Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part III. The New England Tragedies. John Endicott. Act I

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

Christus: A Mystery

Part III. The New England Tragedies. John Endicott. Act I

SCENE I.—Sunday afternoon. The interior of the Meeting-house. On the pulpit, an hour-glass; below, a box for contributions. JOHN NORTON in the pulpit. GOVERNOR ENDICOTT in a canopied seat, attended by four halberdiers. The congregation singing.

THE LORD descended from above,

And bowed the heavens high;

And underneath his feet He cast

The darkness of the sky.

On Cherubim and Seraphim

Right royally He rode,

And on the wings of mighty winds

Came flying all abroad.

NORTON(rising and turning the hour-glass on the pulpit).
I heard a great voice from the temple saying

Unto the Seven Angels, Go your ways;

Pour out the vials of the wrath of God

Upon the earth. And the First Angel went

And poured his vial on the earth; and straight

There fell a noisome and a grievous sore

On them which had the birth-mark of the Beast,

And them which worshipped and adored his image.

On us hath fallen this grievous pestilence.

There is a sense of terror in the air;

And apparitions of things horrible

Are seen by many. From the sky above us

The stars fall; and beneath us the earth quakes!

The sound of drums at midnight from afar,

The sound of horsemen riding to and fro,

As if the gates of the invisible world

Were opened, and the dead came forth to warn us,—

All these are omens of some dire disaster

Impending over us, and soon to fall.

Moreover, in the language of the Prophet,

Death is again come up into our windows,

To cut off little children from without,

And young men from the streets. And in the midst

Of all these supernatural threats and warnings

Doth Heresy uplift its horrid head;

A vision of Sin more awful and appalling

Than any phantasm, ghost, or apparition,

As arguing and portending some enlargement

Of the mysterious Power of Darkness!

EDITH, barefooted, and clad in sackcloth, with her hair hanging loose upon her shoulders, walks slowly up the aisle, followed by WHARTON and other Quakers. The congregation starts up in confusion.

EDITH(to NORTON, raising her hand).

Anathema maranatha! The Lord cometh!

Yea, verily He cometh, and shall judge

The shepherds of Israel who do feed themselves,

And leave their flocks to eat what they have trodden

Beneath their feet.

Be silent, babbling woman!

St. Paul commands all women to keep silence

Within the churches.

Yet the women prayed

And prophesied at Corinth in his day;

And, among those on whom the fiery tongues

Of Pentecost descended, some were women!

The Elders of the Churches, by our law,

Alone have power to open the doors of speech

And silence in the Assembly. I command you!

The law of God is greater than your laws!

Ye build your church with blood, your town with crime;

The heads thereof give judgment for reward;

The priests thereof teach only for their hire;

Your laws condemn the innocent to death;

And against this I bear my testimony!

What testimony?

That of the Holy Spirit,

Which, as your Calvin says, surpasseth reason.

The laborer is worthy of his hire.

Yet our great Master did not teach for hire,

And the Apostles without purse or scrip

Went forth to do his work. Behold this box

Beneath thy pulpit. Is it for the poor?

Thou canst not answer. It is for the Priest;

And against this I bear my testimony.

Away with all these Heretics and Quakers!

Quakers, forsooth! Because a quaking fell

On Daniel, at beholding of the Vision,

Must ye needs shake and quake? Because Isaiah

Went stripped and barefoot, must ye wail and howl?

Must ye go stripped and naked? must ye make

A wailing like the dragons, and a mourning

As of the owls? Ye verify the adage

That Satan is God’s ape! Away with them!

Tumult. The Quakers are driven out with violence, EDITH following slowly. The congregation retires in confusion.

Thus freely do the Reprobates commit

Such measure of iniquity as fits them

For the intended measure of God’s wrath,

And even in violating God’s commands

Are they fulfilling the divine decree!

The will of man is but an instrument

Disposed and predetermined to its action

According unto the decree of God,

Being as much subordinate thereto

As is the axe unto the hewer’s hand!

He descends from the pulpit, and joins GOVERNOR ENDICOTT, who comes forward to meet him.

