The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry

By Perry Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
PERSONAL NARRATIVE

1. THOMAS SHEPARD, 1605-1649

[In recounting the history of an individual, whether of another or of himself, the Puritan faced the same antinomy he confronted when writing the history of a people. On the one hand, he had to tell everything, for who could say, since whatever happens from day to day comes out of the providence of God, that the slightest event was without portentous significance? Yet on the other hand, a life story had to be an example--an exemplum--whether for good or evil; it had to be organized into a drama, in which the ultimate meaning would emerge out of a welter of fact.

Furthermore, the achievement of form amid detail was made still more complex because few persons were any more led, as was Paul on the road to Damascus, to a dramatic climax of revelation so emphatic that their lives were formed into a rising and falling action. The grace of God, as most men experience it, is elusive; though certainty is written in the tables of divine election, and though the true saint will persevere no matter what sins he falls into, still the sins of the best of men are terribly visible, while the book remains inaccessible to mortals. The creature lives inwardly a life of incessant fluctuation, ecstatically elated this day, depressed into despair the next. The science of biography required clinical skill in narrating these surgings and sinkings, all the time striving to keep the line of the story clear.

If this was a difficult task when recounting the career of some ultimately victorious Christian, what about one's self? The result of the nagging question was that almost

-225-

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The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Contents iii
  • Title Page v
  • Foreword ix
  • Chapter One - History 1
  • Chapter Two - State and Society 78
  • Chapter Three - This World and the Next 143
  • Chapter Four - Personal Narrative 225
  • Chapter Five - Poetry 265
  • Chapter Six - Literary and Educational Ideals 320
  • A Brief Bibliography 336
  • Index 341
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