Tuesday, October 20, 2009

simply scholars and gentlemen...

Regular readers know that I have tended, in this space, to emphasize the "pious Unitarians," (referred to in the following reading as the spiritualists) and the transcendentalists. Today, however, I put forward a word for the "rationalists" who were so important in the Unitarian movement. Often disparaged as cold, and too...well, rational, this generation of Unitarian ministers is now little known.
In part, I named this blog "Boston Unitarian" from a book by Octavius Brooks Frothingham called "Boston Unitarianism 1820-1850," a biography of his father, Nathaniel Frothingham, and a celebration of this class of Unitarian. From the the first chapter...

"It has long seemed to me that justice was not done to the Unitarianism which lay between William Ellery Charming on one side, and Theodore Parker on the other; the simple rationalism as distinguished from the spiritualism of the former, and the naturalism of the latter; literary Unitarianism it might be called; the religion of sentiment, feeling, emotion ; the religion of unadorned good-sense. The fame of these two men so far eclipsed the others, that they sank into general obscurity, and were almost unknown outside of a small circle of admirers, while their influence, if acknowledged at all, was considered insignificant. By many they were regarded as drones, respectable good-for-nothings. Yet, it is my belief, the freedom and ease of movement in the mind of this generation, its elasticity, its gracefulness, its love of musical expression, its demand for finish in thought and phrase, its modest demeanor in presence of deep problems, must be in great measure due to them. Of course, some were more distinguished than others, but chiefly in distinct fields— as James Walker in philosophy, John G. Palfrey in history, Alexander Young in biography,—but as a class of thinkers they held no eminent place. It is "the fashion to depreciate them, to deny them power, to esteem them of small account. That they were destitute of positive, new, creative force, is freely admitted ; but that they were without formative genius or power, is not so easily granted. It was their office to create an atmosphere rather than to advance a cause, to diffuse a spirit of liberality rather than to promote the interests of a system of thought, whether doctrinal or philosophical. They were not organizers ; they were not sectaries; they were not champions of any school; they were not possessed by any dominant idea; they had no passion for social reform. They were simply scholars and gentlemen; dignified, gracious, genuine, sweet; fond of elegant studies, of good English, of courteous ways, of poetic expression, of the amenities of life. They were conservative of existing institutions in so far as they allowed the free movement of cultivated mind, and desired no change except in the direction of mental emancipation. They pushed against no barriers that did not limit the right to walk over all the fields of literature, unimpeded and unchallenged. For the rest, they were contented with things as they were..."
Blessings

2 comments:

Tracie the Red said...

RE: "They were simply scholars and gentlemen; dignified, gracious, genuine, sweet; fond of elegant studies, of good English, of courteous ways, of poetic expression, of the amenities of life. They were conservative of existing institutions in so far as they allowed the free movement of cultivated mind, and desired no change except in the direction of mental emancipation. They pushed against no barriers that did not limit the right to walk over all the fields of literature, unimpeded and unchallenged."

I really don't see a problem with this kind of life. Sounds like the man I live with. It is a happy thing indeed!

boston unitarian said...

Hi Tracie,
Its good to hear from you! Hope all goes tolerable well.
Blessings, BU