ev’n whilst I feel his rod?
In God I have been strong,
But wearied and worn out,
And joy’d in him, when twenty woes
Assail’d me round about.
  
Nor speak I this to boast,
But make apology
For mine own self, and answer those
That fail in charity.
I am, alas! as frail,
Impatiènt a creature,
As most that tread upon the ground,
And have as bad a nature.
  
Let God be magnified,
Whose everlasting strength
Upholds me under sufferings
Of more than ten years’ length;
Through whose Almighty pow’r,
Although I am surrounded
With sorrows more than can be told,
Yet am I not confounded.
  
For his dear sake have I
This service undertaken,
For I am bound to honor him
Who hath not me forsaken.
I am a debtor, too,
Unto the sons of men,
Whom, wanting other means, I would
Advantage with my pen.
  
I would, but ah! my strength,
When trièd, proves so small,
That to the ground without effect
My wishes often fall.
Weak heads, and hands, and states,
Great things cannot produce;
And therefore I this little piece
Have publish’d for thine use.
  
Although the thing be small,
Yet my good will therein
Is nothing less than if it had
A larger volume been.
Accept it then in love,
And read it for thy good;
There’s nothing in’t can do thee hurt,
If rightly understood.
  
The God of Heaven grant
These lines so well to speed,
That thou the things of thine own peace
Through them may’st better heed;
And may’st be stirrèd up
To stand upon thy guard,
That Death and Judgment may not come
To find thee unprepar’d.
  
Oh, get a part in Christ,
And make the Judge thy friend;
So shalt thou be assurèd of
A happy, glorious end.
Thus prays thy real friend
And servant for Christ’s sake,
Who, had he strength, would not refuse
More pains for thee to take.
  4
 
[Dooming the Reprobate Infant.]
(clxvi–clxxxi.)

        THEN 1 to the Bar all they drew near
  Who died in infancy,
And never had or good or bad
  effected pers’nally; 2
But from the womb unto the tomb
  were straightway carrièd,
(Or at the least ere they trangress’d)
  who thus began to plead:
  
“If for our own transgressi-on,
  or disobedience,
We here did stand at thy left hand,
  just were the Recompense;
But Adam’s guilt our souls hath spilt,
  his fault is charg’d upon us;
And that alone hath overthrown
  and utterly undone us.
  
“Not we, but he ate of the tree,
  whose fruit was interdicted;
Yet on us all of his sad fall
  the punishment’s inflicted.
How could we sin that had not been,
  or how is his sin our,
Without consent, which to prevent
  we never had the pow’r?
  
“O great Creator, why was our nature
  depravèd and forlorn?
Why so defil’d, and made so vil’d,
  whilst we were yet unborn?
If it be just, and needs we must
  transgressors reckon’d be,
Thy mercy, Lord, to us afford, 3
  which sinners hath set free.
  
“Behold we see Adam set free,
  and sav’d from his trespass,
Whose sinful fall hath split us all,
  and brought us to this pass.
Canst thou deny us once to try,
  Or grace to us to tender,
When he finds grace before thy face
  who was the chief offender?”
  
Then answerèd the Judge most dread: 4
  “God doth such doom forbid,
That men should die eternally
  for what they never did.
But what you call old Adam’s fall,
  and only his trespass,
You call amiss to call it his,
  both his and yours it was.
  
“He was design’d of all mankind
  to be a public head;
A common root, whence all should shoot, 5
  and stood in all their stead.
He stood and fell, did ill or well,
  not for himself alone,
But for you all, who now his Fall
  and trespass would disown.
  
“If he had stood, then all his brood
  had been establishèd
In God’s true love never to move,
  nor once awry to tread;
Then all his race my Father’s grace
  should have enjoy’d for ever
And wicked sprites by subtile sleights
  could them have harmèd never.
  
“Would you have griev’d to have receiv’d
  through Adam so much good,
As had been your for evermore,
  if he at first had stood?
Would you have said, ‘We ne’er obey’d
  nor did thy laws regard;
It ill befits, with benefits,
  us, Lord, to so reward?’
  
“Since then to share in his welfare,
  you could have been content,
You may with reason share in his treason,
  and in the punishment,
Hence you were born in state forlorn, 6
  with natures so depravèd
Death was your due because that you
  had thus yourselves behavèd.
  
