I’ve begun reading The Colonial Mind 1620-1800 by Vernon Parrington.

Professor Parrington taught English at the University of Washington. He died in 1929. The Colonial Mind was published in 1927. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 1928.

I have some observations and reactions to Parrington’s chapter on John Cotton of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

John Cotton lived from 1584 until 1652. A deeply religious man, Cotton moved in his lifetime from religious liberalism to orthodoxy. He arrived in Boston from England in 1633. He wanted to practice his vision of faith in a new world. Though here, I’m not as interested in Cotton’s religion as in other aspects of his life.

Parrington writes that according to Cotton’s grandson, “Twelve hours in a day he commonly studied, and would call that a scholar’s day.”

What a wonderful life.

Writes Parrington—“But however much he loved cloistered scholarship, the immediate source of his great influence was the spoken word rather than the written word”

Consider that Socrates did not leave behind one written word. Nor did Jesus. And, of course, in our day-to-day lives we have the ability to carefully choose our words and have influence with others.

And how about that despite his love for books, Cotton was also out with the people. He had that right on both counts. You’ve got to get out there and make your views known.

Writes Parrington— He seems to have been an altogether lovable person….gentle-voiced, courteous, tactful, by nature “a tolerant man”… (who) gladly discovered a friend in an antagonist.

I wonder what self-discipline went into constructing that personality. Or is it natural in some?

Writes Parrington—He was not a man to persecute and harry, nor was he one to stand in isolated opposition to associates he respected, and he allowed himself to be coerced by narrower minded men…”

I guess choose your friends wisely has always been true. Peer pressure is not just about teenagers.

Writes Parrington— “….His frequent tacking in the face of adverse winds is characteristic of the intellectual who sees all sides of a question.”

I get that. This is a reason why I think it’s important to sometimes embrace silly and even irrational impulses at times. Not everything is about thinking stuff out. Hence the saying. “analysis is paralysis”

Writes Parrington—“If John Cotton…was a confirmed aristocrat….he was at the same time a social revolutionary who would….refashion society upon ethical rather than economic lines.”

Somewhat like Martin Luther King in these aspects.

Writes Parrington—How easy it is for good men, in the presence of the new and strange, to draw back in timid reaction; and failing to understand, or fearing for their prestige, to charge upon the new and strange a host of evils that exists only in their panic imaginations!

I don’t think any of us can say we are immune to this kind of reaction no matter how open-minded we picture ourselves.