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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Damon and Pythias at Newbury

By Nicholas Noyes (1647–1717)

[Born in Newbury, Mass., 1647. Died at Salem, Mass., 1717. From Cotton Mather’s “Magnalia.” 1702.]

MR. JAMES NOYES was born, 1608, at Choulderton in Wiltshire, of godly and worthy parents. His father was minister of the same town, a very learned man, the schoolmaster of Mr. Thomas Parker. His mother was sister to the learned Mr. Robert Parker, and he had much of his education and tutorage under Mr. Thomas Parker. He was called by him, from Brazen-Nose-College in Oxford, to help him in teaching the free school at Newbury; where they taught school together till the time they came to New England. He was converted in his youth by the ministry of Dr. Twiss and Mr. Thomas Parker, and was admired for his piety and his virtue in his younger years. The reason of his coming to New England was, because he could not comply with the ceremonies of the Church of England. He was married in England to Mrs. Sarah Brown, the eldest daughter of Mr. Joseph Brown of Southampton, not long before he came to New England, which was in the year 1634. In the same ship came Mr. Thomas Parker, Mr. James Noyes, and a younger brother of his, Mr. Nicholas Noyes, who then was a single man: between which three was a more than ordinary endearment of affection, which was never shaken or broken, but by death. Mr. Parker and Mr. James Noyes, and others that came over with them, fasted and prayed together many times before they undertook this voyage; and on the sea Mr. Parker and Mr. Noyes preached or expounded, one in the forenoon, other in the afternoon, every day during the voyage, unless some extraordinary thing intervened, and were abundant in prayer.

When they arrived, Mr. Parker was at first called to preach at Ipswich and Mr. Noyes at Mystic, at which place they continued nigh a year. He had a motion made unto him to be minister at Watertown; but Mr. Parker and others of his brethren and acquaintance settling at Newbury, and gathering the tenth of the churches in the colony, and calling Mr. Noyes to be the teacher of it, he preferred that place; being loath to be separated from Mr. Parker and brethren that had so often fasted and prayed together, both in England and on the Atlantic sea. So he became the teacher of that church, and continued painful and successful in that station something above twenty years without any considerable trouble in the church. Notwithstanding his principles as to discipline were something differing from many of the brethren, there was such condescension on both parts that peace and order was not interrupted. He was very much loved and honored in Newbury; his memory is precious there to this day, and his catechism (which is a public and standing testimony of his understanding and orthodoxy in the principles of religion) is publicly and privately used in that church and town hitherto. He was very well learned in the tongues, and in Greek excelled most. He was much read in the fathers and the schoolmen; and he was much esteemed by his brethren in the ministry. Twice he was called by Mr. Wilson and others to preach, in the time when the Antinomian principles were in danger of prevailing; which he did with good success, and to the satisfaction of those that invited him. Mr. Wilson dearly loved him; and it so happened once at Newbury that he preached in the forenoon about “holiness” so holily and ably, that Mr. Wilson was so affected with it as to change his own text and pitch upon Mr. Noyes’ for the afternoon; prefacing his discourse with telling the auditory that his brother Noyes’ discourse about holiness in the forenoon had so much impression upon his mind, he knew not how in the afternoon to pursue any other argument. His conversation was so unquestionably godly, that they who differed from him in smaller matters as to discipline held a most amicable correspondence with him and had an high estimation of him….

