The history of American literature is intimately connected with the history of Unitarianism in this country. The influences that caused the growth of Unitarianism were those, to a large extent, that produced American literature. It was not merely Harvard College that had this effect, as has been often asserted; for the other colleges did not become the centres of literary activity. It was more distinctly the freedom, the breadth of intellectual interest, and the sympathy with what was human and natural developed by the Unitarian movement that were favorable to the growth of literature. Yet from the beginning of the eighteenth century Harvard fostered the spirit of inquiry, and helped to set the mind free from the theological and classical predispositions that had checked its natural growth. A taste for literature was encouraged, theology took on a broad and humanitarian character, and there was a growing appreciation of art and poetry. Harvard College helped to bring men into contact with European thought, and thus opened to them fresh and stimulating sources of intellectual interest.

During the last quarter of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth New England was largely devoted to commercial enterprises. Every coast town of any size from Newport to Belfast was concerned with ship-building and with trade to foreign ports. Such towns as Boston and Salem traded with China, India, and many other parts of the world. Not only was wealth largely increased by this commercial activity, but the influence upon life and thought was very great. The mind was emancipated, and religion grew more liberal and humane, as the result of this contact with foreign lands. Along the whole coast, within the limits named, there was an abandonment of Puritanism and a growth into a genial and humanitarian interpretation of Christianity. In New York City somewhat the same results were produced, at least on social and intellectual life, though with less immediate effect upon religion. It was in these regions, in which commercial contact with the great outside world set the mind free and awakened the imagination, that American literature was born.
Influence of Unitarian Environment.

The influence of Unitarian culture and literary tastes is shown by the considerable number of literary men who were the sons of Unitarian ministers. Ralph Waldo Emerson was the son of William Emerson, the minister of the First Church in Boston at the beginning of the nineteenth century. George Bancroft was the son of Aaron Bancroft, the first Unitarian minister in Worcester, and the first president of the American Unitarian Association. To Charles Lowell, of the West Church in Boston, were born James Russell Lowell and Robert T.S. Lowell. The father of Francis Parkman was of the same name, and was for many years the minister of the New North Church in Boston. Richard Hildreth was the son of Hosea Hildreth, Unitarian minister in Gloucester. Octavius Brooks Frothingham was the son of Nathaniel L. Frothingham, minister of the First Church in Boston. Joseph Allen, father of Joseph Henry Allen and William Francis Allen, was the minister in Northboro for many years. Of literary workers now living William Everett is the son of Edward Everett, Charles Eliot Norton of Andrews Norton, and William Wells Newell of William Newell, minister of the First Church in Cambridge for many years.

This influence is shown in the large number of literary men who studied at the Harvard Divinity School and began their career as Unitarian ministers. It may be partly accounted for by the fact that at the beginning of the nineteenth century literature offered but a precarious opportunity to men of talent and genius. The respect then accorded to ministers, the wide influence they were able to exert, and the many intellectual opportunities offered by the profession, naturally attracted many young men. During the first part of the nineteenth century no other profession was so attractive, and enthusiasm for it was large amongst the students of Harvard College. As literary openings began to present themselves, many of these men found other occupations, partly because their tastes were intellectual rather than theological, and partly because the radical ferment made the pulpit no longer acceptable. Such a man as Edward Everett would never have entered the pulpit, had it not been socially and intellectually most attractive at the time when he began his career. In the instance of Samuel A. Eliot, who took the full course in the Divinity School, but did not preach, being afterward mayor of Boston and member of Congress the influences at work were probably much the same.

George Bancroft is another instance of a graduate of the Divinity School who did not enter the pulpit, but, beginning his career as a teacher, devoted his life to literature and diplomacy. With such men as Christopher P. Cranch, artist and poet; George P. Bradford, teacher, thinker, and friend of literary men; H.G.O. Blake, editor of Thoreau’s Journals; J.L. Sibley, librarian; John Albee, poet and essayist; and William Cushing, bibliographer, the cause operating was probably the same,–the discovery that the chosen profession was not acceptable or that some other was preferable. Another group of men, including John G. Palfrey, Jared Sparks, William Ware, Horatio Alger, James K. Hosmer, Edward Rowland Sill and William Wells Newell, who occupied Unitarian pulpits for brief periods, were drawn into literary occupations as more congenial to their tastes. The same influence doubtless served to withdraw Emerson, George Ripley, John S. Dwight, Thomas W. Higginson, Moncure D. Conway, and Francis E. Abbot, from the pulpit; but with these men there was also a break with traditional Christianity.
Literary Tendencies.

