Recently I happened to read an essay on Spenser, by Lewis, in which the author makes some insightful remarks about the Puritans.

Maybe I will manage to find a few excerpts on the same topic by Chesterton. 🙂


In 1569 Spenser entered Pembroke Hall at Cambridge. The most interesting thing about his university career is that he passed through it without becoming attached to either of the two intellectual movements by which Cambridge was then agitated.

We can hardly help calling them “Puritanism” and “humanism” but neither word meant the same as it does in modern America. By purity the Elizabethan Puritan meant not chastity but “pure” theology and, still more, “pure” church discipline. That is, he wanted an all-powerful Presbyterian Church, a church stronger than the state, set up in England, on the model of Calvin’s church at Geneva. Knox in Scotland loudly demanded, and at least one English Puritan hinted, that this should be done by armed revolution. Calvin, the great successful doctrinaire who had actually set up the new order, was the man who had dazzled them all. We must picture these Puritans as the very opposite of those who bear that name today: as young, fierce, progressive intellectuals, very fashionable and up-to-date. They were not teetotallers; bishops, not beer, were their special aversion. And humanists in this context means simply “classicists” ‒ men very interested in Greek, but more interested in Latin, and far more interested in the “correct” or “classical” style of Latin than in what the Latin authors said. They wanted English drama to observe the (supposedly) Aristotelian unities, and some of them wanted English poets to abandon rhyme ‒ a nasty, “barbarous” or “Gothic” affair ‒ and use classical metres in English. There was no necessary enmity between Puritans and humanists. They were often the same people, and nearly always the same sort of people: the young men in the Movement, the impatient progressives demanding a clean sweep. And they were united by a common (and usually ignorant) hatred for everything medieval: for scholastic philosophy, medieval Latin, romance, fairies, and chivalry.