THE LAST AMERICAN PURITAN: The Life of Increase Mather by Michael G. Hall

THE LAST AMERICAN PURITAN: The Life of Increase Mather

Email this review


A thorough and authoritative biography of one of New England's more important Puritan figures; by the editor of Mather's autobiography. Not the better-known and overzealous son Cotton, but his more even-tempered and equally prolific father is the subject of this informed and balanced life-study that leads back through the Salem witch trials to Puritan beginnings in Massachusetts in the 17th century. Increase Mather matured in an environment that combined scholarship with the stern demands of Puritan ascetic faith. Enrolled at Harvard at age 12, later a student and young minister in England during Cromwell's parliamentary heyday, by the time Mather returned to Boston at age 22 he was already a force to be reckoned with. Boston was becoming a thriving center of trade, and Mather, a powerful speaker who was convinced by world events that a Second Coming was close at hand, soon became a prominent minister in a leading Congregationalist parish and the focus of heated theological debates. While scholarship in this area frequently concentrates on that hard-line Puritan literary specialty, the jeremiad, Halls draws attention to the range and depth of Mather's non-jeremiad writings, which display an active intelligence and balanced temperment. And though unquestionably rigid in outlook, Mather's accomplishments--including his role as a decisive moderating influence at Salem and a presidency at Harvard--suggest a character that defies the usual Puritan stereotype. A well-researched and fair-dealing work that approaches its subject closely without losing sight of the larger historical picture.

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 1987
Publisher: Wesleyan Univ. Press