Reviving puritan history evangelicalism, antiquarianism, and Mather's Magnalia in antebellum America

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Date: Fall 2010
From: Early American Literature(Vol. 45, Issue 3)
Publisher: University of North Carolina Press
Document Type: Essay
Length: 10,896 words

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By the time Cotton Mather died in 1728, his two-volume church history, the Magnalia Christi Americana, had all but vanished in England and America. As one of New England's most prominent and controversial Puritan figures, Mather represented a generation of colonists and a theological stance that, like his book, was quickly receding into the past. (1) The Magnalia is an exhaustive historical account of colonial New England that includes descriptions of the founding of specific Puritan congregations and seminaries, accounts of spiritual trials and martyrdom, and celebrations of God's providential care over the Puritans. But despite the prominence of its author, the usefulness of its records, and the optimism of its theological message, a complete American edition of the Magnalia did not exist until almost 120 years after its first printing in London in 1702. (2)

In 1820, the Magnalia was saved from obscurity by a Connecticut minister and antiquarian, Thomas Robbins. Robbins's decision to publish the first American edition of the Magnalia was driven by his involvement in two significant national movements between 1820 and 1855: the Second Great Awakening and the emergence of American antiquarianism, or as David Van Tassel terms it, "Documania" (103). All who knew him felt that Robbins represented the spirit of the Puritan fathers in his duties as pastor and antiquarian. In a tribute to Robbins published in the Round Table on January 6, 1866, and appended to Robbins's diary, Dr. Henry R. Stiles, a well-known Brooklyn historian and genealogist, wrote affectionately of an older Robbins pacing the halls of the Connecticut Historical Society, speaking with anyone willing to hear about his artifacts. (3) Stiles depicts Robbins as "a venerable little white-haired man, in an old-fashioned costume of black, with small-clothes, white silk stockings, and knee-buckles" navigating the masses of "old portraits, old chairs and chests out of the Mayflower, Captain Miles Standish's dinner-pot, Indian relics, worm-eaten manuscripts, old battle-flags ... and scraps of ancient costume" (Diary 1081). All accounts of Robbins portray him as a kind of Puritan antiquity, "the last of a line of New England divines" (1082). In his obituary, Robbins is described as being "representative of the manners of the early generation of Puritan ministers" and a "connecting link between the present generation and the Puritan period of New England History" (Barnard 280). Surely Robbins's commitment to the life of the Puritans (and his resemblance of that life) inspired his efforts to reprint the long-lost Magnalia.

While recent criticism situates the Magnalia reprints in the context of the American Renaissance and view its contributions as chiefly literary, I argue that the material circumstances of the book's reprinting make it a participant in the multidimensional discourses of faith, history, and nation in antebellum New England. The Magnalia reprint affords the opportunity to see connections between two movements that we might assume are incongruent. The Second Great Awakening is known as an evangelically motivated movement marked by a millennialist theology and a commitment to social concerns like temperance and prison reform, while the antiquarian movement is seen as part of the "remarkable rise of historical consciousness" in the antebellum period that yielded a surge in historical fiction and nonfiction (Callcott vii). Yet evangelical revivalism and antiquarianism possessed similar motivations and characteristics in the early nineteenth century, not the least of which was a desire to establish a sustaining historical narrative of America's development from colony to nation. Robbins's reprinting of Mather's Magnalia demonstrates the close relationship between antiquarianism and evangelical revivalism in the 1820s, a relationship fostered by American print culture. (4)

By reprinting the Magnalia in 1820 and again in 1855, Robbins not only made the book accessible to a wider reading public but also circulated Mather's ideas in the context of this emerging historical discourse and religious revival. In addition, changes made between the first and second American editions of the book denote the changing historical moments in which they were published. New features added to the 1855 edition suggest a shift in the book's primary purpose, from largely religious to predominantly historical, as the revival died out and as the subject of New England's history became popularized in fiction and nonfiction. Analyzing the circumstances surrounding the publication of both American editions of the Magnalia illuminates the relationship between print culture and New England's complex historical and religious identity. Robbins's efforts to bring the Magnalia back into print after years of neglect is indicative of a larger belief in the power of the printed text to shape America's future by returning to its recorded past.

Both historians and evangelicals at this time had to reconcile themselves to Puritanism, as a historical symbol and religious tradition (favorable or not). Nineteenth-century historians and authors began to uncover a troubling Puritan history stained by bigotry, superstition, faction, and war. How these sins of the Puritan fathers would be represented in history and literature became a key dilemma for writers of the early national and antebellum periods. Recent scholarship has suggested that nineteenth-century representations of Puritanism functioned as allegories of the early republic. Phillip Gould's argument, that history writing emerged in the 1820s to "[displace] Puritan history with early republican history," is representative of this interpretive move (7). Puritan history was used, then, as a kind of stage on which contemporary political, social, and religious concerns were played out. In the case of the Magnalia, though, Puritan history was printed back into existence at a time when collectors, antiquarians, historians, and librarians were looking to construct a past based on printed texts. Instead of being "displaced," Puritan history was being placed in the foreground of the efforts to revive America's "authentic" history. Implicit in Robbins's publishing effort was his belief that a lost Magnalia corresponded to a lost belief system and a lost historical foundation. Book publishing, then, represented a way to participate both in the recovery of colonial history and in the revival of Puritan faith. Moreover, for Robbins, the Magnalia was itself a model of the coalescence of evangelicalism and anti-quarianism. Reading the new edition of the book in this context prompts a reconsideration of how historians and antiquarians conceived of Puritan history and why they were driven to create, preserve, revise, or revive it. Furthermore, its reprinting represents the varied and sometimes competing historical discourses emerging in the nineteenth century concerning colonial New England and the legacy of Puritanism.

As many scholars have rightly noted, by the early nineteenth century, Cotton Mather had become the illustrative figure of Puritan bigotry and an archaic theology. (5) The Magnalia, especially, was heavily ridiculed for its surfeit of classical and biblical illusions and its antiquated style. While the book itself was difficult to find in the early nineteenth century, critiques of it were not. For example, in an article entitled "Books Relating to America," published in The North American Review in 1818, William Tudor criticized the Magnalia on these grounds:

   It is like traveling over an old road, where the few faces you meet
   are at once sour and gloomy.... To those who are interested in the
   early history of our country, it may be well to remark, that for
   accuracy in historical occurrences, they will do well to rely upon
   other authorities; but if they wish to obtain a general view of the
   state of society and manners, they will probably no where find so
   many materials for their purpose, as in the work of this credulous,
   pedantick, and garrulous writer. (271-73)

Tudor then sarcastically quipped that he himself is likely "the last (and possibly the first) individual, who, bona fide, perused in regular course the whole of Mather's Magnalia," that "chaotik mass of history, biography, obsolete creeds, witchcraft, and Indian wars" (256-57). Later in the century, James Savage, a historian working on an edition of John Winthrop's History of New England in 1853, charged Mather with sloppy historical work in recounting the life of Winthrop. Calling Mather "the unhappy author of Magnalia Christi Americana," Savage censured Mather for having "preferred useless quotations of worthless books, two or three centuries older, or popular and corrupt traditions, to the full manner and precise statement of facts, dates, principles, and motives, furnished by authentic history" (Winthrop ix). In 1879, in his History of American Literature, Moses Coit Tyler wrote of Mather's "infinite credulity; infinite carelessness" and his "disposition to stain the chaste pages of history with the tints of his family friendships and his family feuds" (83). Nineteenth-century critics read Mather's history as anything but disinterested, a characteristic considered essential to contemporary history writing. They also conclude that Mather himself got in the way of this potentially useful book and that he lacked discernment and understanding at every level, from the length of the book to its historical accuracy.

