Thursday, April 05, 2007

the gray hairs of the Puritans

This is the journal entry of Ralph Waldo Emerson for April 4th (or maybe the 5th), 1831. Aged 28, he could still be a romantic iconoclast. But in this entry he shows empathy for the stolid, thoughtful, and stubborn Calvinists who founded New England.
April 4? 1831

Let us not be such coxcombs as to dishonour the gray hairs of the Puritans. I think of them as men whom God honoured with great usefulness. That solid sense, that expansion of the inner man; that greater reverence for history, for law which they had, may compensate for thrift & mechanical improvements & fine houses which they had not. He that thinks so much, he that acts mainly in reference to principles of the greatest class as to give all his face & manners the expression of simple gravity may be excused if he have little playfulness in his conversation or elegance in his {furniture. There are some serious things in life. & seriousness may be forgiven to the redeemers of suffering Liberty, to the defenders of Religion, to the pious men who kept their integrity in an unholy age.
These principled men were closely akin to my Friesian forebears. By contrast, in The Scarlet Letter, Emerson's friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne, would show a more cosmopolitan opinion of those narrow-minded Puritan elders who would seek out sin to suppress and ostracize it and who failed to experience the compassionate empathy which comes with wide-ranging human existence, trodding deliberately, as they did, the steep path to heaven.
Hallum Secessionists
{Christian Reformed Church of Hallum. Source. My great-, great-grandfather was a founding member of this secessionist church at roughly the same time Emerson wrote his journal entry on the Puritans.}

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