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By Jeffrey A. Hammond

Jeffrey Hammond's research of the funeral elegies of early New England reassesses a physique of poems whose significance of their personal time has been obscured by means of nearly overall forget in ours. Hammond reconstructs the historic, theological and cultural contexts of those poems to illustrate how they spoke back to Puritan perspectives on a particular technique of mourning. The elegies emerge, he argues, as performative scripts that consoled readers through shaping their event. They shed new mild at the emotional measurement of Puritanism and the real position of formality in Puritan tradition.

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An elegy became an “enduring monument” by exchanging religious ideology for a more general framing of grief that proved attractive to later readers and critics who read for art, not solace. The attempt of later readers to isolate an “aesthetic” experience of funerary texts is encapsulated by Wallerstein’s comment that Milton “universalizes” his experience by putting it “not in a religious form but in an artistic form” (). Seen as compelling support for an essentialist notion of beauty and as a witness to art’s transcendence of history, the pastoral elegy became the supreme monumentum aere perennius.

4 To readers alienated from the original affective contexts of the Puritan elegy – to readers like Franklin and us – it might seem to embody mindless habit, artistic laziness, perhaps even the hypocrisy of writing what one knows to be false. That the commemorated dead in poem after poem are all stamped from the same pious mold was certainly not lost on the young Franklin. “Having chose the Person,” Silence Dogood cites from the recipe left by her late “Reverend Husband,” “take all his Virtues, Excellencies, &c.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Barrett Wendell stated that Puritan writing told “a story of unique national inexperience” (). What hampered early New Englanders in their development as “Americans” was their commitment to a faith that was unapologetically antidemocratic, anti-individualistic, and anti-aesthetic. Abernethy agreed that New England’s poets would not improve until they had been liberated from Puritan theology, with “the unshackling of men’s minds in the period of the Revolution” ().

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