While its tainted reputation in the nineteenth century is clear, scholars have often overstated the Magnalia's positive and sustaining influence in the period. Dorothy Baker has recently argued that the book's original function was to revive a "devotion to the Puritan commonwealth" and that it "served the same role well into the nineteenth century, where it continued to hold the attention of American readers" (3). (6) Baker further claims that the "providence tales" that constitute a large part of Mather's book became the basis for the American gothic form, represented in works by Poe, Stowe, Hawthorne, Sedgwick, and Wharton. Likewise, Christopher Felker maintains that the Magnalia was one of the most influential texts in the formation of literary nationalism in the antebellum period. (7) Felker understands Robbins's reprinting effort as a contribution to the growing demand for "a uniquely 'American'" literary tradition (87). These studies of the Magnalia in the nineteenth century rest on the assumption that the book substantially shaped the American literary landscape and was explicitly sought out by key American authors. Both arguments rely on a flawed belief in the popularity (and availability) of the book in the nineteenth century. Not only was the book extremely scarce before it was reprinted in 1820, its reputation and that of its author had been consistently undermined even after its American editions were published. That Mather's Magnalia underwent a rebirth in the nineteenth century is true, but the forces behind its reprinting had little to do with the growth of literary nationalism and a democratic readership, especially when we consider the particular circumstances under which Thomas Robbins ushered the book back into print. The Magnalia's publication history suggests that in the nineteenth century it did not serve explicitly literary purposes, but instead was considered an artifact of both antiquarian and evangelical import at a time when the nation was newly committed to accessing its past through print. By focusing on the circumstances of the book's reprinting we can reconstruct a historical narrative of its role in the nineteenth century that establishes new links between evangelical revivalism and antiquarianism.

The son of noted Connecticut theologian Ammi R. Robbins, Thomas Robbins was reared to be a scholar and minister. After completing his education at Yale and Williams Colleges at the turn of the century, he held positions as a teacher, pastor, and missionary throughout New England and in surrounding states. His passion for theology was matched only by his near obsession with books. In college, he began to collect books, even saving his college textbooks, and he committed to acquiring one hundred volumes a year. In the years before his death in 1856, Robbins was working full time at the Connecticut Historical Society, to which he willed his entire library of over four thousand volumes and one thousand dollars. Robbins's diary, edited by historian and theologian Increase Tarbox, is full of entries detailing his daily life of sermon preparation, visiting parishioners at his various posts throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut, attending Bible society meetings, hunting down rare books, and commenting on the state of the weather and his health. What emerges from these diaries is a portrait of a man equally dedicated to the spiritual health of New England and to the development of historical studies in America; book collecting represented the union of both interests.

Robbins's diary indicates that he began reading the Magnalia in 180l and continued to do so periodically until 1813. (8) Robbins does not reveal from where or whom he borrowed a copy, but he notes that copies of the book were extremely difficult to come by. As Tarbox explains, "copies of the first edition, printed in England in 170l, had become so rare that it was almost impossible for scholars to possess themselves of the work" (805). (9) In the preface to the 1820 edition, Robbins writes that "the work is not to be obtained in England but with difficulty," and in the United States, "those who have been desirous to possess, or even to read, the volume, have been unable to procure it" (v). In fact, Robbins asserts that "a small part of the community, even, knew of the existence of the work" (vi). Robbins finally located a first edition on March 18, 1813, recording in his diary, "Was very fortunate in finding a Magnalia at the booksellers" in North Haven, Connecticut (546). Robbins's difficulty finding the book was the first indictor of the need for a new edition. From descriptions that we have of Robbins and his work, it becomes clear why he would have wanted to read Magnalia in the first place and why he might have especially identified with Mather's view of history. Like Mather, Robbins saw the Magnalia as a book of fundamental importance to both the Christian and the historian. It is no wonder, then, that Robbins hoped the book would contribute to the cause of the Second Great Awakening spreading across the country in the first few decades of the nineteenth century.

In a diary entry dated May 3, 1797, Robbins wrote, "The world [is] coming either to Christianity or infidelity, sects being laid aside" (33). Like many others of his religious background, Robbins felt an anxiety during the decades following the Revolution akin to Mather's almost a century before. As Ruth Bloch has described, the revivalists of the Second Great Awakening believed in the future establishment of God's kingdom on earth, a belief stemming from Puritans like Mather (12). In a sermon preached in 1820, over two decades after the diary entry, Robbins still felt that the evangelical church was at a crossroads. He said to the congregants, "The labours and trials of his ministers, at the present day, are unusually great; but great and animating are their consolations. The conflict with the power of darkness is unusually animated; but the day of Zion's peace is dawning, the year of her redemption drawth nigh" (Ecclesiastical 25). Robbins's statement represents the deep connection he recognized between theology and eschatology, a connection that Mather had firmly established in his Magnalia. Nothing signaled the end times and the second coming of Jesus Christ more prominently than a period of "labours and trials." In the 1790s, the evangelical church faced a crisis caused by what Charles Keller describes as "the prevalence of heterodox doctrines, religious deadness, and what seemed to many a serious corruption of morals" (1). Beyond the question of morals, though, lay a fear that the developing nation could not sustain religious tradition. Thus, Donald Matthews argues that on a national scale, the Second Great Awakening served as an "organizing process that helped to give meaning and direction to people suffering in various degrees from the social strains of a nation on the move into new political, economic, and geographical areas" (27). For many leaders of the movement the concerns were also epistemological and theological. Timothy Dwight, president of Yale from 1795 to 1817 and a key figure in the awakening, fought a war of ideas, preaching vehemently against the Age of Reason and "the ungodliness which [he] associated with Jeffersonian democracy" (Keller 12). Responding to the threat of Deism, key religious leaders and scholars sought to reenergize the Protestant church by aggressively seeking converts and creating evangelical communities with which individuals could identify. The New England branch of the revivalist movement focused more on community outreach and scholasticism than mass conversion, which was more popular in the West. In particular, Robbins's home state of Connecticut became a hub for the revival because it still upheld Puritan theology and values in its institutions.

