IN retrospect, the pleas of Cotton Mather and his colleagues indeed sound like voices crying in the wilderness. Their inability to understand the changes occurring in their society, nevertheless, reveals the importance of the American environment in the development of New England thought. The complex ideas transported to America underwent significant changes in the New World. To be sure, most of the symbolic views of the wilderness persisted and, in slightly variant form, enabled the Puritan colonists to better interpret their experiences in New England. The tenacity of these perspectives reflects the common inadequacy of language to keep pace with new experiences. Yet the ongoing transformation of the wilderness into settled habitations and continued frontier expansion altered considerably the original meaning of the old rhetoric. The absence of self-consciousness of change did not mean that the modifications within Puritan thought were unimportant. For as the Puritans defined their existence, they were compelled to reconcile the vision with the reality.
Their solutions to this problem revealed the essential ambiguities of their original position. Though the paradoxes remained to the end of the seventeenth century, it is apparent that the Puritan colonists were less than satisfied with their answers. As a transplanted people, they