The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 7. Narrative of Surprising Conversions
In 1733, as Edwards notes in his Narrative of Surprising Conversions, there was a stirring in the conscience of the young, who had hitherto been prone to the awful sin of “frolicking.” The next year the sudden conversion of a young woman, “who had been one of the greatest company keepers in the whole town,” came upon the community “like a flash of lightning”; the Great Awakening was started, which was to run over New England like a burning fire, with consequences not yet obliterated. The usual accompaniments of moral exaltation and physical convulsions showed themselves. Edwards relates with entire approbation the morbid conversion of a child of four. The poor little thing was overheard by her mother in her closet wrestling with God in prayer, from which she came out crying aloud and “wreathing her body to and fro like one in anguish of spirit.” She was afraid she was going to hell!
It was inevitable that such a wave of superheated emotion should subside in a short time. In fact the enthusiasm had scarcely reached its height when it began to show signs of perversion and decay. Immediately after the story of the young convert Edwards notes that “the Spirit of God was gradually withdrawing” and “Satan seemed to be let loose and raged in a dreadful manner.” An epidemic of melancholy and suicidal mania swept over the community, and multitudes seemed to hear a voice saying to them: “Cut your own throat, now is a good opportunity.” Strange delusions arose and spread, until common sense once more got the upper hand.