Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Edward Taylor: 20th Century Puritan

Edward Taylor (1642-1729), was a notable English-American Puritan minister and physician. In his own time, he was well known as a Harvard scholar, theologian and statesman (he helped defend his community against Indian attacks during King Philip's War). His literary skills found an outlet in his paraphrases of the Psalms, but much of what we know about him, especially as a writer, came to light only in the twentieth century.

When pressures to conform to the Anglican Church became too much, he crossed the Atlantic and immigrated to Massachusetts in 1668. During this time, like many Puritans, he kept a diary, which was published finally in 1964. It is brief but shows his reflective mind as he recorded his observations from the sea voyage. His Christographia, fourteen sermons on the two natures of Christ, was published in 1962. These and other works became part of a veritable flood of Edward Taylor publications that were released in the twentieth century. But two of his works deserve special mention for the circumstances surrounding their publication.

Before his death, Taylor took the two great collections of his poems, God's Determination Touching His Elect: and The Elect's Combat in their Conversion, and Coming up to God in Christ together with the Comfortable Effects thereof and Preparatory Meditations before my Approach to the Lords Supper. Chiefly upon the Doctrin preached upon the Day of administration and bound them together, instructing his family not to publish them (it is not entirely clear why he wished to keep them private, although they were very personal and some of his poems, like Meditation 96 on Song of Songs 1.2 are part of the sensual metaphysical poetic tradition). Later, his grandson Ezra Stiles, president of Yale College, adhered to his wishes and deposited them in the Library at Yale. However, in 1937, they were re-discovered by Professor Thomas H. Johnson, who edited and published portions of his poetry, with the full text being finally published in 1960. The publication of these poems, showing the influence of Anne Bradstreet, George Herbert and John Donne, revolutionized academic appreciation for early colonial American poetry, and Taylor's place in that field.

Then, in 1977, in the library of one of Taylor's descendants in Nebraska, a bound manuscript containing sermons by Edward Taylor on typology was discovered and over the next decade edited by Charles Mignon, finally published in 1989 as Upon the Types of the Old Testament. These sermons draw heavily on the Puritan scholarship of Matthew Poole and Henry Ainsworth, among others, and unfold Taylor's insights into how to see Christ in the Old Testament.

These twentieth-century discoveries and publications have enriched our understanding of a leading New England Puritan and his works. And, it seems, there is always more to learn.

1 comment:

  1. Andrew that poem is amazing. Thanks so much for linking to it: I will definitely reread.

    By the time you reach this:
    Such as enjoy thy Love, may lack the Sense
    May have thy love and not loves evidence.

    Through to the end, you have doctrinal as well as poetic goosebumps.