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Outlines of English and American Literature|
by Long, William J.
|A very large part of our early writings is devoted to
religious subjects, and for an excellent reason; namely, that large numbers
of the Colonists came to America to escape religious strife or persecution
at home. In the New World they sought religious peace as well as freedom of
worship, and were determined to secure it not only for themselves but for
their children's children. Hence in nearly all their writings the religious
motive was uppermost. Hardly were they settled here, however, when they
were rudely disturbed by agitators who fomented discord by preaching each
his own pet doctrine or heresy. Presently arose a score of controversial
writers; and then Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams and the early Quakers
were disciplined or banished, not because of their faith (for the fact is
that all the colonies contained men of widely different beliefs who lived
peaceably together), but because these unbalanced reformers were
obstinately bent upon stirring up strife in a community which had crossed
three thousand miles of ocean in search of peace.
Of the theological writers we again select two, not because they were
typical,--for it is hard to determine who, among the hundred writers that
fronted the burning question of religious tolerance, were representative of
their age,--but simply because they towered head and shoulders above their
contemporaries. These are Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards; the one the
most busy man of his age in politics, religion, education and all
philanthropic endeavor; the other a profound thinker, who was in the world
but not of it, and who devoted the great powers of his mind to such
problems as the freedom of the human will and the origin of the religious
impulse in humanity.