Importantly, the Second Great Awakening also marked a harkening back to Puritanism, perhaps somewhat nostalgically. While the social reforms of Lyman Beecher and others would link the awakening with progressive causes in the minds of many historians, the theological thrust of the movement was conservative. As Daniel Walker Howe explains, an older generation of participants in the movement "saw evangelical Protestantism as the legatee of Puritanism, the core of American culture, the source of American democratic institutions, the primary engine of economic and political progress, and ultimately the hope of the world" (194). The Second Great Awakening, then, was just as historical as it was religious in its ideological thrust, for an integral part of American Puritan theology was a belief in God's guiding hand in history. The revival asked believers to imagine themselves as heirs to a legacy and as pioneers--a term of historical importance--in a complicated political and religious landscape. In addition, the revival emphasized the role of the individual will in evangelicalism. Moving away from the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, evangelists spread a message of "believe and receive," emphasizing the individual's conversion decision over God's providential choosing. Spreading the message of salvation to the West was particularly important for revivalists like Thomas Robbins who, as Bloch describes, believed that "God was sending civilization through the west precisely in order 'to advance the glorious kingdom of the Redeemer'" (229). This "democratization" of Christianity helped to fortify the links between believers' civic and religious devotion and gestured backward toward a time when God and government were inextricably linked. (10) As Robbins believed, advancing the kingdom meant returning to the model of a Christian commonwealth. In 1814, Robbins published a pamphlet entitled An Historical View of the First Planters of New England in which he praises the merging of civil and ecclesiastical government. He also imagines a time when the newly saved will join the long-deceased Puritan fathers in celebrating the second coming, saying, "A lineal descendant from one of the first planters, I contemplate four generations of progenitors, removed to the great congregation. Soon shall we join the countless throng. Soon shall we close our eyes ... to be awakened at the morning of our Lord's appearing" (iii). The revivalist message was one that harkened back to the "zeal" of the Puritans, without the notion of strict predestination, and looked toward the coming of Christ with great urgency.

More than even the tent revivals and prayer meetings, the printed word served to transmit this revivalist message to the public, particularly in New England. In a "nation of readers" that was rapidly expanding in size, the medium of print crossed geographical boundaries and placed a common message (most frequently the Bible itself) into the hands of Americans (Zboray 36). In fact, evangelical printing became almost an entire industry unto itself, motivated in some part by what many revivalists saw as the "secular" nature of mass printing. As David Paul Nord puts it succinctly, "The enemy was cheap, popular publications; the weapon was the cheap, popular press" (243). To reach the "common" reader--and the unevangelized--leaders of the revival founded Bible and tract societies. Around the turn of the century, missionaries and pastors began to complain of a Bible shortage in America (Keller 109). In response to the perceived shortage, Bible societies sprang up nationwide to raise money for printing more Bibles in more languages. By 1817, there were 750 Bible societies at work in the United States. In fact, Connecticut state law still required "that every family have a Bible, that every apprentice and indented child on becoming of age should be given a Bible, and that the Scriptures should be constantly used as a textbook in the common schools" (110).

Working in tandem with Bible societies, tract societies arose as a means to fund the printing and circulation of the revivalist message in America and abroad. (11) In 1816, a group of ministers and congregants formed the Hartford Evangelical Tract Society, of which Robbins was a member. In 1823, the American Tract Society reported that it had printed 777,000 tracts that year (Keller 120). As a print form, tracts were geared toward the average congregant who perhaps could not afford a Bible and certainly could not afford the works of Jonathan Edwards or Mather. The didactic pocket sermons addressed social issues important to the movement (i.e., "The Swearer's Prayer" and "The Ruinous Consequences of Gambling") and spiritual issues important to individuals ("God a Refuge" and "Contentment in Humble Life") (Keller 121). To supplement the tract movement, several religious periodicals were founded by specific denominations, shaping denominational identities within specific communities. "In an era of national expansion," Candy Gunther Brown explains, "denominational periodicals supplemented other church-building strategies such as preaching" (145). Brown estimates that 188 religious periodicals were established between 1820 and 1852 ("Religious Periodicals" 272). Magazines also supplemented Scripture reading in the home and in schools, such that literacy was entwined with spiritual growth in multiple contexts. Though Mather's Magnalia might not become standard reading for average American families, Robbins surely saw the reprinted history as yet another substantial contribution to this emerging religious print culture, feeding the flame of revivalism.

It is not surprising that the "age of pamphlets," as Keller calls the Second Great Awakening, coincided with "documania," or antiquarian collecting and publishing. Historically, these movements overlap in the 1820s, just as the Second Great Awakening was losing momentum and historical and antiquarian societies were springing up nationwide. Both movements were also rooted in New England, specifically in Connecticut and Massachusetts, drawing some of the same participants to prayer meetings and book auctions. It could be argued that a belief in the value of print was the most significant characteristic shared by these two movements. The Second Great Awakening thrived, in part, because of the mass printing and distribution of pamphlets, periodicals, sermons, and Bibles. Likewise, the antiquarian movement, which began in earnest around 1812, was driven by printed texts--whether periodicals, proceedings of historical societies, or reprints of old books--and by efforts to amass anything written or printed in America to date. Collecting printed materials and publishing them, sometimes for the first time, became part of the same antiquarian project to bring lost or vanishing texts back into print, into libraries, and into public circulation. By 1860, 111 historical societies had been organized, and at least 90 of those societies published their proceedings, adding another layer to the accumulation of printed text preserved by antiquarians (Callcott 35-36). Both the Second Great Awakening and the antiquarian movement were driven to print by a long-standing belief in the primacy of the written word in the operations of both Protestantism and democracy. The earliest colonial printers, Ronald Zboray writes, were "held up as doing God's work" and "by the nineteenth century, it was democracy's work, as well" (36). The Second Great Awakening and the antiquarian movement demonstrated that God's work and democracy's work were two parts of the same national imperative to preserve the printed colonial past in the midst of increasing ideological and geographical fragmentation. (12)

It is important to understand that antiquarianism and historical writing in the nineteenth century were guided by somewhat different motives and methodologies. George Callcott explains that in the nineteenth century, antiquarians, or "compilers," and historians were engaged in two different acts, the one more scientific than the other. Noted antiquarian Abiel Holmes reasoned, "We permit the entomologist to chase butterflies interminably, let us be permitted quietly to spell out inscriptions in old grave yards, to pour over musty books.... The study of antiquities is an auxiliary to history. The one furnishes a few of the valuable materials, with which the other constructs her superb edifice" (qtd. in Callcott 112-13). The title "historian" held more prestige in the antebellum period, and so antiquarians imagined themselves as performing a supporting role in the writing of national history. Beyond prestige, though, lay a difference in motivation and method. Antiquarians saw the act of collecting as both a civic and moral imperative. This imperative existed for several reasons. First, during the War of 1812, national leaders were concerned that the nation's documents were vulnerable to foreign looting. In fact, the decision to establish the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester was based on its inland location, where it could not be attacked by sea (Shipton 166). The issue of safety was naturally linked to nationalism. Van Tassel writes that in the 1820s, local historians and historical societies "stung national pride with the revelation that England and other nations controlled many manuscripts and records pertinent to American colonial history" (103).

