Puritanism and New England Literature

Puritanism and
New England
March 1, 2011
Li Baojie
The Definition of Puritan
The term "Puritan" first began in 1567 (Elizabethan times) as
a taunt or insult applied by traditional Anglicans to those who
criticized or wished to "purify" the Church of England. In
other words, “Puritans” refer to a group of people who grew
discontent in the Church of England and worked towards
religious, moral and societal reforms.
New England: Although the word is often applied loosely,
"Puritan" refers to two distinct groups: "separating" Puritans,
such as the Plymouth colonists, who believed that the
Church of England was corrupt and that true Christians must
separate themselves from it; and non-separating Puritans,
such as the colonists who settled the Massachusetts Bay
Colony, who believed in reform but not separation.
 Basis of American ethics: Much of what was
important about Puritanism is very much alive in
the U.S. today. Early in the 20th century the
German sociologist Max Weber wrote a book
called “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of
Central position of religion: They emphasized a redemptive
piety. Puritans believed that secular governors are accountable
to God to protect and reward virtue, and argued that the only
head of the Church in heaven or earth is Christ.
Celebrated virtues: Being religious, benevolent and efficient use
of God-given resources, thrifty, and industrious. Puritans sought
both individual and corporate conformity to the teaching of the
Bible, with moral purity pursued both down to the smallest detail.
Family values: big family, and in-marriage sex is not regarded
as evil.
Moderate enjoyment of pleasure is tolerated, for special
Observation of order and law: The doctrine of predestination
kept all Puritans constantly working to do good in this life to be
chosen for the next eternal one.
Education of young men and free public schools.
The composite photo above brings together some of New
England's greatest literary lights. From left to right: John
Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo
Emerson, John Lothrop Motley, Amos Bronson Alcott, Nathaniel
Hawthorne, James Russell Lowell, Louis Agassiz, Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow.
Representative Writers of the Colonial
Period and American Revolution
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
 Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
 Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
 Philip Freneau (1752-1832)
 Washington Irving (1783-1859)
Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)
Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding
Fathers of the United States of America. A
noted polymath, Franklin was a leading
author and printer, satirist, political theorist,
politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist,
statesman, and diplomat.
 Question: Why is Franklin regarded as a
“secular ideals of the American
Enlightenment”? (p.16)
Benjamin Franklin
Versatile Franklin
As a scientist, he was a major figure in the
Enlightenment and his inventions include the
lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, a
carriage odometer, and the glass 'armonica'.
As a social activist, he established the first public
circulating library and founded the college that
later became the University of Pennsylvania.
As a political activist, he was an early proponent of
colonial unity and supported the idea of an
American nation.
As a diplomat during the American Revolution, he
secured the French support.
Franklin as Writer
Franklin is credited as being foundational to
the roots of American values and character,
a mixture to combine democratic pursuit of
freedom and Puritan values of hard work
and self-governing disciplines.
 He is the co-writer of The Declaration of
 His literary talent is illustrated by his
Thomas Paine
The “Great Commoner of Mankind” with his
gift for pamphleteering
 Influential works: Common Sense
 The American Crisis (pp. 29-30, 31-34)
 Writing style? (Question to be answered
after reading the excerpt)
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
Thomas Jefferson was the third
President of the United States (1801–09),
the principal author of the Declaration of
Independence (1776), and one of the most
influential Founding Fathers for his
promotion of the ideals of republicanism in
the United States.
 Major events during his presidency include
the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the
Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806).
 Forefather of University of Virginia.
The Louisiana Purchase
It refers to the acquisition by the United
States of America of 828,800 square miles
of the French territory Louisiana in 1803.
The U.S. paid a total cost of $15,000,000 for
the Louisiana territory.
Territory Covered by the Purchase
It covers portions of 14 current U.S. states
and 2 Canadian Provinces. The land
purchased contains all of present-day
Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma,
Kansas, Nebraska, parts of Minnesota that
are west of the Mississippi River, most of
North Dakota, nearly all of South Dakota,
northeastern New Mexico, the portions of
Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of
the Continental Divide, and Louisiana west
of the Mississippi River, including the city of
New Orleans.
