Edward Taylor

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For other people named Edward Taylor, see Edward Taylor (disambiguation).

Edward Taylor (1642 – June 29, 1729) was of English origin and a colonial American poet, pastor and physician. His work remained unpublished for some 200 years but since then has established him as one of the foremost writers of his time. His poetry has been characterized as "American Baroque".


The son of a non-conformist yeoman farmer, Taylor was born in 1642 at Sketchley, Leicestershire, England. Following restoration of the monarchy and the Act of Uniformity under Charles II, which cost Taylor his teaching position, he emigrated in 1668 to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in America.

Taylor's Atlantic crossing and early years (from April 26, 1668, to July 5, 1671) are chronicled in his now-published Diary.[1] He was admitted to Harvard College as a second year student soon after arriving in America and upon graduation in 1671 became pastor and physician at Westfield, on the remote western frontier of Massachusetts, where he remained until his death.

He was twice married: first to Elizabeth Fitch, by whom he had eight children, five of whom died in childhood; and at her death to Ruth Wyllys, who bore him six more children. Taylor himself died in Westfield on June 29, 1729.[2]


Taylor's poems, in leather bindings of his own manufacture, survived him, but he had left instructions that his heirs should "never publish any of his writings," and the poems remained all but forgotten for more than 200 years.[3] In 1937 Thomas H. Johnson discovered a 7,000-page quarto manuscript of Taylor's poetry in the library of Yale University and published a selection from it in The New England Quarterly. The appearance of these poems, wrote Taylor's biographer Norman S. Grabo, "established [Taylor] almost at once and without quibble as not only America's finest colonial poet, but as one of the most striking writers in the whole range of American literature."[4] His most important poems, the first sections of Preparatory Meditations (1682–1725) and God's Determinations Touching His Elect and the Elects Combat in Their Conversion and Coming up to God in Christ: Together with the Comfortable Effects Thereof (c. 1680), were published shortly after their discovery. His complete poems, however, were not published until 1960. He is the only major American poet to have been defined as a metaphysical poets although others have preferred to particularize his work as "American Baroque”.[5]

Taylor's poems were an expression of his deeply held religious views, acquired during a strict upbringing and shaped in adulthood by New England Congregationalist Puritans, who during the 1630s and 1640s developed rules far more demanding than those of their co-religionists in England. Alarmed by a perceived lapse in piety, they concluded that professing belief and leading a scandal free life were insufficient for full participation in the local assembly. To become communing participants, "halfway members" were required to relate by testimony some personal experience of God's saving grace leading to conversion, thus affirming that they were, in their own opinion and that of the church, assured of salvation.[6] This requirement, expressed in the famous Halfway Covenant of 1662, was defended by such prominent churchmen as Increase and Cotton Mather and was readily embraced by Taylor, who became one of its most vocal advocates.[7]

Though not for the most part identifiably sectarian, Taylor's poems nonetheless are marked by a robust spiritual content, characteristically conveyed by means of homely and vivid imagery derived from everyday Puritan surroundings. "Taylor transcended his frontier circumstances," biographer Grabo observed, "not by leaving them behind, but by transforming them into intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual universals."[8]

Musical settings[edit]

Gerald Finzi made two settings from Taylor's Meditations.[9] The first (op. 27.1) was the final stanza of Meditation 12, “Glorious in his apparel", which was composed as a marriage anthem for his sister-in-law in September 1946. The second (op. 27.2) was a setting of two internal stanzas from Meditation 20, “God is gone up with a triumphant shout”, commissioned for the 1951 St. Cecilia Festival Service at St.Sepulchre’s Church, Holborn.[10]

Two settings have been made of Taylor's poem "Huswifery". That by Richard K. Winslow (b.1918) for chorus and piano was the winner of the American Music Competition of the Sigma Alpha Iota music fraternity in 1950.[11] It was later set for A cappella chorus by Gordon Binkerd in 1970. Binkerd had earlier set “The Ebb and Flow” for A cappella chorus in 1967.[12]


  1. ^ Francis Murphy, editor, The Diary of Edward Taylor (Springfield, Mass.,1964).
  2. ^ Norman S. Grabo, Edward Taylor (New York, 1961), pp. 22–24, 30.
  3. ^ Thomas H. Johnson, The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor (New York, 1939), p. 11.
  4. ^ Grabo, p. 17.
  5. ^ Alfred Owen Aldridge, Early American Literature: A Comparatist Approach, Princeton University 1982
  6. ^ Edmund Morgan, Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press, 1962), p. 62.
  7. ^ Thomas and Virginia Davis, editors, Edward Taylor vs. Solomon Stoddard (Newark, Del., University of Delaware Press, 1997), p.47.
  8. ^ Grabo, p. 173
  9. ^ Welcome Sweet and Sacred Feast: Choral Settings of Metaphysical Poetry by Gerald Finzi, W. Elliot Jones, University of Arizona 2010, electronic dissertation, pages 90-100
  10. ^ Performance on YouTube
  11. ^ "Composer Wins Music Contest", The New York Times (30 August): 27.
  12. ^ Lieder Net


  • Rowe, Karen E. Saint And Singer : Edward Taylor's Typology And The Poetics Of Meditation. Cambridge studies in American literature and culture. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
  • ---."Edward Taylor." In The Heath Anthology of American Literature, 3rd Edition, Paul Lauter, editor Richard Yarborough, et al., 2 vols., Boston, Houghton Mifflin (1998), vol. 1, pp. 366–407.

External links[edit]