Second, the imperative to collect the nation's documents was part of the desire to write accurate histories. In one of its founding documents, Isaiah Thomas wrote that the American Antiquarian Society existed in part to "assist the researches of the future historians of our country" (Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 526) and to pursue historical truth. The idea that there is a true history (and, conversely, a false one) was important to antiquarians in particular, who read documents like criminologists read DNA-- as irrevocable proof of human action in a given context. In a young nation that was rapidly changing, documents represented stasis and a tangible past. In addition, as Eileen Ka-May Cheng has recently argued, antebellum historians were increasingly committed to "the ideal of impartial truth," a truth that could be constructed "only through a systematic and critical analysis of original documents" (2). (13) Finally, the imperative to collect was motivated by a belief in the moral implications of preserving colonial history. While historical writing privileged the constructed narrative over the raw "data," antiquarian collecting required a belief in the worth of documents as such. In the antebellum period, there were few limitations on what should be collected because it was not the antiquarian's role to make editing decisions based on ideological worth. As Christopher Columbus Baldwin, prominent antiquarian and indexer for the 1853 edition of Magnalia, wrote to a friend, "My daily experience tells me that we cannot determine what is valuable and what is not" ("Christopher Columbus Baldwin"). Even with objectivity as its goal, the discipline of collecting was irrevocably linked to core American values. According to Callcott, "Local antiquarians liked to justify history as a memorial to departed worthies. In one sense this was a way of saying that history supported principles, for the worthy were by definition men of virtue, religion, and patriotism" (189). Antiquarianism, then, also involved preserving "testimonials" of American virtue and making certain that, as Isaiah Thomas wrote, American antiquities might "perpetuate the history of moral and political events" and "improve and instruct posterity" (qtd. in Shipton 172).

Despite the antiquarian emphasis on telling the "truth" about history using artifacts, historians were invested in telling a truth that projected a desirable portrait of America's past and, in turn, a viable prospect for America's future. Nineteenth-century historians wrote with great ambivalence about the role that Puritanism should play in constructing such a history. With a growing interest in genealogy, it was difficult for antebellum historians to break too suddenly with the closest thing European-Americans had to a common "ancestry." And antiquarian collections contained a printed religious legacy that could not be ignored. Yet as Lawrence Buell writes, "many New Englanders found the memory of the Pilgrim-Puritan father embarrassing" (205). Historians struggled to construct an "authentic" history that at once utilized the newly compiled archival material while offering a corrective to the histories contained therein. For example, Abiel Holmes's Annals of America (1829) includes a lengthy passage condemning the witchcraft trials as "an affecting proof of the imbecility of the human mind, and of the powerful influence of the passions" particularly given the "gloomy state of New England" under the Puritans (438-39). Representations of Puritan leaders as "superstitious" and too quick to judge were ubiquitous in early nineteenth-century American histories and fictions. Similar representations of Mather and the earlier generations of Puritan leadership appear in works by John Neal, James Fenimore Cooper, Catherine Maria Sedgwick, Lydia Marie Child, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. (14) In much of the historical fiction of the 1820s and 1830s, the Puritan fathers were essentially caricatures, acting as foolish tyrants and stifling the desires of the outspoken and often rebellious heroes or heroines. But these were not the only portraits of the Puritan fathers circulating during this time and fiction was certainly not the only site for such historical and textual representations. Through printing and collecting primary historical documents, a recuperative process was also under way.

One of Robbins's chief goals in reprinting the Magnalia was to reinstate Mather and his book as essential touchstones in the writing of colonial history in the nineteenth century. Despite his flaws, Mather was an antiquarian himself, whose storehouse of primary source material needed to be preserved for posterity even if Mather's reputation faltered. In addition, Robbins sought to reinstate the theological implications of Mather's history. Robbins hoped to show that Mather rightly conceived of God's role in the unfolding of history, and that antebellum New England was even now carrying the banner of the Puritan calling through its revived commitment to evangelicalism. Thus, the new edition of Magnalia would foreground the importance of the antiquarian program to the cause of the Second Great Awakening by highlighting its usefulness as a primary text and its theological import. In asserting that Mather's Puritan historiography was still relevant, Robbins challenged popular historical discourse, which, as I have said, did not typically look fondly on the Puritan fathers or Mather. Robbins believed that both the historical and theological functions of the Magnalia were congruent with each other and perfectly in line with his own antiquarian work. Just as Mather imagined himself to be a latter-day Winthrop, whose diary of life in the colonies Mather had read in manuscript and wove into the Magnalia, so did Robbins identify with Mather's antiquarianism and theology, placing Robbins himself in line with the typological unfolding of history.

Indeed, just as Mather believed the Magnalia to be "sprinkled by the Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ," Robbins imagined his antiquarian work to be blessed and guided by God (Diary 366). In his catalogue of holdings, Robbins describes two functions for his collection:

First, To assist the divinity student in the investigation of the Holy Scriptures, in the study of the history of the Church of Christ, and in such general services as may enable him to become an able and faithful minister of the gospel of salvation. Secondly, To assist the lover of history in his researches to discover the character of the Most High, and of man in the various events of Divine Providence. The design is now committed to God. I pray for his holy approbation and blessing. (qtd. in Barnard 281)

That history could reveal God's character is a belief Robbins shared with Mather, and it is a belief that maintained some resonance in the nineteenth century, even as historiography was becoming increasingly secularized. I take Sacvan Bercovitch's argument concerning the resonance of typological history in the antebellum period to be true in this case; even into the nineteenth century, history could be "interpreted through the double focus of prophecies accomplished and prophecies unfolding" (172). The reprinting of the Magnalia, then, offered a view of history that rested on a belief in God's providential plan for the nation. In the preface to the 1855 edition of the Magnalia, Robbins gestures toward his dispensational theology and historiography:

   It is stated, in the Preface before us, that 'The great object of
   the first Planters of new-England was to form A CHRISTIAN
   COMMONWEALTH.' That is finely suggested by the Author, in the
   elegant quotation from the great Latin Poet, with a small
   variation, 'Tantae Molise erat, pro CHRISTO condere Gentem.' And
   now we may say, by the favour of HEAVEN, THE WORK IS DONE. The
   world looks with amazement on a great Country, united in one
   territory, more extensive than Rome, a great population in rapid
   increase, all looking for Salvation in the name of the DIVINE

Robbins here acknowledges that the Puritan errand into the wilderness has been successful on several levels. Not only did the "Planters of New-England" lay the seed for a Christian nation, but since then, Christians have tamed the vast wilderness (by a great effort, as the revised quote from Virgil suggests), multiplied its citizens, and created an empire, "more extensive than Rome." The key for Robbins, though, is in the last phrase. Winthrop's city on a hill, on which the "world looks with amazement," is also still "looking for Salvation" in Christ. Though Robbins's assessment of the nation is reductive--surely all are not looking--his expression here is consistent with the evangelical fervor of the Second Great Awakening. The nation is still (and once again) "looking for Salvation," and so the "work" is not "done" after all.

