Life and Works of Edward Taylor Term Paper

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Edward Taylor


Private Life


Purpose of Works

Intended audience

Central goal of writings

Writing Style

Early works

Comparison between writings in England and America

Comparison to other authors

Personal Style

Use of Imagery

Major Themes

Major Works

Preparatory Meditations

God's Determinations

Other works

Taylor's Works Compared

The Life and Works of Edward Taylor

No study of Puritan literature would be complete without the works of the man often called the best Puritan writer of them all, Edward Taylor. Except for a brief few, the works of this great Puritan author remained unpublished during his lifetime. In 1939, they were discovered by Thomas H. Johnson at Yale, and have since become a valued and praised addition to the other works from the Puritan era. So important are these works that the Norton editors refer to them as "one of the major literary discoveries of the twentieth century" (Rowe). These works not only provide a window into the past where one can view the ideologies of those who lived in the 1600's, they also provide a glimpse into the very soul of the man who loved Christ with an all-consuming passion. In fact, as one reads the works of Taylor it becomes evident that all of his writings center on his hearts desire of spending eternity in heaven with Christ. Rather than being written for the eyes of the public, the words Taylor penned were meant as a way of offering his praise to the One on High he loved more than life itself. (199)

Edward Taylor was born in Leicestershire yet left England after the Great Ejection. Little is known about his personal life, although documentation proves that he corresponded on a regular basis with Richard Baxter and other divines from England, and carried on a long running debate with Solomon Stoddard over the Lord's Supper as well. In America, he was known as a colleague of both Increase Mather and Charles Chauncey. He arrived in Boston in July 1668 at the age of twenty-two or twenty-three, where Increase Mather gave him lodging. As Mather was himself one of the leading ministers of the town, he probably had a profound impact upon Taylor. It is believed that Taylor's friendship with Mather was a very close one for at Mather's death he wrote an elegy on the death of Increase, "Nigh Sixty years ago I wept in verse, When on my Shoulders lay thy Fathers herse," (Taylor 11). (154)

Upon reaching New England, Taylor studied divinity at Harvard, and was one of the four seniors chosen to give their discourse in front of the President and fellows in the College Hall. At the time of his graduation the settlement of Westfield sent a call to Harvard for a minister. Although not yet ordained, Taylor answered that call and set out for the settlement town. Once there, he married Elizabeth Fitch, and the two had seven children between 1975 and 1688. In 1689, Elizabeth died, and in 1692, Taylor remarried, this marriage producing six children. The tragedies suffered by Taylor not only include the death of his first wife, but all of his first seven children as well. Of all his children, only one son lived to carry on the family name. Taylor's heartbreak at losing so many of those he loved is apparent in his poem, "On Wedlock and the Death of Children," although the poem also indicates that he knew they were going on to God, and therefore surrendered them with no bitterness (Taylor 13-14). (175)

Taylor lived in Westfield as a minister and doctor for sixty years. Since Taylor never published any of his poetry, and instructed his heirs not to, one can only assume that his writings were for a personal audience of himself and God alone. In character Taylor was known as a very grave, stubborn, and pious man. Through his writing he bared his soul to Christ, and the strong connection his felt with the Lord is reflected in every one of his works. Many of his writings were intended as a form of meditation before the partaking of communion with his congregation. Although he never sought publication for his work, he carefully transcribed many of his works in a manuscript known as "Poetical Works." In each of his writings he confirms his commitment to Christ, as well as reflects his personal struggles and his determination to win salvation until his final meeting with God (Rowe). (154)

According to Grabo, Taylor's "beginnings as a poet are both obscure and unflattering"

(108). In agreement to some extent with Grabo, Donald Stanford said of Taylor's earlier work that it lacked a discriminating literary taste, and that his main focus appeared to be to centered on both theological and political arenas. Taylor's early works include six poems that were probably written while he was still in England. Four of these six appear to have been written with hopes of adding to the political and ecclesiastical controversy of seventeenth century England. Many of these writing were directed against Archbishop William Laud who openly persecuted the Puritans. In direct response to the Act of Uniformity, Taylor wrote a 208-line satire called "The Layman's Lamentation upon the Civil Death of the late Laborers in the Lord's Vineyard, by way of Dialogue between a Proud PRELATE and a Poor PROFESSOUR (Grabo 109).

In this writing Taylor displays his sterner side, which is also apparent is his other poem of controversy, "Popish Pamphlet cast in London streets not long after the city was burned." In this later poem Taylor equates the London fire as a sign of God's anger against Protestantism, and the city of London to Babylon (Grabo 112). (200)

Taylor's writings in America were far more mystical than those penned in England. In some cases, his poems have been compared to those of Donne and the Anglo-Catholic conceitists. According to critics, Taylor's use of elaborate images, puns, metaphors, and conceits is very similar to those found in George Herbert's "Jordan II," and five of the metrical patterns found in Gods Determinations match those found in Herbert's "The Temple" (Taylor 15-16). Other similarities between Taylor's work and that of Herbert can be found in the styles of direct address and refrain. In another instance, his use of imagery has been compared to that of Bradstreet. In using moods of seraphic exaltation and the complete devotion to Christ, Taylor's work resembles that of Richard Crashaw. Taylor's discourses on longing, grief, and the destiny of the soul are also similar to those found in Davies's combination of poetry and metaphysics. Yet despite these similarities, Taylor's work differs from all others in his use of word coinages such as "squitchen," "glore," "reech," and "hone." Although Taylor's writings resemble that of other writers in several key respects, it is unknown whether or not he ever read the works of these other poets (Taylor 16 -- 17). (198)

The writing style of Taylor is one bursting with imagery and inventiveness. Both the language he uses the unusual metrical patterns are reflective of the Elizabethan period.

Throughout his work one can tell how he loved the use of tone and color, suggesting perhaps that he enjoyed to some great degree the joy of writing in itself. Throughout his work, Taylor uses biblical images and the tone of tortured angst on a regular basis. His fondness for metaphors becomes apparent in his work "Upon a Spider Catching a Fly" and "Huswifery." Taylor also frequently uses the form of stanzas "consisting of six lines of iambic pentameter rhyming ababcc that permits questioning in the quatrain and an answer or conclusion in the couplet" (Rowe). Taylor was also known for using tropes within his work such as synecdoche, metonymy, and amplification. Along with the above, he used mixed metaphors and puns, as well as many of the styling traits of metaphysical conceit such as making a comparison between objects that nature would tag as dissimilar (Rowe). (175)

In discussing Taylor's style, special note must be taken of the vivid imagery he used throughout his works. For example, in the "assault of the fort of life" he made extensive use of images of warfare including soldiers, generals, and bombardments. In "Huswifery," he used images of spinning and weaving. (Rowe). In Meditation I. 3,2, he uses the images of perfumes to define and describe God's grace:

thy sweet perfume doth seldom latch

My Lord, within my Mammulary Catch.

Am I denos' de? Or doth the Worlds ill sents

Engarison my nosthrills narrow bore?

Or is my smell lost in these Damps it Vents (ll. 17-21)

Taylor's use of the word Mammulary in the above poem is believed to have been associated with a head cold he was suffering from at the time. In essence, Taylor uses this imagery to ask God to "cure him of his cold so that he can once again breath in God's sweet vapours" (Schuldiner 92-93). In other works Taylor compares the earth to a "patchwork quilt ball," and…[continue]


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