Study Languages to Foil Satan’s Plans!

Moses Coit Tyler, A History of American Literature:

In its inception New England was not an agricultural community, nor a manufacturing community, nor a trading community: it was a thinking community; an arena and mart for ideas; its characteristic organ being not the hand, nor the heart, nor the pocket, but the brain. The proportion of learned men among them in those early days was extraordinary. It is probable that between the years 1630 and 1690 there were in New England as many graduates of Cambridge and Oxford as could be found in any population of similar size in the mother- country. At one time, during the first part of that period, there was in Massachusetts and Connecticut a Cambridge graduate for every two hundred and fifty inhabitants, besides sons of Oxford not a few. Among the clergy in particular were some men of a scholarship accounted great even by the heroic standard of the seventeenth century, — John Cotton, John Davenport, Richard Mather, Eliot, Norton, Hooker, Roger Williams, Stone, Bulkley, Nathaniel Ward, Thomas Shepard, Dunster, Chauncey; while the laity had among them several men of no inconsiderable learning,—the elder and the younger Winthrop, Thomas Dudley, Simon Bradstreet, William Brewster, William Bradford, Pynchon, Daniel Gookin, John Haynes.

Probably no other community of pioneers ever so honored study, so reverenced the symbols and instruments of learning. Theirs was a social structure with its cornerstone resting on a book. Universal education seemed to them to be a universal necessity; and they promptly provided for it in all its grades. By the year 1649 every colony in New England, except Rhode Island, had made public instruction compulsory; requiring that in each town of fifty householders there should be a school for reading and writing, and in each town of a hundred householders, a grammar school with a teacher competent “to fit youths for the University;” and they did this, as their old law frankly stated it, in order that “ learning may not be buried in the grave of our fathers,” and especially in order to baffle “that old deluder Sathan,” “one chief project” of whose dark ambition it is “ to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures” by persuading them “from the use of tongues.”’ Only six years after John Winthrop’s arrival in Salem harbor the people of Massachusetts took from their own treasury the funds with which to found a university; so that while the tree-stumps were as yet scarcely weather-browned in their earliest harvest fields, and before the nightly howl of the wolf had ceased from the outskirts of their villages, they had made arrangements by which even in that wilderness their young men could at once enter upon the study of Aristotle and Thucydides, of Horace and Tacitus, and the Hebrew Bible.

Dr. Faustus in Counsel with the Devil, from Gent's translation of 'Dr. Faustus' by Christopher Marlowe (1564-93) 1648 from a collection of chapbooks on esoterica (woodcut)

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