The omens and the wonders of the time,

Famine, and fire, and shipwreck, and disease,

The blast of corn, the death of our young men,

Our sufferings in all precious, pleasant things,

Are manifestations of the wrath divine,

Signs of God’s controversy with New England.

These emissaries of the Evil One,

These servants and ambassadors of Satan,

Are but commissioned executioners

Of God’s vindictive and deserved displeasure.

We must receive them as the Roman Bishop

Once received Attila, saying, I rejoice

You have come safe, whom I esteem to be

The scourge of God, sent to chastise his people.

This very heresy, perchance, may serve

The purposes of God to some good end.

With you I leave it; but do not neglect

The holy tactics of the civil sword.

And what more can be done?

The hand that cut

The Red Cross from the colors of the king

Can cut the red heart from this heresy.

Fear not. All blasphemies immediate

And heresies turbulent must be suppressed

By civil power.

But in what way suppressed?

The Book of Deuteronomy declares

That if thy son, thy daughter, or thy wife,

Ay, or the friend which is as thine own soul,

Entice thee secretly, and say to thee,

Let us serve other gods, then shall thine eye

Not pity him, but thou shalt surely kill him,

And thine own hand shall be the first upon him

To slay him.

Four already have been slain;

And others banished upon pain of death.

But they come back again to meet their doom,

Bringing the linen for their winding-sheets.

We must not go too far. In truth, I shrink

From shedding of more blood. The people murmur

At our severity.

Then let them murmur!

Truth is relentless; justice never wavers;

The greatest firmness is the greatest mercy;

The noble order of the Magistracy

Cometh immediately from God, and yet

This noble order of the Magistracy

Is by these Heretics despised and outraged.

To-night they sleep in prison. If they die,

They cannot say that we have caused their death.

We do but guard the passage, with the sword

Pointed towards them; if they dash upon it,

Their blood will be on their own heads, not ours.

Enough. I ask no more. My predecessor

Coped only with the milder heresies

Of Antinomians and of Anabaptists.

He was not born to wrestle with these fiends.

Chrysostom in his pulpit; Augustine

In disputation; Timothy in his house!

The lantern of St. Botolph’s ceased to burn

When from the portals of that church he came

To be a burning and a shining light

Here in the wilderness. And, as he lay

On his death-bed, he saw me in a vision

Ride on a snow-white horse into this town.

His vision was prophetic; thus I came,

A terror to the impenitent, and Death

On the pale horse of the Apocalypse

To all the accursed race of Heretics![Exeunt.

SCENE II.—A street. On one side, NICHOLAS UPSALL’S house; on the other, WALTER MERRY’S, with a flock of pigeons on the roof. UPSALL seated in the porch of his house.

O day of rest! How beautiful, how fair,

How welcome to the weary and the old!

Day of the Lord! and truce to earthly cares!

Day of the Lord, as all our days should be!

Ah, why will man by his austerities

Shut out the blessed sunshine and the light,

And make of thee a dungeon of despair!

WALTER MERRY (entering and looking round him).
All silent as a graveyard! No one stirring;

No footfall in the street, no sound of voices!

By righteous punishment and perseverance

And perseverance in that punishment,

At last I have brought this contumacious town

To strict observance of the Sabbath day.

Those wanton gospellers, the pigeons yonder,

Are now the only Sabbath-breakers left.

I cannot put them down. As if to taunt me,

They gather every Sabbath afternoon

In noisy congregation on my roof,

Billing and cooing. Whir! take that, ye Quakers.

Throws a stone at the pigeons. Sees UPSALL.
Ah! Master Nicholas!

Good afternoon,

Dear neighbor Walter.

Master Nicholas,

You have to-day withdrawn yourself from meeting.

Yea, I have chosen rather to worship God

Sitting in silence here at my own door.

Worship the Devil! You this day have broken

Three of our strictest laws. First, by abstaining

From public worship. Secondly, by walking

Profanely on the Sabbath.

Not one step.

I have been sitting still here, seeing the pigeons

Feed in the street and fly about the roofs.

You have been in the street with other intent

Than going to and from the Meeting-house.

And, thirdly, you are harboring Quakers here.

I am amazed!

Men sometimes, it is said,

Entertain angels unawares.

Nice angels!

