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Edward Taylor

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Edward Taylor
Borncirca 1642
DiedJune 29, 1729 (aged 86–87)
Westfield, Massachusetts

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 His work remained unpublished for some 200 years but since then has established him as one of the foremost writers of his time.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


The son of a nonconformist yeoman farmer, Taylor is thought to have been born in 1642 at Sketchley,[a] Leicestershire. There is conflicting evidence in regard to the dates and locations of events in his early life, but he grew up during the Commonwealth of England and under the influence of his father became a convinced Protestant Dissenter. His childhood was spent on the family farm where he enjoyed the stability of a middle-class upbringing. His later writings are full of influences from his farmhouse childhood, both as regards imagery, and in the occasional use of the Leicestershire dialect.[citation needed]

Taylor's mother and father died in 1657 and 1658, respectively. He continued to develop alone and the extent of his formal education is unknown. For some time he worked as schoolmaster at Bagworth but following the restoration of the monarchy, Taylor refused to sign the Act of Uniformity requiring worship according the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which cost him his teaching position. It was at this point that he began to write poetry in which he continued to lament the loss of religious freedoms after he emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in America in 1668.[2]

Taylor's Atlantic crossing and subsequent years (from April 26, 1668, to July 5, 1671) are chronicled in his now-published Diary.[3] Just two weeks after landing in Boston, he was admitted to Harvard College as a second year student to prepare himself for ordination, studying a variety of topics and languages. Upon graduation in 1671 his first choice was to stay at university and become a resident scholar. But just a week later he accepted the call to serve as pastor and physician at Westfield, on the remote western frontier of Massachusetts, where he remained until his death 58 years later.

As a physician, Taylor was a follower of Parcelsus, as evidenced by the books known to be in his library. He left a hand-written record of remedies in his 'dispensatory'. These included botanicals after the fashion of Nicholas Culpepper and many agents of animal tissue origin, including some derived from mummia, or "The Deade body or flesh." The practice of 'medical cannibalism' has been compared to Puritan attitudes toward the eucharist. [4]

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 died in Westfield on June 29, 1729.[5]


Taylor's poems, in leather bindings of his own manufacture, survived him, but he had left explicit instructions that his heirs should never publish any of his writings and the poems remained all but forgotten for more than 200 years.[6] 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."[7] 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, by Donald E. Stanford.

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.[8] Alarmed by a perceived lapse in piety of those in his congregation, he 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.[9] This requirement, expressed in the famous Halfway Covenant of 1662, was readily embraced by Taylor, who became one of its most vocal advocates.[10]

Taylor's poems are marked by a robust spiritual content, conveyed by means of homely and vivid imagery derived from everyday Puritan surroundings and glorifying the Christian experience. Written in conjunction with his sermons, his "Meditations" each explore scriptural themes and passages, often showing Taylor's own deep understanding of doctrine, as well as his struggle with some of the contradictions within strict Puritanism.[11] His poetry is full of his expression of love of God and of his commitment to serve his creator amid the isolation of rural life. "Taylor transcended his frontier circumstances," biographer Grabo observed, "not by leaving them behind, but by transforming them into intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual universals."[12]


When a first selection of his work was published, he was called simply “A Puritan sacred poet”.[13] Soon after, however, he was being described as “an American metaphysical”[14] and his poetry typified as ‘Colonial Baroque’.[15] In his work appear such typically Baroque elements as acrostic verse, word play and use of conceits, as well as spoken meditations reminiscent of George Herbert.[16] A later study compared his approach to that of such Baroque Poets as Giambattista Marino and Francisco de Quevedo, who in his time were influencing the Spanish-language poets of the New World.[17]

Musical settings[edit]

Gerald Finzi made two settings from Taylor's Meditations.[18] 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.[19]

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.[20] 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 1966.[21] In addition, the meditation "What Love Is This" was set as an anthem for four-part chorus and organ by Timothy Hoekman in 1978.


  1. ^ a hamlet in Aston Flamville parish.[1]
  • 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.


  1. ^ Sketchley, Leicestershire - genealogy heraldry and history Retrieved 2018-03-08.
  2. ^ Rowe, Karen E. (1991). "Taylor, Edward (1642?-1729).". Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature. Retrieved June 22, 2022 – via The Free Library.
  3. ^ Francis Murphy, editor, The Diary of Edward Taylor (Springfield, Mass.,1964).
  4. ^ Karen Gordon-Grube,Evidence of Medicinal Cannibalism in Puritan New England: "Mummy" and Related Remedies in Edward Taylor's "Dispensatory", Early American Literature , 1993, Vol. 28, No. 3 (1993), pp. 185-221.
  5. ^ Norman S. Grabo, Edward Taylor (New York, 1961), pp. 22–24, 30.
  6. ^ Thomas H. Johnson, The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor (New York, 1939), p. 11.
  7. ^ Grabo, p. 17.
  8. ^ Taylor, Alan (2013). Colonial America: A Very Short Introduction. NY: Oxford University Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-0199766239. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  9. ^ Edmund Morgan, Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press, 1962), p. 62.
  10. ^ Thomas and Virginia Davis, editors, Edward Taylor vs. Solomon Stoddard (Newark, Del., University of Delaware Press, 1997), p.47.
  11. ^ "Edward Taylor". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  12. ^ Grabo, p. 173
  13. ^ New England Quarterly 10, June 1937, pp.290-322
  14. ^ Wallace Cable Brown, American Literature, Duke University 1944, Vol. 16. 3, pp. 186-197
  15. ^ Austin Warren, Kenyon Review, 3.3 (Summer 1941, pp.355-71
  16. ^ ”Edward Taylor”, Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2004
  17. ^ Alfred Owen Aldridge, Early American Literature: A Comparatist Approach, Princeton University 1982: Chapter 2, “Edward Taylor and the American Baroque”
  18. ^ 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
  19. ^ Performance on YouTube
  20. ^ "Composer Wins Music Contest", The New York Times (30 August): 27.
  21. ^ Lieder Net

Evidence of Medicinal Cannibalism in Puritan New England:

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