The college was named not for its forbidding aspect—although it certainly had that—but for its founder, an Englishman named Prosperity Bleak, who emigrated to Boston around 1637. He bore with him a letter from Dr. Sextus Halbmond of Leiden (Holland), which attested to his piety and his education. As the churches of Boston were fully staffed, Mr. Bleak preached in out-of-the-way places: “in Smoaky rooms at the back of coffee houses, in dockside Warehouses, in Churches half-built, or half-destroyed by fire.” (The quotation is from William Lyall’s A True History of Mr. Bleak’s College Its Founding Its Purpose Its Sudden Destruction, published in 1681.)
In these places Bleak made a name for himself with his doctrine of “Purposefull Suffering,” his belief that the outward signs of pain could not only mimic but actually induce the inward trick of grace. (His doctrine has long since been suppressed, but it still has some currency at Bleak College, where the undergraduates are famous for complaining about how much work they have.) Where other ministers delivered sermons once or twice a week, Bleak held sixteen services; where other ministers urged chastity and abstinence from coffee, Bleak urged celibacy and abstinence from milk. “You cannot be Sprung, unless you are first Lock’d,” he said (this is Lyall again), “no more can you knowe Delight, unless you have tasted its Opposite.”
In 1671, Mr. Bleak (who had in the interval got rich) came to New Haven, where he established a school to teach this doctrine. His college was burned to the ground three years later by an angry mob, but it was rebuilt, and it still bears his name.