To the best of my knowledge, this book was last published in 1720. This is a first draft of editing of this book upon responding to slander.

The introduction to this work is peculiar, because it refers to the work as being written by some anonymous person. This post will contain the preface to the work and an introduction which sets out the background for the writing of the book itself.

I have made some minor edits to match some elements of contemporary style. There are Latin and Greek quotations, which Mather immediately restates in English paraphrase.  I will be adding additional notes in the future.

The Right Way to Shake Off a Viper

An Essay

Upon a


Too commonly calling for consideration;

What shall Good Men do, when they are Evil Spoken of?

By Cotton Mather


With a Preface of

Dr. Increase Mather

The Second Impression


1 Cor. 4.12,13. Being Reviled, we Bless; being Persecuted, we Suffer it; being Defamed, we Entreat.

2 Cor. 4.4, 8. In all things approving ourselves the Ministers of God in much Patience – By Honor & Dishonor; by Evil Report & Good Report: as Deceivers and yet True.

Cum recte vivas, ne cures verba malorum[1]

BOSTON: Printed by S. Kneeland for Gerrish, and Sold at his Shop.




Nec mihi ignominiosum est pati a meis, quod passus est Christus; nec illis gloriosum facere quod fecit Judas.



Innocentia et Virtus Lateret, nisi accepisset Injuriam. Dum viciatur, Essulsit

Sen. Ep. 72





Of the very Reverend

Dr. Increase Mather

In men’s defaming their neighbors (especially such as have deserved better usage), there is no little evil. Not only does our Savior Christ instruct us do to as we as would be done by, but the moral philosopher among the Gentiles, by the light of nature, says Quod tibi fieri non vis alterine feceris.[2]


Nevertheless, as great an evil as it is, many are guilty of it: And many of the best and most serviceable men in the world have been exposed unto it. The holy prophets heard the defaming of many. The apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, being defamed yet blessed those that were most abusive to them. Nor was there every any man in the world more defamed than he that has been the Savor of it; who has taught his disciples to forgive their enemies, to bless those that curse them, and to do good unto those that hate them.


The essay not to be offered unto the reader was printed in London nine years ago. But I never saw it until within these few days; nor list [desire] I to inquire after the author. I find in it not only erudition and ingenuity, but that which is a thousand times better, a Gospel spirit of real piety: And that the author (whoever he be) is a person of great reading and acquaintance with learned writers; and has made his knowledge subservient unto his religion. I have therefore advised the reprinting of it in Boston, hoping that God will bless it, both for the conviction of them who are concerned as transgressors, and for the consolation of them who may be concerned as sufferers by defamation.


Boston, Sept. 1



Increase Mather



Occasion of the Ensuing



It has been earnestly wished by some, yea, it has been the first-born of their wishes that whatever special temptation and affliction befalls them, the glorious Lord may have some revenues of glory; yea, and his people also some revunes of service from it.


There are those who have seen their desire in this thing remarkably accomplished; and it has been sweet unto them; it has remarkably sweetened the bitterness of all their exercises. I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happen’d to me, have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel. But then, if we are any time exercised with injurious defamations, why should not this temptation and affliction be improved as well as the rest, and the Church of Christ, where the case occurs to all that will godly be interested (if we can attain to it) in the improvement of it?[3]


It is a pleasant criticism of Cocceius[4] that the Church is compared unto a garden of nuts; partly because good men must, like nuts, be well knock’d and broken before other can get that good which is to be gotten of them. If the reader get any good by an essay now put into his hands, let him adore the faithfulness of the glorious Lord, who order’d a servant of his to knocked with some calumnies and reproaches; which awakened in him (instead of answering and confuting them, as ‘tis easy for him to do) to set himself upon strengthening his brethren with a discourse on a case where very many are concerned.


It must be confess’d that he had also in this essay a very particular eye to another servant of God whose watchfulness and faithfulness and industry had not excused him from unkind usage (which every wise man looks for) in an evil world.