The early Unitarian movement in New England was literary and religious rather than theological. The men who have been most influential in determining the course of Unitarian development, such as Charming, Dewey, Parker, and Hedge, not to include Emerson, who has been a greater affirmative leader than either of the others, were first of all preachers, and their published works were originally given to the world from the pulpit. They made no effort to produce a Unitarian system of theology; and it would have been quite in opposition to the genius of the movement, had they entered upon such a task.

With the advent of the Unitarian movement, for the first time in the history of the American pulpit did the sermon become a literary product. Channing and his coworkers, especially Buckminster and Everett, departed widely from the pulpit traditions of New England, ceased to quote texts, abandoned theological exposition, refrained from the exhortatory method, and addressed men and women in literary language about the actual interests of daily life. Their preaching was not metaphysical, and it was not declamatory. The illustrations used were human rather than Biblical, a preference was given to what was intellectual rather than to what was emotional, and the effect was instruction rather than conversion. It resulted in faithful living, good citizenship, fidelity to duty, love of the neighbor, and an earnest helpfulness toward the poor and unfortunate.
Literary Tastes of Unitarian Ministers.

In studying any considerable list of Unitarian ministers, and taking note of their personal tastes and their avocations, it will be seen that a large number of them were lovers of literature, and ardently devoted much of their time to literary pursuits. Not only was there a decidedly literary flavor about their preaching, but they were frequent contributors to The Christian Examiner and The North American Review; and they wrote poems, novels, books of travel, essays, and histories. They were conspicuous in historical and scientific societies, in promoting scientific investigations, in advancing archaeological researches, in every kind of learned inquiry. Their intellectual interests were so catholic and so vigorous that they were not contented with parish and pulpit, and in some cases it would seem that the avocation was as important as the vocation itself.

Dr. Channing would be named as the man who has done most to give direction to the currents of Unitarian thought on theological problems, but he was also conspicuously a philanthropist and reformer. He was less a theologian, in the technical sense, than one who taught men to live in the spirit. His spiritual insight, humanitarian sympathies, and imaginative fellowship with all forms of human experience gave his writings a literary charm and power of a high order. He was a great religious teacher and inspirer, a preacher of unsurpassed gifts of spiritual interpretation, and a prophet of the truer religious life.

The Unitarian leaders who were influenced by the transcendental movement, of which the most prominent were Parker, Hedge, Clarke, and C.C. Everett, interpreted theology in the broadest spirit. Parker was essentially a preacher and reformer. It was the one conspicuous aim of his life to liberate religion from the intellectual thraldom of the past, and to bring it into the open air of the world, where it might be informed of daily experience and gain for itself a rightful opportunity. He was therefore literary, imaginative, ethical, practical. He wrote for The Dial, and established The Massachusetts Review, he was one of the most widely heard of popular lecturers, and he was a leader in the most radical of the reforms prominent in his day. Parker made all wisdom subservient to his religion, treated a wide range of subjects in his pulpit, and brought religion into immediate contact with human life.

Frederic H. Hedge did more than any other man to give Unitarianism a consistent philosophy and theology. His Reason in Religion and Ways of the Spirit have had a profound influence in shaping the thought of the denomination, and have led all American Unitarians to accept his view of the universality of incarnation and the consubstantiality of man and God. He was wise as an interpreter, and by no means wanting in originality, a brilliant essayist, a philosophical historian, and a student of high themes. His Prose Writers of Germany, Hours with the German Classics, Primeval World of Hebrew Tradition, and Atheism in Philosophy show the range of his interests and his ability as a thinker.

