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

§ 9. Andrews Norton

As Channing was their great mild preacher, so Andrews Norton was their hard-headed champion. Descended from the Rev. John Norton, the notable minister of Ipswich and of Boston, Andrews Norton was born in 1786 at Hingham. In 1804 he graduated at Harvard, and spent the next fifteen years as graduate student, tutor, and lecturer, there and at Bowdoin. In 1819 he was appointed Dexter Professor of Sacred Literature in Harvard College, acting also from 1813 to 1821 as the College Librarian. His Statement of Reasons for Not Believing the Doctrine of Trinitarians, first published in 1819 in a controversy with Professor Stuart of Andover, soon became a Unitarian classic. In 1833 and 1834 he was engaged with Charles Folsom in editing The Select Journal of Foreign Periodical Literature, one of the numerous magazines of that period of growing international culture. The first number contains Macaulay’s Essay on Hampden, reprinted from The Edinburgh Review; Paulin Paris’s Letter upon the Romances upon the Twelve Peers of France, from Férussac’s Bulletin Universel (“translated from the French with notes by Professor Longfellow”); and reviews from The Foreign Quarterly Review and elsewhere. For a number of years Norton contributed also to The North American Review, and was influential in its management.

Emerson’s celebrated Divinity School Address in 1838 brought to a head Norton’s distaste for the Transcendental movement. A year later he addressed to the alumni of the Harvard Theological School at their Commencement reunion his Discourse on the Latest Form of Infidelity, which, by opposing Spinoza, Schleiermacher, Strauss, and Hegel, whom apparently Norton considered responsible for much Transcendental error, refutes Emerson by indirection, without mentioning him or taking explicit issue with his views. Yet the clash of their opinions is uncompromising. Where Emerson insisted upon intuition, Norton requires an outer revelation evidenced by historical documents. Where Emerson insisted that genuine religion cannot be received at second-hand, but is intuitive and immediate, Norton emphasizes the dependence of laymen upon expert authority and mediation in difficult matters of research and exegesis. Where Emerson rejected any conception of a miracle that would oppose it to the ordinary course of nature, implying that nature is miraculous enough, and that miracles are happening all the time, Norton reiterates that miracles are suspensions of the course of nature, are historical, and are evidence of the divine mission of Christ. George Ripley’s answer to Norton’s Discourse led to a controversy which belongs to the history of the Transcendental movement.