Plutarch wrote a treatise, De Capienda  ad Hostibus Utilitate[5], How to Profit by One’s Enemies. But Plutarch was a stranger on the maxims as this essay is composed of. And both the author and his friend have great cause to take satisfaction in the Divine Providence that has brought them forth for the service of the people to whom we owe our all.


The famous Dod[6] had been so greatly defamed by an office of the college whereto he belonged, that his vexation upon, threw him into a fever. But God sanctified it for so much good unto him, that he sent for his defaming accuser; and for the sake of good he gained him, heartily forgave him all the wrong he had suffer’d from him. Anon the accuser himself saw and own’d his error.


If the author of this essay may not only gain the good propos’d in it; but also do the good that is intended by writing of it; he will have superabundant reason to forgive those that have been abusive to him; yea, tho’ instructed of a smaller number and worthier of a better name, their name were Legion.


Among other assaults upon him, he has had first and last above a dozen pamphlets published against him; unto any-one of which he never made the least reply; except it were that which the University of Helmstadt lately made unto an abuse put upon them, Visum est non alio remedio quam generoso silentio & pio contemptum, utendum nobis esse (Silence and contempt they thought the best reply). This un-replying silence has not proceeded from weakness of his cause, but from the strength of it.


For what loss of time is it (ill to be spared out of a short life!) to draw a saw with the people who have no reason or honor in them.[7] Those children of unreasonableness write nothing worthy of a reasonable man’s consideration. They themselves arm the considerate reader with their own refutation. To recite what they saw is to refute it. The men and their pens have seen such that still when his adversary has written a book he might well take it upon his should and bind it as a crown unto him.[8]


The invective of such people have been taught by an Arch-Angel how little notice and with what patience is to be taken of them.


And sometimes there is occasion to think how Maximus Tyrius[9] resolves the case, Ek ton adikeson antidikeson, Whether being injured we make a return or no? Says he, “’Tis not at all convenient that an honest man should wrestle a fall with one of another character; for they were not brought under the same tutors or unto the same exercises, nor do they expect the same success or applause of what they do; so that misert me ejus pugnae impar est congressus.


All that he does is this. At the take of Cadiz, Port Philip and all the Spanish galleys fired on Sir Walter Raleigh in the van [at the front] of the English Navy. Raleigh scorned their fire; and answered with a flourish of trumpets [and] without shooting a gun till he saw his time, and then did  notable execution.[10]


He takes leave to say, he will not once fire on any libelers or revilers. He wishes what is here exposed, may be as acceptable a melody to good men as a flourish of trumpets. There may come a time for such things to be done as may render the adversaries ashamed of their abaseness.


One who is not the most unexceptionable author int eh world, tho’ a mighty clerk, a very great scholar and writer (Monsier Le Clerc) has written a discourse beyond all exception upon that problem, An Semper Respondendum Calumniis Theologorum; or whether the Calumnies of Divines [theologians] written against a man, are always to be answered by him. He wisely answer’s, “No. By no means, ‘tis perfect loss of time. Do not go on writing of such books as will be of lasting benefit to mankind. Those books will be your sufficient and perpetual vindication. The sober part of manking will be so far from regarding the calumnies published against you, they will be abhor the publishers.”


This agrees well with what Sarracius wrote unto Salmasius when he threw away his time in answering many books written against him: Non dubito quen te aculeate dicta angant quietemque claudere Aures omnibus ills maledictis hominesque ulcisci, composione operum, que te Digna sint. To revenge truly, say nothing unto the caluminaters but to write something that mankind shall be the better for.


If Divines [theologians] writing against a man (which none such ever did against the author of this essay, that he has been sensible of) are so little to be regarded what then are men who proclaim themselves atheists and prophane pamphlets bu such men darted against [attacking] him. The dirt of a street as little to be regarded.