As evidenced in his prefaces and diaries, Robbins believed that printing and collecting served evangelical purposes, even if the "good news" was largely historical instead of religious. I have argued that both the revivalist and antiquarian movements sought to make printed sources readily available to the public, and both movements believed that certain texts should be accessible (i.e., the Bible in every home; family histories in every state historical society). Operating under this belief, historical societies and antiquarian libraries centralized archival material to promote easier access and greater public visibility. These societies and libraries were meant to be used by students, scholars, and citizens eager to both discover and contribute to a kind of storehouse of national history and genealogy. What made antiquarianism so attractive to the public, according to Callcott, was that "Every man was his own historian, searching for himself in the old manuscripts and colonial records, enjoying the mysterious lure of the unknown, standing at the frontier of knowledge" (115). To "know" the "truth" of New England's colonial history, Robbins felt that readers had a right to access the Magnalia, without which the "authentic" history of New England Puritanism could never be written.

Thus, in 1819, the same year that Robbins was appointed a "receiving officer" of the American Antiquarian Society, he wrote to "Mr. Andrus, of Hartford" for the first time, presumably to begin a correspondence concerning a first American edition of the Magnalia. A few months after his initial letter, he "wrote a recommendation of Mather's Magnalia for a printer." The editor of the diaries notes that "this was the preface for the edition of Cotton Mather's Magnalia, which was issued in Hartford, by Silas Andrus, in the summer of 1820, a most important publication" (805). Robbins likely chose Andrus because of his fearlessness in publishing large books of history and biography, in addition to Bibles, "complete works" of poetry and drama, and dictionaries. Felker's estimation of Andrus as a "small publisher of antiquarian curiosities" is not entirely accurate, even in light of the number of historical reprints Andrus undertook. Like any smart publisher of his time, Andrus put out editions of Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, as well as popular tales of shipwrecks, fires, and calamities, collections of English poetry (including the works of Lord Byron), Don Quixote, the dramatic works of Shakespeare, and several works of international and domestic history. It is difficult to determine the exact nature of Robbins's financial arrangement with Andrus, but Robbins also had Andrus print a collection of Robbins's sermons, On the Divinity of Christ, in 1820. In a diary entry on May 1, 1829, Robbins writes, "Walked to Hartford. Settled an old account with Silas Andrews [sic], mostly in 1820s. Paid him for books and some binding, $40. He allowed for my sermons on the Divinity of Christ in 1820, $25. And for writing a preface, etc., for Mather's Magnalia, in 1821, a copy of the work at $5 and $2 in addition. Paid him now, $10." (15) It seems from this entry that Andrus allowed Robbins to have a copy of the 1820 edition for seven dollars, which was apparently a discounted price. Throughout the 1830s and '40s, Robbins continued to pay Andrus "for books and binding," and Andrus published the book again in 1853/55.

Andrus was almost certainly forced to consider the wisdom of publishing a two-volume work of Puritan history and theology written by Cotton Mather. Robbins confesses in the preface to the first edition, "Many omissions in the original work have been recommended, but the publisher concludes to retain the whole--He is sensible of the risk of publishing so large a work, at the present time. But relying on the utility of the object, he entertains a hope that the liberality of the public will save him from loss" (4). Robbins's explanation suggests that he is the publisher, but this was not exactly the case. Robbins wrote a recommendation for the book to be published, and we know that he wrote the preface, but it is not clear if he funded the project, or, more precisely, it is not clear if either Robbins or Andrus bore the weight of the financial risk. In the first few sentences of the preface, Robbins again explains that "The Publisher" has "long been sensible of the great demand for the Work, both by literary men and all other who wish to be acquainted with the early history of our country" (3). Here, Robbins refers to his own sensibility to the demand, not Andrus's. However, it is unlikely that Robbins would have had the funds to invest in this kind of project, so we can assume that Andrus acted as publisher and printer and that he thought it fiscally worth his while to print a second American edition in 1853/55 based on the sales of the 1820 edition. In fact, Robbins explains in the preface to the second American edition, "When I encouraged Mr. Andrus, some thirty years since, to republish the Venerable Magnalia, it was supposed that few copies would be sold.... The most of the second edition was disposed of, and for some years past has been scarce. The demand for the work is now increasing." There is little evidence to suggest that the 1820 book was widely advertised in newspapers and periodicals and, in fact, based on book notices for the second edition, there is some suggestion that the 1820 printing was not widely known. In an article in Graham's Magazine published in 1846, the editors "take the liberty of suggestion to Messrs. Little & Brown that Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana ... would be very acceptable to the public" ("Literary Prospects"). Implicitly denigrating the Andrus publication, they note that "there has never been what in Boston passes for a 'good edition' of it."

The 1820 edition was published in two octavo volumes, printed by Roberts and Burr. Though it is difficult to ascertain the print run of the book, we do know that the book sold relatively well or, at least, it quickly became difficult for buyers to find. One notable buyer relates her account of the arrival of this new edition. Harriet Beecher Stowe recalled in her novel Poganuc People the day that her father (Lyman Beecher) brought home "and set up in his book-case Cotton Mather's 'Magnalia,' in a new edition of two volumes" full of "stories that made her feel that the very ground she trod on was consecrated by some special dealing of God's providence" (qtd. in Baker 5). For the Beecher family, who likely had not owned the first British edition of the Magnalia, the new editions bolstered the revivalist movement, proving that a book could bridge the gap of centuries and make a new generation of believers feel that their modern world was yet "consecrated" by God.

Because Robbins desired that readers should experience the Magnalia as eighteenth-century readers might have, the 1820 edition was reprinted exactly from a 1702 copy of the book. Unfortunately for Robbins and Andrus, the 1702 copy that the printer worked from did not include the errata sheet, which only appeared in a handful of copies because Mather was not in London to superintend the printing. From an antiquarian's perspective, though, Robbins may have preferred the "authenticity" of the copy; because the 1702 edition was so scarce, Robbins produced a kind of replica of the book as most people had read it, without the errata. Thus, the first edition was published as it appeared in 1702, though in a smaller format, and is without footnotes, index, or translations. Typographically, this edition also preserves words in italics and uses small caps consistent with the first British edition. These choices would garner some criticism as reviewers compared this edition with the later one; a reviewer for the Christian Examiner complained that the first edition was "disfigured by many and grievous typographical errors, especially in the quotations from foreign languages, and in dates" ("Literary Intelligence").

