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TheCanadian Review of American Studies, Volume 11, No. 2, Fall 1980 Rhetoricin the Wilderness SacvanBercovitch. The American Jeremiad. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.240 + xvi pp. RobertDaly. God's Altar: The World and the Flesh mPuritanPoetry. Berkeley: University of California Press,1978.253 +ix pp. CeciliaTichi. New World, New Earth: Environmental Reform enAmerican Literature from the Puritans through Whitman. NewHaven: Yale University Press, 1979.290 + xii pp. Richard Morton The dominance of seventeenth-century Massachusetts in the American mindis still unchallenged. It is true that modem scholarship-scholarship since Perry Miller, that is- has largely replaced the simplistic emotional attachment with serious debate over theology, politics and culture, so that Hawthorneand The Crucible (the old hard-line of interpretation) may seem quainterthan Increase Mather or The Day of Doom. These three excellent andimportant books can, in their different ways, survey aspects of Puritan rhetoricand letters with an urbanity that would have been impossible thirty yearsago. But even in these works something of the ambivalent passion, the love~haterelationship, remains. Longfellow placed the tale of John Alden andPriscilla in a rebirth of the "pastoral ages, Fresh with the youth of the world," but his New England Tragedies show the "errors of an age long passed away," which is happily buried "Beneath the fresher writing of today."In the popular tradition, there are still twin images coexisting: the grimzealot and the universal forefather moved by the same passions as his modernheirs. The first remains more potent, but evidences of the second are more eagerly sought after. So Robert Daly can speculate (p. 130)that the poetMichael Wigglesworth "leapt all to nimbly from the grief to the spiritual profitit afforded him," while allowing that "such a reaction ... would be both uncharitable and beside the point." Cecelia Tichi observes that Edward 194 Richard Morton Johnson has "personally human sympathies" and "parental compassion,'' "But Gortonist and other heresies inimical to a saintly New England provoke Johnson's most vituperative, illiberal language. 'Heale not lightly the wounds that Wolvesmake,' warns his Christian herald, 'lest from their festering teeth a Gangrin make"' (pp. 40-41). Sacvan Bercovitch speaks of New England sermons: "Not that they minimised the threat of divine retribution; on the contrary, they asserted it with a ferocity unparalleled in the European pulpit. But they qualified it in a way that turned threat into celebration" (p. 8). Bercovitch's strong language, Tichi's irony, Daly's assumption that aliterary critic needs charitably to judge the emotional reactions of a long-dead poet, all testify to the remarkable vitality of the Puritan image, ambiguous perhaps, but not to be taken lightly. Without doubt the culture of the Puritan has in the modern mind aduality, even a dialectic. Founded by dissidents, cornered for a generation in Europe, condemned and laughed at by both the courtly sophisticates and the country folk, unluckily misplaced from the Cromwellian revolution and perhaps then responsible (by omission) for its failure, the sect might seem an historical backwater, suspicious to the point of paranoia, assuming the betrayals in the future that they had met with in the past, structuring nota New Jerusalem but a laager. So one might read the opening of Increase Mather's Brief History of the Warr with the Indians (1676) as a roundly pessimistic self-justification: "That the Heathen People amongst whomwe live, and whose land tbe Lord God of our Fathers hath given to us fora rightful Possession, have at sundry times been plotting mischievous devices against that part of the English Israel which is seated in these goings downof the Sun, no man ... can be ignorant." Yet the same writer, in his Earnest Exhortation to the Inhabitants of New-England (1676), expresses the other side of the Puritan equation; the society that began the American adventure, free of the chains of Europe and bursting into a new world with energy and anticipation: "It was in a special manner with respect to posterity that our Fathers came into this land, so that their Children might not see evil examples, and be in danger of being corrupted thereby, as 'tis in other pans of the world, but that they might be left under the Government and Discipline of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 193-200
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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