Editorial Principles

In establishing a critical edition of Mather’s magnum opus, I have followed G. Thomas Tanselle’s recommendations in Textual Criticism and Scholarly Editing. (Charlottesville and London: UP of Virginia, for the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, 1990). Subsequent editorial guidelines are informed by Tanselle’s perceptive criticism and have been rigorously enforced in the transcription and vetting processes.¹ The typescript for Genesis (established by myself) has been collated six times: four times by collating the typescript and the microfilm copyflow with the help of several graduate students (including Merit Kaschig, Jan Saathoff, Florian Schwieger, Ellen Kubica, and Damien Schlarb), and twice by on-site collations of typescript and holograph manuscript at the MHS (summer 2001 and fall 2007).

The following guidelines, based on Tanselle’s recommendations, are adapted to suit the specific qualities of the “Biblia Americana” holograph manuscript and of Cotton Mather’s handwriting:

1. To facilitate a permanent pagination for the entire holograph manuscript, I have introduced in brackets a continuous foliation for each leaf and interpolated cutout (no matter its size); the recto and verso of each are indicated by r or v appended to the page number. Thus Mather’s commentary on the book of Genesis begins with [1r] and ends with [472v]. However, in those cases where Mather interpolates several layers of inserts within inserts, I have marked these layers as [Insert Ar] and [Insert Bv]. Furthermore, the triangular shapes ∇ Δ given in the margin of the edition respectively mark the beginning and end of a longer textual interpolation. Bracketed page numbers in the edition always signal the beginning of a new MS page.

2. I have inserted in the typescript in the location specified by Mather all of his marginal and interlinear interpolations, which he designates with single, double, or triple carets (^^), with pound signs (##) or other distinguishing marks (aa, oo, **, etc.). However, to establish a clean text unencumbered with literally thousands (!) of editorial symbols, cancellations, and intrusions, I have chosen to make the corrections in the text as Mather intended them for the press—without recording his symbols, false starts, or his corrected misspellings in a separate appendix. A footnote will draw attention to all ambiguous cases; the projected online edition (after all ten volumes of Biblia Americana are printed) will juxtapose transcription and holograph manuscript pages in parallel columns.

3. Since Mather incorporated new material or excised superseded entries over a period of more than three decades, he frequently ran out of space and was forced to add new chapter-and-verse annotations at the end of the chapter or on separate sheets, quarto, octavo, or duodecimo leaves, frequently pasted into the gutter of a MS page. For these reasons, a number of verse annotations are out of sequence. For instance, a commentary on verse 17 may thus be followed by one on verses 4, 13, or 8, which he added during a later revision process. It seems obvious that Mather did not intend to present his annotations in this disordered fashion. If he had succeeded in interesting a London publisher in his huge folio commentary, Mather most likely would have engaged a copyist to establish a clean, orderly copy text for the typesetter. To avoid confusion, I have therefore elected to present Mather’s verse annotations in the appropriate sequential order.

4. Mather cancels punctuation marks, letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, and entire pages for a number of reasons: to search for a more precise word during his rapid composing or copying process; to replace one quotation with another; to excise names, titles, places, dates, and figures about whose accuracy he is in doubt, or whose anonymity he decides to preserve, or whose hermeneutic relevance is superseded by new material; to correct spelling and capitalization; to cancel false starts; to revise punctuation and upper- and lowercasing of letters or words as necessitated by interpolations or cancellations; to emphasize or de-emphasize specific words; and to restore matter obliterated or otherwise obscured by ink spots, smudges, or unevenness of paper quality. All told, Mather’s cancellations, emendations, and interlineal interpolations are so numerous that recording them in a genetic text would seriously impede readability and comprehension of Mather’s argument. Similar reasons lead me to believe that little is to be gained by chronicling these emendations in a separate appendix. Such an appendix would unnecessarily bloat the size (and expense) of each volume. However, if Mather cancels existing matter because his hermeneutic or theological position has changed, I have commented on his cancellations in discussion footnotes and recorded cancelled matter in Appendix A. For all other cancellations not reproduced in footnotes, readers should consult Mather’s holograph MS at the Massachusetts Historical Society, turn to the readily available microfilm copies of the Mather Family Papers, or postpone their quest until the searchable online edition becomes available.