Vertuous men is seems have had that opinion of a paper which I have seen, disper’d amongst the people so instructed and so disposed that in a little more than one week’s time it was with very near an universal abhorrence chased out of the world. It strangely disappeared  at once and hardly any-one man would so expos his own reputation as to be known to countenance it. That atheistical paper had a collection of gross and vile falsehoods wherein the author of this essay is belied with an uncommon degree of malignity. He has been at a loss about a proper conduct on this occasion. On each of the passages (which traduce him in points wherein if he ever did well and as became an honest man in his life, it was in those points!), he might give an answer which honest valerius magnus thought it enough to repeat on every charge which his adversary then falsely made upon him: Mintiris impudentissime: ‘tis a most impudent lie!


But on the one side he had consulted flesh and blood, the cry would have been, Nos haec patiemur inulti. An Aristotle would have told him, It is a slavish thing, when used contumeliously to suffer it without making returns. An Iscorates would have told him, You must think it a base thing to be outdone by your enemies in ill turns, as by your friends in good ones. As Terrence taught us at school the evil maxim, veterem ferendo injuriam invitas Novam. And should he employ an hundredth part of that armour of righteousness, both on the right and on the left, that is, both defensive and offensive, wherewith he is furnished on this occasion, the poor men could not but repent of their having meddled with him.


On the other side, Christianity prescribes a world of silence and patience and goodness upon such provocations. And we have no more admirable savior and pattern, who, as a sheep before shearers his mouth is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. [Is. 53:7] He resolved therefore to treat that libel with silence and as unworthy of an answer. God rewarded his resolution and also supplied him with an answer in the conscience of every man who had any real virtue or honor in him. Indeed, if a man were not altogether so richly favor’d of the Lord abroad, it were no little favor to have that within which may comfort him in the testimony of his conscience.


It was a pleasant answer of an honest man unto a passionate lord, after he had pateitnatly heard him call him [an] abundance of bad names: Your honor may speak of me as you please, but I believe not one word of it, for I know myself to be an honest man.


However this was the course taken by him. He knew no person of the least credibility int eh world would ever assert such things to his face or in his life. And should he merely mention the names of those blades who divulged the libel, this alone would be (tho’ his own sufficient vindication), yet such an exquisite piece of revenge upon his enemies as is not agreeable with his principles. Wherefore, he remains wholly silent for the present.


But lest, after his death, any wicked man should go on to make advantage of such things as they have done by his renowned grand-father before him, he leaves behind such well-attested instruments in manuscript as being produced will forever bury in confusion all attempts to wound religion[11] by wounding a servant of it. We may and should speak upon some wrongs; not for the revenging ourselves but for suppressing of lies that may hurt our usefulness.


In the meantime, he would loath come short of Musonius (comneded for it by Grotius) who protested he would never sue any upon an hubreos-graphon, an action of defamation or suffer another to do it on his behalf. He may go in doing all the good offices for his people for his people that he can; he is invulnerable. Some names are so oil’d that no ink will stick upon them.


It was the counsel of Sadoletus to Erasmus, You see, he counsels him, to answer once for all and let one book be a full and final answer to all calumnies that should be cast upon him.

‘Tis hoped that the author of this essay will have no need of any other answer to calumnies. This one book is answer enough. After this, he need never trouble himself about anymore. He may go on to find better work which his hand finds ot do, and not to turn aside for any.





[1] The full maxim reads, “Cum recte vivas, ne cures verba malorum;/ Arbitrii non est nostri, quid quisque loquatur.” This comes from book three of the Disticha Catonis, a collection of maxims in Latin from 2nd or 3rd Century A.D.  The English translation is, “If you live rightly, do not worry about the words of bad people;/ It is not our call as to what each person says.”


[2] The Latin reads, Do unto to others as you would have them do unto you.

[3] By “improvement”, he means to put it to good use; make it serviceable.

[4] German Theologian, 1603-1669.

[5] The modern latin title is De capienda ex inimicis utilitate. The Greek original and English translations are readily available on the Internet.

[6] John Dod, English Puritan, 1549-1645.

[7] By the phrase “to draw a saw with”, he refers to two men who would use a large saw in tandem to cut a large tree. They would both be working together.

[8] Their attack is a “badge of honor”, as we might say.

[9] _________

[10] The capture of Cadiz, 1596.

[11] By “religion” Mather did not mean religion generically, but he specifically referenced Christianity.