In addition to having a name at least as unusual as any offspring of late 20th century celebrities and playing a key role in the hysteria leading to the Salem Witch Trials, Cotton Mather still maintains his standing as one of the most prodigious and prolific authors to ever do his writing on American soil. Of course, the more than 500 books, pamphlets, essays, tracts, articles and sermons that Mather wrote were all published before there actually was an America. Nevertheless, he must considered one of the most influential literary figures in American history, primarily due to his seeming endless stream of essay composition.
A very small and hardly comprehensive listing of essay titles chosen purely by random can still provide insight into just how far-reaching the topics and subjects to which Mather—who could claim both his grandfathers as two of the most influential first-generation Puritans to settle in the Massachusetts colony—put his mind as an essayist:
“Dust and ashes. An essay upon repentance to the last. Advising a watchful Christian, upon that case; how to keep alive the daily exercise of repentance, to the end of his life?”
“An essay on comets, their nature, the laws of their motions, the cause and magnitude of their atmosphere, and tails; with a conjecture of their use and design.”
“Insanabilia. An essay upon incurables; handling that case, What shall people do under their griefs, when there is no curing of them? And aimed at the comfort and counsil of the many, who encounter those grievous things, for which there is no remedy but patience.”
The most well-known and studied of all of Mather’s essays is “Bonifacius. AN ESSAY Upon the GOOD, that is to be Devised and Designed, BY THOSE Who Desire to Answer the Great END of Life, and to DO GOOD While they Live.” Within that rather ungainly length is a phrase that recurs often enough in other essays to effectively encapsulate the overarching them his entire canon. In the mind of the writer, at the very least, Cotton Mather intention as an essayist was share his acquired knowledge and the wisdom received through the grace of God so that those who read them might receive proper instruction as to how to go about DOING GOOD.