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New England Mind: Seventeenth Century [Hardcover]

Perry Miller


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Book Description

Dec 1939 0674613058 978-0674613058
The late Perry Miller once stated, "I have been compelled to insist that the mind of man is the basic factor in human history," and his study of the mind in America has shaped the thought of three decades of scholars.

The fifteen essays here collected--several of them previously unpublished--address themselves to facets of the American consciousness and to their expression in literature from the time of the Cambridge Agreement to the Nobel Prize acceptance speeches of Hemingway and Faulkner. A companion volume to "Errand into the Wilderness," its general theme is one adumbrated in Mr. Miller's two-volume masterpiece, "The New England Mind"--the thrust of civilization into the vast, empty continent and its effect upon Americans' concept of themselves as "nature's nation."

The essays first concentrate on Puritan covenant theology and its gradual adaptation to changing conditions in America: the decline in zeal for a "Bible commonwealth," the growth of trade and industy, and the necessity for coexisting with large masses of unchurched people. As the book progresses, the emphasis shifts from religion to the philosophy of nature to the development of an original literature, although Mr. Miller is usually analyzing simultaneously all three aspects of the American quest for self-identity. In the final essays, he shows how the forces that molded the self-conscious articulateness of the early New Englanders still operate in the work of contemporary American writers.

The introduction to this collection is by Kenneth Murdock, Francis Lee Higginson Professor of English Literature, Emeritus, Harvard University, who, with Perry Miller and Samuel Eliot Morison, accomplished what hasbeen called "one of the great historical re-evaluations of this generation."


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Review

A fascinating and indispensable book. Saturday Review --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Scholarly Achievement 18 May 2005
By Ben - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Contrary to what a previous reviewer might have you believe, Miller's book is not a propaganda piece advocating Puritan theology; it's an examination of the intellectual history of America, specifically New England in the time of the Puritans. Americans all live under the shadow of the Puritans; to not understand this is simply ignorant. To attack a serious and brilliant scholarly work as though it were right-wing rhetoric is just plain silly.

The Puritans are far too easy to caricature by our modern standards, but are much more complex and interesting to look at from within the context of their own times. Truly, theirs was an amazingly complicated (though logically tortured and ultimately impossible) faith to sustain. Few point out the complexities and contradictions of this faith from such an informed perspective as Miller. In my opinion, this is his masterwork.

I implore readers to avoid the (incorrect) characterization that the modern right-wing ministers (Dobson, Falwell, etc.) are the direct intellectual descendents of such giants as Jonathan Edwards; Richard, Increase, and Cotton Mather; and Anne Hutchinson. Theology changes radically over time, and the Protestant Christianity being preached today is radically different than it was in the 1600s. Though the ideological foundation of this "New Jerusalem" called America was built by the Puritans, there are few ministers who now possess their eloquence, their willingness to sacrifice everything for their beliefs, and their dedication to their craft. (Not to mention a VERY rigid doctrine of predestination, much more rigid than you will find virtually anywhere in America today.) I don't advocate their philosophy or theology as something to live by. However, if your desire is to better understand the true Puritans and the history of America, it would be hard to do better than Perry Miller's great work on the subject.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Puritan Historiography 15 Nov 2003
By Renier Bormans - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In the 20th century the study of the Puritan Origins of New England and the US as a whole, took a new start. Perry Miller was to 'blame' for this. With his studies of Puritans he has shown that Puritans were not as harsh, narrow-minded and alienated from the rest of the world, as was the image throughout the 19th and early 20th century. In fact especially the Puritans were very interested in new scientific and religious developments from the enlightenment onwards. They did however use them for their own purposes. In New England Mind, The Seventeenth Century, Perry Miller goes into this. He tries to explain how the Puritans tried to balance between hart en mind. How they incorporated new scientific developments into their worldview, yet never allowed for any limits on Gods authority and power. Miller succeeds very well in showing how their religion was a whole out of two very different parts and how they as humans found their in our eyes harsh religion consoling. This book only goes into the ideological legacy of the 17th century. If you would like to read more try the sequel; From Colony to Province. This is an excellent book, which opened up an entire era to our modern minds. Even though the ideas put for the floodlight are rather heavy-handed, Miller succeeds in explaining them clearly and even got me to smile.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Consensus Approach to the Ideology of Early Puritan New England 6 Sep 2006
By Roger D. Launius - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Perry Miller (1905-1963) was one of the most important of the consensus historians of the middle part of the twentieth century and his work on the American Puritans was required reading for all students of history when I attended graduate school in the late 1970s and early 1980s. "The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century" was one of his masterworks, exploring the intellectual history of the Puritans through a deep investigation of the thought of the Puritan divines. In this book, as well as its successor, "The New England Mind: From Colony to Province" (Harvard University Press, 1953), Miller asserted a single mind for America that could be traced to the Puritan belief system. Even while there was an "American mentality" it was tormented by self-doubt and a certain schizophrenia. He suggested that the spiritual unrest present among all Americans that may be traced to the early Puritans.

