The whole destiny of America is contained in the first Puritans who landed on these shores, wrote de Tocqueville. These newcomers, and the range of their intellectual achievements and failures, are vividly depicted in The Puritans in America. Exiled from England, the Puritans settled in what Cromwell called “a poor, cold, and useless” place—where they created a body of ideas and aspirations that were essential in the shaping of American religion, politics, and culture.
In a felicitous blend of documents and narrative Alan Heimert and Andrew Delbanco recapture the sweep and restless change of Puritan thought from its incipient Americanism through its dominance in New England society to its fragmentation in the face of dissent from within and without. A general introduction sketches the Puritan environment, and shorter introductions open each of the six sections of the collection. Thirty-eight writers are included—among these Cotton, Bradford, Bradstreet, Winthrop, Rowlandson, Taylor, and the Mathers—as well as the testimony of Anne Hutchinson and documents illustrating the witchcraft crisis. The works, several of which are published here for the first time since the seventeenth century, are presented in modern spelling and punctuation.
Despite numerous scholarly probings, Puritanism remains resistant to categories, whether those of Perry Miller, Max Weber, or Christopher Hill. This new anthology—the first major interpretive collection in nearly fifty years—reveals the beauty and power of Puritan literature as it emerged from the pursuit of self-knowledge in the New World.
By presenting Puritan sermons, reminiscences, poetry, and other writings in a chronological fashion, Heimert and Delbanco have captured the spirit of a vibrant New England, experiencing social, religious, and economic change. The editors’ brief introductions to many of the selections make this volume especially attractive to students of Puritan history and literature.
This anthology pays tribute to Puritan trailblazers in political, religious and literary realms and casts them in a new and sparkling light. Lucid editorial notes and passages accompany the individual selections, the tone of which are at once friendly and scholarly.
What commends this particular book are its chronological organization, its insistence that any firm generalizations about Puritans may obscure the ‘human uncertainty’ of their lives in America, its treatment of the movement as sensibility rather than ideology, and its focus on emotionality in the context of the past. By defining Puritanism as an affective style and them allowing us to trace that style’s literary effusions over a century, Heimert and Delbanco invite us to investigate how communities organize their emotions and how time transfigures culturally prescribed feeling, a task well worth taking up. If the heart has its reason, it has its history too.
- 456 pages
- 6 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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