James Freeman Clarke may be selected as a typical Unitarian minister, who wrote poetry, was more than once an editor, often appeared on the lecture platform, was a frequent contributor to the leading periodicals, wrote several works of biography and history, gave himself zealously to the advocacy of the noblest reforms, and produced many volumes of sermons that have in an unusual degree the merit of directness, literary grace, suggestiveness, and spiritual warmth and insight. His theological writings have been widely read by Unitarians and those not of that fellowship. His Self-culture has been largely circulated as a manual of practical ethics. His Ten Great Religions and its companion volume opened the way in this country for the recognition of the comparative study of religious developments. Not content with so wide a range of studies, he wrote Thomas Didymus, an historical romance concerned with New Testament characters, How to find the Stars, and Exotics, a volume of poetical translation. He was a maker of many books, and all of them were well made. His theology was all the more humane, and his preaching was all the more effective, because he was interested in many subjects and had a real mastery of them.

Charles Carroll Everett was a philosophical thinker and theologian, and the younger generation of Unitarian ministers has been largely influenced by him. His theological work was done in the lecture-room, but it was of first-rate importance. He was a profound thinker, a vigorous writer, and an inspiring teacher. He was an able theologian, philosophical in thought, but deeply spiritual in insight. His work on The Science of Thought shows the depth and vigor of his thinking; but his volumes on The Gospel of Paul, Religions before Christianity, Poetry, Comedy, and Duty, suggest the breadth of his inquiries and the richness of his philosophical investigations. In his position as the dean of the Harvard Divinity School he accomplished his best work, and there his great ability as theologian and philosophical thinker made itself amply manifest.

Another group of men largely influenced by the transcendental movement included David A. Wasson, John Weiss, Samuel Johnson, Samuel Longfellow, Cyrus A. Bartol, Octavius K Frothingham, and William J. Potter. Here we see the literary tendency showing itself distinctly and to much advantage. The first four of these men wrote exquisite hymns and spiritual lyrics, and all of them were contributors to periodical literature or writers of books. Weiss was a literary critic of no mean merit in his lectures on Greek and Shakespearean subjects; and his volumes on American Religion and Immortal Life were purely literary in their method. However deficient were Johnson’s books on the religions of India, China, and Persia, from the point, of view of the science of religion, they have not yet been surpassed as interpretations of the inner spirit of Oriental religions. Bartol was a master of an incisive literary method in the pulpit, that gives to his Radical Problems, The Rising Faith, and Principles and Portraits a scintillating power all their own, with epigram and flash of wit on every page. Frothingham published many a volume of sermons; but his biographies of Parker, Gerrit Smith, Wasson, Johnson, Ripley, Channing, and his volume on the History of Transcendentalism in New England, as well as his Boston Unitarianism, and Recollections and Impressions, indicate that his literary interests were quite as active as his theological.

The literary tastes of Unitarian ministers are indicated by the large number of them who have written poetry that passes beyond the limits of mediocrity. The names of John Pierpont, Andrews Norton, Samuel Gilman, Nathaniel L. Frothingham, the younger Henry Ware, W.B.O. Peabody, William Henry Furness, William Newell, William Parsons Lunt, Frederic H. Hedge, James F. Clarke, Theodore Parker, Chandler Robbins, Edmund H. Sears, Charles T. Brooks, Robert C. Waterston, Thomas Hill, and others, have been lovingly commemorated in Alfred P. Putnam’s Singers and Songs of the Liberal Faith. Hymns of nearly all these men are in common use in many congregations, and some of their work has found a place in every hymnal.

No one can read the sermons of Thomas Starr King without feeling their literary grace and finish of style, as well as their intellectual vigor. His lectures marked his literary interest, which shows itself in his Christianity and Humanity and his Substance and Show. Especially does it appear in his delightful book on The White Hills, their Legends, Landscape, and Poetry. In his day, Henry Giles was widely known as a lecturer; and his numerous volumes of literary interpretation and criticism, especially his Human Life in Shakespeare, were read with appreciation. In his District School as it was, and My Religious Experience at my Native Home, Warren Burton described in simple but effective prose a kind of life that has long since passed away. His educational lectures and books helped on the cause of public school education, a subject in which he was greatly interested.