More than just a publication preference, Robbins's desire for "authenticity" in this first reprint carries significant historical and religious implications. Even in his work at the Connecticut Historical Society, Robbins is described as having "almost the personal interest of an eye-witness to the reality, these memorials of a past age" (Barnard 283). Robbins describes Mather as having a similar relationship in the 1820 preface:

   The work now presented to the American public contains the history
   of the Fathers of New-England, for about eighty years, in the most
   authentic form. No man since Dr. Mather's time, has had so good an
   opportunity as he enjoyed to consult the most authentic
   documents.... The situation and character of the author afforded
   him the most favourable opportunities to obtain the documents
   necessary for his undertaking. And no historian would pursue a
   similar design with greater industry and zeal. (3)

What Robbins seems to value most in Mather's work is that Mather was in contact with the "authentic" documents of the past and was, in fact, an antiquarian, a man invested in the "facts" that the documents provided. Robbins believed that contact with authentic documents was the key to the writing of colonial history, both in 1702 and 1820, and Mather's own vast collection of books was indicative of his investment in authenticity. Recognized as one of the largest and most important personal libraries in the nation, the Mather library--between six hundred and seven hundred volumes--was purchased by Isaiah Thomas in 1816 for the American Antiquarian Society (Tucker 20). It is well known that the Mather family interests extended beyond theology into other realms of contemporary concern like science and medicine. However, according to Jan Stievermann, these "secular" pursuits always operated under the pretext of "[harmonizing] the different branches of knowledge with biblical revelation" (269). Mather's theological message does not stand secondary to his antiquarian method, because the message and the method build toward the same goal and were in fact complimentary, as Robbins himself believed. According to both Mather and Robbins, only from the most "authentic" documents and "true" accounts can one see the working of God in history. Robbins also makes the point that Mather's Magnalia acted as a preserving document for "written testimonies, many of which have since perished" (1820 "Preface" 3). Like an antiquarian library unto itself, the Magnalia houses a wealth of information that would have been lost to generations hence had Mather not preserved it.

By the time Robbins was preparing the midcentury edition of the Magnalia, the fervor of the Second Great Awakening had waned, though its impact had been felt across America. The second edition, which Robbins felt was necessary given the strong (and surprising) sales of the first, reflects both his growing personal and financial investment in antiquarianism and his desire for the book to be more accessible to a reading audience outside the group of ministers and antiquarians first interested in the book. Robbins's role in publishing the second edition is also more that of an editor than in the first edition; in this edition, Robbins altered the text itself and made editorial decisions that reshaped the book. The 1853/55 edition contains new supplemental material, featuring additional tools for readers and foregrounding the collaborative nature of antiquarian work. (16) The book includes contributions from the distinguished antiquarian and genealogist Samuel Gardner Drake, and the work of American Antiquarian Society librarian Christopher Columbus Baldwin. After reintroducing this obscure book to the reading public, Robbins now widened the appeal of the book through editorial changes.

For example, following Robbins's preface, the typographer notes that some of the typography has been altered in the new edition for the sake of clarity. He explains that since the last edition,

   Many material deviations have been made in the typography.
   Quotation marks have been introduced, in lieu of putting the
   numerous quotations in italic, to correspond with the antique
   style; and a difference has been made in the type for the original
   text and that for the documentary portion and extracts; thereby so
   distinctly marking each, that they cannot be easily confounded.

In addition, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin quotes have been translated for this edition--another important contribution to the second edition's accessibility. Much more than the 1820 edition, the 1853/55 edition establishes the Magnalia as a readable and navigable research tool with less emphasis on the "authentic" (with its flaws) and greater emphasis on utility and accessibility. This shift in emphasis demonstrates the rapid growth of interest in both Mather and in antiquarianism more generally in the thirty years between the first and second editions. The features of the new edition are also indicative of Robbins's vocational shift from reverend to full-time collector and librarian. As he became more invested in antiquarian work--and became a part of antiquarian networks--he made additions and editorial changes to the Magnalia to make it a more accessible book to a new crop of midcentury readers. In the preface to the 1855 edition, Robbins also explained that the 1820 edition was now "scarce" and "the demand for the work [was] now increasing" in the wake of documania and the national obsession with history and genealogy.

Reviews of the new edition emphasized the improvements made since its first printing. One reviewer for The Independent in Boston writes that the 1820 edition "has long been almost as rare in the market as the first" and that this second edition "will show what progress the typographic art has made in this country since 1820." A book notice in the Christian Advocate highlighted one of the most useful features of the new edition, the "valuable accompaniments of the translations and notes, which are so essential to the elucidation, and most ably performed" ("Notices"). The New England Register, though not losing an opportunity to highlight the "abuse" that Mather continued to suffer, praises the new edition for its "excellent type, excellent paper," and "a beautiful portrait of the Author accompanying it." Interestingly, for a reviewer in the Christian Examiner, the new edition was still found wanting in regard to clarifying notes. He writes, "We ourselves wished that, if the work must have been reprinted, a very careful commentary should have accompanied it. But there will be purchasers enough to exhaust even a fourth edition" ("Literary Intelligence"). This reviewer at least forecasts strong sales for the book, despite its deficiencies. As is clear from the number of reviews and notices in a range of magazines and newspapers, the Magnalia was finally finding a wider audience by midcentury.

As with the first American edition, Robbins provided the preface and occasional notes, but to this volume was added a short biography of Mather and a Mather genealogy by Samuel Gardiner Drake. The book also includes an index "by another hand." In 1826, Baldwin, librarian for the American Antiquarian Society from 1827 to 1835, compiled an index to the 1820 edition of the Magnalia, the manuscript of which is still held at the Society. Baldwin was a highly respected antiquarian, best known for his acquisition of the Thomas Walcutt collection, the extensive personal holdings of a founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Robbins and Baldwin had corresponded in 1834, but Baldwin was killed in a carriage accident the next year and there is no information as to how Robbins obtained the index. (17) Nevertheless, we know Baldwin had taken steps years earlier to make the Magnalia more accessible to readers, carefully indexing the hundreds of names, events, and general topics in both volumes. The index in the 1853/55 edition allowed readers to use the Magnalia as a reference tool and to move through it topically or according to their interests. It became the "card catalogue" for the library contained between its covers. The index also allowed for the possibility of reading the Magnalia differently; not as a continuous linear historical narrative, but as a book of incidents and anecdotes, names and dates to be referenced in new histories, sermons, and novels. More than the first edition, which focused on the book's theological and historical significance, the second edition's structure and supplements highlight the Magnalia's usefulness and accessibility as an antiquarian resource.

The Mather biography added to the second edition functions differently than the index. Drake's contribution to the new edition emphasizes the objectivity with which readers should approach the character of Cotton Mather and, in turn, the content of his book. Drake was a scholar of early New England, publishing a new edition of Benjamin Church's Entertaining History of King Philip's War (1772) and thereafter writing several histories of Native American-English relations in the colonies. He established an antiquarian bookstore in Boston in 1830 and was a founding member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, formed in 1845, and the periodical the New-England Historical and Genealogical Register. He also edited two works by Increase Mather, Early History of New England and The History of King Philip's War. His contribution to the second American edition is a piece entitled "Memoir of Cotton Mather, D.D., F.R.S," taken from a book of the same name that Drake published in 1851. Drake also appended a family tree to the memoir. Interestingly, the memoir of Cotton Mather makes up only a fraction of what was published in the 1851 book. What follows the memoir in that work is a ninety-two-page list of "Books for Sale at the office of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register." In this context, the memoir and family tree function as a kind of decoy to pique buyers' interest in genealogy--a growing national interest at the time. But largely the book is a free catalogue promoting Drake's book store. The Mather memoir's original context demonstrates that an interest in history, biography, and book collecting was becoming mainstream and even the basis of new business for publishers and printers. In the context of the 1853/55 edition of the Magnalia, though, the memoir and genealogy seek to "recover" Mather from public misunderstanding and, indeed, to establish the Mather family line as one of the most important in New England history. But even in doing this, Drake turns Mather into a kind of "antiquarian curiosity."