“You think ‘If we had been as he
  whom God did so betrust,
We to our cost would ne’er have lost
  all for a paltry lust.’
Had you been made in Adam’s stead, 7
  you would like things have wrought,
And so into the self-same woe
  yourselves and yours have brought.
  
“I may deny you once to try,
  or grace to you to tender,
Though he finds grace before my face
  who was the chief offender; 8
Else should my grace cease to be grace,
  for it would not be free,
If to release whom I should please
  I have no liberty.
  
“If upon one what’s due to none
  I frankly shall bestow,
And on the rest shall not think best
  compassion’s skirt to throw,
Whom injure I? Will you envy
  and grudge at others’ weal?
Or me accuse, who do refuse
  yourselves to help and heal?
  
“Am I alone of what’s my own,
  no master or no lord?
And if I am, how can you claim 9
  what I to some afford?
Will you demand grace at my hand, and
  challenge what is mine?
Will you teach me whom to set free,
  and thus my grace confine?
  
“You sinners are, and such a share 10
  as sinners may expect;
Such you shall have, for I do save
  none but mine own Elect.
Yet to compare your sin with their
  who liv’d a longer time,
I do confess yours is much less
  though every sin’s a crime.
  
“A crime it is, therefore in bliss 11
  you may not hope to dwell;
But unto you I shall allow
  the easiest room in Hell.”
  5
 
[Dissolving Domestic Ties.]
(cxcv.–cc.)

        Unto the Saints with sad complaints
  should they themselves apply?
They’re not dejected nor aught affected 12
  with all their misery.
Friends stand aloof and make no proof
  what prayers or tears can do;
Your Godly friends are now more friends
  to Christ than unto you.
  
Where tender love men’s hearts did move
  unto a sympathy,
And bearing part of others’ smart 13
  in their anxiety,
Now such compassion is out of fashion,
  and wholly laid aside;
No friends so near, but Saints to hear
  their Sentence can abide.
  
One natural brother beholds another
  in his astonied fit,
Yet sorrows not thereat a jot, 14
  nor pities him a whit.
The godly wife conceives no grief
  nor can she shed a tear
For the sad state of her dear mate
  when she his doom doth hear.
  
He that was erst a husband pierc’d
  with sense of wife’s distress,
Whose tender heart did bear a part
  of all her grievances.
Shall mourn no more as heretofore,
  because of her ill plight,
Although he see her now to be
  a damn’d forsaken wight.
  
The tender mother will own no other
  of all her num’rous brood
But such as stand at Christ’s right hand,
  acquitted through his Blood. 15
The pious father had now much rather
  his graceless son should lie
In hell with devils, for all his evils,
  burning eternally.
  
Than God most High should injury
  by sparing him sustain;
And doth rejoice to hear Christ’s voice, 16
  adjudging him to pain.
  6
 
Note 1. Reprobate Infants plead for themselves. [back]
Note 2. Rev. 20:12, 15. compared with Rom. 5:12, 14, and 9:11, 13. Ezek. 18:2. [back]
Note 3. Psal. 51:5. [back]
Note 4. Their arguments taken off. Ezek. 18:20. Rom. 5:12, 19. [back]
Note 5. 1 Cor. 15:48, 49. [back]
Note 6. Rom. 5:12. Psal. 51:5. Gen. 5:3. [back]
Note 7. Mat. 23:30, 31. [back]
Note 8. Rom. 9:15, 18. The free gift. Rom. 5:15. [back]
Note 9. Mat. 20:15. [back]
Note 10. Psal. 58:8. Rom. 6:23. Gal. 3:10. Rom. 8:29, 30 and 11:7. Rev. 21:27. Luke 12:14, 8. Mat. 11:22. [back]
Note 11. The wicked all convinced and put to silence. Rom. 3:19. Mat. 22:12. [back]
Note 12. Rev. 21:4. Psal. 58:10. [back]
Note 13. 1 Cor. 6:2. [back]
Note 14. Compare Prov. 1:26 with 1 John 3:2, and 2 Cor. 5:16. [back]
Note 15. Luke 16:25. [back]
Note 16. Psal. 58:10. [back]
 
 
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