Unitarian ministers have also made many contributions to local and general history. The history of King’s Chapel by Francis W.P. Greenwood may be mentioned as a specimen of the former kind of work; but Greenwood also published several volumes of sermons, as well as biographical and literary volumes. A History of the Second Church in Boston, with Lives of Increase and Cotton Mather, was published by Chandler Robbins. The theological history of Unitarianism was ably discussed by George E. Ellis in A Half-century of the Unitarian Controversy. He devoted much attention to the history of New England, gave many lectures and addresses on subjects connected therewith, published biographies of Anne Hutchinson, William Penn, Count Rumford, Jared Sparks, and Charles W. Upham. His volumes on The Red Man and the White Man in North America, The Puritan Theocracy, and others, show his historical ability and his large grasp of his subjects. Joseph Henry Allen published an Historical Sketch of the Unitarian Movement since the Reformation, in the American Church History series. In Our Liberal Movement in Theology, and its Sequel, he critically and appreciatively treated of the history of Unitarianism in New England, and of the men who were most important in its development. His taste for historical studies appeared in his Christian History in its Three Great Periods, a work of admirable critical judgment, sobriety of statement, and concise presentation of the essential facts.

Alvan Lamson produced a book of critical value in The Church of the First Three Centuries, which treats of the origin of the Trinitarian beliefs during that period. A work of a similar character was done by Frederic Huidekoper, in whose books were included the results of many years of minute research, and of critical investigation into the origins of Christianity.

Books of a widely different nature were written by Artemas B. Muzzey in his Personal Recollection of the Men in the Battle of Lexington, and Reminiscences of Men of the Revolution and their Families. He published several volumes of sermons, as well as a number of educational works. Somewhat of a theologian and an ardent student and expounder of philosophy, William R. Alger has made himself widely known by his books on The Genius of Solitude, Friendships of Women, and The School of Life. His fine literary judgments, his artistic appreciations, and his richness of sentiment and imagination show themselves in these attractive volumes. He has also published a Life of Edwin Forrest, with a Critical History of the Dramatic Art. His Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life is a work of ripe scholarship and great literary merit, and is everywhere recognized as an authority.
Unitarians as Historians.

In the chapter on historians, in his American Literature, Professor Charles F. Richardson enumerates seventeen writers, twelve of whom were Unitarians. It was in Cambridge and Boston, amongst the graduates of Harvard College, that American historical writing began, and that it attained its greatest successes. The same causes that had given the Unitarians pre-eminence in other directions made them especially so in this, where wide learning and sound criticism were of importance. Wealth, leisure, intellectual emancipation, sympathetic interest in all that is human, combined with scholarship and plodding industry, gave the historians an unusual equipment for their tasks.

It may be justly said that historical writing in this country began with Jeremy Belknap, the predecessor of Dr. Channing in the Federal Street Church. When settled in Dover, he wrote his History of New Hampshire; and after his removal to Boston he produced a biography of Watts and two volumes of American Biographies. He first voiced the historical interest that was awakened by the establishment of national independence, and the desire to know of the past of the American people. His chief service to historical studies, however, was in the formation of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Hannah Adams was not only a Unitarian, but the first woman in this country to enter upon a literary career. Her View of Religious Opinions, first issued in 1784, afterwards changed to a Dictionary of Religions, was the earliest work attempting to give an account of all the religions of the world. It was followed by her History of New England, and by her History of the Jews. She also took part in the religious controversies of the day, her contest with Dr. Jedediah Morse being one of the minor phases of the struggle between the Unitarians and the Orthodox Congregationalists; and her Evidences of Christianity, as well as her letters on the Gospels, were written from the Unitarian point of view. Her books had no literary value, but in their time they helped to foster the growing interest in American subjects.

Alexander Young, minister of the New South Church in Boston, rendered valuable service to historical investigations by his Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers of the Colony of Plymouth and his Chronicles of the First Planters of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, works that were scholarly, accurate, and judicious. Perhaps his most important service was the editing of the Library of Old English Prose Writers, in nine volumes, which appeared from 1831 to 1834, and included such works as Sidney’s Defence of Poesie and Sir Thomas Browne’s Urn Burial. Of his historical works, O.B. Frothingham has justly said that “they showed extensive and accurate knowledge, extraordinary zeal in research, singular impartiality of judgment, great activity of mind, a strong inclination towards ethical as distinguished from speculative subjects, a passionate love of books and elegant letters.”[1]

Of the greater historians, Bancroft, Prescott, Motley, Hildreth, Sparks, Palfrey, Ticknor, Parkman, Higginson, Parton, and Fiske were Unitarians. Three of these men were sons of Unitarian ministers, and four of them prepared for that profession or entered upon its duties. It is not desirable that any attempt should be made here to estimate their historical labors, for their position and their achievements are well known.

