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The law of optics is reversed in history. The events and characters of a past age are often more accurately discerned, and more correctly appreciated, than the circumstances which now surround us and the men among whom we live. Hence we meet with persons, who, while they brand with the stigma of fanaticism certain classes among the living, are quite prepared to bind the wreath of honor
round the memories of men similar in sentiment and character, but who are now numbered among the dead. The remark forcibly applies to the judgment formed of the Puritans. Contemporaries traduced and villified them. Historians of the next age, influenced by prejudice, gave to these calumnies implicit credence. But time has been gradually removing the old Puritans to a distance which subdues the force of passion in the mind of the beholder; and historical research, especially of late, has brought facts to light which have tended to vindicate them from the unjust charges preferred by their enemies. Thus public opinion has, to some extent, been rectified in reference to these memorable characters. They are emerging from the clouds of slander--their virtue and heroism begin to excite general admiration : but it must not be forgotten that much more remains to be done by the historian before the debt of justice will be fully paid to their longdishonored names.
The Puritans, taking the word in its old-fashioned and comprehensive signification, saved England in the seventeenth century from a relapse into Popery. On this account they deserve to be honored and loved by the Protestants of the present day. In all probability the salvation of England from such a relapse in the nineteenth century will depend, under God, upon the men who imbibe their sentiments, and emulate their piety and heroism. From the beginning, Puritanism has been the soul of English Protestantism, and therefore its history deserves to be diligently studied, and its spirit gratefully revered, by all who really value the cause of the Reformation.
It is not the design of the Author to write a history of the Puritans. He would venture only on a few sketches of their character and times, chiefly with a view to illustrate their spiritual heroism. It has struck him that there are names and incidents in Puritan annals deserving more attention than they have received. Some of these are introduced in the following chapters: they will be found to reflect honor on the cause with which they are identified, and to purify and elevate the mind employed in contemplating them. It would have been easy to multiply sketches of this kind, but in order to bring the work within proper limits the Author has had to reject several which suggested themselves to his mind. He has not confined himself to the highways of history, but has wandered frequently into bye-paths, where interesting objects have attracted and repaid his humble researches. In executing his task he has attempted the painting rather than the sculpture of history, not confining himself to the exhibition of groups in bold relief, or in forms of statuary, but aiming to represent alike the men and the times in which they lived, combining them as in a picture-the former constituting the leading figures, the latter the background of the composition. Guizot speaks of the anatomy, the physiology, and the physiognomy of history very important distinctions for the historian to remember. It is that branch of the pictorial art of history which represents the last of these that the Author ventures to attempt. He would fain paint his heroes as living men, their souls beaming in their countenances, and vividly transfer to others the deep impressions which they have made upon his own mind.
The materials for the volume now laid before the public have been collected partly from our standard historical authorities, and partly from unpublished documents and local tradition, as well as scarce and curious tracts. During a visit last summer to the county of Norfolk, the Author was permitted to search the Corporation books of his native city, and the ecclesiastical records of the Old Meeting-house. He was also favored by his friend, Joseph Davy, Esq. of Yarmouth, with the use of three valuable MS. volumes :--1. A history of St. Nicholas' Church; 2. A copy of the Church-book of the Independent meetingHouse, Jail-street; and 3. Materials for a History of the Suffolk Churches, by the Rev. Thos. Harmer, of Wattisfield, the learned author of the Observations on Scripture. From these sources the Author derived most valuable assistance, especially in the chapter on the East Anglian Churches, which, indeed, is almost entirely drawn up from these documents. There can be no doubt that many val. uable
papers of this kind are in existence; and it would be well if persons accustomed to antiquarian researches would devote themselves to this neglected branch of inquiry, and thus collect and preserve materials of an order greatly to assist the future historians of Puritan life and times. The Author feels that his thanks are especially due to the gentlemen already named, as well as to the Rev. J. Russell, of Yarmouth, who kindly assisted him in his inquiries, and also to the Rev. Dr. Raffles, Joshua Wilson, Esq., and other friends, for the loan of MSS. and rare books. For the beautiful etching which forms the frontispiece, he is indebted to Miss Brightwell
, of Norwich, whose taste he has no need to praise, but whose kindness he would gratefully acknowledge.
In the selection of his materials and the mode of employing them, he has especially sought to interest the youthful part of the community. Earnestly would he invite them to study the lives and sufferings of these exiled confessors and martyrs, in whose humble annals they will find much of truth to instruct their understanding, and much of romantic beauty to kindle their imaginations, (little as that quality is generally thought to be allied to Puritanism and Nonconformity,) and much of Christian heroism to thrill their hearts and elevate their piety.
On reviewing his labors, the Author can fully sympathize with the equally ingenious and ingenuous Abraham Tucker, in his characteristic confession, "While the design of these dissertations lay in embryo in my head, they promised a much more shining appearance than I find them make now I can review them upon paper.” He therefore submits his work to the public with great diffidence, conscious that, though his conceptions of the theme in the first instance were very imperfect, their expression in the following pages is still more so.
In conclusion, while the Author would bespeak the candor of his readers, he would, above all, invoke the blessing of God. The cause of Puritanism is the cause of spiritual religion. The men in question were greatly beloved of Heaven. To exhibit their characters in the true light, to revive or perpetuate the memory of their excellence, is an act of piety. To the favor of Him, then, who is the God of truth, and to whom the names of His saints are precious, this work is humbly and devoutly commended.
“For all is in his hand, whose praise I seek,
Whose frown can disappoint the proudest strain,