A Passion for Getting It Right

Essays and Appreciations in Honor of Michael J. Colacurcio’s 50 Years of Teaching

by Carol M. Bensick (Volume editor)
©2016 Monographs 510 Pages


For 50 years Michael J. Colacurcio has been a leader in the criticism of early and antebellum American literature. In The Province of Piety, New Essays on The Scarlet Letter, Doctrine and Difference, and Godly Letters, as well as editions and often-reprinted reviews and essays, Dr. Colacurcio has continued to defend a rare vision of the political and intellectual depth of America’s serious fiction and the aesthetic power and charm of its religious poetry and prose. In light of many honors such as the Book of the Year Award from the Conference of Christianity and Literature and election in 2007 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, UCLA raised him to the rank of Distinguished Professor. Yet for all his dedication to research, his students know him as an unforgettable teacher, who has continued to win several teaching awards at both Cornell and UCLA. The present volume aspires to celebrate Dr. Colacurcio’s 50 years of transformative teaching through an exciting bounty of original and classic essays by some of his most talented students and eminent colleagues from his very first years at Cornell up to and including his current students at UCLA.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Praise for A Passion for Getting It Right
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Two Puritans You May Not Know But Hawthorne Thinks You Should
  • Hawthorne’s Doctor Experiments: Medicine, Risk Culture, and the Development of Psychological Realism
  • Pro-Americans, Proto-Americans, and Un-Americans in Melville’s Israel Potter
  • The Vanitas of Holocaust Painting: Audrey Flack’s World War II
  • Remembering the Puritans: Hawthorne and the Scene of History89
  • “Singularly Connected” in Septimius: Multiple Perspectives in Hawthorne’s Late Work
  • What Is the Custom-House?
  • Introduction to The Marble Faun
  • Michael J. Colacurcio’s (Un)Godly Letters
  • Monoaxiate Tyranny in Koestler’s Darkness at Noon
  • Melville’s Bachelors: Templars No More
  • The Beecher Trials
  • Office Hours
  • The Critic on Main Street: Hawthorne and Critical Allegory
  • Experience
  • Cassandra, Bartleby, and the Direction of Time: Some Thoughts on Unknowability
  • Melville’s Comedy of Gender: The Battle for Domesticity in “I and My Chimney”
  • “Every Great and Small Thing”: Emerson and the Divine Particular
  • “Awakened” by “the Sacred Whispers” in James Salter’s “Akhnilo”
  • Bartleby and the Prophet of Reality
  • “I Have Stolen His Books”: Teaching the Colacurcio Syllabus in Community College
  • Notes on Aphoristic Genius
  • Sea Changes in the American Crisis Poem from Walt Whitman to Campbell McGrath
  • In Tribute
  • Deceptive Appearances: Anti-Romance and Anti-Travelogue Beneath the Surface in Melville’s Typee
  • Puritan Riffs: The Jazz Aesthetic in Michael J. Colacurcio’s Pedagogy
  • The Gnomic Pronouncements of Michael J. Colacurcio
  • Colacurcio, Teacher and Lecturer: A Transoceanic Perspective
  • Reconfiguring Nature After Darwin: Skepticism and Sexuality in Modern British and Irish Literature
  • “A Song without Words”: Black Thunder
  • Julia Ward Howe, the Travel Book, and the Public Lectern
  • Autobiography
  • Appendix: The Affect of Puritanism
  • Contributors
  • Limerick

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Grateful acknowledgment is hereby made to copyright holders for permission to use the following copyrighted material:

Introduction by Andrew Delbanco reprinted by permission of the publisher from the John Harvard Library Edition of THE MARBLE FAUN by Nathaniel Hawthorne, ix–xxii, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 2012 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Special Content for The John Harvard Library edition copyright © 2012 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Excerpts from “Shakespeare’s Sonnets” in Forewords and Afterwords by W. H. Auden. Copyright © 1964 by W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Penguin Group (USA).

Excerpts from Harold Bloom, The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation, copyright (c) 1992 by Harold Bloom. Used by permission.

Excerpts from “The Internalization of Quest-Romance” by Harold Bloom, in Romanticism and Consciousness, edited by Harold Bloom. Copyright © 1969 by Harold Bloom. Used by permission of W. W. Norton.

Excerpts from Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 2nd edition, copyright © 1968 by the Princeton University Press. Used by permission of the Joseph Campbell Foundation.

“A bird came down the walk” J 328/F 359—Lines 1, 3–4; “A toad can die of light” J 583/F 419—Lines 1–3. Reprinted by permission of the publishers and the ← xiii | xiv → Trustees of Amherst College from THE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON: READING EDITION, edited by Ralph W. Franklin, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998, 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © renewed 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1914, 1918, 1919, 1924, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1935, 1937, 1942 by Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Copyright © 1952, 1957, 1958, 1963, 1965 by Mary L. Hampson.

Excerpts from William Dowie, “James Salter (10 June 1925–),” in American Short Story Writers since World War II, edited by Patrick Meanor, 282–87. Dictionary of Literary Biography 130. Copyright © 1993 by Gale Research, Inc., a part of Cengage Learning, Inc. Reproduced by permission. www.cengage.com/permissions.

Excerpts from William Dowie. James Salter, 1E. © 1999 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, Inc. Reproduced by permission. www.cengage.com/permissions.

Excerpt from the Introduction to the Vintage International Edition of James Salter, Light Years, copyright © 2006 by Richard Ford. Used by permission of Random House.

Excerpts from The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, copyright © 2013 by David Bentley Hart. Used by permission of Yale University Press.

Excerpts from “Philosophy and the Idea of Infinity” in Collected Philosophical Papers by Emmanuel Levinas, translated by Alphonso Lingis. Copyright © 1987 by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. Used by permission of Springer-Verlag.

Excerpts from pp. 245–7 of “‘The Great Heap of Days’: James Salter’s Fiction” from IN ROUGH COUNTRY: ESSAYS AND REVIEWS by JOYCE CAROL OATES. Copyright © 2010 by Ontario Review. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Excerpts from “Akhnilo” © 1988 by James Salter. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.

Excerpts from “The Art of Fiction 133” by James Salter with Edward Hirsch, from Paris Review, no. 127 (Summer 1993). Used by permission of The Paris Review. ← xiv | xv →

Excerpts from Burning the Days: Recollection, copyright © 1997 by James Salter. Used by permission of Random House.

Excerpt from the Introduction to the Modern Library edition of A Sport and a Pastime, copyright © 1995 by James Salter. Used by permission of Random House.

Excerpt from James Salter, letter to Robert Phelps, 28 August 1979. Copyright © 2010 by James Salter, from Memorable Days: The Selected Letters of James Salter and Robert Phelps. Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint.

Emily Dickinson. “Two swimmers wrestled on the spar” J 201/F 227, by Emily Dickinson, from THE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON: VARIORUM EDITION, edited by Ralph W. Franklin, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © renewed 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1914, 1918, 1919, 1924, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1935, 1937, 1942 by Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Copyright © 1952, 1958, 1963, 1965 by Mary L. Hampson.

Emily Dickinson. “Three times we parted, breath and I” J 598/F 514, by Emily Dickinson, from THE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON: VARIORUM EDITION, edited by Ralph W. Franklin, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © renewed 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1914, 1918, 1919, 1924, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1935, 1937, 1942 by Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Copyright © 1952, 1958, 1963, 1965 by Mary L. Hampson.

The lines from “September 11”. © by Campbell McGrath. Used by permission of Campbell McGrath.

“Full Fathom Five” by Sylvia Plath from The Collected Poems. 5 lines. Reprinted by permission of Faber & Faber Ltd.

“Full Fathom Five” from THE COLOSSUS by Sylvia Plath, copyright © 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962 by Sylvia Plath. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. ← xv | xvi →

The lines from “Diving into the Wreck.” Copyright © 2013 by The Adrienne Rich Literary Trust. Copyright © 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., from LATER POEMS; SELECTED AND NEW, 1971–2012 by Adrienne Rich. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

“The Sea is History” by Derek Walcott, from Collected Poems 1948–1984 by Derek Walcott (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC, 1986). Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

“A Song without Words: Arna Bontemps’ Black Thunder” by Eric Sundquist, reprinted by permission of the publisher from The Hammers of Creation (1993) 92–134 Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press Copyright ©.

The painting World War One (Vanitas), 1978, by Audrey Flack (the Louis Meisel Gallery). Reprinted by permission of the Louis Meisel Gallery, 141 Prince Street, New York, NY 10012.

Every effort has been made to trace rights holders, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked, please contact the publisher.

R. C. De Prospo wishes to thank the Washington College for the receipt of a Faculty Enhancement Grant.

Kevin C. Moore and Inna Blyakhman would like to thank David Marshall and the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for support from the UCSB Non-Senate Faculty Professional Development Fund.

Carol Bensick is indebted to all who made this volume possible: First, of course, Michael Colacurcio, who once he discovered that the project was, like it or not, underway, cudgeled his brains to remember the names of 50 years of students, and acted in various other ways invisibly to make sure, for the professional benefit of the contributors (and editor), that everything extraneous that could be done would be done to move the project forward; who, moreover, generously donated two new essays, in which, among other attributes, his teaching prowess is on full magnificent display; Michelle Salyga, of the underappreciated Peter Lang Publishing, who welcomed a project that some more worldly publishers discouraged and who has been an extraordinarily responsive, helpful, efficient, and pleasant editor; Jackie Pavlovic, also of Lang, who made all aspects of production less painful than one ever imagined ← xvi | xvii → they could be; the distinguished veterans who were willing to donate magisterial essays to a humble project in order to commemorate their esteem for their colleague; all the extraordinarily talented and cooperative contributors who embraced the opportunity to produce on short notice an essay and/or tribute to honor their teacher/colleague’s remarkable milestone; the “Old Planters” and most of all the “Undertakers,” who by their faith made sure this project would go on. Finally, she is individually grateful to James Duban, who freely shared all he knew about editing and offered unstinting moral support throughout the early process, and to Bruce Jorgensen, who magnanimously volunteered his time and effort and more to cross-proofread all the chapters, and whose early email inspired the title. Errors that remain are emphatically my own.

In retrospect, I’d like to append a special shout out to Eric Sundquist, Dan Schwarz, and Rich De Prospo, for being the voices respectively of reason, experience, and humor at times when these were sorely needed. I would also like to thank my brother, Chris Bensick, for editorial corrections and suggestions to my essay. Nothing remains but to say, thank you all, and I hope you enjoy the book!

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Two Puritans You May Not Know But Hawthorne Thinks You Should



The following profiles of John Davenport and John Eliot, whom almost all readers of this book will know but, I suggest, not fully enough, were originally drafted as contributions to Michael J. Colacurcio’s forthcoming anthology of early American religious literature with Baylor University Press entitled “American Reformation.” Both figures were a revelation to me, as I had hardly gone beyond Hooker, Shepard, and Cotton among the first generation of Massachusetts Bay preachers in my courses. I knew from Colacurcio’s Godly Letters to understand the early Puritans as, whatever else, accomplished book authors. Reading Davenport’s Saint’s Anchor-Hold vindicated this. To me there is no question that Anchor-Hold belongs in the survey (and seminar), even as Colacurcio has put as much of it (along with other works) as possible into American Reformation.

John Eliot was a revelation in a different way. Inevitably, as Colacurcio’s student, I knew that Eliot figures in both The Scarlet Letter and The Blithedale Romance, in one as an off-stage character and needed plot pretext, and in the other as an emphatic though obscure hint, a dig in the ribs as it were. I had always taken the allusion at all-but face value, the level of an anthology footnote: ah yes, John Eliot, apostle to the Indians. Saintly guy whose solitary activities thankfully redeem the first generation of Puritans from their badness.

Yet I should have known better. As the readers of this book well know, Hawthorne never merely carries over the received image of an historical figure. Not only this, but thinking of Eliot this way does absolutely nothing to clarify or deepen Dimmesdale’s character, other than perhaps to deepen his ← 1 | 2 → hypocrisy (he collaborates with Eliot, the saint, he, the secret adulterer!), which is hardly necessary or edifying. But as Melville tells us, Hawthorne is never gratuitous. So what is it about John Eliot, anyway, that’s supposed to be so important, so explanatory?

Predictably, when I looked into Eliot for “American Reformation,” he became a much more interesting figure than the footnote ever suggested. To say no more, as I report below, Eliot did more than flirt with unorthodoxy, as well as perhaps with English Puritan women patrons. As usual, as Colacurcio suggests with/in his syllabi, Hawthorne allusions lead to a more complicated view of a figure just then in the process of being simplified and sanitized for the purposes of nationalist American history.

John Davenport

Lauded by the iconic Puritanist Perry Miller in a review of Davenport’s letters as a “great priest,” “one of the great” and “outstanding leaders” of New England” and “indispensable” in the “gallery” of New England Puritans, who played “a great part … in formulating the theory of Congregationalism” and author of the most “masterful a summary … of the New England credo as can be found in print,” yet simultaneously accused by him of “sheer egotism,” “conniv[ing] at deception, using “stock platitudes,” “tortuous logic,” and “shady ethical twistings,” taking advantage of “flagrantly doctored” letters and “downright forgery,” John Davenport proves—to reverse Miller’s conclusion—that Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepard, and John Cotton do “not completely represent the full range of Puritanism.” This complex man was born in Warwickshire in 1597, the son of a merchant who was also alderman of the city of Coventry. He experienced a religious conversion around 1613. Unlike most future Puritans, who tended to attend Cambridge, Davenport attended Oxford. He began his journey to radical nonconformism when he transferred from Merton College to Magdalen, which was known for Puritanic leanings. He left without a degree to accept a chaplaincy in Durham; in 1619, he moved to London to become a curate at St. Lawrence Jewry. At this time he married Elizabeth Wooley. In 1624, on account of his growing reputation for remarkable preaching, and despite doubts of his orthodoxy expressed by the bishop of London, he became the vicar of St. Stephen, Coleman St. At this time Davenport was still conforming to the Anglican liturgy. When plague broke out in London in 1625, he gained favorable note for remaining with his parish. In the same year he received B.D. and M.A. degrees from Oxford. This marked the end of his years of conformity. ← 2 | 3 →

Davenport’s first action of nonconformity was to join in the organization of a corporation, called the feoffees for impropriations, that bought church livings and gave them to Puritanic preachers. He also joined famous preacher Richard Sibbes and others in seeking to raise funds to aid Protestant refugees from the Thirty Years’ War in Europe. Still a conformist Puritan, with others of the same persuasion he sought in 1633 to convince John Cotton and Thomas Hooker of the importance of them all keeping their livings, but was persuaded by Cotton instead that it was time to break away. In consequence, Davenport left England for the Netherlands, where he had been called by the English church in Amsterdam to join their pastor. The pastor, John Paget, had differed with Hooker over church government and prevented Davenport’s appointment. Davenport circulated manuscripts setting forth the grounds of his opposition to Paget, MSS which became the basis for two of his major works in New England, Church-Government and Church Covenant Discussed (1643) and The Power of the Congregational Churches Asserted and Vindicated (1672). His and Elizabeth’s son and only child, John, was born in The Hague in 1635. After a trip back to England to meet up with some of his former congregation from St. Stephen, the Davenports sailed for Boston, arriving in 1637. When he arrived in New England, he hit the ground running: the timing led to his immediate inclusion in the Cambridge synod, the examination of Anne Hutchinson, and the founding of Harvard. Notwithstanding this flattering reception, he and his former congregants left Boston in order to found a more theocratic plantation in Quinnipiac, renamed New Haven, outside the Connecticut Colony.

