Home  »  Volume XVI: American EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 2. Relation between Divinity and Literature

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XXII. Divines and Moralists, 1783–1860

§ 2. Relation between Divinity and Literature

Our secular and our theological literature, thus closely akin in ideas, have also a strong personal connection, almost a family connection. With us, divinity has seldom been more, and has usually been less, than a generation removed from literary scholarship or the literary imagination. Andrews Norton is father to Charles Eliot Norton, William Henry Furness to Horace Howard Furness, Abiel Holmes to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Charles Lowell to James Russell Lowell. James Russell Lowell and Robert Traill Spence Lowell are brothers; so are Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Samuel Longfellow. There is something filial in the scholar Ticknor’s pious task of editing the sermons of the Rev. Joseph Stevens Buckminster, one generation before him. Emerson’s forefathers had been clergymen for seven generations; and within his single life the early days as preacher and the later days as sacer vates were “bound each to each by natural piety.” So were those of John Gorham Palfrey, George Ripley, and Octavius Brooks Frothingham, and of such clerical families as the Channings, the Abbotts, the Wares, the Beechers, the Muhlenbergs, and the Dwights, whose pietas, priestly, educational, juristic, and literary, has extended unto the third generation and beyond. It would be easy, but needless, to multiply examples in proof of the close and various personal connections between our divinity and our scholarship and literature.

The family tradition is evident at once in Edwards’s disciples. The sons of Jonathan, whether after the flesh or after the spirit, included Jonathan Edwards the younger (1745–1801), a systematic theologian, President of Union College, Schenectady, from 1799 to his death; David Brainerd (1718–47), author of a diary of his mystical experiences; Joseph Bellamy (1719–90); Samuel Hopkins (1721–1803); and Edwards’s grandson Timothy Dwight (1752–1817). Of these, Hopkins and Dwight are for many reasons the most important. The younger Edwards, after graduating at Princeton in 1765, was Hopkins’s disciple; Bellamy’s chief works were all published before the Revolution; and Brainerd, a young consumptive, who was to have been Edwards’s son-in-law, died before him. Hopkins, moreover, exercised an influence which went beyond theology into literature; and Dwight produced something uncommonly like literature itself.