previous next

[204] emerge. This is Dwight's interest in watching the world confirm his creed. Streams erode their banks, waterfalls recede, puddingstone is compounded, in order to support the Mosaic chronology, which infidel geologists had been heard to assail. Insects found alive in wood known to be eighty years old, seeds that germinate after centuries, frogs found alive by diggers far under ground, are not mere curiosities: they prove that a species supposed to be new may well have been the offspring of such durable creatures, and hence that there is no new species and no spontaneous generation. Dwight chronicles them to support the Biblical account of the origin of all species by creation at the beginning, an account which even in his time was being questioned by precursors of the evolutionary philosophy. His interest in other marvels, again, such as floating islands and mysterious bright spots in the clouds, is much the same as Cotton Mather's interest in magnalia— What hath God wrought! Every detail of the creation is full of manifest providences. The rich vegetable mould on the surface of new lands, for example, which yields an abundant crop to the pioneer almost without effort on his part, has been placed there for that very purpose, to support him during the first years of his settlement, when his energies, being required to build his house and clear more land, are diverted from the soil. Then, when the beneficent mould has disappeared, the poor soil has its providential purpose too, for by now the settler has time to cultivate it, indeed, must cultivate it if he is to live; so that he has a motive for industry and the other virtues which make him respectable. Thus both the presence and the absence of vegetable mould are effects of the final causes which make the world for man.

Carrying his theology into his judgments upon life, Dwight is interested above all, then, in seeing how a depraved humanity actually gets along in the world. His picture of the trim green New England landscape, with its white spires and prosperous villages, and his picture of the unkempt and sprawling German settlements along the Mohawk, though they may at first seem intended to produce an imaginative contrast, at length reveal his purpose of showing what it is that makes people become respectable. In fact the whole book is a collection of materials toward a genetic psychology of respectability.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
New England (United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Timothy Dwight (3)
Cotton Mather (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: