Chapter 1: Early
American Literature to 1700
Paul P. Reuben
| A Brief Biography |
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Known as the best writer of the Puritan times, Taylor's works were not published until 1939. A minister for sixty years, Taylor's poetry captures the attitudes of the second generation Puritans in its emphasis on self-examination, particularly in an individual's relations to God. His poetry is said to have been influenced by John Donne and other Metaphysical Poets. A good edition of Taylor's poetry is The Poems of Edward Taylor edited by Donald E. Stanford, 1960.
The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor, edited by Thomas H. Johnson (New York: Rockland Editions.1939);
The Poems of Edward Taylor, edited by Donald E. Stanford (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960: abridged, 1963);
Edward Taylor's Christographia, edited by Norman S. Grabo (New Haven & London: Yale University Press. 1962;
A Transcript of Edward Taylor's Metrical History of Christianity, edited by Stanford ( Cleveland: Micro Photo. 1962);
The Diary of Edward Taylor, edited by Francis Murphy (Springfield, Mass.: Connecticut Valley Museum, 1964);
Edward Taylor's Treatise Concerning the Lord's Supper, edited by Grabo (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1966);
The Unpublished Writings of Edward Taylor: volume 1, Edward Taylor's "Church Records" and Related Sermons; volume 2, Edward Taylor vs. Solomon Stoddard: The Nature of the Lord's Supper; volume 3 Edward Taylor's Minor Poetry, edited by Thomas M. and Virginia L. Davis (Boston: Teayne, 1981).
Edward Taylor's Gods Determinations and Preparatory Meditations: A Critical Edition. Patterson, Daniel (ed. and introd.). Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 2002.
Selected Bibliography 1980-Present
Clack, Randall A. The Marriage of Heaven and Earth: Alchemical Regeneration in the Works of Taylor, Poe, Hawthorne, and Fuller. Westport: Greenwood, 2000.
Davis, Thomas & Virginia, eds. Edward Taylor's "Church Records," and Related Sermons. Boston: Twayne, 1981. BX7255 .W488 W477
---. Edward Taylor vs. Solomon Stoddard: The Nature of the Lord's Supper. Boston: Twayne, 1981. BV824 .T39
Grabo, Norman S. Edward Taylor. Boston: Twayne, 1988. PS850 .T2 Z67
Patterson, Daniel. ed. Edward Taylor's Gods Determinations and Preparatory Meditations: A Critical Edition. Kent: Kent State UP, 2002.
Schuldiner, Michael. ed. The Tayloring Shop: Essays on the Poetry of Edward Taylor in Honor of Thomas M. and Virginia L. Davis. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1997.
| Top |Edward Taylor (1642?-1729): A Brief Biography A Student Project by Lindsey Birkett
During the seventeenth century, America became a refuge for thousands of Puritan immigrants fleeing religious persecution in England. New England, what the Puritans would name it, was where many of them settled, creating new villages and a new way of life that allowed them to practice the strict and devoted life that Puritanism called for. Like other Puritans, Edward Taylor left England in hope of discovering a better life. A faithful Puritan, he was devoted to God and, like many others of his faith, devoted to education. In the midst of what we view as a dry, rigid way of life, Taylor produced some of the most colorful poetry, filled with symbolism and imagery. His poetry, buried in Yale University's library archives for centuries, was not even discovered until 1937 by Professor Thomas H. Johnson. Since that discovery, Taylor has given us a deeper understanding of the Puritan way of life and he has gone down in history as one of the most honored American writers.
Edward Taylor was born in 1642 in Sketchley, Leicestershire, England. He was born into a Puritan family when Puritan dominance was on the rise and so was civil war in England. Growing up on a farm, he had a typical childhood. He had a habit of lying as a young boy and it is probably for this reason that he remembers so well the strictness of his parents. He also recalls his conversion or "rebirth" with quite some clarity. It was soon after his sister had explained to him about Christ's life and of Creation that he consciously gave his life over to God.
Education played a large role in the lives of Puritans. Taylor's earliest education probably began in his own home where he was taught the Bible and other religious literature. He is also thought to have studied Latin, Greek, and logic, as these were requirements upon entrance to Cambridge University, where many literary scholars believe he had some schooling. At Cambridge, Taylor studied the logical "method," which he learned from his professor, Peter Ramus. Much of the logical "method" would show up in his poetry later on.
In 1658 Taylor was still living in England. Charles II was restored to the throne and many Puritans, including Taylor, were beginning to feel the sting of religious intolerance. Under King Charles' Act of Uniformity in 1662, Taylor lost a teaching position at Bagworth, Leicestershire. Finally, he decided to try his luck in America. He set sail on 26th April 1668 and arrived in Boston on 5th July 1668. During that two-month period, Taylor wrote his Diary, which contains descriptions of his journey across the Atlantic.
