Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  Master Theophilus Eaton His Great Soul

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

Master Theophilus Eaton His Great Soul

By Cotton Mather (1663–1728)

[From Magnalia Christi Americana. 1703.]

SO exemplary was he for a Christian, that one who had been a servant unto him, could many years after say, “Whatever difficulty in my daily walk I now meet withal, still something that I either saw or heard in my blessed master Eaton’s conversation, helps me through it all; I have reason to bless God that ever I knew him!” It was his custom when he first rose in a morning, to repair unto his study; a study well perfumed with the meditations and supplications of an holy soul. After this, calling his family together, he would then read a portion of the Scripture among them, and after some devout and useful reflections upon it, he would make a prayer, not long, but extraordinarily pertinent and reverent; and in the evening some of the same exercises were again attended. On the Saturday morning he would still take notice of the approaching Sabbath in his prayer, and ask the grace to be remembering of it, and preparing for it; and when the evening arrived, he, besides this, not only repeated a sermon, but also instructed his people, with putting of questions referring to the points of religion, which would oblige them to study for an answer; and if their answer were at any time insufficient, he would wisely and gently enlighten their understandings; all which he concluded with singing of a psalm. When the Lord’s day came, he called his family together at the time for the ringing of the first bell, and repeated a sermon, whereunto he added a fervent prayer, especially tending unto the sanctification of the day. At noon he sang a psalm, and at night he retired an hour into his closet; advising those in his house to improve the same time for the good of their own souls. He then called his family together again, and in an obliging manner conferred with them about the things with which they had been entertained in the house of God, shutting up all with a prayer for the blessing of God upon them all. For solemn days of humiliation, or of thanksgiving, he took the same course, and endeavoured still to make those that belonged unto him understand the meaning of the services before them. He seldom used any recreations, but being a great reader, all the time he could spare from company and business, he commonly spent in his beloved study; so that he merited the name which was once given to a learned ruler of the English nation, the name of Beauclerk. In conversing with his friends, he was affable, courteous, and generally pleasant, but grave perpetually; and so cautelous and circumspect in his discourses, and so modest in his expressions, that it became a proverb for incontestable truth, “Governour Eaton said it.”

But after all, his humility appeared in having always but low expectations, looking for little regard and reward from any men, after he had merited as highly as possible by his universal serviceableness.

His eldest son he maintained at the college until he proceeded master of arts; and he was indeed the son of his vows, and a son of great hopes. But a severe catarrh diverted this young gentleman from the work of the ministry whereto his father had once devoted him; and a malignant fever then raging in those parts of the country, carried off him with his wife within two or three days of one another. This was counted the sorest of all the trials that ever befell his father in the “days of the years of his pilgrimage;” but he bore it with a patience and composure of spirit which was truly admirable. His dying son looked earnestly on him, and said, “Sir, what shall we do?” Whereto, with a well-ordered countenance, he replied, “Look up to God!” And when he passed by his daughter, drowned in tears on this occasion, to her he said, “Remember the sixth commandment; hurt not yourself with immoderate grief; remember Job, who said, ‘The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!’ You may mark what a note the spirit of God put upon it: ‘In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly:’ God accounts it a charging of him foolishly, when we don’t submit unto his will patiently.” Accordingly he now governed himself as one that had attained unto the rule of “weeping as if we wept not;” for it being the Lord’s day, he repaired unto the church in the afternoon, as he had been there in the forenoon, though he was never like to see his dearest son alive any more in this world. And though before the first prayer began, a messenger came to prevent Mr. Davenport’s praying for the sick person, who was now dead, yet his affectionate father altered not his course, but wrote after the preacher as formerly; and when he came home he held on his former methods of divine worship in his family, not for the excuse of Aaron omitting any thing in the service of God. In like sort, when the people had been at the solemn interment of this his worthy son, he did with a very unpassionate aspect and carriage then say, “Friends, I thank you all for your love and help, and for this testimony of respect unto me and mine: the Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken; blessed be the name of the Lord!” Nevertheless, retiring hereupon into the chamber where his daughter then lay sick, some tears were observed falling from him while he uttered these words, “There is a difference between a sullen silence or a stupid senselessness under the hand of God, and a child-like submission thereunto.”

Thus continually he, for about a score of years, was the glory and pillar of New-Haven colony. He would often say, “Some count it a great matter to die well, but I am sure ’tis a great matter to live well. All our care should be while we have our life to use it well, and so when death puts an end unto that, it will put an end unto all our cares.” But having excellently managed his care to live well, God would have him to die well, without any room or time then given to take any care at all; for he enjoyed a death sudden to every one but himself! Having worshipped God with his family after his usual manner, and upon some occasion with much solemnity charged all the family to carry it well unto their mistress who was now confined by sickness, he supped, and then took a turn or two abroad for his meditations. After that he came in to bid his wife good-night, before he left her with her watchers: which when he did, she said, “Methinks you look sad!” Whereto he replyed, “The differences risen in the church of Hartford make me so;” she then added, “Let us even go back to our native country again;” to which he answered, “You may (and so she did), but I shall die here.” This was the last word that ever she heard him speak; for, now retiring unto his lodging in another chamber, he was overheard about midnight fetching a groan; and unto one sent in presently to enquire how he did, he answered the enquiry with only saying, “Very ill!” and without saying any more, he fell “asleep in Jesus,” in the year 1657, loosing anchor from New-Haven for the better:

  • ————Sedes, ubi Fata, quietas
  • Ostendunt.
  • Now let his gravestone wear at least the following

  • New-England’s glory, full of warmth and light,
  • Stole away (and said nothing) in the night.