In his introductory remarks, Drake writes, "It is not proposed to enter at all into an examination or exhibition of the religious views and theories of Dr. Cotton Mather: those can be best understood by a perusal of his writing; while, at the same time, it is the duty of his biographer to rebuke those who, it is conceived, have calumniated him" (xxix). Drake sees the biographer's role as part of what I have been calling the recuperative effort of antiquarians. Drake is interested in Mather as a subject of study, and as such his offenses are merely indicative of the time in which he lived and wrote. Drake warns Mather's critics that they are in danger of "having the windows in their own houses broken, by the very missiles they themselves have thrown" (xxxii). He further explains that Mather's many historical errors were likely a result of his working from "the store-house of his mind" because such sources as are now available were not in Mather's day (xxx). Concerning Mather's involvement in the witch trials, Drake explains that Mather was not the "author" of the public belief in witchcraft, but "he was himself one of the deluded; and this is the only charge that can lie against him relative to it" (xxxii). For Drake, contemporary critiques of Mather were anachronistic, holding him accountable for his decisions by antebellum standards of reason. What, then, could be Cotton Mather's relevance to the nineteenth-century reader if indeed he is so displaced from that reader's worldview? For Drake, Mather should be praised for the sheer amount of written and collected material he left behind. (18) That is, Mather's contribution to antiquarians is that he documented a past that they could not otherwise access. Drake, like Robbins, sees Mather's printed work as an invaluable resource for reconstructing the colonial past.

The genealogy likewise humanizes the Mathers and places them in a specific historical context. Drake bemoans the fact that "reviling Cotton Mather" had become "in vogue of late years" and the biography and genealogy work toward reversing the trend (xxx). Genealogies were becoming hugely popular in the general public as a way to create a sense of continuity among families and to promote national identity. (19) People were eager to find out how far (and to whom) they could trace their own lineage, just as they were eager to be "their own historian," as we have seen. Including the Mather family tree as part of the prefatory material helped readers place the book in historical context (and perhaps forgive its errors) and allowed Robbins as the editor to tap into the growing interest in genealogy. In essence, the genealogy helps to convert Cotton Mather the metaphor (for any number of civic and religious errors) into Cotton Mather the man.

In order to write any history, familial or national, the public needed the print and manuscript materials that Robbins, Drake, Baldwin, and many other antiquarians were striving to amass. (20) The supplements to the 1853/55 edition of the Magnalia demonstrate the evolution of its function as a text and, consequently; its wider target audience. The 1820 edition was published in the context of the Second Great Awakening and at the start of a surge in historical interest; Robbins's typological view of history and his desire for exact historical fidelity to the 1702 edition are also explicit in the first edition. The midcentury edition places the book at the heart of the historical movement and includes materials that foreground new approaches to historiography. This second edition was also published at a time when many other colonial-era histories were being printed, when nearly every state in the Union had established a historical society, and when Robbins himself had become a full-time collector and librarian. By comparing both nineteenth-century editions of the Magnalia, then, we can identify changes in historical and antiquarian discourse between the two editions. While the first edition foregrounds the importance of the Magnalia to evangelical revivalism, the second edition packages the work to reach a broader readership with the help of the collaborators, the index, the modern typography, and the Mather genealogy.

We cannot know what would have become of Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana had Robbins not led the effort to reprint it at a time when the church was trying to recapture the Puritan spirit and the nation was trying to capture a sense of its own history. The antebellum reprints of the Magnalia also became part of a larger print revolution occurring throughout the nineteenth century that disseminated books, pamphlets, tracts, and periodicals more widely than ever before. That the book even warranted a second edition suggests the impact of its initial reprinting and the new readership it found in the mid-nineteenth century. Changes made between the first and second editions of the book also reflect changing approaches to the work of collecting books and antiquities and the Magnalia's relevance to the public as a resource and as a guidebook for future action. As Robbins articulated in an address to Williams College in 1843 on the "Importance of Historical Accuracy," the historian and antiquarian "will have an influence in forming the character of generations after he sleeps" (1714). Robbins believed that the Magnalia's presence in libraries, public and personal, would shape "the character of generations." Robbins was able to see the implicit continuity in Mather's book between faith and history and, like Mather, he hoped that by preserving historical narratives in print, he might restore a book, a man, and a theology to a prominent place in the writing of colonial history.


Baker, Dorothy Z. America's Gothic Fiction: The Legacy of Magnalia Christi Americana. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2007.

Barnard, Henry, ed. "Obituary: Rev. Thomas Robbins, D.D." American Journal of Education 3 (March-June 1857): 279-83.

Bercovitch, Sacvan. The Puritan Origins of the American Self. New Haven: Yale UP, 1975.

Bloch, Ruth. Visionary Republic: Millennial Themes in American Thought, 1756-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985.

Brown, Candy Gunther. "Religious Periodicals and Their Textual Communities." A History of the Book in America: The Industrial Book, 1840-1880. Ed. Scott E. Casper et al. Vol. 3. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2007. 270-78.

--. The Word in the World: Evangelical Writing, Publishing, and Reading in America, 1789-1880. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2004.

Buell, Lawrence. New England Literary Culture: From Revolution through Renaissance. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.

Callcott, George H. History in the United States, 1800-1860: Its Practice and Purpose. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1970.

Cheng, Eileen Ka-May. The Plain and Noble Garb of Truth: Nationalism and Impartiality in American Historical Writing, 1784-1860. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2008.

"Christopher Columbus Baldwin." Portraits! American Antiquarian Society. N.d. 29 July 20l0.

Drake, Samuel Gardiner. "Memoir of Cotton Mather, D.D., F.R.S." Mather (1855) xxix-xli.

Felker, Christopher. Reinventing Cotton Matker in the American Renaissance: Magnalia Christi Americana in Hawthorne, Stowe, and Stoddard. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1993.

Gould, Phillip. Covenant and Republic: Historical Romance and the Politics of Puritanism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.

Hall, David D. Cultures of Print: Essays in the History of the Book. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1996.

Holmes, Abiel. The Annals of America, from the Discovery by Columbus in the Year 1492 to the Year 1826. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Hilliard and Brown, 1829.

Holmes, Thomas James. Cotton Mather: A Bibliography of His Works. 3 vols. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1940.

Howe, Daniel Walker. What God Hath Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007.

Keller, Charles Roy. The Second Great Awakening in Connecticut. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale UP, 1968.

"Literary Intelligence." Christian Examiner and Religious Miscellany 55.1 (1853): 151.

"Literary Prospects." Graham's Magazine. 29.3 (1846): 155.

Mather, Cotton. Magnalia Christi Americana. 1702.2 vols. Hartford: Silus Andrus and Son, 1820.

