The New England Mind by Perry Miller

Discussion in 'Puritan Literature' started by Reformed Covenanter, May 29, 2008.

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  1. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor


    Yesterday a copy of The New England Mind by Perry Miller arrived with me, having been sent from John Gowan books. Has anyone read this? One thing I did notice that was strange is that there are no footnotes or endnotes telling you where he got his quotes from. :pilgrim:
  2. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    This post has been on half a day, and Andrew Myers still has not commented? :confused:
  3. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

    Didn't Perry Miller have a band??? :p
  4. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    Not that I am aware of. :violin:
  5. KenPierce

    KenPierce Puritan Board Freshman

    The thing you need to know about Perry Miller is that he hates the Puritans and is singlehandedly responsible for the fact that "Puritan" has become an epithet in our culture.

    We have him to thank for the permanent mis impression of Edwards as a boring preacher.

    Cf. George Marsden and Iain Murray's Edwards biographies.
  6. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    Thanks for this useful information. Though even someone like that can write useful stuff. His book does seem to have tons of good quotes.
  7. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Perry Miller wrote two books with this title: The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (1939) and The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (1953). Which one are you reading? Both are on my wish list. Miller is a respected historian, but should always be read with caution.
  8. R Harris

    R Harris Puritan Board Sophomore

    How many pages is this book? I recall that The New England Mind was a several volume series by Miller, but maybe I missed something.

    Perry Miller was Chairman of the History department at Harvard for many years, primarily in the decades of the 40s and 50s. When he retired, the famous liberal historian and Kennedy confidant Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. took over, whom Miller also happened to mentor.

    While I have only read minor excerpts from The New England Mind, a gentleman from Arlington, Texas who had read it said that it was very good, and that Miller (who was an agnostic) actually had a very favorable opinion of the Puritans, apparently claiming that they had one of the better societal organizations ever seen on this planet. (Not sure if that statement is explicit given in The New England Mind, but the Arlington gentleman told me that was the case.

    Indeed, in the famous college history textbook THe National Experience authored by Schlesinger and Kenneth Woodward, Miller's thoughts definitely had impact upon Schlesinger, who also spoke favorably of the Puritans (at least in my 1976 edition which I still possess on my bookshelf and access often).

    Wow, it is interesting that Miller is viewed from both ends of the spectrum. Again, I have not completely read the series, but this is what I understood from the gentleman in Arlington, Texas, whom I respect and do not believe he would have lead me astray on this matter.
  9. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    Its the Seventeenth Century one that I have got.
  10. KenPierce

    KenPierce Puritan Board Freshman


    Respected by whom? Marsden's assessment of Miller (at least in part), "MIller's portrait is to Edwards what Hamlet is to the actual Danish prince, a triumph of the imagination."

    That's the kiss of death from historian to historian. Marsden is by far the best living historian of the American church. I side with him.

    And Schlesinger was equally worthless, In my humble opinion. Factual accuracy was not his forte; intellectual axe grinding is.
  11. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Marsden was the preferred church historian of my former UNC professor, Bart Ehrman. I was not impressed. Miller is highly respected in academia and J.I. Packer, among others, commends Miller to students of Puritanism. I prefer to go back to the source material myself rather than wade through 20th century historians generally speaking, although Miller has a "sourcebook" of Puritan writings. I would rank Marsden and Miller similarly, gifted men, although I would not look to either one for the spiritual perspective required, in my opinion, to be a truly good church historian.
  12. R Harris

    R Harris Puritan Board Sophomore

    Be that as it may, I still think Schlesinger's chapter on Puritan New England was decent - definitely so coming from a secularist. In fact, I think in some aspects he treats the Puritans better than Chuck Colson did in a speech he gave at Harvard back in 1990, where he bent over backwards apologizing to his Harvard MBA audience for "puritan extremism and excesses."
  13. KenPierce

    KenPierce Puritan Board Freshman

    Curious as to why any would be unimpressed with Marsden.

    It seemeth to me that, to understand faith, one ought to be faithful. THe natural mind cannot understand the things of God, after all.

    Marsden is a son of the OPC, and is currently CRC, if memory serves.

    As a church history buff, and the beneficiary of a wonderful history education, of the dead guys among American church historians Ahlstrom reigns supreme. Marsden and Hatch are close seconds. Noll is third and fading fast :)

    Agree that Colson was an embarrassment: trying to gain credibility with a hostile audience by trashing one's forebears. Sad, and ineffective, to boot. What the crowd hates about the puritans, they would hate about Colson, too.
  14. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Marsden is CRC currently and teaches at the University of Notre Dame, after having taught at Duke and Calvin College. The book Bart Ehrman (a noted agnostic) required us to read was Marsden's Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism which, as I recall, has a chapter skewering those who believe in a literal six-day creation. As I said, not impressed.
  15. KenPierce

    KenPierce Puritan Board Freshman

    I don't think he skewers it, but it's been 13 years since I read that book. I think he merely points out that most of the influential early fundamentalists were not 6-24 people.

    That is pretty incontrovertible. Warfield & MAchen would be the 2 prime examples.

