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As the back cover states, this may at one time have been the most popular book published in America. It's a colonial Puritan poem, written by a pastor, depicting the Last Judgment. Its first edition sold out within a year of its 1662 publication, and for the next century it was basically catechism.

However, the nineteenth century and after have pretty much ignored it, and most critics nowadays hate it. I thought I'd see for myself.

... after finishing this, and you can ask B. for corroboration, I stood up and threw it as hard as I could across the room, in order to relieve my feelings. The reason critics nowadays hate it is that you simply cannot separate the literary qualities from the theology, and the theology is honestly Everything Hatable About Calvinism. Wigglesworth's one point of theological interest and difference is that he held something of a Neoplatonic or Stoic view of the material world; therefore his God is icily rational in his condemnation of the better part of humanity, because emotions are part of the flesh. This God damns stillborn children because his grace would not truly be free grace if it were constrained by the rules of what others consider to be justice-- and the author claims that that is justice. Honestly, this functions for me as an argument against Calvinism, and the more desperately it attempts to be apologia, the more I detest it. There's a bit late in the poem where Wigglesworth claims that the torments of the damned will last until the elect choose to voluntarily choose places with them, i.e. never as of course the elect would never leave the sight of God because they love him so much, and I sat there going a) seriously, what that place needs is a revolution and b) what this book means by the word love is not what I understand the word love to mean.

Wigglesworth does have a facility for rhyme and a reasonable hand with vernacular poetry. Mostly this just makes what he's actually saying even more horrifying.

Have a couple of sample verses. )

In short, don't do this to yourself, unless you have some kind of academic interest. I wouldn't have managed to finish this, except that it isn't long, and it was genuinely horrifying to watch him develop his relentless logic. I am so glad that this sort of thing is a less prevalent cultural thread than it used to be.


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March 2017

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