Their guide to this land was the Bible. Our Authorized Version (1611), the one which is in most common use to-day, was made in the reign of James I. From this time became much easier to get a copy of the Scriptures, and their influence was now more potent than ever to shape the ideals of the Puritans. In fact, it is impossible to estimate the influence which this Authorized Version has had on the ideals and the literature of the English race. Had it not been for this Version, current English speech and literature would be vastly different. Such words and expressions as “scapegoat,” “a labor of love,” “the eleventh hour,” “to cast pearls before swine,” and “a howling wilderness” are in constant use because the language of this translation of the Bible has become incorporated in our daily speech, as well as in our best literature.
The Puritan was so called because he wished to purify the established church from what seemed to him great abuses. He accepted the faith of John Calvin, who died in 1564. Calvinism taught that no earthly power should intervene between a human soul and God, that life was an individual moral struggle, the outcome of which would land the soul in heaven or hell for all eternity, that beauty and art and all the pleasures of the flesh were dangerous because they tended to wean the soul from God.
The Puritan was an individualist. The saving of the soul was to him an individual, not a social, affair. Bunyan’s Pilgrim flees alone from the wrath to come. The twentieth century, on the other hand, believes that the regeneration of a human being is both a social and an individual affair,—that the individual, surrounded by the forces of evil, often has little opportunity unless society comes to his aid. The individualism of the Puritan accomplished a great task in preparing the way for democracy, for fuller liberty in church and state, in both England and America.
Our study of the Puritan ideals embodied in literature takes us beyond 1660, the date of the Restoration, because after that time two great Puritan writers, John Milton and John Bunyan, did some of their most famous work, the one in retirement, the other in jail. Such work, uninfluenced by the change of ideal after the Restoration, is properly treated in this chapter. While a change may in a given year seem sufficiently pronounced to become the basis for a new classification, we should remember the literary influences never begin or end with complete abruptness.
Variety of Subject.—Prose showed development in several directions during this Puritan age:—
I. The use of prose in argument and controversy was largely extended. Questions of government and of religion were the living issues of the time. Innumerable pamphlets and many larger books were written to present different views. We may instance as types of this class almost all the prose writings of John Milton (1608-1674).