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Puritanism and Revolution


Puritanism and Revolution

3.5 (1752)

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    Christopher Hill(Author)
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Review Text

  • By Manuel Díaz-Caneja ( on 1 September 2001

    Hill's book deals with a subject he knows perfectly. It's not a book for beginners because, being a group of articles, it supposes and demands a sound background to place the different subjects in context. Some of them are more general than others but the average level is very high. I don't rate it with five stars because, in my opinion, the first article in the book ("Recent interpretations of the Civil War") could have been omitted, and not only because the interpretations in the article are not "recent" (the book was published in 1958 and Hill points this problem out in the Preface) but because it doesn't deal with the "puritanism" presented in the title of the book and it seems a bit out of the rest of the articles. In any case, a very interesting book with some great articles.

  • By Stephen Cooper on 18 May 2011

    This book is now a period piece. It is a collection of entertaining and provocative essays about the events of 1640-1660, which the author habitually presented as `The English Revolution'. As an interpretation of seventeenth century English history, it can no longer be taken seriously. As a guide to the way that many intellectuals thought about the English Civil War, it was taken very seriously indeed in 1958.Christopher Hill (1912 - 2003) was a brilliant scholar. In 1932 he was awarded a first-class honours degree and in 1934 he won an All Souls Fellowship at Oxford. As an undergraduate he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and in 1935 he undertook a prolonged trip to the Soviet Union. As A.L. Rowse wrote in `Historians I have Known' 1995), he `swallowed the Communist faith hook, line and sinker'. He made his name as a professional historian with `Economic Problems of the Church' (1956). In 1965 he was elected as Master of Balliol College. Incidentally, he was never a 'Professor.'I bought `Puritanism and Revolution' in 1964 when I was studying the seventeenth century at `A' level. We also had Hill's `Century of Revolution' (1961) as a text book at school and I was bowled over by both. Christopher Hill seemed to have the explanation for everything - the key to understanding the past and the present; and he wrote in an uncompromising, combative style, as if no-one else had thought of any of this before. He made me feel connected with the hopes of those Puritan revolutionaries for a better future; and that I was engaged in the study of a serious subject. History was not just `one damned thing after another'. There was a pattern, if only one could see it.I learned later that what I was being fed, though in very erudite form, was left-wing propaganda - or to put it in more academic terms, dialectical materialism. Hill had set it all out in `The English Revolution of 1640' as early as 1940 and, although he refined his ideas, he never changed them fundamentally. The thesis of his many books was always that there had been a social, economic and intellectual revolution between 1640 and 1660 and it was this which caused the political revolution and the Civil War. It had been this violent Revolution of 1640 which, despite the Restoration of 1660, made England the first industrial nation and was the worthy predecessor of the French and Russian Revolutions - not, please note, the peaceful Glorious Revolution of 1688. Hill lent respectability to these underlying ideas by force of repetition - he was a truly prolific writer - but also by dint of his enormous learning. He was the master of seventeenth century literature, particularly of a vast quantity of pamphlets published after the lifting of censorship in 1640, which he found in the Bodleian Library. It is arguable that these only ever represented the more extreme views of a tiny minority of cranks; but this did not trouble him; and his writing was much in vogue in the 1960s when, as Rowse pointed out, `his nonsense spoke to our nonsense'.Hill's views now seem to belong to another world. The idea that there was an English Revolution in the seventeenth century was long ago exploded by the work of B. H. G. Wormald, Peter Laslett, J. H. Hexter, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Brunton and Pennington, Conrad Russell and many others; and the attraction and plausibility of Marxist historians took something of a knock when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the state capitalists took over China - if not before; but, provided one bears all this in mind, there are still some fascinating stories in `Puritanism and Revolution' . I particularly like `John Mason and the End of the World', first published in History Today in November 1957.Stephen Cooper

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