--. Magnalia Christi Americana. 1702. 2nd ed. 2 vols. Hartford: Silus Andrus and Son, 1853. Reissued 1855.

Matthews, Donald G. "The Second Great Awakening as an Organizing Process, 1780-1830: An Hypothesis." American Quarterly 21 (Spring 1969): 23-43.

Nord, David Paul. "Religious Publishing and the Marketplace." Communication and Change in American Religious History. Ed. Leonard I. Sweet. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993. 239-69.

"Notices of Books." Christian Advocate and Journal 21 July 1853: n6.

Pfitzer, Gregory M. Popular History and the Literary Marketplace: 1840-1920. Boston: U. of Massachusetts P, 2008.

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Rev. of Magnalia Christi Americana, by Cotton Mather. The Independent 14 July 1853: 112.

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Robbins, Thomas. Diary of Thomas Robbins, D.D. 1796-1854. Vol. 1. Ed. Increase N. Tarbox. Boston: Beacon, 1886.

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--. An Historical View of the First Planters of New England. Hartford: Gleason, 1815.

--. "Importance of Historical Accuracy." Weekly Messenger 6 December 1843: 1714.

--. "Preface to the First American Edition." Mather (1820). 3-4.

--. "Preface to the Present Edition." Mather (1855) vi.

Shipton, Clifford K. "The American Antiquarian Society." William and Mary Quarterly 2.2 (1945): 164-72.

Stievermann, Jan. "Writing 'To Conquer All Things': Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana and the Quandary of Copia." Early American Literature 39.2 (2004): 263-97.

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Van Tassel, David D. Recording America's Past: An Interpretation of the Development of Historical Studies in America, 1607-1884. Chicago: U. of Chicago P, 1960.

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LINDSAY DICUIRCI Ohio State University


(1.) Interestingly, even as Mather composed the Magnalia, he felt a similar sense of urgency to preserve the message of first-generation American Puritanism. In a prefatory poem in the opening pages of the Magnalia, Nicholas Noyes, "teacher of the church at Salem," actually uses the language of revival in talking about Mather's mission. He writes of Mather, "Whose piety, whose pains, and peerless pen, / Revives New-England's nigh-lost origin" (1820 ed. 15).

(2.) The first American edition was published in 1820, the second in 1853. The 1853 edition was reissued in 1855, but only vol. I was altered significantly; it contains new material, which I discuss later in this essay.

(3.) Robbins had performed the wedding ceremony of Stiles's parents, and Stiles did not meet Robbins until he was twelve years old, shortly before Robbins's death.

(4.) I take my understanding of the sometimes overwrought term "print culture" from David Hall's essays in the collection Cultures of Print. Hall describes the relationship between the history of ideas and the history of the book, arguing that "the better we understand the production and consumption of books, the closer we come to a social history of culture" (1). "Print culture" marks the intersection of printed texts and the circumstances and conditions of their production with the reading public.

(5.) Sacvan Berkovitch's Puritan Origins of the American Self and Lawrence Buell's New England Literary Culture, among other works, clearly illustrate Mather's declining status in the nineteenth century.

(6.) Baker's larger contention is that these writers of historical and gothic fiction sought to rewrite the past in ways that exposed its flaws, "[rejecting] Mather's vision of the ideal" (144).

(7.) Felker's Reinventing Cotton Mather in the American Renaissance considers Mather's Magnalia as a kind of palimpsest on which writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Elizabeth Stoddard wrote their own "political accents into narrative centers, keywords, and plot formulas" (9). He further argues that "the American edition was the crucial publication for the production of a new and highly self-conscious literature" (87). While Magnalia certainly informed the historical narratives of writers like Hawthorne and Stowe, it is difficult to demonstrate the extent of its influence as a "masterplot," as Felker terms it (94). Felker's book grants the Magnalia a cultural and literary authority that seems unlikely given its reception in the nineteenth century and relative obscurity.

(8.) The diary entry on October 14, 1801, makes the first mention of the Magnalia: "Read Mather's the Magnalia." The next mention is not until August 27, 1811. He names the book again in September 1811 and then in February 1813 just before he buys a copy himself. He does not cite the price for the first edition copy, but by 1844 the book was worth around nineteen dollars at auction and in 1886, the book could sell at auction for between forty dollars and sixty dollars, according to Increase Tarbox, editor of Robbins's diary (488).

(9.) Tarbox cites 1701 as the publication date, but the date printed on all copies of the first edition is 1702.

(10.) Bloch further argues that millennial rhetoric was employed by social and political movements in the nineteenth century, like abolition and early socialism, and was also associated with the language and mission of Manifest Destiny. Thus, millennial thought was not a wholly evangelical principle, and was somewhat secularized as the century progressed (230).

(11.) Timothy Dwight established one of the first tract societies in New England, the Connecticut Religious Tract Society based in New Haven, CT (Keller 118).

(12.) Just as antiquarianism and history writing were distinguished from each other in the nineteenth century, so too was antiquarian publishing and the publication of "popular history." Historical writing was, indeed, a popular genre in the nineteenth century and as Gregory Pfitzer has argued, there was a huge market for such publications as "the commodification of literary and historical culture" was fed by the power of "mass production" and people's new desire to "'own' books in impressive numbers" (7). There was not such a market for antiquarian publishing in part because rare books did not have mass appeal and in part because rare books could not be published cheaply or, in the case of the Magnalia, compactly. Thus, I place the Mather reprint in the context of antiquarianism and not popular history because I see these as two very different markets in historical book publishing.

(13.) Cheng further argues that far from being "Whiggish" and "partial," antebellum historians, and I would include antiquarians, were dedicated to examining historical events from a critical distance, but a distance that nonetheless allowed for a kind of identification with actors in history. Such identification would prevent historians from placing anachronistic political, social, or religious expectations on the figures about whom they were writing (10).

(14.) See Neal's Rachel Dyer (1828), Cooper's The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish (1829), Sedgwick's Hope Leslie (1824), Child's Hobomok (1824), and Hawthorne's "The May Pole of Merry Mount" (1835)

(15.) There are close to two hundred copies of the 1820 edition held in libraries worldwide, but there are no firm data concerning the total print run of either American edition.

(16.) See n. 2 for an explanation of the dates. Only the 1855 reissue contains the supplements discussed above.

(17.) With the prior correspondence between Baldwin and Robbins and the copy of the manuscript as evidence, we can conclude that Baldwin's index, likely compiled on his own accord, is the one printed in the 1855 reissue.

(18.) Drake calculates that Mather alone authored 382 published works in his lifetime (xxix).

(19.) Several antiquarians like Robbins also participated in genealogical societies. According to Robbins's diary, Drake wrote to inform him in February 1845 that he was elected a member of the Historic Genealogical Society recently formed in Boston (770).

(20.) I am not suggesting that Robbins's antiquarian work eventually conflicted with his theology or that the later editions are any less theologically significant for Robbins. However, the supplements add a further element of accessibility (both in terms of form and content) and clearly show Robbins's new interest in genealogical work.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A242754597