Michael Wigglesworth was born probably in Yorkshire, England, on Oct. 18, 1631. The family went to Charlestown, Mass., in 1638 and soon settled in New Haven, Conn. There was no shelter on the land allotted to theWigglesworths, and they spent the first winter in a cellar hole. Wilderness hardships took their toll. The father, broken in health, was unable to manage the farm alone and had to ask Michael to interrupt his New Haven schooling and come home. Michael, so frail that he was of limited help, was finally encouraged to prepare for Harvard College; he graduated first in his class in 1651; he continued onas fellow and as tutor. After receiving his master's degree in 1656, he became minister of the Congregational Church at Malden.
Wigglesworth had had some medical training in college and, in 1663, on a trip for his health, took up medicine again. Afterward he was both physician and minister, but poor health plagued him. In 1697 he was elected a fellow of Harvard; some say that he was offered thepresidency but refused it because of his health.
Introspective and often despondent, Wigglesworth worried unceasingly about his spiritual and physical well-being. Yet his contemporaries loved and respected this "feeble little shadow of a man," as Cotton Mather called him. He married three times (outliving two wives) and had eight children. He died in Malden on May 27, 1705.
In the long ballad, TheDay of Doom, written in 1662, Wigglesworth attempted to make Christ's judgment vivid to a popular audience. The damnation of sinners on that day is terrifyingly described; the elect reign eternally with Christ. Almost 1,800 copies were sold in a year; four editions of the poem appeared in Massachusettts and in England before 1701. Doubtless most New Englanders read, heard about, or owned thiselectrifying piece. Also in 1662, a year of severe drought, he wrote a poetic interpretation of New England's decline, "God's Controversy with New England," first published in 1873. His last verses appeared in Meat out of the Eater or Meditations Concerning the Necessity, End and Usefulness of Affliction unto God's Children (1669).
Wigglesworth's verse is poetry in the service of doctrine; hispersonality is suppressed. He tried a variety of styles and modes, always with the intention of finding the most effective means of presenting his theological vision of particularly his vision of Christ's imminent return to judge the world.
The Diary of Michael Wigglesworth, 1653-1657: The Conscience of a Puritan was edited, with an interpretative introduction, by Edmund S. Morgan(1951; new ed. 1965). A generous selection of Wigglesworth's poetry is in Perry Miller and Thomas H. Johnson, eds., The Puritans (2 vols., 1938; rev. ed. 1963). An authoritative biography is Richard Crowder, No Featherbed to Heaven: A Biography of Michael Wigglesworth (1962).
Michael Wigglesworth 1631-1705
American poet, diarist, and sermon writer.
Michael Wigglesworth was asignificant figure in the religious and political leadership of colonial Massachusetts, and was eulogized by Cotton Mather. A pastor and physician, he was plagued by bad health, an angry congregation, and personal scandal throughout his life. However, both his poetry collections, The Day of Doom (1662) and Meat Out of the Eater (1670) were popular successes, and enjoyed several reprintings and revisededitions. In fact, his works were memorized by generations of New England Puritans. While his work presents substantial challenges to modern readers unfamiliar with Puritan aesthetics and uncomfortable with strict Calvinism, the significance of Wigglesworth's achievements is reflected in his powerful influence on the development of Puritan thought.