Edward Taylor - The University of West Georgia

I. Early Years
 Edward Taylor was born in the hamlet of Sketchley, Leicestershire, England in 1642
 Was a nonconformist-- which meant that he was a member of a Protestant church not
adhering to the doctrines of an established church
 He refused to sign the Act of Uniformity in 1662
 Sailed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony on April 26, 1668
 Attended Harvard upon arrival in Boston
II. Minister
 Accepted the proposition to become the minister in the small farming community in the
Bay Colony of Westfield
 He braved the deep snowdrifts in the dead of winter to arrive there, and there he remained
for the rest of his life
 Married Elizabeth Fitch in 1674 and had 8 children. When she died he married Ruth
Willys and had six children.
 Edward Taylor and The New England Congregationalist Puritans of the 1630s and 1640s
felt that to be truly saved one had to stand before the church and give an account of one’s
salvation experience which had to be akin to that of Paul’s conversion on the road to
 He also felt that The Lord’s Supper was the most important of the sacraments
 Taylor’s importance as a theologian was in his role in the controversy concerning the
question of who may partake of the Lord’s Supper.
III. Controversy
 Taylor felt that only the regenerate (one who is morally and spiritually restored or
renewed) could partake of The Lord’s Supper
 Solomon Stoddard, the minister of the Congregational church in the nearby town of
Northampton, allowed unregenerate (those not reborn spiritually and not repentant) to
participate in Communion.
 Stoddard held that the Lord’s Supper was a converting and regenerating ordinance and
not a sacrament for the regenerate only.
 Taylor felt that participation in the Lord’s Supper participation on the part of the
congregation and the minister was required because anyone who took Communion while
in a state of sin ate and drank his own damnation
 Thus the reason we have Taylor’s Preparatory Meditations…
IV. Collection of Poetry
 Edward Taylor forbade his family to publish the works which he had composed and
His self-bound two volumes remained in the Yale Library for more than two centuries.
Professor Thomas H. Johnson found them in the late 1930s and published only two of the
larger works for publication under the name The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor.
V. Critical Summations
 It was said at that time that, “Taylor’s poems established him almost at once 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.”
 Donald Stanford (editor of “The Poems of Edward Taylor”) says, “Taylor seems to have
been endowed with most of those qualities usually connoted by the word puritan. He was
learned, grave, severe, stubborn, and stiff-necked. He was very, very pious. But his piety
was sincere. It was fed by a long continuous spiritual experience arising, so he felt, from
a mystical communion with Christ. The reality and depth of this experience is amply
witnessed by his poetry.”
 Many have debated why Taylor kept his poetry so secretive. Perhaps it was because most
Puritans would have thought it outlandish that in Taylor’s poetry he created conceits and
metaphors that used spinning wheels, bowling balls, excrement, and insects to express his
intense emotions.
 Many feel that God’s Determinations touching his Elect is the best long poem written in
seventeenth-century America
 Yet some find it “dated” unlike the universal and permanent appeal of Milton’s epic
Paradise Lost, and they feel that Taylor cannot at any time equal the sill of Milton’s
blank verse.
 God’s Determination Touching His Elect is known for its lyric structure and many
literary critics compare them (the collection of the 35 poems) to music because of their
structure. They see this as Taylor’s attempt at permeating the poetic world with real life.
 Others have approached the same work as verse drama, despite the Puritan antipathy for
the theater. However, most scholars disagree with attempts to reclassify the work and
suggest that it could not have been performed as a play for many reasons.
 Thomas M Davis considers God’s Determinations to be Taylor’s work in progress. He
believes that the text was composed over three years and Taylor’s skill improved by the
end. He says the work as a whole is uneven; “The generally high quality of the verse and
techniques is often undercut by quite pedestrian lines that are flat and dull and by a shaky
development of individual sections of the poem.” However, the final verses are “highly
successful and sophisticated.”
 In the consideration of Huswifery and The Ebb & Flow, literary scholars often compare
these poems to those of Anne Bradstreet due to the domestic imagery. However, unlike
Bradstreet, he wrote in the metaphysical style of poets like Donne; especially in
Preparatory Meditations.
 Critic Karl Keller approaches Taylor as the “first frontier poet of early America” and
considers his work historically valuable because it shows us the aesthetics associated with
early Puritanism. Within that is the classic Puritan dilemma—reconciling the devout
individual’s desire to glorify God while being aware of his unworthiness in performing
such a task.
 Several critics have noticed Taylor’s wit in his poems. They suggest that his sense of
humor refutes the common perception about the Puritans’ melancholy dispositions.
"Edward Taylor," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 24: American Colonial Writers,
1606-1734. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Emory Elliott, Princeton University. The
Gale Group, 1984, pp. 310-321.