Errand Into the Wilderness (Google eBook)

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Harvard University Press, Jun 1, 2009 - History - 256 pages
5 Reviews

The title of this book by Perry Miller, who is world-famous as an interpreter of the American past, comes close to posing the question it has been Mr. Miller's lifelong purpose to answer: What was the underlying aim of the first colonists in coming to America? In what light did they see themselves? As men and women undertaking a mission that was its own cause and justification? Or did they consider themselves errand boys for a higher power which might, as is frequently the habit of authority, change its mind about the importance of their job before they had completed it?

These questions are by no means frivolous. They go to the roots of seventeenth-century thought and of the ever-widening and quickening flow of events since then. Disguised from twentieth-century readers first by the New Testament language and thought of the Puritans and later by the complacent transcendentalist belief in the oversoul, the related problems of purpose and reason-for-being have been central to the American experience from the very beginning. Mr. Miller makes this abundantly clear and real, and in doing so allows the reader to conclude that, whatever else America might have become, it could never have developed into a society that took itself for granted.

The title, "Errand into the Wilderness," is taken from the title of a Massachusetts election sermon of 1670. Like so many jeremiads of its time, this sermon appeared to be addressed to the sinful and unregenerate whom God was about to destroy. But the original speaker's underlying concern was with the fateful ambiguity in the word errand. "Whose" errand?

This crucial uncertainty of the age is the starting point of Mr. Miller's engrossing account of what happened to the European mind when, in spite of itself, it began to become something other than European. For the second generation in America discovered that their heroic parents had, in fact, been sent on a fool's errand, the bitterest kind of all; that the dream of a model society to be built in purity by the elect in the new continent was now a dream that meant nothing more to Europe. The emigrants were on their own. Thus left alone with America, who were they? And what were they to do?

In this book, as in all his work, the author of "The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century"; "The New England Mind: From Colony to Province," and "The Transcendentalists," emphasizes the need for understanding the human sources from which the American mainstream has risen. In this integrated series of brilliant and witty essays which he describes as "pieces," Perry Miller invites and stimulates in the reader a new conception of his own inheritance.

  

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - kant1066 - LibraryThing

Perry Miller's "Errand Into the Wilderness" more than any other book I've read in a long time makes you realize sometimes how little education our educational institutions actually provide. Think of ... Read full review

Review: Errand into the Wilderness

User Review  - Peter - Goodreads

“Having failed to rivet the eyes of the world upon their city on a hill, they were left alone with America.” Errand into the Wilderness, Perry Miller's work of intellectual history, opens a window ... Read full review

Contents

ERRAND INTO THE WILDERNESS
1
THOMAS HOOKER AND THE DEMOCRACY OF CONNECTICUT
16
THE MARROW OF PURITAN DIVINITY
48
RELIGION AND SOCIETY IN THE EARLY LITERATURE OF VIRGINIA
99
THE PURITAN STATE AND PURITAN SOCIETY
141
JONATHAN EDWARDS AND THE GREAT AWAKENING
153
THE RHETORIC OF SENSATION
167
FROM EDWARDS TO EMERSON
184
NATURE AND THE NATIONAL EGO
204
THE END OF THE WORLD
217
INDEX
241
Copyright

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About the author (2009)

Perry Miller (1905-1963) was an historian and literary critic. He is the author of numerous books, including the Life of the Mind in America: From the Revolution to the Civil War, which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1956, Jonathan Edwards, Errand into the Wilderness, American Thought: Civil War to World War I, and The New England Mind: From Colony to Province.

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