The leaders of early settles of New England were seeking to build a vigorous and virtuous state. They believed that for this purpose it was essential to give sound instruction to political, social and economic issues and also to convey religious tools for such instructions. But writing merely for the sake of pleasure seemed to them a dangerous waste of time. That’s why their writers left us no novels or drama.
The puritan authors chose his material which was useful in practice and was also in accord with God’s laws. Art to him was a means, not an end, though he applied some artistry to make his writing effective. The theory of style was shaped by his religious beliefs. He was an extreme prosteant, and saw the reformation as a great victory of true Christianity over the manmade tents of the Church of Rome. He was sure that the universe centered no in man, but on god, and that all man’s energies must be devoted to god’s service. God absolutely controlled all creation. Man was his creature, basically sinful and could be freed form evil only through divine grace and god’s will-god’s will reflected in the bible can never be challenged. To claim knowledge of the divine will be direct inspiration was arrogant and heresy God spoke only through Bible.
Such thinking affected literary standards in 16th century in the Old World as well as the New. The puritan writers in the new world could not use a set of devices calculated to charm sensuously and to adorn his work. He thought that these devices and charms stirred the carnal passions so powerful in the descendants of fallen Adam. For this reason he rejected imagery also. The scarlet letter by N. Hawthorne is the best example of Puritan attitudes.
The half century between 1625 and 1675 is called the puritan period for two reasons: first, because puritan standards prevailed for a time in England; and second, because the greatest literary figure during all these years was the puritan, John Milton. Historically the age was one of tremendous conflict. The puritan struggled for righteousness and liberty, and because he prevailed, the age is one of the moral and political revolutions. In his struggle for liberty the puritan overthrow the corrupt monarchy, beheaded Charles I, and established the Commonwealth under Cromwell. The commonwealth lasted but a few years, and the restoration of Charles II in 1660 is often put as the end of the puritan period. The age has no distinct limits, but overlaps the Elizabethan period on one side, and the restoration period on the other.
The age produced many writers, a few immortal books, and one of the world’s great literary leaders. The literature of the age is extremely diverse in character, and diversity os due to the breaking up of the ideas of political and religious unity. This literature differs from that of the preceding age in three marked ways:
- It has no unity in spirit, as in the days of Elizabeth, resulting from the patriotic enthusiasm of all classes.
- In contrast with the hopefulness and vigour of Elizabethan writings, much of the literature of this period is somber in character; it saddens rather than inspire.
- It has lost the romantic impulse of youth, and become critical and intellectual; it makes us think rather than fell deeply.