Puritanism and Revolution: Studies in Interpretation of the English Revolution of the 17th Century

Puritanism and Revolution: Studies in Interpretation of the English Revolution of the 17th Century

Puritanism and Revolution: Studies in Interpretation of the English Revolution of the 17th Century

Puritanism and Revolution: Studies in Interpretation of the English Revolution of the 17th Century

Excerpt

These essays were originally written, independently, on various occasions during the past eighteen years. Such unity as they have derives from their concern with the interpretation of what used to be called "The Puritan Revolution". The title of the book is intended to emphasize a double disability from which I believe English historians suffer in their approach to this revolution. First, few of us have any experience of revolutions. The British tradition since the seventeenth century has been almost entirely gradualist: revolutions are things we learn about from books. Secondly, most of us think that we do know all about Puritanism. But too often we are thinking -- whether with conscious hostility or unconscious sympathy -- not of Puritanism at all but of later nonconformity. They differ as much as vinegar does from wine. How many nineteenth century nonconformists, for instance, would have agreed with Milton that a man may be a heretic in the truth? So we have to make a deliberate intellectual effort to open our minds to revolutionaries, and to clear them of erroneous prepossessions about Puritans. When we are dealing with men who were simultaneously Puritans and revolutionaries the task is doubly exacting. "By God I have leapt over a wall, by God I have run through a troop, and by God I will go through this death, and He will make it easy to me." The last words of Major-General Harrison are outside the experience of most of us in this country, though they might seem less strange to members of resistance movements during the late war.

The essays here collected have all, I believe, a bearing on the interpretation of the seventeenth-century revolution, of the ideas which helped to produce it and resulted from it, and of the relation between these ideas and economic and political events. Each essay tackles the problem from a different angle, though I believe they are united by a coherent approach. Their diversity may help to emphasize my conviction that the revolution was a complex event, understanding of which is . . .

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