It would be interesting to give an account of the Unitarian connections and sympathies of these writers, but the materials are not at hand in the case of most of them. One or two illustrations will suffice for them all, indicating their religious tastes and preferences. In 1829 Prescott made a careful examination of the evidences for belief in Christianity, and his biographer says that “the conclusions at which he arrived were, that the narratives of the Gospels were authentic; and that, even if Christianity were not a divine revelation, no system of morals was so likely to fit him for happiness here and hereafter. But he did not find in the Gospels or in any part of the New Testament the doctrines commonly accounted orthodox, and he deliberately recorded his rejection of them.” At a later time he stated his creed in these words: “To do well and act justly, to fear and to love God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves–in these is the essence of religion. To do this is the safest, our only safe course. For what we can believe we are not responsible, supposing we examine candidly and patiently. For what we do we shall indeed be accountable. The doctrines of the Saviour unfold the whole code of morals by which our conduct should be regulated.”[2] Prescott was a regular attendant at the First Church in Boston.

In his biography of George Ticknor, George S. Hilliard says that “the strong religious impressions which Mr. Ticknor received in early years deepened as his character matured into personal convictions, the confirmed and ruling principles of his life. He had been brought up in the doctrines of Calvinistic orthodoxy, but later serious reflection led him to reject those doctrines; and soon after his return from Europe he joined Dr. Channing’s church, of which he continued through life a faithful member. He was a sincere Liberal Christian, and his convictions were firm, but they were held without bigotry, and he never allowed them to interfere with kindliness and courtesy.” It may be added that Ticknor was an active member of the church with which he was connected, that in 1822 he took charge of a class of boys in the Sunday-school, which he kept for eight years. In 1839 and the next year he gave a course of instruction in the history and contents of the Bible to a class of young girls, for which he prepared himself carefully.[3]

The influence exerted by the historians in teaching love of country and a true patriotism may be accounted as very large. That men thoroughly grounded in principles of religious liberty, in high ideals of justice and humanity, in the broadest spirit of toleration and freedom of opinion, should have written our histories, is of no small importance in the formation of American character. That they have made many Unitarians we cannot suppose, but that their influence has been large in the development of a true spirit of nationality we have a right to think. They have indicated concretely the effects of bigotry and intolerance, and they have not failed to point out the defects in the practices of the Puritans. In so far as they have had to deal with religious subjects, they have taught the true Unitarian idea of liberty of conscience and freedom of opinion. They have wisely helped to make it possible for many religions to live kindly side by side, and to give every creed the right of utterance. These ideals had been developed before our historians began to write, but these men have helped to make them the inheritance of the whole nation. All the more effective has been their teaching that it has grown out of the events of our history, and has not been the voice of a merely personal opinion. But we owe much to them that they have seen the true meaning of our history, and that they have uttered it with clearness of interpretation and with vigorous moral emphasis.
Scientific Unitarians.

A considerable number of the leading men of science have been Unitarians. Notable among the mathematicians were Nathaniel Bowditch, Benjamin Peirce, and Thomas Hill, who was president of Antioch College and of Harvard University. Among the astronomers have been Benjamin Gould, Maria Mitchell, Asaph Hall, and Edward C. Picketing. Of Maria Mitchell it was said that she “was entirely ignorant of the peculiar phrases and customs of rigid sectarians.” Her biographer says she “never joined any church, but for years before she left Nantucket she attended the Unitarian church, and her sympathies, as long as she lived, were with that denomination, especially with the more liberally inclined portion.”[4] James Jackson, the first physician of the Massachusetts General Hospital, should be named in this connection. Joseph Lovering, the physicist, and Jeffries Wyman, the comparative anatomist, are also to be included. And here belongs Louis Agassiz, who has had more influence than any other man in developing an interest in science among the people generally. He gave to scientific investigations the largest importance for scientific men themselves. At the same time he was a religious man and a theist. “In religion,” says his biographer, “Agassiz very liberal and tolerant, and respected the views and convictions of every one. In his youth and early manhood, Agassiz was undoubtedly a materialist, or, more exactly, a sceptic; but in time, and little by little, his studies led him to belief in a divine Creative Power. He was more in sympathy with Unitarianism than with any other Christian denomination.”[5]
Unitarian Essayists.

