Governing the Tongue: The Politics of Speech in Early New England

By Jane Kamensky | Go to book overview

FOUR
"PUBLICK FATHERS"
AND CURSING SONS

In a sense, preaching caused the death of John Cotton. Late in 1652, as he journeyed across the Charles River "to preach a sermon at Cambridge," Cotton "took wet in his passage over the ferry." When it came time to deliver the homily, he noticed "a failing of his voice . . . which ever until now had been a clear, neat, audible voice, and easily heard in the most capacious auditory." He would never recover; from his throat to his lungs, the affliction proceeded apace. Soon, those who longed to hear the "gracious words that proceeded out of" the "mouth" of this "publick father" would have to content themselves with whispers from his deathbed. At the end, he met his ultimate voicelessness peacefully, "lying speechless a few hours" before breathing "his blessed soul into the hands of his heavenly Lord." 1 But if Cotton embraced the final stilling of his voice, others in Massachusetts bemoaned it. "To suppress an instrument of so much good with silence," John Norton eulogized, would prove "an injury to the generation present, and to many an one that is to come." 2

By 1652, the grave nature of this sort of "injury" had become clear enough. Cotton's was not the first "heavenly eloquence" to pass from New England's midst, and it was certainly not the last. Hartford pastor Thomas Hooker, likewise known for his "dexterity in preaching," had died in 1647. John Winthrop, who strove so mightily to define the voice of the godly magistrate, spoke his last in 1649; Thomas Shepard followed within six months. After Cotton uttered his final words, the curtain of

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Governing the Tongue: The Politics of Speech in Early New England
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • A NOTE ON THE TEXT x
  • Contents xi
  • Introduction 3
  • One The Sweetest Meat, the Bitterest Poison 17
  • Two A Most Unquiet Hiding Place 43
  • Three The Misgovernment of Woman's Tongue 71
  • Four "Publick Fathers" and Cursing Sons 99
  • Five Saying and Unsaying 127
  • Six The Tongue is a Witch 150
  • EPILOGUE 181
  • Appendix - Litigation over Speech in Massachusetts, 1630-1692 195
  • Notes 203
  • Index 281
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