Taylor continued his education immediately after he arrived in America by enrolling into Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts. While he went to school, Taylor took a keen interest in medicine and compiled a 500-page description of medicinal herbs. He was also interested in the science and technology of metals, which he studied in depth. Both of these interests of Taylor's would be later incorporated into his poetry, giving it an intellectual flare that many authors were lacking. Norman Grabo, author of the book entitled, Edward Taylor, sums up Taylor's educational life:
... the college itself was the crowning experience of Taylor's education. It secured his control of Latin, Greek, and explorations in the tremendous continent of Patristic writings; it grounded him thoroughly in biblical studies and church history; and it honed his abilities against the grating necessity of regular disputations. (7)
| Top | Soon after obtaining his B.A. from Harvard in just three and a half years, Taylor received a job offer. On 27th November 1671, Taylor was offered a job as a minister in Westfield, Massachusetts, located about 100 miles west of Boston. Westfield was a trading port and a frontier town, which was constantly under the threat of Native American attacks. Taylor reluctantly agreed, though he felt he wasn't ready for the job and was slightly frightened by the idea.
Taylor finally settled himself into Westfield. Besides being the town's minister, he also was a farmer and the local physician. Providence had brought Taylor to Westfield for it was there that he met and wed Elizabeth Fitch, daughter of a famous Conneticut minister named James Fitch. Elizabeth bore Taylor eight children, five of whom died at infancy. In 1689 Elizabeth passed away and Taylor, in 1692, married a woman named Ruth Wyllys. Ruth bore Taylor another six children, while still raising his three children from his previous marriage. Their fifth child together, Kezia, would end up being the mother of Ezra Stiles.
In 1682, after being able to organize his church, Taylor found time to begin writing his most famous poetry. Most of his poetry reflected his strong religious beliefs and acted as spiritual meditations. Interestingly enough, Taylor never intended on publishing any of his work. His poems were very personal and the reason he wrote poetry stems from his personal religious beliefs. Taylor believed that it was his and every other God-fearing Puritan's duty to imitate Christ's life in all aspects. Taylor described Christ as being a teacher (this explains his ministry) and being artistic. So, Taylor felt it his duty as an imitator of Christ to be artistic in what he did, which inspired him to write poetry. As a result, his ministry and his poetry go hand in hand with one another. Over years of study Taylor achieved an exceptional unity of thought in which both views of imitation coalesced, and the result was that his ministry and his poetry became inextricably bound together (Grabo 13).
The earliest writing we see from Taylor was his psalm paraphrases. These he composed from 1674 to 1675. In 1680 he composed God's Determination Touching His Elect. God's Determination is a collection of thirty-five poems, which are known for their lyric structure. Many literary critics compare them to music because of their structure. According to Grabo, this was Taylor's attempt at permeating the poetic world with real life.(100) From 1680 to 1683, Taylor composed his Occasional Poems, which include a few of his most famous poems such as "Upon Wedlock, and the Death of Children." This poem was written after the death of his children and it clearly expresses the grief that Taylor felt at the time. Other famous poems are "Huswifery" and "The Ebb & Flow."
| Top | Literary scholars often compare these poems to those of Anne Bradstreet due to the domestic imagery. But unlike Bradstreet, Taylor wrote his poems in the tradition of the metaphysical poets, like Donne and Herbert. (Canada, www.uncp.edu) Taylor used the metaphysical style of writing mostly in his largest work, Preparatory Meditations. He began this two-part series consisting of 217 poems in 1682. He was committed to writing one poem about every two months and, usually, right before partaking of the Lord's Supper. Since only a piece of one of his poems was printed in his lifetime, many literary scholars have tried to understand why his poetry was so secretive. Some believe that Taylor kept his poems to himself because he wasn't sure how the Puritan community would accept some of the ideas in his writing. Most Puritans would've thought it outlandish that in Taylor's poetry "he created elaborate conceits and metaphors that used spinning wheels, bowling balls, excrement, and insects to give ingenious and often grotesque expression to his intense emotions." (cwx.prenhall.com)
Taylor spent his remaining fifty-eight years in Westfield and he died on 24th June 1729. His wife, Ruth, outlived him by one year. Unfortunately, Taylor never got to enjoy the fame of being a celebrated American author. Even though his poetry wasn't published until centuries later, Edward Taylor is still revered as one of the finest poets of his day and throughout American history. His work is filled with colorful imagery, complicated writing techniques, and a passion for Puritanism and God, the one who inspired him in the first place.
Canada, Mark,ed. "Edward Taylor." Canada's America. 1997. http://www.uncp.edu/home/canada/work/canam/taylor.htm (23Feb.2002)
Grabo, Norman S. Edward Taylor: Revised Edition. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.
Stanford, Donald E. Edward Taylor. St. Paul: North Central Publishing Company,1965.
1. Write a close analysis of any of the poems from Preparatory Meditations. Identify the central metaphor or series of related metaphors and describe the process by which Taylor converts the terms of each metaphor into an assurance of his own salvation.
2. Discuss the title of Taylor's group of poems Preparatory Meditations. How does the title reflect his sense of the purpose of poetry?
3. Trace Taylor's use of objects from the natural world or of secular experience in Upon Wedlock, and Death of Children; Upon a Wasp Chilled with Cold; or A Fig for Thee, Oh! Death and examine the relationship in the poem between earthly life and spiritual salvation.
4. Discuss the extent to which Taylor's poetry reflects specific concepts of Puritan theology.
5. Edward Taylor's poetry displays the influence of English metaphysical poets. How valid is the view that Taylor's metaphors are too homely for sacred poetry, that their vividness and oddity distract the reader from the poems' messages?
MLA Style Citation of this Web Page:
Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 1: Edward Taylor." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. WWW URL: http://web.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap1/taylor.html (provide page date or date of your login).
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