Generally, Mather cancels matter by drawing a thick wavy line through the passage or corrects his spelling or syntax by writing over (i.e., in the same place as) existing words. Deciphering and reconstructing these excisions or corrections proved fairly easy. But when he wants to be sure that a passage cannot be deciphered, he obliterates it by repeatedly drawing a wavy line through the excision, by erasing or even smudging it.

I have used the following symbols wherever words have been permanently lost through defacement, illegibility, or mutilation:

[*], [**] to indicate the loss of, one or more words by Mather’s defacement.
[* illeg.], [** illeg.] to indicate the loss of one or more words through illegibility of Mather’s paleography.
[* torn], [** torn] to indicate the loss of one or more words by mutilation.

If a lost or missing word can be inferred with reasonable certainty, the inferred reconstruction is rendered in braces { }. If subject to conjecture, however, the reconstruction is followed by a question mark and rendered in braces { ?}.

5. Mather’s use of abbreviations and contractions provides no hardship for scholars of the period. Even general readers unfamiliar with the conventions of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries should experience few problems in that respect. But since Mather intended “Biblia Americana” for the press, I have silently expanded all those contractions and abbreviations that an early eighteenth-century typesetter would generally have spelled out. I have here reconstructed the principles used by Thomas Parkhurst, printer and publisher of Cotton Mather’s 1702 London edition of Magnalia Christi Americana, available in a facsimile imprint by Arno Press (1972) as well as through Chadwyck Healey’s Eighteenth-Century Collection Online (ECCO):

yt. = that, yr. = their, ye. = the, ym. = them
wth. = with, wch. = which, or. = our
wherewth. = wherewith, aforesd. = aforesaid

However, all of Mather’s abbreviations that coincide with modern conventions such as Capt (Captain), Mr (Master/Mister), M (French: Monsieur), Dr (Doctor), & (ampersand), &c. (etc.), and tho’ (though), have been rendered Capt., Mr., M., Dr., commencing, or retained as &, &c. or tho’ as evidenced in Parkhurst’s 1702 London imprint.

6. While Mather generally distinguishes between the minuscules i and j in his quotations from Latin sources (Latin not discriminating between i and j, I and J, and u and v), he did not do so for the majuscules I and J, which Mather renders J with very few exceptions. Since no misreading is really possible here, I have retained Mather’s archaic conventions wherever applicable. His long-tailed minuscule ʃ, commonly rendered as a lowercase s, is somewhat more problematic, for Mather uses both ʃ and s interchangeably. Thus both ʃhould and should or poʃʃession and possession can be found; I have silently adopted modern conventions and uniformly rendered the long-tailed ʃ as lowercase s throughout the text.

7. Following homiletic tradition for oral delivery, Mather underscores an unusual number of words and phrases with single or double underlining to emphasize key terms and concepts, and to signal Latin quotations. Again, I have followed the conventions of Mather’s eighteenth-century publisher (still applicable today) and rendered a passage underscored by a single line in italics and that by a double line in SMALL CAPITALS.

8. Even though Mather’s spelling is remarkably consistent and, by the standard of his peers, remarkably modern, occasional inconsistencies do occur when he copies from his primary sources. If his particular spelling does not give rise to any confusion, I have retained his variant. For instance, he renders foretell as either foretel or fortell, and consistently spells carcass as carcase, or thoroughly as throughly. Since no misunderstanding seems possible, I have retained Mather’s exact spelling throughout. If, on the other hand, Mather adopts a variant spelling of the names of such authors as Camden, Peutinger, White, or Clarke by rendering them Cambden, Pentinger, Wite, or Clark, wrongful identification is possible. In such cases, I have corrected the variant spelling in the text and noted the correction in a footnote. Such obvious slips as yethe heavens, often the result of Mather’s inaccurate copying from another source, of inaccurate cancellations of earlier passages, of interlineations of words and phrases, have been silently emended. His characteristic (though inconsistent) mixes of numerals such as ii for 11, i2 for 12, or 3i for 31, have been silently modernized. However, in following Parkhurst’s eighteenth-century conventions, I have retained Mather’s use of such ligatures as æ and Æ and for œ and Œ. Hence “æqual” and “Ægypt,” and “Phœnicians” and “Œconomy.” These conventions generally reflect Mather’s Latin sources.