Like his fellow New England divines, Davenport refused the invitation to be present at the Westminster Assembly in 1643. When concerned Puritans in England sent over questions about the colonial churches, Davenport was chosen to report the response, which he did in An Answer of the Elders of Severall Churches in New England (1643). Seemingly the recognized point man on church reform, he wrote additional tracts in defense of congregationalism from attacks by its presbyterian and sectarian opponents. One of the best known episodes of his career was his giving harbor to two of the executioners of King Charles I, who had fled from England after the fall of the Cromwell Protectorate and restoration of the monarchy of Charles II. In these ominous times Davenport wrote his great book, The Saints Anchor-Hold, in All Storms and Tempests (1661), preached as sermons in New Haven, significantly within a year or two of Paradise Lost. Unfortunately for him, the Restoration was the beginning of the end. New Haven was merged with the more liberal Connecticut against his will, the Half-Way Covenant was passed in spite of his opposition, and his departure from New Haven to replace John Wilson in ← 3 | 4 → the flagship First Church of Boston in 1667 led to a split in that church and bad feelings in New Haven and a contentious reaction to what should have been the triumph of his career, the election sermon in 1669. He died only one year later, to be remembered as “spiritual dictator of the purest of the colonial theocracies.”

Building a New Jerusalem: John Davenport, A Puritan in Three Worlds, the recent revisionist biography by Francis Bremer has, as intended, provoked a wave of new scholarship on Davenport. For example, Michael D. Winship published “Did John Davenport’s Church Require Conversion Narratives for Church Admission: A Challenge,” in New England Quarterly in March 2013 (he thinks not) responded to by Bremer in the same issue (he thinks so).

Whatever his flaws, it is perhaps worthwhile to note that Davenport was not particularly sexist. Although he preached a sermon in the 1650s against witchcraft (a problem that arose in Connecticut decades before the famous outbreak in Salem), a sermon which one accuser cited in support of her accusation, he defended one accused “witch” (Anne Eaton), despite her open opposition to the policy of infant baptism on which he had been insisting since his sojourn in the Netherlands. It is also significant that he maintained a correspondence with a noblewoman, Lady Vere, and that his wife operated in New Haven as a sort of physician’s assistant, maintaining a regular correspondence with Dr. John Winthrop Jr. about treatments and remedies, indicating that Davenport had no difficulty with the idea of an educated, independent, even professional wife. In addition, according to the Magnalia, he can be given credit for receiving a friendly nickname from the local Indians: “So Big Study Man.” In closing, it should be noted that, as Margaret Reid reminded in Cultural Secrets as Narrative Form in 2004, Nathaniel Hawthorne in The House of the Seven Gables ambiguously allies the Pyncheons to John Davenport (through Hepzibah’s approval of Phoebe’s descent from a “good family,” “a Davenport.”)

John Eliot

John Eliot—than whom Nathaniel Hawthorne would write “since the first days of Christ there has been no man more worthy to be numbered in the brotherhood of the apostles” (Grandfather’s Chair)—was born to a property-owning farmer and his wife in Essex in 1604. Eliot was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge, which even now maintains an exhibit of materials by and about him. He is generally assumed to have been ordained in the Church of England. Instead of looking for a parish, upon graduating with a B.A. in ← 4 | 5 → 1622 he took a teaching position at a grammar school in Essex, operated by Thomas Hooker. After Hooker withdrew to the Netherlands to escape being sanctioned by the Puritans’ nemesis, Archbishop Laud, Eliot departed for New England. Upon arriving in 1631, he moved temporarily into the Boston pulpit of John Wilson, who had returned to England to collect his family. When Wilson returned, the Boston congregation wished to keep Eliot, but his former townspeople from Essex, whom he had promised to pastor if they came to New England having meanwhile arrived, he became the pastor of the newly founded town of Roxbury (Rocksborough) instead. His wedding to his English fiancee Hannah Mumford, one of the new arrivals, was the first wedding in Roxbury. They would have six children. Eliot remained the minister in Roxbury for the rest of his life.

Eliot’s claim to fame is having been the first Protestant missionary to the native Americans, in the course of which work he translated the Bible and other works including Thomas Shepard’s Sincere Convert and Sound Believer, the English nonconformist Richard Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted, and Lewis Bayly’s Practice of Piety, which was in part a medical handbook, into a phoneticization of the unwritten Algonquian tongue. It was on account of the need to print Eliot’s Bible that the first press came to be set up in Cambridge and a printer employed to operate it. Eliot also devised various helps such as a catechism for the use of Indian preachers. In the course of correspondence with the newly formed Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in England he produced many formal letters (the “Indian Tracts,” 1647–1671) to the Commissioners, of which the most famous is “A Brief Narrative of the Progress of the Gospel among the Indians in New England” in 1670. Eliot ultimately established fourteen towns of “praying,” or converted, Indians, beginning in Natick in 1651. Eliot’s Indian towns were designed to be self-governing, with their own schools. An “Indian College” was even intended for Harvard, where Eliot was an overseer from 1642 to 1685. The missionary project fell victim to the war which the Indian leader, Metacomet or King Philip, made upon them and the English in 1675. Eliot and the official supervisor of the Indians, Daniel Gookin, moved the praying Indians temporarily out of harm’s way onto an island in Boston harbor during the war. Many died and although the rest returned to Natick, the enterprise never recovered.

