Authors: Paul Elmer More

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American critic and essayist

Author Works


The Great Refusal, 1894

Shelburne Essays, 1904-1921 (11 volumes)

Platonism, 1917

The Religion of Plato, 1921

Hellenistic Philosophies, 1923

The Christ of the New Testament, 1924

Christ the Word, 1927

New Shelburne Essays, 1928-1936

The Catholic Faith, 1931

The Greek Tradition, 1931 (includes Platonism, The Religion of Plato, Hellenistic Philosophies, The Christ of the New Testament, Christ the Word, and The Catholic Faith)

Pages from an Oxford Diary, 1937


Helena and Occasional Poems, 1890


Paul Elmer More was the seventh child in a large family. His father was a teacher, businessman, and bookseller. His mother was chiefly responsible for developing the literary tastes of the children; two of More’s older brothers became writers, and a younger brother became dean of the graduate school at the University of Cincinnati.{$I[AN]9810000406}{$I[A]More, Paul Elmer}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;More, Paul Elmer}{$I[tim]1864;More, Paul Elmer}

More attended Washington University, where he received his B.A. and M.A. His schooling was occasionally interrupted because of financial difficulties at home when he was forced to teach for a living. In 1892 he went to Harvard University and studied Sanskrit. There he formed what was to be a lifelong friendship with Irving Babbitt. More received a second M.A. in 1893 and worked as an assistant in Sanskrit until he was offered a position teaching Sanskrit and classical literature at Bryn Mawr College. He said he never understood why this position was offered to him, and after teaching there for two years he found the routine so deadening that he resigned, went to Shelburne, New Hampshire, and stayed there in comparative isolation for two years. During that time he read and wrote steadily. He had already published a volume of poems, Helena and Occasional Poems, in 1890 and The Great Refusal in 1894, in which he rejected Christianity in favor of Hindu mysticism.

In 1900 he left his retreat and married Henrietta Beck of St. Louis. They had two daughters. He then became a journalist for a period of thirteen years and worked successively as the literary editor of the Independent and the New York Evening Post and as editor of The Nation.

In 1914 he moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where he spent the rest of his life. He wrote, lectured, and conducted graduate seminars once a year. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts in 1915. He died in Princeton, New Jersey, of cancer in 1937.

More was a philosopher and critic, and although he went through many philosophical changes–Calvinism, rationalism, Hinduism, Platonism, and Anglicanism–he found most consistently attractive his own particular kind of Puritanism, which became a blend of Platonism and Christianity. The Puritan emphasis on renunciation, duty, and stern self-control became his own.

He produced eleven volumes of criticism between 1904 and 1921 in which he evaluated writers from a historical and moral point of view. He stressed the fusion of content and form (which he believed were organically related), abhorred romanticism, and looked to the classics, especially Plato, for his literary standards.

Politically, he rejected the concept of equality, adopting a patrician and an antihumanitarian point of view which during the Great Depression involved him in much controversy and brought him much opposition. Although his literary opinions have been somewhat obscured by his political ones, he thought of himself as the spokesman of an enduring literary tradition.

BibliographyDakin, Arthur H. Paul Elmer More. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1960. A biography of More. Includes a bibliography.Davies, Robert M. The Humanism of Paul Elmer More. New York: Bookman Associates, 1958. A full-length study of More.Duggan, Francis X. “Paul Elmer More and the New England Tradition.” American Literature 34 (January, 1963). By a noted More biographer.Hoeveler, J. David. The New Humanism: A Critique of Modern America, 1900-1940. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1977. Includes discussions of both Irving Babbitt and More.Tanner, Stephen L. Paul Elmer More: Literary Criticism as the History of Ideas. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1987. A 267-page study devoted to More.
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