The Puritan Tradition in English Life

The Puritan Tradition in English Life

The Puritan Tradition in English Life

The Puritan Tradition in English Life

Excerpt

The name Puritan appears in English history during the second half of the sixteenth century. Its appearance coincided with the opening of that period of expansion, lasting from the middle of the sixteenth to the end of the nineteenth century, which transformed England from a small island kingdom into the centre of the greatest Empire the world has ever seen. It is the theme of this book that Puritanism provided a moral atmosphere and a continuing influence which helped to sustain and to renew the energy motivating this expansion. It is the purpose of this book to illustrate this theme by an account of the origins, the ideals and the continuing influence of Puritanism.

One of the characteristic features of medieval society was its lack of competitiveness. The pattern of existence, as exemplified in feudal obligations, guild rules, and religious observances, consisted in the performance of certain duties within a defined and accepted sphere of responsibility. Medieval virtues consisted in the cultivation of one's own garden rather than in the breaking of virgin soil; the qualities required to maintain society were those of conservation and appreciation rather than those of innovation and criticism.

The rhythm of a nation's life can be seen in terms of synthesis, expansion, consolidation and decay. in England, after successive harrowings of the land by the Saxons, the Danes and the Normans, synthesis was achieved within the spiritual framework of the Roman Church and within the material framework of the feudal system. The phase of consolidation produced the glories of Gothic art the social conventions idealized in those highly coloured pictures of Merrie England conjured up by Roman Catholic propagandists and sentimental medievalists of our own day. But these things bore within themselves the seeds of their . . .

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