He was as religious at home as abroad, in his family and in secret as he was publicly; and they that best knew him most loved and esteemed him. Mr. Parker and he kept a private fast once a month so long as they lived together, and Mr. Parker after his death till his own departure. Mr. Noyes bitterly lamented the death of K. Charles I., and both he and Mr. Parker too had too great expectations of K. Charles II., but Mr. Parker lived to see his expectations of Charles the second frustrated. He had a long and tedious sickness, which he bore patiently and cheerfully; and he died joyfully in the forty-eighth year of his age, October 22, 1656. He left six sons and two daughters, all of which lived to be married and have children, though since one son and one daughter be dead. He hath now living fifty-six children, grand-children, and great-grand-children. And his brother that came over with him a single man is, through the mercy of God, yet living, and hath of children, grand-children, and great-grand-children, above an hundred: which is an instance of divine favor, in making the “families of his servants in the wilderness like a flock.” There was the greatest amity, intimacy, unanimity, yea, unity imaginable between Mr. Parker and Mr. Noyes. So unshaken was their friendship, nothing but death was able to part them. They taught in one school; came over in one ship; were pastor and teacher of one church; and, Mr. Parker continuing always in celibacy, they lived in one house till death separated them for a time; but they are both now together in one Heaven, as they that best knew them have all possible reason to be persuaded. Mr. Parker continued in his house as long as he lived; and, as he received a great deal of kindness and respect there, so he showed a great deal of kindness in the educating of his children, and was very liberal to that family during his life and at his death. He never forgot the old friendship, but showed kindness to the dead in showing kindness to the living.

Mr. Parker and Mr. Noyes were excellent singers, both of them; and were extraordinary delighted in singing of psalms. They sang four times a day in the public worship, and always just after evening prayer in the family, where reading the Scripture, expounding, and praying, were the other constant exercises. Mr. Parker and Mr. Noyes were of the same opinion with Dr. Owen about the Sabbath; yet in practice were strict observers of the evening after it. Mr. Parker, whose practice I myself remember, was the strictest observer of the Sabbath that ever I knew. I once asked him, seeing his opinion was otherwise, as to the evening belonging to the Sabbath, why his practice differed from his opinion! He answered me: Because he dare not depart from the footsteps of the flock for his private opinion.

Being got into some passages of Mr. Parker’s life before I am aware, I will insert a few more: and you may make what use of them you please. He kept a school, as well as preached, at Newbury in New England. He ordinarily had about twelve or fourteen scholars. He took no pay for his pains, unless any present were freely sent him. He used to say: He lived for the church’s sake, and begrudged no pains that were for its benefit; and by his good will he was not free to teach any but such as were designed for the ministry by their parents; for he would say: He could not bestow his time and pains unless it were for the benefit of the church. Though he were blind, yet such was his memory that he could in his old age teach Latin, Greek and Hebrew very artificially. He seldom corrected a scholar, unless for lying and fighting, which were unpardonable crimes in our school. He promoted learning in his scholars by something an unusual way; encouraging them to learn lessons and make verses besides and above their stinted tasks, for which they had pardons in store, that were kept on record in the school, and were for lesser school-faults, such as were not immoralities and sins against God, crossed out; but he always told them, they must not think to escape unpunished for sin against God, by reason of them; though for some lesser defects about their lessons they were accepted.

I heard him tell Mr. Millar, the minister, that the great changes of his life had been signified to him beforehand by dreams. And I heard him say that before a fiery temptation of the devil befell him, he had a very terrible representation, in a dream, of the devil assaulting of him, and he wrestled with him, and had more than once like to have prevailed against him; but that when he was most likely and most near to be overcome, he was afresh animated and strengthened to resist him; till at length the devil seemed to break abroad like a flash of lightning and then disappeared; and that not long after the most dismal temptation of Satan befell him that ever he was sensible of, and that all the passages of that temptation answered the forementioned representation; and that the hazards of it, and his fresh supplies when almost vanquished, and his deliverance was so remarkable, that every day he had lived since that time, he had given thanks to God particularly for his assistance of him in that temptation and his deliverance out of it: though it were twenty years before the time of his now telling me concerning it. Mr. Parker excelled in liberty of speech, in praying, preaching and singing, having a most delicate sweet voice; yet he had all along an impulse upon his spirit, that he should have the palsey in his tongue before he died. His voice held extraordinarily until very old age; and I think the more, because his teeth held sound and good until then; his custom being to wash his mouth and rub his teeth every morning. Some few years before his death, he began to complain of the toothache, and then he quickly began to lose his teeth; and now he said: The daughters of his music began to fail him. And about a year and a half before he died, that which he had long feared befell him, viz., the palsey in his tongue; and so he became speechless, and thus continued until death; having this only help left him, that he could pronounce letters, but not syllables or words. He signified his mind by spelling his words, which was indeed a tedious way, but yet a mercy so far to him and others.

