Edward Taylor (1642 – June 29, 1729) was a colonial American poet, pastor and physician.
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.
Early days in America
He chronicled his Atlantic crossing and early years in America (from April 26, 1668, to July 5, 1671) in his now-published Diary. 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.
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. 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." 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 written in the metaphysical style.
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 developed during the 1630s and 1640s 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. 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.
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."
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 six more children. Taylor himself died on June 29, 1729 in Westfield, Massachusetts.
"The Joy of Church Fellowship Rightly Attended" speaks of feelings of joyful acceptance as expressed in the singing of passengers riding in a coach on the way to heaven, accompanied by others, not yet members of the church, on foot.
In "Huswifery," possibly his best known poem, Taylor speaks of the Christian (specifically puritanical) faith in terms of a spinning wheel and its various components, asking, in the first verse,
- Make me, O Lord, thy spinning wheel complete.
- Thy Holy Word my distaff make for me.
- Make mine affections thy swift flyers neat
- And make my soul thy holy spool to be.
- My conversation make to be thy reel
- And reel the yarn thereon spun of thy wheel.
"Meditation Eight" [even though this is a metaphysical poem] is centered around the concept of God's being the living bread.
"The Preface to God's Determination" [By personifying Calvanistic beliefs about life and death] speaks of the Creation, when God "filleted the earth so fine" and "in this Bowling Alley bowld the Sun."
"Upon a Spider Catching a Fly" depicts Satan as a spider weaving a web to entangle man [and in doing so portrays the dance of death], who is saved by the mercy of God.
- Francis Murphy, editor, The Diary of Edward Taylor (Springfield, Mass.,1964).
- Thomas H. Johnson, The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor (New York, 1939), p. 11.
- Grabo, p. 17.
- Edmund Morgan, Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press, 1962), p. 62.
- Thomas and Virginia Davis, editors, Edward Taylor vs. Solomon Stoddard (Newark, Del., University of Delaware Press, 1997), p.47.
- Grabo, p. 173
- Norman S. Grabo, Edward Taylor (New York, 1961), pp. 22–24, 30.
- 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.
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- Biography and sample of poetry among a collection of biographies of poets
- Works by or about Edward Taylor at Internet Archive
- Works by Edward Taylor at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)