    I'm a 6-24 type guy, and I wasn't offended. I would rather have a non-6/24 evangelical Reformed believer than a misleading skeptic like Miller.
  16. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Marsden seems to express, in my opinion, disdain for the literal 6 24-hr day view of creation and modern creation science, equating both with fundamentalism. He testified in the Arkansas trial for plaintiffs against the teaching of creation science in public school.

    His church affiliation and academic credentials are clear indications of a problematic faith, to be as charitable as I can be.

    To clarify, it's not my intention to skewer Marsden, but he is far from being a spiritual example, as is Miller. Neither one conveys a sound faith. Much good can be gleaned from both, but both should be read with caution.
  17. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor


    #1 - Why do you say that Miller hated the Puritans? In fact, just about everybody (including Marsden) credits Miller with changing the American stereotype of them from dour killjoys into persons of intellect and culture. Unfortunately, as Marsden also says, Miller's historiography was colored by some imaginative views that made him miss some obvious connections and trumpet others that were probably not there. If I remember correctly, Marsden was amused at Miller's wonderment at why a philosopher of the caliber of Jonathan Edwards would waste so much time on a literalistic eschatology (postmil in Edwards' case). Criticisms of Miller have ususally weighed in on him for over-intellectualizing New England colonists and for imputing elite characteristics to the population as a whole.

    #2 - I just finished Marsden's course on Jonathan Edwards this week (MP3). I do not believe that your characterization of Miller accurately reflects what I remember from his spoken lectures. BTW, one reason for not being a Marsden fan would be his stammering and somewhat disjointed delivery and seeming lack of ability to answer basic questions by the students in the class in any kind of definitive manner.

    #3 - As a Fuller grad, I loved his Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism. However, it was obvious that he was way too sympathetic with the Fuller experiment to satisfy my theological views. Marsden may have obtained his seminary degree at Westminster, but it is pretty clear that the more open position at Fuller, Calvin and Notre Dame is more to his liking.
  18. KenPierce

    KenPierce Puritan Board Freshman

    Okay, now I must pull out the big guns, with thanks to Iain Murray. The following are quotes from the much valued secular historian and eminent late Harvard Professor Perry Miller. Sounds like he is a valuable source on the Puritans to me (note the sarcasm? It's friendly sarcasm!)

    "The life of Edwards is a tragedy...Because of his faith Edwards wrought incalculable harm." (Jonathan Edwards, pp 16, 148).

    "The people found (Edwards) a man of deception" Jonathan Edwards by above author, pp. 210-211.

    "A more repulsive individual never influenced history" Jonathan Edwards by author again, p. 133.

    Shouldn't an "objective" historian, so well-regarded have a bit more objectivity than that? I must agree with Pastor Murray in his much maligned but very readable and scholarly Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography.

    Question for Mr. McFadden: Must Marsden be an effective spoken communicator to be a valuable scholar? Why , then according to your dear Professor Miller, we must write off America's greatest philosopher theologian! :)
  19. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    I'm really not a huge Perry Miller fan (I think it's clear he was an unbeliever), nor a George Marsden fan, so this is not a debate I have any particular interest in. But here are a couple of endorsements to help balance out the picture.

    The Puritans: A Sourcebook of their Writings by Perry Miller « The Shepherd’s Scrapbook

    J.I. Packer, A quest for godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, p. 22:

  20. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    1. I am NOT a Perry Miller fan. However, cherry picking a few of his most extreme quotes does not make a fair critique either. Here are some other Miller quotes:

    Ken, my concern was to get it correct. Fault Miller for his theology, but at least allow that the total impact of his work was not to slander the Puritans. Miller, NOT a friend of evangelical Christianity, is remembered for his rehabilitation of the reputation of the Puritans. That is the bottom line, not what the unbelieving Harvard scholar saw as the faults of Edwards or the Puritan divines of the previous century. Can we learn from the history of Perry Miller? Surely. Would he be MY choice for a writer on the topic? NEVER. Give me Beeke, Packer, or Ryken any day.

    2. Marsden is the one who spoke highly of Miller's importance in his course on Jonathan Edwards. You cannot cite Marsden to diss Miller without allowing that in his course on Jonathan Edwards, he praises Miller (not uncritically, but genuinely).

    3. Miller is not my "dear professor" AND I'm the one who brought up Marsden's fine work in Reforming Evangelicalism. Marsden's scholarship (not unlike Miller's) is top drawer. Both of them are recognized by both secular and Christian academics for the quality of their work. And, while Marsden is much closer to God and the angels than Miller, he is several degrees too liberal for me. Frankly, I think that Marsden spent too much time hanging out with Richard Mouw (Fuller pres) when they were teaching at Calvin together.

    Sorry I didn't communicate clearly enough in my past post. Here is my bottom line:

    * Miller is not one of "us."
    * But Miller was a fine historian (although certainly not objective) who helped change academic attitudes toward the Puritans for the better.
    * Marsden is a professing Reformed Christian with an evangelical background. Still, I consider him too progressive for my tastes and doubt that he would feel comfortable on the PB.
    * I prefer Murray, Packer, Ryken, and Beeke on the Puritans to any secular authors.
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