A New England puritan tract of 1702 (Morgan, 1944: 49) contains a discourse called ‘Some instructions for children, how they may do well, when they come to years of doing for themselves’. What struck me on seeing this title is the phrase ‘do well’. We use this so commonly today when talking about what we would like schools to be for. Parents want their children to ‘do well’: that is why many of them choose the best schools for them, encourage them to work for their exams so as to get into university and land a ‘good job’.
It would be fascinating to explore what connexion there might be between the ancient and the modern use of this phrase. One thing is plain. For a puritan parent – in England, New England or in Holland – ‘doing well’ had a religious connotation. New England parents only fulfilled their obligations after they saw ‘their Children well dispos’d of, well settled in the World’ (Morgan, 1944: 39). For them, the ideal Christian life was one spent not in contemplation withdrawn from the world, but in diligent fulfilment of everyday obligations as a parent and a worker. The rationale for this was personal salvation, although
not in a crudely instrumental way.