The title which I have given this work may appear presumptuous in the light of its actual contents, for the book is rather a topical analysis of various leading ideas in colonial New England than a history of their development. I must plead in extenuation that I offer this as the first volume in a projected series upon the intellectual history of New England to extend through the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, that I conceive of it as setting the stage or furnishing points of departure for the subsequent account, and that in the portion to follow I shall begin the narrative with the decade of 1660 and there undertake a more sequential tracing of modifications and changes. The present work, therefore, is to stand as a preliminary survey, as a map of the intellectual terrain of the seventeenth century, disregarding for the moment occasional and chronological phases. I am herein concerned with defining and classifying the principal concepts of the Puritan mind in New England, of accounting for the origins, inter-relations, and significances of the ideas. The next volume will partially overlap this, but herein I have not considered chronology so much as structure, nor the morphology so much as the anatomy of the Puritan mind. I have limited the field to the seventeenth century and not overstepped the second decade of the eighteenth, which seems to me the furthest extent to which one may say that the original system of Puritanism survived without drastic alteration.
My project is made more practicable by the fact that the first three generations in New England paid almost unbroken allegiance to a unified body of thought, and that individual differences among particular writers or theorists were merely minor variations within a general frame. I have taken the liberty of treating the whole literature as though it were the product of a single intelligence, and I have appropriated illustrations from whichever authors happen to express a point most conveniently. Seldom have I exhibited a passage from one Puritan writing which could not be paralleled by several more that assert the same thing in different words. Since this volume is of necessity concentrated upon the content of the thought, since it aims at a descriptive analysis of what the New England mind took to be truth, it is offered as a chapter in the history of ideas; the design has called for large excursions into the background of English and European opinion,