«By Robert Hilliker M. A., Brown University, 2003 B. A., University of British Columbia, 2000 Thesis Submitted in partial fulfillment of the ...»
As Motsch glosses, “[l]e collier de porcelaine ne re-présente alors pas un arrangement, mais il est lui-même l’arrangement”(130).175 The distinction, then, between alphabetic writing and hieroglyphic writing such as the wampum belts is, like that between enumerating and calculating, based upon a distinction between a principle of iteration and a principle of abstraction: the hieroglyphic merely repeats what has been said or done at the level of the concrete while the alphabetic extracts some communicable essence from it. So, while Lafitau, like Motsch, distinguishes between writing as a concrete practice and an abstract principle, he also collapses that distinction by identifying alphabetic writing as the concrete practice properly aligned with the abstract principle of generating meaning.
Which brings us back to Mather’s text: if Lafitau’s transhistorical comparisons enable him to produce his system, then their by-product is the distinction between pre-history and history, itself grounded in a distinction between writing and its lack, which corresponds to the distinction between civilized and savage. Mather’s history demonstrates the force of these distinctions, even as it shows how the practice of writing history is itself altered by a systematic approach. We see this in Mather’s own conception of his work as being a “fetch[ing] … together [of] multitudes of particular texts” in order to recover the “treasures of illustration for the Bible” (33). As Jan Stievermann has shown in his “Writing ‘To Conquer All Things,’” Mather’s copious citation of other texts has been much maligned by critics over the centuries, but it is an integral part of Mather’s conception of the Magnalia. More than producing a simple anthology, Mather recorded a great deal of himself in the text of the Magnalia as well, because, as Stievermann notes, he “required his literary project to capture and reproduce through language the unparalleled newness … of America,” which further required “an authoritative literary voice integrating and transcending all other voices in the text” (266).
“voice or word” (1.310) Thus, while Mather provides us with unedited versions of any number of source documents, he also drowns them in his own commentary: as Constance Post notes of one letter of his father’s that he cites in the Magnalia, “Mather proceeds to add notes that swell the one-and-a-half page letter to almost thirteen pages … [i]n a manner that strikingly anticipates modern scholarly practice” not to mention the practice of Lafitau (“Old World Order” 417).
We likewise see the effects of the system in Mather’s organization of his work into rationalized categories rather than a chronological order. While I stated above that Mather viewed history as a coherent textual fabric that allows one to move backward in time in order to revive an ancient, and ideal, mode of life, it is important to clarify that this vision is dependent on Mather’s typically Puritan ability to move back and forth between the chronological perspective of mundane history and the transcendental perspective of divine history, which provides an overarching framework of Biblical types that can be used to make sense out of mundane experiences. As such, it seems fitting that Mather’s text is broken up into seven “books” each of which constitutes a distinct “type” of historical material, rather than a period of New England’s development.
Book one of the Magnalia chronicles the discovery of the Americas and the settling of the New England colonies; book two consists of biographies of the governors and magistrates of New England; book three is biographies of sixty New England ministers;
book four relates the history of Harvard, its laws, and several of its eminent graduates;
book five includes the acts passed at the various New England synods; book six offers a collection of “illustrious, wonderful providences” that occurred in New England; and, finally, book seven gives an account of the “wars of the lord,” as Mather calls King William’s War (1689-1697), the first of what are now known as the French and Indian wars. Thus, while the book maintains a roughly chronological trajectory, we might well borrow Lafitau’s terms and say that their order is calculated rather than enumerated. In point of fact, such mathematical terminology is not out of place here, given Mather’s own obsessive rationalizing of his schema by the significance of the number of books and the number of biographies in each book and so on (see 1.236-238, for example). Again, while this feature of Mather’s work may seem arbitrary and strange to us today, it was as natural to him as the four stage theory to a Victorian anthropologist, or the tripartite class system to a Marxist. In Mather’s time such an association between the ordained and the ordinated was the cardinal virtue of the system as a genre.
We see the Enlightenment systematicity of Mather’s text perhaps most clearly, however, in his attitudes towards Native American symbolic practices, which closely echo those of Lafitau. For Mather, as for Lafitau, Native American symbolic systems were to blame for their lack of history; thus, he disdains their language for its lack of the letter “r,” and for the extreme length of some of their words (Magnalia 561). This disdain may seem strange to us because it focuses on the written aspect of a language that belonged to a people supposedly without letters. Yet, for Mather, it is all the more telling: this resistance to effective literalization demonstrates an inherent incapacity for literacy among the Algonquians. This incapacity for literacy, in its turn, demonstrates an incapacity for civilization and religion. Thus, recounting the life of John Eliot, the Puritan missionary, Mather focuses on the difficulty of Eliot’s task, “the double work incumbent upon him [because] he was to make men of them, ere he could hope to see them saints; they must be civilized ere they could be Christianized” (560).
Unsurprisingly, Mather’s history closes not with the successful conversion of the Native Americans, but with the threat of their destruction as they wage war against the Puritan colony of New England.
As we saw in the last chapter, Mather’s rhetorical justification for Anglo-American violence against Native Americans is grounded in the logic of erasure exemplified by Beverly as well: the Indians, in his mind, deserve to disappear because, not having writing—or, for that matter, religion—they were never fully there—they never made a mark, so to speak. For Mather this double lack—religion and writing—is more than coincidental. As he explicitly states in the Magnalia, it is the work of “the devil[, who] decoyed those miserable salvages hither, in hopes that the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ would never come here to destroy or disturb his absolute empire over them” (556). Thus where many earlier English, French, and Spanish colonists saw the Native Americans’ lack of religion as an opportunity to convert large numbers of people to their respective Christian sects, Mather here interprets it as evidence of their being destined to damnation.
