Blair Worden

God’s Own Countries

The Puritans: A Transatlantic History

By

Princeton University Press 517pp £27 order from our bookshop
 

No one likes to be called a puritan. In the 16th and 17th centuries, when the word began with a capital letter and denoted not merely a temperament but also a religious affiliation, it was a term of abuse, disowned by those at whom it was thrown. Playwrights drew on, and perhaps even helped to create, images of sullenness, unsociability and hypocrisy. In Twelfth Night, where Malvolio is said to be ‘a kind of Puritan’, Sir Toby famously asks him, ‘Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?’ Puritans were allegedly identifiable by their nasal whines and the lifting of their eyes to heaven. For Ben Jonson, who lampooned ‘the holy brethren’ in the characters of Tribulation Wholesome and Zeal-of-the-Land Busy, to ‘turn Puritan’ was to ‘learn to speak in the nose’.

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