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

By Jane Kamensky | Go to book overview

SIX
THE TONGUE
IS A WITCH

The setting: Boston and its environs, the first stormy months of 1692. The temper of the times: confused, troubled, anxious in the extreme. And the level of noise: positively deafening. Cacophonous enough, in fact, that no less eminent a preacher than Cotton Mather feels compelled, for the first time (though hardly the last), to inveigh in print against loose words--in particular, against unfettered female speech. Instructing the pious matrons of New England on the "character and happiness of a virtuous woman," he recalls for them the psalmist's decree: "I will take heed unto my ways that I sin not with my Tongue; I will keep my Mouth with a Bridle." Mindful of the "usual" charge that women's "Tongues are frequently not so Governed by the Fear of God, as they ought to be," he exhorts the "daughter of Zion" to cultivate a "silver tongue"--speech rare and pure, free of boastful "dross." Mather urges her, "Be careful that you don't Speak too soon. . . . And be careful that you don't Speak too much." For "'tis the Whore, that is Clamorous, and the Fool, that is Full of words." 1

First printed in March 1692, Mather's pocket-sized volume on female conduct must have found an eager audience. 2 No daughter of Zion could have failed to notice that there were clamors aplenty that spring--more hubbub, perhaps, than had ever before been heard in New England. From the north and west, where English settlers warred against the French and their Algonquian allies, came doleful tales of battle and Indian captivity.

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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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