Eliot’s publishing activities were not restricted to translations. As well as contributing largely to the Bay Psalm Book, he wrote Christian Commonwealth: The Civil Policy of the Rising Kingdom of Jesus Christ during the interregnum or Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell in the 1640s, a radical millennarian work anticipating the conversion of the Indians and calling for a Mosaic ← 5 | 6 → elected theocracy, which after publishing it in 1659, he was forced because of the Restoration in 1662 by the Massachusetts leadership to retract; The Harmony of the Gospels, a life of Jesus, in 1678; The Communion of Churches in 1665, in which he presented a revised ecclesiology and eschatology that embraced monarchy and proposed a system of councils, with the idea of reconciling the Presbyterians and Congregationalists in England, which he gave up publishing in England after it failed to find favor with either Richard Baxter or the New England ministers whom he tried it out on. Eliot also composed Indian Dialogues (1671), Dying Speeches of Several Indians (1685) and A Brief Answer to a Small Book Written by John Norcot against Infant Baptism (1679). Significantly, Indian Dialogues is considered to have been intended for the Royal Society, as John Winthrop Jr. sent a copy to Society member Hans Oldenburg; to show how intertwined were science and religion in the seventeenth century, it is useful to know that Robert Boyle, ‘the father of modern chemistry,” served as Governor of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, in which capacity Eliot wrote him numerous reports. Beginning with Cotton Mather, whose father and grandfather Eliot had known and who includes in the biography in the Magnalia first hand dialogue by Eliot recorded nowhere else, Eliot was well regarded by historians until the late twentieth century, when Francis Jennings included him and fellow Puritans in his then-revolutionary, now traditional indictment of European colonization, The Invasion of America. For some time now, however, Eliot’s reputation has been recovering since this nadir, especially since the publication of Richard Cogley’s John Eliot’s Mission to the Indians Before King Philip’s War (1999). Cogley notes that Eliot’s work was centrally supported by wealthy English women including Katherine Jones, Viscountess Ranelagh, and especially Lady Mary Armine. A very recent work incorporating a feminist point of view regarding the role of the women in the praying towns is Kathryn Gray, John Eliot and the Praying Indians of Massachusetts Bay (2013), showing that interest in Eliot is thriving.

There is much more to say about Eliot and his reception than can be mentioned. At very least perhaps a discussion of John Eliot is not complete without noting his unusual attraction for both artists and writers. More than one portrait was painted in his lifetime and several pictures were done in the nineteenth century on the subject of Eliot preaching to the Indians. His contemporary John Danforth wrote a long elegy on Eliot. He or his legend plays a significant role in Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter and Blithedale Romance. He is an exception to Catharine Sedgwick’s general condemnation of the Puritans in her novel Hope Leslie. And Henry Wadsworth Longfellow commemorated him in the poem “Eliot’s Oak.” Nor has his appeal for artists faded; a documentary film was made in 2012 by Massachusetts native Zadi Zokou called “Praying Town.” ← 6 | 7 →