A considerable number of essayists, lecturers, and general writers have been Unitarians. Among these have been Edwin P. Whipple, George Ripley, Mrs. Ednah D. Cheney, John S. Dwight, Professor Charles Eliot Norton, Henry T. Tuckerman, James T. Fields, and Professor Francis J. Child. These writers represent several phases of Unitarian opinion, but they belong to this fellowship by birthright or intellectual sympathies. In the same company may be placed Henry D. Thoreau and John Burroughs, not because they had any direct connection with Unitarianism, but because the religious convictions they expressed are such as most Unitarians accept.

To the Unitarian fellowship belong Margaret Fuller, Lydia Maria Child, Caroline M. Kirkland, Grace Greenwood (Mrs. Lippincott), and Julia Ward Howe. All the early associations of Margaret Fuller were with Unitarians; and her brother, Arthur Fuller, became a Unitarian minister. In her maturer life she was with the transcendentalists, finding in Rev. W.H. Channing and Emerson her spiritual teachers. Writing of her debt to Emerson, she said, “His influence has been more beneficial to me than that of any American; and from him I first learned what is meant by an inward life.”[6] She was a pronounced individualist, an intense lover of spiritual liberty, a friend of those who live in the spirit. This may be seen in what she called her credo, a sentence or two from which will indicate her type of thought. “I will not loathe sects, persuasions, systems,” she writes, “though I cannot abide in them one moment; for I see that by most men they are still needed.” “Ages may not produce one worthy to loose the shoes of the Prophet of Nazareth; yet there will surely be another manifestation of this word which was in the beginning. The very greatness of this manifestation demands a greater. We have had a Messiah to teach and reconcile. Let us now have a man to live out all the symbolical forms of human life, with the calm beauty of a Greek god, with the deep consciousness of Moses, with the holy love and purity of Jesus.”[7]
Unitarian Novelists.

Among the novelists have been several who were Unitarian ministers, including Sylvester Judd, William Ware, Thomas W. Higginson, and Edward Everett Hale. Judd’s Margaret was of the very essence of transcendentalism, besides being an excellent interpretation of some of the phases of New England character. Ware’s historical novels were popular in their day, and are now worth going back to by modern readers, and especially by those who do not insist upon having their romances hot from the press. Catherine M. Sedgwick is another novelist worth returning to by modern readers, and especially by those who would know of New England life in the early part of the nineteenth century. She became an ardent Unitarian, and her biography gives interesting glimpses of the early struggles of that faith in York City. Other Unitarian women novelists were Lydia Maria Child, Grace Greenwood, Helen Hunt Jackson, Louisa M. Alcott, and Harriet Prescott Spofford.

In naming John T. Trowbridge, Bayard Taylor, Bret Harte, William D. Howells, and Nathaniel Hawthorne as Unitarians, no merely sectarian aim is in view. In the common use of the word, Hawthorne was not a religious man; for he rarely attended church, and he had no interest in ecclesiastical formalities. No man who has written in this country, however, was more deeply influenced than he by those spiritual ideas and traditions which may be properly called Unitarian. The same may be said of Howells, who is not a Unitarian in any denominational sense; but his religious interests and convictions bring him into sympathy with the movement represented by Unitarianism.

It may be said of the most popular novels of Edward Everett Hale, such as Ten Times One Is Ten, In His Name, His Level Best, that they are the best possible interpretations of the Unitarian spirit; for it is not merely a certain conception of God that characterizes Unitarianism, nor yet a particular theological attitude. It is the wish to make religion real, practical, altruistic.
Unitarian Artists and Poets.