9. Capitalization in “Biblia Americana” is rather problematic throughout. Anybody who has ever seen a sample of Mather’s handwriting will be aware of the difficulty. His indiscriminate and indeterminate use of upper and lower cases of the letters c, e, g, l, m, o, p, s, u, v, w, x, y, and z is confusing to modern expectations, especially when the first letter of a name or the initial letter of a word following a period appears to be lowercased. Generally, a seemingly lowercased word at the beginning of a sentence is not problematic. But since there is no evidence to suggest that Mather intentionally uses minuscules after sentence-terminal marks, the initial letter of a word at the beginning of a new sentence, as well as of a proper name, is silently capitalized.

A final capitalization usage deserves brief attention. Mather commonly capitalizes word-initial letters of nouns or a sequence of nouns, of adjectives modifying nouns, of a sequence of predicate adjectives, or even of sequential adverbs and verbs to emphasize particular concepts or themes, or to signal to the orator a change of intonation to effect a different meaning. Hence we find “their Thoughts and their Pens,” “Beloved City and Celestial Abode,” “Considerable Alterations and Divine Offerings,” “more Copiously and more Accurately.” Such conventions are typical of the contemporary homiletic tradition for oral delivery, and Mather’s practice requires no elucidating. It is more problematic, however, when his capitalization lacks any apparent rationale. His use of upper and lower cases in such passages as “GoD the Father, The son, and The Holy ghost” seemingly follows no recognizable logic—unless we remember Mather’s interchangeable use of such upper and lowercase letters as o, s, g. Since problems of this nature are a distinctive feature of Mather’s hand, I have elected to regularize his practice throughout: Thus, “GOD the Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost.” However, when Mather’s intention could not be inferred from the context or prior evidence, I have silently capitalized nouns and gerunds if they began with the letters c, e, g, l, m, o, p, s, u, v, w, x, y, or z. Imposing consistency in these instances solved the problem of making literally thousands of individual and subjective judgments. Along the same lines, adjectival clusters preceding nouns and sequential adverbial modifiers have been silently rendered in upper or lower cases when the first letter of an adjective or adverb cluster in the sequence clearly indicate Mather’s intention. Hence such phrases as “the Illustrious and pious Master cartwright” or “he Barely touched yet sacrilegiously despoiled” are rendered “the Illustrious and Pious Master Cartwright” and “he Barely touched yet Sacrilegiously despoiled.” Unfortunately, this system is not completely foolproof; in same cases arbitrary decisions were necessary when no precedent patterns were available. At any rate, I have taken pains to rule out any unintentional shift in meaning.

10. Punctuation marks in “Biblia Americana” are a frequent source of problems. Mather’s innumerable excisions and interpolations necessitated frequent re-punctuation. Unfortunately, he does not always excise the existing punctuation mark when he inserts a new one. As a result, two different marks often exist side by side. But deciphering Mather’s final choice proved relatively easy when I consulted the holograph manuscript at the MHS. The use of different types of ink (generally indistinguishable on the microfilm copy) clearly signals Mather’s intention.

I have retained Mather’s final choices in virtually all cases just as they occur in “Biblia.” Only when his punctuation mark renders the meaning of his sentences ambiguous did I intrude into the text. Such intrusions, however rare, are indicated by brackets [ ] or identified in a footnote

11. To allow for later additions, Mather leaves many blank spaces and blank pages in the holograph manuscript. Frequently, an entire MS page consists of only two or three brief paragraphs of commentary on different biblical verses, with blank spaces of varying lengths between them. In such cases, I have regularized the blank spaces between such paragraphs by uniformly introducing two blank lines between them.

