Authors: Edward Taylor

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

American poet

c. 1645

Near Sketchley, Leicestershire, England

June 24, 1729

Westfield, Massachusetts


The manuscripts that contained some three hundred poems by New England mystic Edward Taylor had lain untouched for more than two centuries before they were resurrected by Thomas H. Johnson in 1937. Johnson edited a selection of the poems and in 1939 published them, along with a biographical sketch and a critical introduction, in The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor. Taylor, who wrote in a style imitative of the seventeenth century Metaphysical poets, demonstrated a fairly high degree of poetical competency, especially in the long, semidramatic "God’s Determinations," which has been called "perhaps the finest single poetic achievement in America before the nineteenth century."

As for the author of the poems, little is known about him before his arrival in Boston in 1668. Taylor was born in or near Sketchley, Leicestershire, probably in the year 1645. He may have attended a Nonconformist school and come to America because he could not take the oath of conformity then demanded of all English clergymen. He may have attended the University of Cambridge or one of the dissenting academies before he left for New England. It is certain, however, that he early began training for the ministry, as he had been brought to the colonies by the Act of Uniformity of Charles II. Passed in 1662, this law required all schoolmasters and ministers to take an oath of allegiance to the Anglican Church, an action he was prevented from taking by his Puritan religious orthodoxy.

Following Taylor's arrival in Massachusetts, his activities were well documented. First, he was admitted to Harvard College as a sophomore in 1668 and was given the post of college butler; he graduated in 1671. Next, he went to the settlement of Westfield as minister and remained there for the rest of his life, marrying twice, having fourteen children, acting as a physician, and in general caring for the physical as well as the spiritual well-being of his flock.

All this time Taylor was writing his poetry. He courted his first wife, Elizabeth Fitch of Norwich, Connecticut, through letters and verse and married her in 1674. She gave birth to his first eight children and died fifteen years later. Taylor’s grief was recorded in one of his most moving poems, "A Funerall Poem upon the Death of My Ever Endeared and Tender Wife." At the age of about fifty, in 1692, he remarried, to Ruth Wyllys of Hartford, with whom he had six children and who survived him by six months. He received his MA degree from Harvard in 1720. The responsibility he bore in meeting his congregation’s medical as well as spiritual needs is reflected in his "Preparatory Meditations." The manuscript of his poems was inherited by his grandson, Ezra Stiles, who respected his ancestor’s injunction that "his heirs should never publish it." The poems were deposited in the library of Yale College during Stiles’s presidency, and they remained there until their discovery in 1937.

Author Works Poetry: The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor, 1939 (Thomas H. Johnson, editor) The Poems of Edward Taylor, 1960 (Donald E. Stanford, editor) A Transcript of Edward Taylor’s Metrical History of Christianity, 1962 (Stanford, editor) Edward Taylor’s Minor Poetry, 1981 (volume 3 of The Unpublished Writings of Edward Taylor, 1981; Thomas M. Davis and Virginia L. Davis, editors) Nonfiction: Christographia, 1962 (Norman S. Grabo, editor) Diary, 1964 (F. Murphy, editor) Edward Taylor’s Treatise Concerning the Lord’s Supper, 1966 (Grabo, editor) Miscellaneous: The Unpublished Writings of Edward Taylor, 1981 (3 volumes; Thomas M. Davis and Virginia L. Davis, editors) Bibliography Gatta, John. Gracious Laughter: The Meditative Wit of Edward Taylor. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989. Gatta, an insightful expositor of Taylor’s poetry, opened up a new avenue of inquiry into Taylor’s acknowledged supremacy as a colonial poet, positing his wit as the bridge between his theology and his poetics. Includes comprehensive bibliography. Grabo, Norman. Edward Taylor. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1988. Biocritical introduction to Taylor’s life and work is an excellent source of explication of Taylor’s aesthetic and theological influences. Hammond, Jeffrey A. Edward Taylor: Fifty Years of Scholarship and Criticism. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1993. Five chapters examine Taylor scholarship in chronological order, from its beginnings to the later decades of the twentieth century. Includes bibliography and index. Keller, Karl. The Example of Edward Taylor. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1975. A groundbreaking biocritical work of Taylor’s poetry. Keller argues convincingly that Taylor must be viewed as a Christian humanist and calls for—and achieves—a reevaluation of Taylor as colonial America’s foremost poet and aesthetician. Miller, David G. The Word Made Flesh Made Word: The Failure and Redemption of Metaphor in Edward Taylor’s "Christographia." Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 1995. Provides a reading of Taylor’s Christographia sermon material and a study of the use of metaphorical language in the sermons. Rowe, Karen E. Saint and Sinner: Edward Taylor’s Typology and the Poetics of Meditation. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Rowe notes the relationship between Puritan typology—its use of Old Testament narratives as a guide to the meaning of the mundane devotional life of colonial believers—and its role in Taylor’s craftsmanship as a poet. Includes appendices that examine the relationship between individual Taylor poems and their sources in sermons. Scheick, William. The Will and the Word: The Poetry of Edward Taylor. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1974. Scheick’s primary focus here is on Taylor’s "Preparatory Meditations," a close reading and explication of his Lord’s Supper poems. His thesis is that Taylor derives his aesthetic vision and his theological virtue from the works of Saint Augustine. Schuldiner, Michael, ed. The Tayloring Shop: Essays on the Poetry of Edward Taylor. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1997. This collection of critical essays on Taylor’s poems provides readers with insights into several traditions of the past that informed Taylor’s poetry, from the Puritan concept of nature to Puritan casuistry. Includes bibliographical references and index. Stanford, Donald. Edward Taylor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1965. This early pamphlet in the University of Minnesota series is still an incisive introduction to Taylor’s poetics and, in particular, his personal version of Milton’s Paradise Lost, "God’s Determinations." Stanford hits his target consistently and elucidates Taylor’s opposition to the heretical view of the Lord’s Supper propounded by his Colonial adversary, Richard Henry Stoddard.

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