During that time, which was in our first Indian war, when the Indians broke in upon many towns, and committed horrible outrages, and tormented such as they took captives, one night he fell into a dreadful tentation lest the Indians should break in upon Newbury, and the inhabitants might generally escape by lighting or flying, but he being old and blind and grown decrepit, he must of necessity fall into their hands; and that being a minister they would urge him by torture to blaspheme Christ, and that he should not have grace to hold out against the tentation of Indian torture; and with the very fear of this he was for the most part of the night in such agonies of soul, that he was on the very brink of desperation; but at length God helped him by bringing to his mind two places of Scripture: that in Isa. li. 12, 13, “I, even I, am he that comforts thee; who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and forgettest the Lord thy Maker?” And that in Rom. viii. 35, 36, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?——For thy sake we are killed all the day long;——Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that hath loved us.” Sleep departed from him that night, by reason of the horror of that tentation; and the joy that came towards morning he was wonderfully affected with; and in the morning early he pronounced all this to me letter by letter, and glorified God.

Once hearing some of us laughing very freely, while, I suppose, he was better busied in his chamber above us, he came down and gravely said to us: “Cousins, I wonder you can be so merry, unless you are sure of your salvation!” He was a very holy and heavenly-minded man, and as much mortified to the world as almost any in it. He scarce called any thing his own, but his books and his clothes. When he was urged to vindicate himself to be the author of the Theses de Traductione Peccatoris ad Vitam, he utterly refused it, saying, being young at the time when he made them, he was afraid he had not so fully aimed at the glory of God as he ought to have done. But a while after one unbeknown to him in Holland reprinted them, with the name of the author, and set him forth with more advantage than would have been modest or proper for himself to have done; giving him his parental as well as personal honor; and saying that his father was Pater dignus tali Filio, and that he was Filius dignus tali Patre. Thus “he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

Mr. Wilson once, on occasion of his celibacy, said to him, That if there could be anger in Heaven, his father would chide him, when he came there, because he had not like him a son to follow him. But he had many spiritual children that were the seals of his ministry: he was also a father to the fatherless; and many scholars were little less beholden to him for their education, than they were to their parents for their generation.

The occasion of his celibacy was this: at the time that he meditated marriage he was assaulted with violent temptations to infidelity, which made him regardless of everything in comparison of confirming his faith about the truth of the scriptures. This occasioned his falling into the study of the prophecies, which proved a means of confirming his faith; but he fell so in love with that study that he never got out of it until his death; and the church had doubtless had much benefit by his profound studies in that kind, could the bishops have been persuaded to license his books; which they refused, because he found the Pope to be prophesied of, where they could not understand it. His whole life, besides what was necessary for the support of it by food and sleep, was prayer, study, preaching, and teaching school. I once heard him say, he felt the whole frame of his nature giving way, which threatened his dissolution to be at hand: but he thanked God he was not amazed at it.

To conclude all I intend concerning Mr. Parker or Mr. Noyes, I shall give you Mr. Parker’s character of Mr. Noyes, who best knew him, and whose testimony of him is very credible.

“Mr. James Noyes, my worthy colleague in the ministry of the gospel, was a man of singular qualifications, in piety excelling, an implacable enemy to all heresy and schism, and a most able warrior against the same. He was of a reaching and ready apprehension, a large invention, a most profound judgment, a rare, and tenacious, and comprehensive memory, fixed and unmovable in his grounded conceptions; sure in words and speech, without rashness; gentle and mild in all expressions, without all passion or provoking language. And as he was a notable disputant, so he never would provoke his adversary, saving by the short knocks and heavy weight of argument He was of so loving, and compassionate, and humble carriage, that I believe never any were acquainted with him, but did desire the continuance of his society and acquaintance. He was resolute for truth, and in defence thereof had no respect to any persons. He was a most excellent counsellor in doubts, and could strike at an hair’s-breadth, like the Benjamites, and expedite the entangled out of the briars. He was courageous in dangers, and still was apt to believe the best, and made fair weather in a storm. He was much honored and esteemed in the country, and his death was much bewailed. I think he may be reckoned among the greatest worthies of this age.”