Изображения страниц
[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]


CHAP. and the instinct of liberty led him again to the sugges

a tion of a proper remedy. In conjunction with the 1635. church, he wrote “letters of admonition unto all the

churches whereof any of the magistrates were members, that they might admonish the magistrates of their injustice.” The church members alone were freemen; Williams, in modern language, appealed to the people, and invited them to instruct their representatives to do justice to the citizens of Salem.

This last act seemed flagrant treason ;' and at the next general court, Salem was disfranchised till an ample apology for the letter should be made. The town acquiesced in its wrongs, and submitted ; not an individual remained willing to justify the letter of remonstrance; the church of Williams would not avow his great principle of the sanctity of conscience ; even his wife, under a delusive idea of duty, was for a season influenced to disturb the tranquillity of his home by her reproaches. Williams was left alone, absolutely alone. Anticipating the censures of the colonial churches, he declared himself no longer subjected to their spiritual jurisdiction. “My own voluntary withdrawing from all these churches, resolved to continue in persecuting the witnesses of the Lord, presenting light unto them, I confess it was mine own voluntary act; yea, I hope the act of the Lord Jesus, sounding forth in me the blast, which shall in his own

holy season cast down the strength and confidence of Oct. those inventions of men.” When summoned to ap


pear before the general court, he avowed his convictions in the presence of the representatives of the state, 66 maintained the rocky strength of his grounds," and

1 Cotton calls it crimen majestatis laesae,

2 Master John Cotton's Reply, 9. 3 Cotton's Letter Examined, 3.



declared himself “ready to be bound and banished and CHAP.

IX. even to die in New England,” rather than renounce the opinions which had dawned upon his mind in the clearness of light. At a time when Germany was the battle-field for all Europe in the implacable wars of religion ; when even Holland was bleeding with the anger of vengeful factions; when France was still to go through the fearful struggle with bigotry; when England was gasping under the despotism of intolerance; almost half a century before William Penn became an American proprietary; and two years before Descartes founded modern philosophy on the method of free reflection,-Roger Williams asserted the great doctrine of intellectual liberty. It became his glory to found a state upon that principle, and to stamp himself upon its rising institutions, in characters so deep that the impress has remained to the present day, and, can never be erased without the total destruction of the work. The principles which he first sustained amidst the bickerings of a colonial parish, next asserted in the general court of Massachusetts, and then introduced into the wilds on Narragansett Bay, he soon found occasion to publish to the world, and to defend as the 1644 basis of the religious freedom of mankind; so that, borrowing the rhetoric employed by his antagonist in derision, we may compare him to the lark, the pleasant bird of the peaceful summer, that, “affecting to soar aloft, springs upward from the ground, takes his rise from pale to tree," and at last, surmounting the highest hills, utters his clear carols through the skies of morning. He was the first person in modern Christendom to assert in its plenitude the doctrine of the liberty of

1 John Cotton's Reply, 2

[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

CHAP. conscience, the equality of opinions before the law,

and in its defence he was the harbinger of Milton, the precursor and the superior of Jeremy Taylor. For Taylor limited his toleration to a few Christian sects; the philanthropy of Williams compassed the earth : Taylor favored partial reform, commended lenity, argued for forbearance, and entered a special plea in behalf of each tolerable sect; Williams would permit persecution of no opinion, of no religion, leaving heresy unharmed by law, and orthodoxy unprotected by the terrors of penal statutes. Taylor still clung to the necessity of positive regulations enforcing religion and eradicating error ; he resembled the poets, who, in their folly, first declare their hero to be invulnerable, and then clothe him in earthly armor : Williams was willing to leave Truth alone, in her own panoply of light,' believing that if, in the ancient feud between Truth and Error, the employment of force could be entirely abrogated, Truth would have much the best of the bargain. It is the custom of mankind to award high honors to the successful inquirer into the laws of nature, to those who advance the bounds of human knowledge. We praise the man who first analyzed the air, or resolved water into its elements, or drew the lightning from the clouds; even though the discoveries may have been as much the fruits of time as of genius. A moral principle has a much wider and nearer influence on human happiness ; nor can any discovery of truth be of more direct benefit to society, than that which establishes a perpetual religious peace, and spreads tranquillity through every community and every bosom. If Copernicus is held in perpetual reverence, because, on his death-bed, he published to the world that the

1 The expression is partly from Gibbon and Sir Henry Vane.

[merged small][ocr errors]

sun is the centre of our system; if the name of Kepler CHAP.

IX. is preserved in the annals of human excellence for his min sagacity in detecting the laws of the planetary motion; . if the genius of Newton has been almost adored for dissecting a ray of light, and weighing heavenly bodies as in a balance,-let there be for the name of Roger Williams at least some humble place among those who have advanced moral science, and made themselves the benefactors of mankind.

But if the opinion of posterity is no longer divided, 1635 the members of the general court of that day pronounced against him the sentence of exile ;1 yet not by a very numerous majority. Some, who consented to his banishment, would never have yielded but for the persuasions of Cotton; and the judgment was vindicated, not as a punishment for opinion, or as a restraint on freedom of conscience, but because the application of the new doctrine to the construction of the patent, to the discipline of the churches, and to the “ oaths for making tryall of the fidelity of the people," seemed about “to subvert the fundamental state and government of the country.”

Winter was at hand; Williams succeeded in obtaining permission to remain till spring; intending then to begin a plantation in Narragansett Bay. But the affections of the people of Salem revived, and could not be restrained ; they thronged to his house to hear him whom they were so soon to lose forever; it began to be rumored, that he could not safely be allowed to found a new state in the vicinity; “ many of the people were much taken with the apprehension of his godliness ;” his opinions were contagious ; the

i Winthrop, i. 170, 171. Colony ply, 27. 29. Roger Williams's AcRecords, i. 163. John Cotton's Re- count, ibid. 24, and ff.

VOL. 1. 48

[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]


CHAP. infection spread widely. It was therefore resolved to

a remove him to England in a ship that was just ready 1636. to set sail. A warrant was accordingly sent to him to Jan.

come to Boston and embark. For the first time, he declined the summons of the court. A pinnace was sent for him ; the officers repaired to his house ; he was no longer there. Three days before, he had left Salem, in winter snow and inclement weather, of which he remembered the severity even in his late old age. “For fourteen weeks, he was sorely tost in a bitter season, not knowing what bread or bed did mean.”i Often in the stormy night he had neither fire, nor food, nor company; often he wandered without a guide, and had no house but a hollow tree.? But he was not without friends. The same scrupulous respect for the rights of others, which had led him to defend the freedom of conscience, had made him also the champion of the Indians. He had already been zealous to acquire their language, and knew it so well that he could debate with them in their own dialect During his residence at Plymouth, he had often been the guest of the neighboring sachems; and now, when he came in winter to the cabin of the chief of Pokanoket, he was welcomed by Massasoit; and “the barbarous heart of Canonicus, the chief of the Narragansetts, loved him as his son to the last gasp." " The ravens," he relates with gratitude, “fed me in the wilderness." And in requital for their hospitality, he was ever through his long life their friend and benefactor; the apostle of Christianity to them without hire, without weariness, and without impatience at their idolatry; the guardian of their rights; the pacif

1 Roger Williams to Mason, in i. Mass. Hist. Coll. i. 276.

2 Roger Williams's Key. Reprinted in R. I. Hist. Coll. i.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »