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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Elisha Mulford (1833–1885)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
WHEN the Civil War drew to its close, there was a general idea that the stress of emotional feeling through which we had passed, the quickening of the national consciousness by the season of national peril, and the remembrance of countless instances of heroism and adventure, would result in the production of a distinct type of national literature, from which the note of either provincialism or cosmopolitanism should be absent.  1
  This anticipation has been realized, but within different limits and in different forms from those expected by the generation which took part in the struggle. There is a body of war literature, in which General Grant’s ‘Memoirs’ perhaps ranks highest; but it is seen that this literature is still but material from which, as from “old chronicles of wasted time,” future generations must draw the inspiration for higher forms, perhaps of song or sustained poem, perhaps of drama or historical novel. The war, however, did inspire contemporary writings. In no case is this more evident than in Mulford’s ‘Nation,’ which glows with a lofty and impassioned idea of patriotism. In the preface the writer says that he has “sought, however imperfectly, to give expression to the thought of the people in the late war, and that conception of the nation which they who were so worthy, held worth living and dying for.”  2
  Elisha Mulford was born in Montrose, Pennsylvania, in 1833, from the stock of those Puritans who settled the eastern end of Long Island. He was graduated at Yale in 1855; and after a year in Germany was admitted, in 1862, to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. A slight infirmity of deafness interfered with his usefulness as a parish priest; and after a settlement in South Orange, New Jersey, he spent his life in literary and philosophical study, first at Friendsville, Pennsylvania, and afterwards at Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1862 he married Rachel Carmalt, daughter of Caleb Carmalt, a prominent member of the Society of Friends of Northern Pennsylvania. His book ‘The Nation’ secured him a recognized place among the profound and original minds of his generation, and was published in 1871; and his other book, ‘The Republic of God, an Institute in Theology,’ in 1881. This last holds something of the position in the Episcopal Church that Dr. Bushnell’s writings do in the Congregational Church, and is characterized by the lofty spirituality which belonged to the great ages of the Church.  3
  In both of his books, Mulford’s philosophical standpoint is that of Hegel, especially in regarding every human institution as the embodiment of an idea which virtually constitutes its soul or proper life. The nation and the church he talks about are our ideal, and the outward form is the government; the church organizations are of little consequence except as the visible body of the metaphysical entity behind them. This tone of thought is not in favor at present; his writings are highly valued but by a chosen few; and his philosophy seems mystical or impractical to many. Mulford’s literary style is marred by the saturation of his mind with the mannerisms of the German metaphysicians. Nevertheless, there is a weight and dignity in it which is found only in the pages of the writers of the greatest periods, and there are many passages which in rhythm and power are hardly to be matched in American prose.  4
  Mr. Mulford was of singularly attractive and unselfish character. His gifts as a conversationalist and occasional speaker were of a high order, for he never failed to idealize the subject in hand in a peculiarly felicitous manner. Many of his sermons were of singular beauty and elevation, but only the memory of them remains. At the time of his death in 1885 he had projected several important works. His grave is in the cemetery at Concord, not far from the graves of Emerson and Hawthorne.  5
  As a political thinker, Mr. Mulford won recognition from those to whom the thought-element, the moral in the highest sense, is regarded as the basis of the nature of the State. President Garfield, Charles Sumner, Wayne MacVeagh, President Angell, Professor Diman, F. D. Maurice, and Dean Stanley, among others, testified warmly to their appreciation of the force and elevation of ‘The Nation.’ The austere dignity which characterizes the ‘Republic of God’ has strengthened the faith and comforted the hearts of many who have come to feel that theology was a “baseless fabric,” or at best a metaphysical system resting on traditionary assumptions. It can hardly be doubted that when the present tendency to exalt the concrete both in philosophy and worship shall have spent its force, the ‘Republic of God’ will be turned to by sincere Christians as one of the great modern “Institutes in Theology.”  6
 
 
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