Most of the time, Mather signals the beginning of new paragraphs with indentations of irregular lengths. Here I have used a standard indentation for each new paragraph unless Mather’s pattern suggests otherwise. Any extra spaces between words or sentences, possibly serving Mather as reminders for later insertions, have been silently omitted. When Mather skips one or more lines between paragraphs to signal a new subdivision or to break up long passages into visually recognizable units, I have regularized his practice by dropping two lines. Similarly, when he uses one or more slashes / / to indicate that a passage is to be centered or to be blocked, I have carried out his intent but silently omitted his slash or slashes. However, since Mather uniformly sets off his Hebrew citations with slashes at the beginning and end, I have retained his practice. Thus, “The Terms, /?jn/ and /[r?/ are synonymous.”

12. Mather frequently uses dashes — of varying lengths. Such a dash often signifies the end of a quotation, an omission of words (especially in conflated quotations), or some other unspecified alteration to a quotation. However, dashes occur not only within quotations but also at the ends of lines, here generally indicating pauses. I have retained Mather’s practice in the text of the present edition but uniformly standardized their length.

13. Single, and infrequently double, quotation marks serve Mather to highlight lengthy citations from his contemporaries’ sources. These markers appear at the opening (but not at the closing) of each citation and in front of each word (along the left-hand margin) beginning a new line. Little seems to be gained, however, by retaining this archaic practice: (1) Mather’s line breaks (except for those in his poetry) are different from the line breaks in the present edition. (2) If these lines were run to the same measure as the surrounding copy, Mather’s quotation marks would appear midline. (3) And to move the quotation marks back to the left-hand margin would be to impose an archaic convention on this modern setting. For these reasons, modern conventions have been adopted here, and double quotation marks are placed only at the opening and closing of Mather’s citations.

14. I have retained Mather’s hyphenations of compound names, verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs as they appear in the manuscript. Distinguishing compound hyphenation from end-of-the-line divisions proved easy enough, since the context clearly signals his intention. In those cases where an end-of-the-line division mark coincides with the hyphen of a hyphenated compound word, I have tried to rule out any misinterpretation. No separate record of Mather’s divisions of hyphenated compounds is therefore necessary, except in those cases when Mather’s hyphenated words coincide with the end-of-the-line word division in the printed text. These rare instances are explained in a footnote.

15. Mather’s Latin, Greek, and Hebrew citations are a constant source of problems because he virtually always quotes them at second, even third and fourth, hand depending on which authors and sources he is epitomizing. Modern readers must not forget that Mather and his contemporaries by and large did not have the benefit our modern classical editions, whose philological reliability, textual accuracy, and variant orthography are a result of the philological research begun during the Renaissance and achieving prominence in Mather’s own time. In virtually all cases Mather reliably copies his sources and their classical citations. In cases where Mather makes mistakes, the error generally occurs in Mather’s source as well. Whenever such a problem occurs, I have commented on this issue in a footnote and corrected the error in the text.

His transcription of Greek diacritical marks, however, seems sloppy at first glance. Mather frequently adds accent marks in his Latin citations even though they do not appear in his source. Significantly, in nearly every instance, he omits the accent or aspiration marks from his Greek and Hebrew citations—even if they are supplied in his source texts. In his Manuductio ad Ministerium (1726), Mather addressed the issue of Greek accent marks and his rationale for omitting them. Advising his candidates for the ministry, he argued,

I can’t encourage you, to throw away much Time, upon an Accurate Skill in the Greek Accents: But rather wholly to drop them, when your Quill comes to convey any Greek into your Pages. For, as the Writing of Greek otherwise than in Capitals, was introduced in later Ages by the Monks of Egypt, who borrowed the smaller Letters now used from the Coptic; So, One shall hardly find any Accents on the Greek, in any Manuscripts written above Eight Ages ago: Nor was the Invention of the Accents, with which our Greek is now encumbred, of any other than a Musical Intention. And, Vossius, with Henninius after him, are not the only Gentlemen, who have declared earnestly against pronouncing the Greek according to the Accents: I pray, how would a Verse of Homer sound, if it were so pronounced? (Manuductio 29-30)

