The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century

By Perry Miller | Go to book overview
Save to active project


In no society are the formal or official tenets those which necessarily determine action, yet many observers find in the Puritan community a discrepancy between profession and practice that seems abnormally wide. Critics at the time, and since, have argued that the piety, with its degradation of man and its exaltation of God, should have driven its votaries in solitary flight to the desert and attired them in the hair shirt of repentance, after the example of the more straightforward saints of the Middle Ages. But the only desert into which Puritan saints fled was New England, where such as could afford it wore crimson waistcoats and expensive cloaks. Later generations have been puzzled, as was young William Ellery Channing, over the spectacle of their fathers pronouncing approval upon the morning's sermon -- "Sound doctrine, Sir" -- and then going whistling home to a warm house and a good dinner. The conclusion seems to them inescapable that the Puritans were arrant hypocrites.

This judgment proceeds upon an assumption concerning the nature of the piety. When critics accuse Puritan society of glossing its avarice with sanctimoniousness, or of taking solid satisfaction in the things of this world while pretending to despise them, they presuppose that the piety was a gloomy, otherworldly, and tragic conception of life, which ought to have forbidden such relaxations. Yet I think it very doubtful that any seventeenth-century Puritan so interpreted his creed. There can be no denying that Puritanism did give rise to Pharisaism and accentuated the complacency of men like Cotton Mather; it was also ruthless in inflicting its will upon dissenters and those whom it judged sinners. Yet in everyday life Puritanism did not mean that because Puritans were virtuous there should be no more cakes and ale. It was only after the piety had abandoned the essentials of true Puritanism,


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 528

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?