Concluding Remarks

It would not do to leave any impression that no scholar has followed up Hawthorne’s hints about Eliot. Already in 1984, a contributor to this volume, John P. McWilliams, already recognized that “The prominence Hawthorne accords … Eliot [in Grandfather’s Chair] reveals untraditional purposes …” and that Hawthorne’s characterization of Eliot “attacks [negative] contemporary notions of the forefathers … directly.” In 1986 appeared a pair of articles on the purpose of the reference to “Eliot’s Pulpit” in The Blithedale Romance in Studies in the Novel by Byron L. Stay and by Lucy Maddox. In her 1991 book Removals: Nineteenth-Century American Literature and the Politics of Indian Affairs, Maddox repeats her rejection of Stay’s view that in her words Hawthorne’s evocation of Eliot’s pulpit “is an unironic allusion to all the positive aspects of Puritanism represented by Eliot.” In The New England Quarterly in 1998, J. D. Bellini in “Apostle of Removal: John Eliot in the Nineteenth Century” continues Maddox’s critique, especially focusing on Eliot’s example of “removing” Indians. In 2004 Richard Millington’s Cambridge Companion to Hawthorne included an article by Gillian Brown entitled “Hawthorne and American History” in which, taking a major step by bringing in the context of nineteenth century popular fiction, Brown relates how not only Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie (mentioned above) but also Stowe’s Old Town Folks presented a positive version of Eliot, encouraging readers to see him as an exception to the rule of Puritan bigotry.

Recent interest in Eliot has been in large relation not so much to his preaching or transatlantic activities but to his relocation of the praying Indians, which, in keeping with the current scholarly climate, is seen as the root that led to the policy of Manifest Destiny leading to the Trail of Tears and climaxing at Little Big Horn, even though his intention was to save them in the ongoing war. Even The Indian Bible is seen as just another face of the same evil practice of settler colonialism/imperialism practiced by all Europeans against all native Americans regardless of ideology. Not only Eliot’s relocation initiative but his very mission is just as bad as the overt land grab and military aggression attributed to his peers. Grandfather’s insistence that Eliot was “singular,” a lone figure of benignity, is unacceptable. Is Hawthorne then, with Stowe and Sedgwick, naive, even racist? Given what Colacurcio established as Hawthorne’s general project of ironizing all simplistically moral narratives by his cultural contemporaries, not likely. Grandfather assures auditor Lawrence that Eliot’s sorrow at the extinction of the Indians would have been modified by his belief that they were really the lost tribes of Israel—i.e., that Eliot’s eagerness to “save” the Indians was driven by his desire ← 7 | 8 → to hasten the end time for the English. (When will we learn that Hawthorne’s characteristic tone is sardonic? Milton Stern goes crazy reading The Marble Faun in 1991’s Contexts for Hawthorne because it never occurs to him that all the problems he has with Hilda, he was meant to have by Hawthorne. D. H. Lawrence alone perhaps does justice to the bile running through The Scarlet Letter though his misogyny distorts it. Once again, although it’s not part of his larger argument, Colacurcio gets credit for reviving Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature in the overture to The Province of Piety.)

The issue is, as ever according to Colacurcio, not Hawthorne fronting history head-on, but Hawthorne considering popular culture. Hawthorne appears to affirm the then-daring criticism Sedgwick levies on all Puritans except Eliot. But as the fictional Blithedalers create destruction, their equation with Eliot throws the criticism back on Eliot. Benign intentions don’t necessarily produce good results.

An observation made in passing is perhaps even more conclusive that in evoking Eliot Hawthorne’s intention is critical rather than pious or patriotic. For it’s not only Sedgwick and Stowe who canonize Eliot. Because their hagiography may even not be originally their own. A figure of even more cultural weight previously or contemporaneously spoke out in approval and admiration of Eliot; Maddox reports in 1991’s Removals that Emerson in a lecture in 1835 on the history of the village of Concord “especially praised the efforts of … Eliot to convert the Indians” (27).

Hawthorne may not have heard or read Emerson’s speech. But this estimate of Eliot couldn’t have failed to inform Emerson’s general views. But even if it did, and even if Hawthorne was utterly unaware of Emerson’s view, the examples of Sedgwick and Stowe show that admiration for Eliot was a Unitarian and liberal mainstay. Now it’s well known from “The Celestial Railroad” and other writings that Hawthorne was no simple partisan of liberalism. So far as Eliot was a pillar of American liberal Christian history, it only follows that Hawthorne’s view of Eliot could not be simple reverence. The problem of Eliot in short is central to and not, as Sedgwick and Stowe (and apparently Grandfather) contend, separable from the problem of the Puritans.