A similar intent seems to govern Mather’s numerous, though brief, Hebrew citations, whether derived from secondary sources or from the Masoretic texts themselves. Some scholars faulted him for his imperfect knowledge of Hebrew (see L. H. Feldman 125, 152n15; and S. Goldman, God’s Sacred Tongue 31-51). However cogent this critique may be, Mather sided in his 1681 Harvard M.A. thesis with Johann Buxtorf the Younger, who in 1648 attacked Louis Cappellus’ Arcanum punctationis revelatum (1624) for rejecting the belief that the Hebrew vowel points were coterminous with the origin of the Hebrew language. Mather’s academic endeavor was perhaps more indicative of his faith and wishful thinking than the state-of-the art knowledge of the Tiberian Masoretes (sixth c. CE), whose contribution to the Hebrew texts was not fully understood until Louis Cappellus published his refutation. In “Biblia Americana,” Mather admits his error and, perhaps for this reason, elects to omit the Hebrew cantillation marks in virtually all instances.

Similar problems occur in Mather’s copying of Greek phrases and sentence, which (as usual) are at second, third, even fourth, hand. What complicates matters is that Mather and his peers frequently employ shorthand abbreviations such as O for “os,” the terminal “ς” (in opening or medial positions) for “στ,” or ∂ς for “tai,” ∂ for θ, or J for θ. In all cases I have elected to expand his abbreviations silently and follow modern conventions. However, I retain all accent marks in his Greek and Hebrew citations if they are supplied in the holograph manuscript.


Peace, peace, thou ass of a commentator.”
(Herman Melville)

Cotton Mather’s commentary “Biblia Americana” (in itself one gigantic sequence of annotations on biblical archaisms, doctrinal concepts, philological peculiarities, and scientific innovations) requires a running commentary on issues important to Mather and his Reformed peers. Among his target audience are theologians, preachers, informed laypersons, and fellow virtuosi, whose demand for answers to the burning scientific and philosophical questions of the age were frequently ignored by such conservative commentators as Henry Ainsworth, Matthew Henry, Matthew Poole, and Simon Patrick.

Modern readers unfamiliar with the philosophical debates of the period, with the radical changes in biblical hermeneutics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and with the tools of seventeenth-century exegesis (tools that Mather took for granted), might easily require three different sets of annotations to meet their own needs. To satisfy these demands would surely require volumes of running commentary and become an editorial odyssey that would founder on the Scylla and Charybdis of scholarly perfectionism and editorial exigencies. Careful examination of Mather’s approach to and use of his sources leads me to believe that specific parameters have to be established in guiding readers (and fellow editors) through the maelstrom and quicksand of the “Mather bog”:

  1. A working knowledge of the bible, its major figures, and main historical events is taken for granted. Any number of modern biblical dictionaries and encyclopedias will quickly yield answers not provided here.
  2. Annotations are to clarify Mather’s own exegetical positions in the context of his own time period, not to pass judgment on, or to provide a partisan defense of his denominational or ideological concerns.
  3. Mather’s sources are identified by author, place of publication, and first edition if known.
  4. Biographical information of Mather’s authors is kept to a minimum and provided only when crucial to the immediate context.
  5. Biblical allusions and citation references not provided in Mather’s text are supplied in footnotes and recorded in the Index of Biblical Passages.
  6. Standard reference tools such as the Patrologiae Latinae (PL), Graecae (PG), and Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (www.tlg.uci.edu), or such indispensable online resources as www.perseus.tufts.edu/Texts/latin_TOC.html and “thelatinlibrary.com” are used throughout to identify the sources for Mather’s citations. Furthermore, the standard editions of classical Greek and Roman literature, available in multiple modern reprints (Teubner, Loeb, Oxford), are used to identify book, chapter, section, or paragraph numbers—unless otherwise noted.
  7. Translations of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, or German citations are furnished only if Mather does not do so himself or if his translations are seriously flawed.
[1] I wish to thank Professors Tanselle (Columbia) and Lisa Gordis (Barnard) for their trenchant review of these guidelines.