Life and Death and Parentator

William J. Scheick, ed.

William J. Scheick has prepared the first modern edition of Increase Mather's seventeenth-century biography of his father, Richard, and Cotton Mather's eighteenth-century biography of his father, Increase. More than merely an edition of these two fascinating and previously unavailable examples of Puritan biography, this scholarly volume includes nearly four hundred annotations. Also included is a lengthy original introduction, which discloses several hitherto unrecognized subtle features in these works and provides incisive interpretation of them.


In many respects the intention of New England Puritan biographies is identical to that of their sermons. Both reflect an attempt to convey religious instruction about the conduct of one's life on earth, and both seek to stimulate the reader to the practice of imitatio Christi. Increase's Life and Death is not only a biography of one minister but a testament to God's continuing call to the New England family through its spiritual fathers, even through biographer Increase himself, who has become one of them. The book's anonymous publication as well as its brevity, structuring motif, pervading theme, transparent style, and biographical technique all contribute to an integrated work of art, one that conveys implicitly what it explicitly argues.


Whereas Increase could, early in his life, locate his identity in terms of a continuity of divine will expressed through his succession as an agential ministerial father, Cotton, late in his life, could not do likewise. Cotton was hampered by his sense of diminishment and his uncertainty over whether the apparent decline of the Matherian heritage was somehow part of providential design or was his own fault. Consequently, in Parentator Cotton displaced Increase's emphasis on the image of the spiritual father with a hope that providential design informed his own seemingly less successful ministry and with a correlative hope that, in lieu of that ministry, the continuity of divine will is expressed through the agency of ministerial books, including not only Increase's but Cotton's publications as well. Through this hope that the longevity of his books would correspond to the longevity of Increase's personal influence on his time, Cotton managed to identify - as much, indeed, as he was capable of so doing - with his father.


This inner variance in the two biographies, which are both as much about their authors as about their subjects, accounts for the sharp contrast between the voices they project. Increase's anonymous voice relates events in a transparent narrative without authorial intrusions; Cotton's "signatured" voice relates events in a dense narrative replete with defensive authorial intrusions. Life and Death and Parentator are both remarkable examples of the aesthetic range of works embraced by the genre of New England Puritan hagiographic biography, but finally the artistry of each is defined by the subtle differences between them, differences that provide special insight into the minds of these two authors and into their times as well.

ISBN 0934223068 (AUP)
Lehigh University Press - Two Mather Biographies