This volume emphasizes the rise of a religious utopian experiment by the Puritans. He finds much of value that the Puritans bequeathed to the United States and suggests that America has always been about noble ideals accepted by all. Miller's consensus interpretation celebrated the long tradition of shared American ideals and values while de-emphasizing conflict. He believed that this made the United States and the people that made it up somehow better than everyone else. Miller questioned the ideas and people who challenged the cherished principles that he saw so well expressed in the writings of Puritan elites, noting in many of them strains of authoritarianism, anarchy, and narrow- and simple-mindedness of all varieties. Much of this approach to the American past in vogue when Miller was involved in his work advocated a basic idealism that he believed was in constant jeopardy from forces of fear, anti-intellectualism, and authoritarianism present in society.

This is an important book, and having recently reread it, I find it still valuable as a statement of Puritan intellectual thought. Its creation of a single mindset, however, is certainly questionable. For instance, the "other" of Puritan society is not represented. What of the dispossessed, minorities of all types, non-Puritans, and women in Miller's recounting of Puritan thought? They are essentially omitted from the story and including their perspectives would certainly have altered Miller's account. His concept of Puritanism was essentially the same one that was offered by the elites of early New England. Nonetheless, this work represents a seminal statement in American historiography and remains worthy of consideration for any student of the subject.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic 23 Nov 2009
By Loren C. Gruber - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A classic examination of the English intellectual heritage of colonial Puritans. All serious students and scholars of American literature and history must read this book.
5.0 out of 5 stars "The New England Mind" speaks again to classic human anguish 28 July 2013
By Rev. Ralph - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Perry Miller's masterpiece, "The New England Mind" (first published in 1939) speaks again to the pervasive human dilemma of constantly seeking "order and reason" in society, yet being thwarted at every turn. Miller begins his study with Augustine, because that late 4th - early 5th century pathfinder in the church identified the classic human anguish which Puritanism in the 17th century, one example among many, exemplified so starkly. Yet Puritanism characterized, as the late scholar of religious thought, Sydney E. Ahlstrom argued so persuasively, a 400-year-long ethos in Western history, running from the ascension of Queen Elizabeth in 1558 to the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Puritanism believed fervently in two principles: The human being has the drive to do well, to succeed, precisely, though, through a strict discipline of austerity. Second, the human being has a responsibility to take care of everyone who needs taking care of. In Western terms, interpreted by Max Weber and others, that meant the spirit of capitalism and the vast development of charitable, philanthropic work.

The combination was never easy. While Calvinism was a "comfortable doctrine," Ahlstrom hypothesized, Puritanism was an "uncomfortable way of life." That paradox led to inevitable conflict, yet remarkable achievements, as the story of Puritanism in America so vividly illustrates.

Given this "uncomfortable" challenge,the first New England settlers were fraught with human foibles -- Perry Miller concludes his case -- to which they succumbed, constituting "God's controversy" with those 17th century pioneers. Yet they were driven to see beyond their shortcomings and capture the original vision, namely: that they came to these shores "not to become provincial communities on the edge of civilization but to execute a flanking maneuver in the all-engrossing struggle of the civilized world."

This is quite relevant for an American society that is struggling to define its role as the major Power in the world, as that society seeks again to define its responsibilities to those less fortunate, and as that society seeks to find a basic drive common to all religious traditions that will unite them in purposeful lives.
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