Significance of the Purchase
Jefferson decided to purchase Louisiana
because he felt uneasy about France and
Spain having the power to block American
trade access to the port of New Orleans.
 It further blazed the road for the American to
move further west to the Pacific coast.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition
Headed by Meriwether Lewis and William
Clark, it is the first American overland
expedition to the Pacific coast and back.
 It is only the second recorded transcontinental crossing of North America north
of Mexico by a person not of the indigenous
peoples of the Americas.
The Poet of American Revolution(17521832)
 Fair flower, that dost so comely grow,
Hid in this silent, dull retreat,
Untouched thy honeyed blossoms blow,
Unseen thy little branches greet:
No roving foot shall crush thee here,
No busy hand provoke a tear.
 From morning suns and evening dews
At first thy little being came:
If nothing once, you nothing lose,
For when you die you are the same;
The space between, is but an hour,
The frail duration of flower.
Washington Irving (1783-1859)
“Father of American
 His best known short stories
include “The Legend of
Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van
New England Literature
Among the writers most closely associated with New England is
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Emerson's beliefs in the
mystical unity of nature and the divine, and Thoreau's
championing of the simple life in tune with nature's laws, were
radical in 19th-century Concord, Massachusetts. Today such
unitarian and ecological beliefs are accepted by many people
around the world. Along with other writers, Emerson was a
founder of the Transcendental movement, and had more effect
on American literature than any other New Englander.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), a friend of Emerson's, is
best remembered for Walden, or Life in the Woods(1854). This
journal of observations and opinions written during his solitary
sojourn (1845-47) on Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts,
may be the best-known book on New England. Thoreau was
also known for Civil Disobedience, and his accounts of walking
trips entitled The Maine Woods and Cape Cod.
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), was born in Salem,
Massachusetts, attended Bowdoin College in Maine, then
pursued a career which produced The Scarlet Letter, Twice-told
Tales, and The House of the Seven Gables. Hawthorne is
thought by many to be the writer who established the truly
American short story.
His contemporary, Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849), was born in
Boston, but pursued his career in Virginia.
Among New England poets, the 1800's belonged to Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882). Born in Portland, Maine,
he attended Bowdoin College, taught at Harvard, and lived in a
big yellow house on Brattle Street in Cambridge which is now a
historic landmark. Several of Longfellow's poems are so much
a part of Americana that many forget that he wrote them: "Paul
Revere's Ride," "The Song of Hiawatha," "The Village
Blacksmith," "Excelsior," and "The Wreck of the Hesperus" are
among the better-known ones.
Few Americans realize that Samuel Clemens
(1835-1910), better known as Mark Twain,
settled in Hartford, Connecticut at the age of 35.
Though Missouri-born, Twain wrote his
masterpieces Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn
in Hartford, as well as The Prince and the
Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King
Arthur's Court. Touring his grand Victorian
mansion at Nook Farm is the high point of a visit
to Hartford.
Opposite in temperament to the energetic Ms.
Stowe was poet Emily Dickenson (1830-1886),
a native of Amherst, Massachusetts, who lived
there in near seclusion most of her life. Only
seven of her poems were published during her
lifetime, but the posthumous editing and
publishing of nearly 2,000 poems established
her reputation. Her influence on American
poetry is matched only by that of Robert Frost.
Robert Frost (1874-1963) was born in San
Francisco, but his family had lived in New
England for generations. He moved to New
England early in life, attended Dartmouth and
Harvard without taking a degree, and later
returned to teach poetry at Amherst and
Harvard. His many books capture the
quintessence of New England living and the
Yankee soul.
Assignment Reading
“The Raven”, “The Fall of the House of
Usher” by Poe;
 “The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow” by
Washington Irving;
 Recommended reading: Autobiography by