Eliot scholarship is flourishing and, more important, growing more subtle. As early as 2009, Kathryn Gray, future author of the 2014 John Eliot and the Praying Indians of Massachusetts Bay, in Seventeenth Century, pleaded for more nuance in the treatment of Eliot, a plea joined by Steffi Dippold in Early American Literature in 2013. In short, Hawthorne has been vindicated in gambling that Eliot was a major figure.

Turning quickly now to Davenport, there is a comparative paucity of critical discussions vis a vis Eliot, corresponding to the comparative lack of overt allusions in Hawthorne’s text. As we saw above, Margaret Reid called ← 8 | 9 → attention to the reference to “Davenport” in Gables. But if Colacurcio has shown anything, it is that allusion in Hawthorne need not be overt. And in 2013 Douglas Walrath in Displacing the Divine: The Minister in the Mirror of American Fiction (Columbia) recalled Colacurcio’s classic chapter “Pious Image and Political Myth” in The Province of Piety, which reveals that Davenport is the hidden key to “The Man of Adamant.” Or we may say that Digby is a suggested key to Davenport. That the lady offering him a cup in the story shared the name of one of the half-mythologized “regicides” clinches the identification, Davenport being overwhelmingly the protector and defender of this individual. It’s complicated, of course. Digby rejects Miss Goffe, and of course per Hawthorne’s usual there are other sources. But as Walrath’s example shows, Colacurcio’s linkage is alive and bearing fruit in current scholarship.

As it happens, a pastor in New Haven preached a sermon in May 2013 on the legacy of John Davenport, a sermon which is now on the Internet. Fascinatingly, Sandra Olsen finds wherewithal to praise in—of all things—Davenport’s performance in the trial of Anne Hutchinson. Davenport alone, she points out, actually engaged in dialogue with Hutchinson about her ideas, in particular her heretical doctrine of mortalism. Thus Olsen concurs with the suggestion above that Davenport was little or not at all tainted with the otherwise prevailing sexism of his peers.

In conclusion, it should be observed that Michael Colacurcio brings to vivid life Davenport, the historical figure, as opposed to “Davenport,” the Hawthorne clue, in the masterful account of the Anne Hutchinson trial in Godly Letters.


For the outline of the lives of Davenport and Eliot, I have relied on the entries in the American National Biography Online Feb. 2000, viz. respectively: Francis J. Bremer. “Davenport, John”; http://www.anb.org/articles/01/01-002000.html; and Mary Rhinelander McCarl. “Eliot, John”; http://anb.org/articles/01/01-00260.html; Copyright © 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy.

Selected Bibliography and Further Reading

Bellin, J. D. “Apostle of Removal: John Eliot in the Nineteenth Century.” New England Quarterly (March 1996).

Bremer, Francis. “John Davenport,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

———. Building a New Jerusalem: John Davenport, A Puritan in Three Worlds, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012. ← 9 | 10 →

———. “Response to Winship.” New England Quarterly, 87, 1 (March 2014).

Brown, Gillian. “Hawthorne’s American History.” In Millington, Richard, ed., Cambridge Companion to Hawthorne. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Cogley, Richard. John Eliot’s Mission to the Indians Before King Philip’s War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009; first printing, 1999.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (December)
American Literature Literature and theology Hawthorne Puritanism modern British Literature
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 510 pp., num. b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Carol M. Bensick (Volume editor)

Carol M. Bensick received her PhD in American literature to 1914 at Cornell University. She is the author of La Nouvelle Beatrice: Renaissance and Romance in «Rappaccini’s Daughter.» Her essays appear in New Essays on The Scarlet Letter, New Essays on Hawthorne’s Major Tales, and Hawthorne and Women. She has also published numerous articles in journals and reference publications. She has taught at the University of Denver, Cornell University, the University of Oregon, and the University of California – Riverside. For five years, Bensick was a research associate of the UCLA Center for the Study of Women. Her present focus is the status of women in nineteenth-century American philosophy, on which she has given papers at the Summer Institute for American Philosophy and the American Philosophical Association. Her current book-length project is on Julia Ward Howe.


Title: A Passion for Getting It Right