Sargent Bush
University of Wisconsin
Puritan Literary Traditions

The course will explore literature produced by the Puritan movement, concentrating on American examples, but including some English instances as well. Interests in materials outside the usual confines of Area 5 will be encouraged, including, for instance, narrative literature, poetry, seventeenth-century British writing, and later periods in which Puritan traditions have continued.

We will approach some five or six modes in which Puritan authors wrote. These will include: 1) the dramatization of spiritual psychology in sermonic and other forms such as conversion narratives (examples: Thomas Shepard's Confessions, Thomas Hooker's The Soules Preparation and sequels, Arthur Dent's The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven, John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress,) 2) spiritual autobiography (examples: Shepard's Journal and Autobiography, Edward Taylor's "Relation," Bunyan's Grace Abounding, Jonathan Edwards' Personal Narrative), 3) histories (examples: William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation, Edward Johnson's Sion's Wonder-working Providence, Cotton Mather's Magnalia), 4) Indian captivity narratives (examples: Mary Rowlandson, John Williams, others), and 5) meditative literature (examples: selected poetry of George Herbert, Anne Bradstreet, Taylor).

There are assigned readings, sometimes different for each student, sometimes common to all, in important scholarship on the Puritans. Since there is a particularly rich body of such scholarship from the very recent past, these readings will be selective. Students are encouraged to explore as much of it as possible on their own, beyond the particular assignments. The intention will be to build familiarity with the intellectual and literary characteristics of these authors, to understand the large contours of work currently being done in the field, and to come to know a good deal about the varieties of Puritan expression and thought, ultimately arriving at a fuller appreciation of what the Puritans were about and how they found expression. We will ask about the extent to which they have remained vital.

Assigned Textbooks:

William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, ed. Francis Murphy. McGraw-Hill.

Michael McGiffert, ed., God's Plot: Puritan Spirituality in Thomas Shepard's Cambridge, 2nd ed. (1994). Univ. of Massachusetts Press.

Alden Vaughan and Edward Clark, eds., Puritans among the Indians: Accounts of Captivity and Redemption. Harvard Univ. Press.

Charles Hambrick-Stowe, ed., Early New England Meditative Poetry. Paulist Press.

John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. Penguin.

John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress, ed. Roger Sharrock. Penguin.

Jonathan Edwards, Basic Writings. Meridian Books/NAL.

Recommended Texts:

Perry Miller, Errand into the Wilderness. Harper.

Francis J. Bremer, ed., Puritanism: Transatlantic perspectives on a Seventeenth- Century Anglo-American Faith. Northeastern Univ. Press/Mass. Historical Society.

David D. Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England. Harvard Univ. Press.


Assignments will include a major paper, due at the end of the course, at least one paper on a major secondary text, an annotated bibliography on a relevant topical issue, and regular participation in class, including leading of discussion on a rotational schedule to be agreed upon by all. The first three-quarters of the course will be structured around a body of assigned Puritan writings and relevant scholarship on a series of modes in which they wrote, while the final one-quarter will involve working pointedly on individually selected topics which will pursue the question of Puritan literary traditions.

Tentative Calendar of Reading and Discussion (subject to change, as necessary):

Class Day:

Jan. 23 - Introduction to Study of the Puritans and their Writing
                    - Discussion of course's aims and modus operandi.
                    - The development of the field: past & present issues.

Jan. 30 - Migration and the Jeremiad

                    Read: A. On The Puritans and seventeenth-century New England life:
                        Donald Weber, "Historicizing the Errand," American Literary History,
                           2 (1990), 101-118.
                        Perry Miller, Errand into the Wilderness, chapters 1 ("Errand into the Wilderness"
                            and 3 ("The Marrow of Puritan Divinity");
                        Sacvan Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad, pp. 3-61
                        David D. Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment, "Introduction."

                    B. Sermon literature (on dept. library reserve shelf)
                        One of the following (to be individually assigned):
                        Thomas Hooker, "The Danger of Desertion" (1631) or John Cotton, "God's
                            Promise to His Plantations" (1630);
                        Thomas Hooker, "Spiritual Munition: A Funeral Sermon" (1626);
                        John Winthrop, "A Model of Christian Charity" (1630);
                        Samuel Danforth, "A Brief Recognition of New England's Errand into the
                            Wilderness" (1670) in The Wall and the Garden, ed. William Plumstead (1968).

                    C. Sample one or more of the following on microfilm at Memorial Library:
                        Hooker, The Soules Preparation (1632) or The Soules Humiliation (1637) or more
                           of The Soules Effectuall Calling;
                        Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax;
                        Arthur Dent, The Plain Mans Pathway to Heaven (1601 and many later editions).

                    D. At least one of the following (dept. library reserve shelf):
                        Phyllis Jones, "'Puritan's Progress': The Story of the Soul's Salvation in Early New
                            England Sermons," Early American Literature, 15 (1980), 14-28.
                        Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, Chapter 3 ("Puritan as Pilgrim") The Practice of Piety:
                             Puritan Devotional Disciplines in Seventeenth-Century New England (Chapel
                             Hill, 1982).
                        Sargent Bush, Chapter 8 ("Preparation for Grace: A Tale of Adventure") in The
                            Writings of Thomas Hooker: Spiritual Adventure in Two Worlds (Madison,

Telling the Soul's Story

Feb. 6 - Confessional Literature

                    Read: "Confessions" by members of the congregation of Thomas Shepard's
                        Cambridge church, in God's Plot, pp. 135-225.
                        Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Chapter 3, "The Meetinghouse."
                    See also:
                        "Relations" recorded in Michael Wigglesworth's Diary;
                        Mary Rhinelander McCarl, "Thomas Shepard's Record of Relations of Religious
                            Experience, 1648-1649," William & Mary Quarterly, 48 (1991), 432-66.
                    Relevant studies: Patricia Caldwell, Puritan Conversion Narratives (1983); Charles L.
                         Cohen, Chapter 7 ("Tales of Grace"), God's Caress: The Psychology of Religious
                          Experience (N.Y., 1986); Edmund Morgan, Visible Saints: The History of an
                          Idea  (N.Y., 1963).

Feb. 13 - The Soul's Geography

                    Read: John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress, Part I
                    Relevant Studies: Leopold Damrosch, God's Plot and Man's Stories: Studies in
                        the Fictional Imagination from Milton to Fielding (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press,

Feb. 20 - Spiritual Autobiography I

                    Read: Thomas Shepard's Diary and Autobiography in God's Plot.
                          Edward Taylor, "Personal Relation."
                          Jonathan Edwards, "Personal Narrative."

Feb. 27 - Spiritual Autobiography II

                    Read: John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners
                        Vincent Newey, "'With the eyes of my understanding':Bunyan, Experience, and Acts
                            of Interpretation" in John Bunyan, Conventicle and Parnassus (Oxford: Clarendon
                             Press, 1988), pp. 190-216.

Imagining the Inner Life

March 6 - Meditative Poetry

                    Read: Anne Bradstreet

SPRING BREAK: March 11-19

March 20 - Meditative Poetry

                    Read: Edward Taylor

March 27 - Indian Captivity Narratives: "Redemption" through Ordeal

                    Read: Mary Rowlandson and John Williams Narratives

April 3 - History: Recording the Errand

                    Read: William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

April 10 - Late Puritanism: Hagiography and the Passing of Generations

                    Read: Jonathan Edwards Selections (tba)
                    Cotton Mather, biographies

April 17
April 24   Extension of the Concept of Puritan Literary Traditions
May 1
May 8