Unitarianism has been as friendly to poetry and the other arts as it has been to philosophy and science. In its early days it fostered the artistic careers of Washington Allston, the painter, and Charles Bulfinch, the architect. It has also nurtured the sculptors, William Wetmore Story, who was also poet and essayist; Harriet Hosmer, whose career shows what a woman can accomplish in opening new opportunities for her sex; Larkin G. Mead and Daniel C. French. To these must be added the actors Fanny Kemble and Charlotte Cushman.

It is as one of the earliest of our poets that Charles Sprague is to be mentioned, and one or two of his poems are deservedly remembered. Jones Very was one of the best of the transcendental poets, and a few of his religious poems have not been surpassed. The younger William Ellery Channing and Edward R. Sill belong to the same school, and deservedly keep their places with those who admire what is choice in thought and individual in artistic workmanship. As a biographer of O.B. Frothingham and as a member of his congregation, it may be proper to add here the name of Edmund C. Stedman.

Among our greater poets, Bryant, Longfellow, Emerson, Holmes, Lowell, Stoddard, and Bayard Taylor were Unitarians. As being essentially of the same way of thinking and believing, Whittier and Whitman might also be so classed. Though Whittier was a Friend by education and by conviction, he was of the liberal school that places religion above sect and interprets dogmas in the light of human needs and affections. If he had been born and bred a Unitarian, he could not have more sympathetically interpreted the Unitarian faith than he has in his poems. Whitman had in him the heart of transcendentalism, and he was informed of its inmost spirit. To the more radical Unitarians his pleas for liberty, his intense individualism, and his idealistic conceptions of nature and man would be acceptable, and, it may be, enthusiastically approved.

William Cullen Bryant early became a Unitarian; and he listened to the preaching of Follen, Dewey, Osgood, and Bellows. “A devoted lover of religious liberty,” Bellows said of him, “he was an equal lover of religion itself–not in any precise, dogmatic form, but in its righteousness, reverence, and charity. He was not a dogmatist, but preferred practical piety and working virtue to all modes of faith.”[8] It would be difficult to give a better definition of Unitarianism itself; and it was the large humanity of it, and its generous outlook upon the lives of individuals and nations, that made of Bryant a faithful Unitarian.

Henry W. Longfellow was educated as a Unitarian, his father having been one of the first vice-presidents of the Unitarian Association,–a position he held for many years. Stephen Longfellow was an intimate friend of Dr. Channing in his college years, and he followed the advance of his classmate in the growth of his liberal faith. “It was in the doctrine and the spirit of the early Unitarianism that Henry Longfellow was nurtured at church and at home,” says his brother. “And there is no reason to suppose that he ever found these insufficient, or that he ever essentially departed from them. Of his genuine religious feeling his writings, give ample testimony. His nature was at heart devout; his ideas of life, of death, and of what lies beyond, were essentially cheerful, hopeful, optimistic. He did not care to talk much on theological points; but he believed in the supremacy of good in the world and in the universe.”[9]

Although Oliver Wendell Holmes was educated in the older forms of religious beliefs, he became one of the most devoted of Unitarians. His rejection of Calvinism is marked by his intense aversion to it, shown upon many a page of his prose and poetry. No other prominent Unitarian was so aggressive against the doctrines of the older time. He was a regular attendant at King’s Chapel upon the preaching of Dr. F.W.P. Greenwood, Dr. Ephraim Peabody, and Rev. H.W. Foote; but, when he was in Pittsfield, for a number of years he went to the Episcopal church, and at Beverly Farms in his later years, during the summer, he attended a Baptist church. He was, therefore, a conservative Unitarian, but with a generous recognition of the good in other religious bodies. At the Unitarian Festival of 1859 Dr. Holmes was the presiding officer, and in his address he gave a statement of the Unitarian faith that clearly defines his own religious position:–

