The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XXII. Divines and Moralists, 1783–1860.

§ 1. The Followers of Jonathan Edwards.

THE writings of the American clergy between the Revolution and the Civil War have Jonathan Edwards  1  for their point of departure, and carry onward the tendencies he brought to a focus. Let us rather say two focuses: for Edwards is great precisely in the intensity with which he manifests a tough-mindedness and a tender-mindedness that are universal. He is at once dogmatist and mystic; he works out his theology into dualistic metaphysics, yet he knows himself to be one with God; though he philosophizes away the Freedom of the Will, and preaches Hell for sinners, yet he meditates also the Benevolence of the Deity, and is translated into mystical rhapsodies upon the divine love and upon Nature as its symbol and emanation. The primacy he gives to motivation places him with those who insist that reward and punishment must be held up before depraved mankind to keep it even outwardly decent; his insistence upon an inner light and a love for universal being faces him toward the believers in man’s essential goodness and perfectibility. He never reconciled these tendencies in his own thinking; nor have they been reconciled since in that American literature which in various phases, mixtures, and proportions they have continued to colour.   1
  Historically, at the close of the American Revolution the tender-minded derive from the Cambridge Platonists and their successors the English deists. Their thought is developed by Shaftesbury and the “benevolists”; favoured by Berkeley; much re-enforced by the works of Paley, and by Butler’s Analogy; and developed again in various directions by Rousseau, William Godwin, and, later, Kant and Coleridge. They are the liberals, transcendentalists, and romantics, and Plato is their ultimate master, though he contributes his realism to their opponents. The tough-minded derive from Aristotle, St. Augustine, and, of course, Calvin; find themselves close kin to Hobbes and Locke, to the “motivists,” and, later, to Reid and Dugald Stewart; and are the classics—the orthodox. In the large, the thought of American divines and moralists from Edwards to Beecher moves from tough to tender, parallel with the romantic movement in secular literature; while Beecher’s contemporary, Mark Hopkins, toughly reacting against romanticism, anticipates the present secular return toward greater sharpness in realizing evil and the fundamental cleavages in things.   2

Note 1. See Book I, Chap. IV for Edwards. For divines of other denominations than Congregational and Unitarian see Book III. [ back ]