Nathaniel Ward: Contribution to American Literature

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      In 1647 Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, who had been educated for the law, but who afterward became a clergyman, published a strange work known as The Simple Cobbler of Agawam, in America "willing," as the sub-title continues, "to help mend his native country, lamentably tattered, both in the upper leather and sole, with all the honest stitches he can take." He had been assistant pastor at Agawam (Ipswich) until ill health caused him to resign. He then busied himself in compiling a code of laws and in other writing before he returned to England in 1647. The following two sentences from his unique book show two points of the religious faith of the Puritans: (1) the belief in a personal devil always actively seeking the destruction of mankind, and (2) the assumption that the vitals of the "elect" are safe from the mortal sting of sin.

Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward
Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward

      "Satan is now in his passions, he feels his passion approaching, he loves to fish in roiled waters. Though that dragon cannot sting the vitals of the elect mortally, yet that Beelzebub can fly-blow their intellectuals miserably."

      He is often a bitter satirist, a sort of colonial Carlyle, as this attack on woman shows:—

"I honor the woman that can honor herself with her attire; a good text always deserves a fair margent; I am not much offended if I see a trim far trimmer than she that wears it. In a word, whatever Christianity or civility will allow, I can afford with London measure: but when I hear a nugiperous gentledame inquire what dress the Queen is in this week: what the nudiustertian fashion of the Court; I mean the very newest; with egg to be in it in all haste, whatever it be; I look at her as the very gizzard of a trifle, the product of a quarter of a cipher, the epitome of nothing, fitter to be kicked, if she were of a kickable substance, than either honored or humored."

      He does not hesitate to coin a word. The preceding short selection introduces us to "nugiperous" and "nudiustertian." Next, he calls the women's tailor-made gowns "the very pettitoes of infirmity, the giblets of perquisquilian toys."

      The spirit of a reformer always sees work to be done, and Ward emphasized three remedies for mid-seventeenth-century ills: (1) Stop toleration of departure from religious truth; (2) banish the frivolities of women and men; and (3) bring the civil war in England to a just end. In proportion to the population, his Simple Cobbler, designed to mend human ways, was probably as widely read as Carlyle's Sartor Resartus in later days.

      In criticism, Ward deserves to be remembered for these two lines:—

 "Poetry's a gift wherein but few excel;
  He doth very ill that doth not passing well."

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