Despite Mather’s extensive efforts to proselytize among other oppressed populations, including such varied groups as North American slaves, South American Catholics, French Huguenots, and members of the Greek Orthodox Church, he generally evinces little interest in the possibility of converting Native Americans to Christianity.177 His biography of Eliot in the Magnalia, in addition to casting his work among the Algonquian peoples of New England as an impossible task, reduces it to less than a third of his life story despite Eliot’s own regard for his missionary activities—including his translation of the Bible into Algonquian—as the culmination of his life’s work.178 Given the overwhelming bulk of evidence, then, Bercovitch is quite correct in his assessment of the role of Native Americans in Mather’s epic history of New England: for Mather, the Native Americans were nothing more than an obstacle to be overcome in a narrative of Puritan ascendancy.
Then again, Mather himself published a bilingual (English-Algonquian) catechism in 1700, An Epistle to the Christian Indians (Wussukwhonk En Christianeue asuh peantamwae Indianog), then a quatrilingual (English-Latin-Dutch-Iroquoian) catechism in 1707, Another Tongue brought in, and he further made a point of including an appendix on the recent activity in the Praying Indian towns at the conclusion of his
For more on Mather’s apostolic writings to these groups, see Mark Weiner’s “This ‘Miserable African’:
Race, crime, and disease in colonial Boston,” Common-place. 4.3 (April 2004), online at http://commonplace.dreamhost.com/vol-04/no-03/weiner/index.shtml; Elisabeth Ceppi’s “Come When You Are Called:
Racialized Servitude and the Division of Puritan Labor,” Literature Interpretation Theory. 16 (2005): 213William Hyland’s “‘American Tears’: Cotton Mather and the Plight of Eastern Orthodox Christians,” New England Quarterly. 77.2 (June 2004): 282-291; and Howard C. Rice’s “Cotton Mather Speaks to
France: American Propaganda in the Age of Louis XIV,” The New England Quarterly. 16.2 (June 1943):
Compare to Constance Post, who, in her article “Old World Order in the New,” presents the contrary argument that Mather in fact emphasizes the role of Eliot’s missionary work in his biography; however, her calculations of the relative number of pages devoted to each aspect of Eliot’s life do not seem to fit with the edition of the Magnalia to which we both refer. Post states that “[o]f the forty-two pages comprising his biography of Eliot, eight are about Eliot as a Christian (part 1); seven about Eliot as a minister (part 2); and 21 about Eliot as an evangelist to the Indians (part 3). (The remaining 6 pages include the dedication, introduction, and conclusion.)” (419). By contrast, I find the respective numbers to be fifty-seven total pages, thirteen for part 1, eleven for part 2, nineteen for part 3, and fifteen of dedication, introduction, and conclusion. See Magnalia 1.526-583.
Bonifacius: An Essay to Do Good, published in 1710. Given these dates of publication, there is no question of Mather’s having reversed an earlier, more positive assessment of the Native Americans when he wrote the Magnalia—unless, that is, we are to accuse him of being completely inconsistent on the question of the theological status of Native Americans.
In a recent essay, however, Sarah Rivett offers another path out of this conundrum by demonstrating how Puritan missionary work among Native Americans was driven by a desire to accumulate empirical evidence in support of their religious theories as much as by a desire to convert them to Christianity. The focus of Rivett’s analysis is Eliot’s published tracts, particularly A Brief Narrative of the progress of the Gospel amongst the Indians in New-England which appeared in London in 1671 (at the same time as his Indian Dialogues were being printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts), as well as his correspondence with the members of Royal Society in London. As Rivett explains, the relationship between the Royal Society and the major Puritan intellectuals in New England was a strong one—Mather, too, had a great deal of correspondence with the Society, and in 1713 he became a member himself.
The reasons for this strong connection are many and varied, but foremost among them was a shared vision of the Americas as a privileged locale in which to study the natural world—a vision that, in the English tradition of empirical science, can be traced back at least as far as Francis Bacon (see, for example, the frontispiece to his Instauratio Magna). Thus, given the religious outlook of the members of the Royal Society, the Americas were likewise seen as a privileged place in which to gain insight into the divine. As Rivett shows, Eliot’s writings are filled with the rhetorical hallmarks of empiricism, which enable him to “represent the New World as a space in which the divine bec[omes] visible in a more distilled form and c[an] thus be more accurately described and understood” (20). This method of writing requires that Eliot reduce the Native Americans from speaking subjects as such into mere, “natural” evidence to be interpreted, very much in the manner of Lafitau in his Mœurs.
Rivett further identifies Mather’s appendix to the Bonifacius as a late example of this “empirical desire” that places Native Americans in a “framework of racial subordination” while portraying “the figure of the Praying Indian as a site of epistemological and empirical plentitude” (43). Thus, Mather’s interest in missionary activities among the natives and his conviction that they are the minions of Satan are in accord inasmuch as they are both dependent on a general subordination and reduction of Native Americans as a people. Furthermore, both this interest and this conviction are rooted in Mather’s drive to rediscover the lost origins of the Christian church, precisely the task that Lafitau had set himself in the Mœurs.