Vital Signs

An American Family Covenant

“I used to say to my father,” he says, “‘If my class at Yale ran this country,

we would have no problems.’  And the irony of my life is that they did.”

—Louis Auchincloss, interview with Trevor Butterworth, Financial Times, September 21, 2007

In January (one year after his death at the age of 92), we bowed to Louis Auchincloss—specifically, on the 35th anniversary of the publication of his thematically related stories, The Winthrop Covenant (1976).  These stories, he said,

are designed to trace, by the use of fiction and dramatized history, the rise and fall of the Puritan ethic in New York and New England.  By Puritan ethic I mean that preoccupying sense, found in certain individuals, of a mission, presumably divinely inspired, toward their fellow men.

Andrew Lytle used to describe puritanism as “putting evil in the object,” whether that object be demon rum, tyrannical government, heretical beliefs, or defiling the environment.  A divinely inspired mission against an objectionable object can, depending on one’s point of view, produce anything from a great crusade against evil to a perverse ideological attempt to legislate against the order of creation.

Louis Auchincloss’s...

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