Some years ago I printed a volume entitled "The Great Poets and Their Theology." I gave account of Homer, Vergil, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, Wordsworth, Browning, and Tennyson. The volume had some currency, and I was asked by the publishers to prepare another book on " American Poets and Their Theology." After a little consideration I declined, upon the ground that American poets had no theology. Most of them being spokes of " The Hub," Harvard men, and Unitarians, I unwisely took it for granted that their theology was either nebulous or nil. When I demitted my office as president of a seminary and professor of theology, this old proposition recurred to me, and I considered the question anew. I concluded to make trial of Bryant, since he was the real founder of our poetic line. To my surprise and gratification I found that his poems contained a large amount of theology, and that of a very respectable sort—for he never
""wholly escaped the influence of his early Calvinistic training. This discovery emboldened me to go on to Emerson, in whom I encountered a teacher of a very different type, whom I was obliged severely to criti
^v->cize. But when I came to Whittier, I was again encouraged ; and I did not stop my work until Poe, Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes, Lanier, and Whitman had come under review. These poets represent various
phases of poetic art, and almost as many phases of theological belief. By turns I have praised and have condemned; but, as I trust, with constant effort to utter only truth.
It will be readily perceived that the standard by which these poets are tried is that of the evangelical faith; and by the evangelical faith I mean modified Calvinism, or the theology of the New Testament. I do not scruple to add that, to my mind, that theology is most fully presented to us in the writings of■ the apostles Paul and John. I regard these writings, however, as only the posthumous works of our Lord himself, and as the fulfilment of his promise that his Spirit should lead his followers into all the truth. So far as I know, our American poets have never been systematically subjected to this standard of judgment. There have been books in plenty which have estimated their work as simple poetry; but there have been none which have asked every poet to justify his theology by comparing it with divine revelation. The result has been that the charm of the poetry has often blinded the reader to its skeptical tendencies, even if it has not subtly undermined his religious faith. I have thought it a service to the church and to the truth to point out the shortcomings, if not the positively erroneous teachings, of some of our poets, while at the same time I drew attention to the correct and uplifting doctrine of others. I have conducted my investigation with a profound belief in the deity and the atonement of Jesus Christ, and I have tried, by applying his revealed standards, to anticipate his final judgment. How far I have succeeded, my readers will judge for themselves. I
shall be content to receive even their disapproving verdict, if I may only at the last hear the Master say, "Well done!"
An old-fashioned theologian will be pardoned for indulging in proof-texts. Mere description of a poet's views would fail to convince the reader of its justice, if it were not accompanied by definite quotations from the poet's writings. I have therefore furnished excerpts wherever this was possible. As in the case of proof-texts from Scripture, there is danger that the extract, in separation from its context, may give wrong impressions of its real meaning. I have tried to fortify my interpretations by references to each poet's "Life and Letters." Proof-texts, thus interpreted, express the substance of a document more clearly than the ordinary reader would gather it from the document as a whole. The ordinary reader, at least, will be grateful to me for saving his labor and time, while the critic will all the more enjoy his comparison of the quotations with the originals. With the single additional proviso that my aim is the limited one of exhibiting not so much the poetical as the theological mhrit&and demerits of the writers whom I describe, I commit my work to the candid consideration of all who love truth in literature. It is my humble offering to Christ and to the world on my eightieth birthday.
Augustus Hopkins Strong.
Rochester, August 3, 1916.