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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
David Atwood Wasson (1823–1887)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
IN the life and writings of David Atwood Wasson, New England Transcendentalism found a singularly perfect expression, a fine, clean, austere embodiment, conspicuous even in that rare era of incarnate philosophy. He had not the genius of Emerson, nor the glowing beauty of Parker: he dwelt for the most part in the chambers of the pure intellect, looking from their high windows toward the stars. He taught individualism, and the oneness of the soul with God, and the unity of all things seen and unseen. In him, perhaps, as in many of his brethren, the forces which are now producing the “pestilence-stricken multitude” of writers whose conception of individualism is love and hate let loose,—in him, these same forces showed their mystical white side. To him also, love was all, but love was also law; man was all, but man was all through God: to him also the natural man was pure; but the natural man was the spiritual man. Like many of the clamorous school of literature, nothing less than the universe would suffice Wasson; but he believed that man receives his inheritance of the universe through harmony with its moral law.  1
  He came into his own intellectual freedom through much trial. Born in Brooksville, a coast town of Maine, May 14th, 1823, the child of a ship-builder, his childhood was spent under a double tyranny of stern theology and stern labor. He took a child’s privilege of hating Deity and loving dear Nature; so grew with a fragmentary schooling into a youth who began to find ways of his own into the unseen, and now congenial, world. He passed through North Yarmouth Academy, through Phillips Academy, and partly through Bowdoin College. A few years before entering college, an accident in a wrestling match left him with the ill-health which all his life hampered him. His college course was succeeded by law studies at Belfast, but these were soon discontinued. Carlyle was speaking to him through ‘Sartor Resartus’; his soul was thirsty for reality.  2
  Entering the Theological School in Bangor in 1849, he remained there two years, and was then ordained pastor of an evangelical church in Groveland, Massachusetts. His intellectual development had now brought him into that position of entire acquiescence with the demands of the Whole, the Good, and the Beautiful, which may be so easily confounded with indifference. His congregation admired but could not comprehend his exquisite mysticism, which bound the reason and the soul in so loving a marriage. Some doubted; the crisis came when Wasson preached a sermon against what were to him obnoxious doctrines in the orthodox faith. His own orthodoxy seemed to his congregation too much a part of the sunlight and air. He was forced to form an independent church. His career after this was largely determined by the exigencies of ill-health. For two years he was pastor of Theodore Parker’s Congregational Society in Boston. He resided for a time in Concord and in Worcester; he was for three years storekeeper of the custom-house in West Medford; he lived for three years in Germany. Wherever he was, he carried on his old battle with disease; yet wrote and read incessantly, and lived his life of thought, which seemed ever to grow clearer and stronger. He was in the ranks of the rationalists, yet his spirituality guided him always into the serene air of harmony. He died in West Medford in 1887.  3
  He wrote a great number of essays, which were published in the New-Englander, the North American Review, the Atlantic Monthly, the Radical, and other magazines. The subjects of these essays cover a wide range, but there is between them the bond of an underlying unity. Wasson, whose creed embraced the universe, could not well touch upon a subject outside that creed. He looks upon art, upon literature, upon religion, upon science, in the clear broad light of the absolute. His is the temper of a brother to the universe; yet for this reason his essays lack perhaps the home-like quality,—the inferior, necessary, limited outlook. They are written in strong nervous English, in an austere yet graceful style, well expressive of Wasson’s spirit. His poetry possesses many of the characteristics of his prose; being the fruit of noble feeling, as the essays of noble thought. Both his prose and his verse offer an escape from the heated air of passion-haunted literature, into the wintry sunshine of a calm and exalted philosophy.  4
 
 
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