The Founding of New England

IT is peculiarly appropriate that, at the moment New England girds itself to celebrate the tercentenary of its beginnings there should appear a new account of its eventful history. It has now been more than sixty years since the publication of the first volume of Palfrey’s History of New England, concerning which, after the appearance of the fourth volume, some twenty years later, an appreciative reviewer said that it was ‘not only the most satisfactory history of New England we have, but one of the most admirable historical works ever produced in America.’ Time has, perhaps, dulled somewhat the enthusiasm which greeted Palfrey, and we should not now, in all probability, rank his work above that of Parkman. But one thing has done more than the mere passage of time to obscure the undoubted merits of his monumental labor. It is the progress of knowledge. A vast amount of investigation has contributed information to modify or alter his conclusions. And this, with the change in the opinions and in the perspective of the world during the last generation, gives opportunity for such a book as that of Mr. Adams, to summarize the results of recent scholarship, and to retell the story of New England in accordance with new knowledge and a new point of view.
It is peculiarly appropriate that this book should come from the pen of one who, despite his name, is not a New Englander. Most previous histories of this sort have been written, naturally, by the men of Massachusetts Bay, and it is time for an outsider to tell the story To that end the present author has read widely in the printed literature of the subject, which has increased so greatly in the past thirty years, and in the manuscript material. He has drawn from this material an extraordinarily interesting story, at once scholarly and readable, which anyone may read with pleasure as well as with profit. Inclining much toward the economic and social side, and away from the theological, rather severely critical of the loss lovely aspects of the Puritan, and especially the theocratic element, sympathizing rather with Hooker’s democracy and Williams’s toleration, with Rhode Island and Connecticut, and Plymouth and New Hampshire, than with the Massachusetts theocracy, he recognizes at once the strength and the weakness of New England as a whole. The foundation-stones of our national edifice, the town-meeting, the schoolhouse, the democratic instincts of a pioneer society, even the Puritan conscience, the hewing of these and their cementing into place — who can read the story of these beginnings without a better understanding of what we are, and why we exist ?
It is an outstanding book, and an upstanding one—for it still takes some little courage to enumerate the doings of certain elements in our colonial life during the seventeenth century. It is an informing book, and a timely. And it has one final quality of interest and importance. For the author proposes to continue the story here begun to the present time, and show — what has not yet been done for any section of the country as yet — the changes which have come over this distinctive area in the past three centuries; in brief, the epic of New England. That is an admirable conception, to which the present volume is a fitting introduction. WILBUR G. ABBOTT.