How to Help Melancholicks
COTTON MATHER WAS a Puritan divine who lived between 1663 and 1728. He was born in Boston, and the son of Increase Mather, who was pastor of (Old) North Church. He was grandson of another Puritan clergyman, Richard Mather ( 1596-1669). Educated at Harvard, Cotton Mather was ordained in 1685 and later succeeded his father as the pastor of North Church. He is best known for his part in the Salem witch trials, the climate for which he helped create with his influential sermons and the 1689 publication of his work Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and Possession. (A further work on witchcraft, Wonders of the Invisible World, followed this in 1693.) Mather was a man of extraordinary energy and seriousness of purpose, although few of the ends to which his efforts were directed seem admirable to us today. (He is usually dismissed as an example of the most narrow, severe, self-righteous, and joyless Puritan.) He was an indefatigable writer and, as the following excerpt from The Angel of Bethesda illustrates, a rather dry and witty stylist. Moreover, he was untiring in his support of the educational and cultural life of New England and was keenly interested in science. (He was the first native-born American to become a member of the Royal Society, and he supported the public-health measure of inoculation against smallpox even when, due to the unpopularity of that measure, his life was threatened.)
The Angel of Bethesda, Mather last major work, was a medical compendium, offering a list of "the Common Maladies of Mankind," accompanied by remedies and by practical directions of a preventive kind. It was not published in his lifetime, remaining in manuscript form until parts of it were printed in the nineteenth century. As the only large inclusive medical work of the American colonial period, it is of immense medical and historical importance. But even when the manuscript was rediscovered by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1869, it was treated with scorn: Holmes, it is said, "was opposed to medical writing by all non-physicians, and furthermore, modern medicine was evolving then, and practitioners of Holmes' generation felt very superior to all who had gone before" ( Mather, 1972:xxxvi).
As well as his chapter "De Tristibus, or The Cure of Melancholy",
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Publication information: Book title: The Nature of Melancholy:From Aristotle to Kristeva. Contributors: Jennifer Radden - Editor. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 2000. Page number: 161.
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