• The God-nature-man relationship in the works of selected eighteenth and nineteenth century American writers

      Anderson, Jane E. (2012-04-11)
      Several commentaries have been written about the role that Nature has played in the literature of early America, including books by Wilson Ober Clough,Hans Huth and Norman Foerster. Each of these studies, however has virtually ignored a vital aspect of the Man-Nature relationship as it was conceived and as it matured in the young nation. From the beginning, the American view of Nature was influenced and often dictated by the American view of God and a complete picture of the role of Nature in this nation's literature cannot be gained without a consideration also of the role of God in those same writings. The thrust of this study is a consideration of the inter-relationships between God,Man,and nature as they were perceived and recorded by Jonathan Edwards, Philip Morin Freneau, William Cullen Bryant and Ralph Waldo Emerson. These four writers of the 18th and 19th centuries represent not only the essayists and poets of their respective centuries, but also some of the foremost religious, political and philosophical movements of their day. Edwards, like many Puritans before him, viewed Nature with a critical eye, recording the intricacies of her minutest forms with scientific interest. But more than this, he reveled in her beauties, finding in them a muted reflection of the ineffable beauty and majesty of God. Seeing in the workings of Nature shadows of Divine percepts, he began to compile a catalogue of those lessons which god had revealed for the edification of the Saints. Puritan doctrine imposed rigid controls upon the acquisition of these teachings, however. As Edwards taught these lessons, which were not new revelations of God, but rather illustrations of Biblical truths, could only be perceived by God’s Elect and then only when God chose to reveal them. Freneau’s view of Nature as teacher placed her in a role of greater importance. As a Deist, he believed that nature did not simply illustrate Biblical truths but was herself Man’s Bible. Like a book of ready answers about life and death, nature had been prepared in advance by a new remote God, who having fashioned a perfect universe to function in faultless rhythm, then sat back to simply watch it work. Rejecting the Puritan doctrine of the Elect, Freneau argued furthermore that Nature’s lessons were available to any individual who in earnestness sought them. Like Freneau, Bryant rejected any suggestion that nature’s secrets could be understood only by a chosen few. He found instead in the forests and mountains a vast and majestic cathedral in which an individual could reach upward with nature in earnest and loving worship of the creator. But he saw in nature, as well, an eager and sympathetic confidant, a comforter and a guide whose voice spoke freely to any who sought communion with her. Emerson, the Transcendentalist believed that through the very act of creation the Spirit of God flowed into and through every aspect of nature, making every particle in existence from the mightiest king to the smallest grain of sand partakers of his divinity. Man and nature were therefore one, sharing being within the over-soul. And since in the beginning god had thought each rock and tree and mountain into being, they existed as corporeal symbols of spiritual realities. Nature thus became the symbol of the spirit and as Emerson chose not to recognize the Bible as god’s guideline for mankind, nature became also an individual’s only avenue to God. Each of these four men Edwards, Freneau, Bryant and Emerson viewed nature from a slightly different perspective, their views influenced, in part at least by their understanding of God’s relationship to his creation. Yet what are most striking are not the differences in their beliefs, but rather the consistencies. Nature was for each of them, as indeed for most Americans to be admired for her majestic beauty preserved in her innocence and looked to her insight into the workings of God among Men.