We believe in vital religion, or the religion of life, as contrasted with that of trust in hierarchies, establishments, and traditional formulae, settled by the votes of wavering majorities in old councils and convocations. We believe in evangelical religion, or the religion of glad tidings, in distinction from the schemes that make our planet the ante-chamber of the mansions of eternal woe to the vast majority of all the men, women, and children that have lived and suffered upon its surface. We believe that every age must judge the Scriptures by its own light; and we mean, by God’s grace, to exercise that privilege, without asking permission of pope or bishop, or any other human tribunal. We believe that sin is the much-abused step-daughter of ignorance, and this not only from our own observation, but on the authority of him whose last prayer on earth was that the perpetrators of the greatest crime on record might be forgiven, for they knew not what they were doing. We believe, beyond all other beliefs, in the fatherly relation of the Deity to all his creatures; and, wherever there is a conflict of Scriptural or theological doctrines, we hold this to be the article of faith that stands supreme above all others. And, lastly, we know that, whether we agree precisely in these or any other articles of belief, we can meet in Christian charity and fellowship, in that we all agree in the love of our race, and the worship of a common Father, as taught us by the Master whom we profess to follow.[10]

Educated as a Unitarian, James Russell Lowell felt none of the animosity toward Calvinism that was characteristic of Holmes; but his poetry everywhere indicates the liberality and nobleness of his religious convictions. That he was not sectarian, that he felt no active interest in dogmatic theology as such, is only saying that he was a genuine Unitarian. Writing in 1838, Lowell said, “I am an infidel to the Christianity of to-day.”[11] In a letter to Longfellow written in 1845, he made a more explicit statement of his attitude: “Christ has declared war against the Christianity of the world, and it must down. There is no help for it. The church, that great bulwark of our practical paganism, must be reformed from foundation to weathercock.”[12] These passages indicate his dissatisfaction with an external religion and with dogmatic theology. On the other hand, his letters and his poems prove that he was strongly grounded in the faith of the spirit. In that faith he lived and died; and, if in later years he gave recognition to some of the higher claims of the older types of Christianity, it was a generous concession to their rational qualities and their practical results, and in no degree an acceptance of their teachings. The definite form of Lowell’s faith he expressed when he wrote, “I will never enter a church from which a prayer goes up for the prosperous only, or for the unfortunate among the oppressors, and not for the oppressed and fallen; as if God had ordained our pride of caste and our distinctions of color, and as if Christ had forgotten those that are in bonds.”[13]

Emerson left the pulpit, and he withdrew from outward conformity to the church; but that there came a time when he no longer felt an interest in religion or that he even ceased to be a Christian, after his own manner of interpretation, there is no reason to assume. His radicalism was in the direction of a deeper and truer religion, a religion of the spirit. He rejected the faith that is founded on the letter, on historical evidences, that is a body without a soul. He was not the less a Unitarian because he ceased to be one outwardly, for he carried forward the Unitarian principles to their legitimate conclusion. The newer Unitarianism owes to him more than to any other man, and of him more than of any other man the older Unitarianism can boast that he was its product.

Such a survey as this indicates how great has been the influence of Unitarianism upon American literature. There can be no question that it has been one of the greatest formative forces in its development. “Almost everybody,” says Professor Barrett Wendell, “who attained literary distinction in New England during the nineteenth century was either a Unitarian or closely associated with Unitarian influences,”[14] More even than that may be said, for it is the Unitarian writers who have most truly interpreted American institutions and American ideals.

[1] Boston Unitarianism, 168.

[2] George Ticknor, Life of William Hickling Prescott, 91, 164.

[3] George S. Hillard, Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor, 327.

[4] Phoebe Mitchell Kendall, Life, Letters, and Journals of Maria Mitchell, 239.

[5] Jules Marcou, Life of Agassiz, II. 220.

[6] Memoirs, I. 194.

[7] Memoirs, II. 91.

[8] John Bigelow, Life of Bryant, 274, 285.

[9] Samuel Longfellow, Life of H.W. Longfellow, I. 14

[10] Quarterly Journal, VI. 359, July, 1859.

[11] Biography of James Russell Lowell, by H.E. Scudder, I. 63.

[12] Ibid., 169.

[13] Biography of James Russell Lowell, by H.E. Scudder, I. 144, quoted from Conversations on Some of the Old Poets.

[14] A Literary History of America, 289.


    Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 54525952 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 846704 bytes) in /mounted-storage/home138/sub005/sc20812-ANIG/www/wp-includes/class-walker-comment.php on line 192