Angels in broad-brimmed hats and russet cloaks,

The color of the Devil’s nutting-bag! They came

Into the Meeting-house this afternoon

More in the shape of devils than of angels.

The women screamed and fainted; and the boys

Made such an uproar in the gallery

I could not keep them quiet.

Neighbor Walter,

Your persecution is of no avail.

’T is prosecution, as the Governor says,

Not persecution.

Well, your prosecution;

Your hangings do no good.

The reason is,

We do not hang enough. But, mark my words,

We ’ll scour them; yea, I warrant ye, we ’ll scour them!

And now go in and entertain your angels,

And don’t be seen here in the street again

Till after sundown!—There they are again!

Exit UPSALL. MERRY throws another stone at the pigeons, and then goes into his house.

SCENE III.—A room in UPSALL’S house. Night. EDITH, WHARTON, and other Quakers seated at a table. UPSALL seated near them. Several books on the table.

William and Marmaduke, our martyred brothers,

Sleep in untimely graves, if aught untimely

Can find place in the providence of God,

Where nothing comes too early or too late.

I saw their noble death. They to the scaffold

Walked hand in hand. Two hundred armèd men

And many horsemen guarded them, for fear

Of rescue by the crowd, whose hearts were stirred.

O holy martyrs!

When they tried to speak,

Their voices by the roll of drums were drowned.

When they were dead they still looked fresh and fair,

The terror of death was not upon their faces.

Our sister Mary, likewise, the meek woman,

Has passed through martyrdom to her reward;

Exclaiming, as they led her to her death,

“These many days I ’ve been in Paradise.”

And, when she died, Priest Wilson threw the hangman

His handkerchief, to cover the pale face

He dared not look upon.

As persecuted,

Yet not forsaken; as unknown, yet known;

As dying, and behold we are alive;

As sorrowful, and yet rejoicing always;

As having nothing, yet possessing all!

And Leddra, too, is dead. But from his prison,

The day before his death, he sent these words

Unto the little flock of Christ: “Whatever

May come upon the followers of the Light,—

Distress, affliction, famine, nakedness,

Or perils in the city or the sea,

Or persecution, or even death itself,—

I am persuaded that God’s armor of Light,

As it is loved and lived in, will preserve you.

Yea, death itself; through which you will find entrance

Into the pleasant pastures of the fold,

Where you shall feed forever as the herds

That roam at large in the low valleys of Achor.

And as the flowing of the ocean fills

Each creek and branch thereof, and then retires,

Leaving behind a sweet and wholesome savor;

So doth the virtue and the life of God

Flow evermore into the hearts of those

Whom he hath made partakers of his nature;

And, when it but withdraws itself a little,

Leaves a sweet savor after it, that many

Can say they are made clean by every word

That He hath spoken to them in their silence.”

EDITH (rising and breaking into a kind of chant).
Truly we do but grope here in the dark,

Near the partition-wall of Life and Death,

At every moment dreading or desiring

To lay our hands upon the unseen door!

Let us, then, labor for an inward stillness,—

An inward stillness and an inward healing;

That perfect silence where the lips and heart

Are still, and we no longer entertain

Our own imperfect thoughts and vain opinions,

But God alone speaks in us, and we wait

In singleness of heart, that we may know

His will, and in the silence of our spirits,

That we may do His will, and do that only!

A long pause, interrupted by the sound of a drum approaching; then shouts in the street, and a loud knocking at the door.

Within there! Open the door!

Will no one answer?

In the King’s name! Within there!

Open the door!

UPSALL (from the window).
It is not barred. Come in. Nothing prevents you.

The poor man’s door is ever on the latch.

He needs no bolt nor bar to shut out thieves;

He fears no enemies, and has no friends

Importunate enough to need a key.

Enter JOHN ENDICOTT, the MARSHAL, MERRY, and a crowd. Seeing the Quakers silent and unmoved, they pause, awe-struck. ENDICOTT opposite EDITH.

In the King’s name do I arrest you all!

Away with them to prison. Master Upsall,

You are again discovered harboring here

These ranters and disturbers of the peace.

You know the law.

I know it, and am ready

To suffer yet again its penalties.

Why dost thou persecute me, Saul of Tarsus?