The Devil and Doctor Dwight

The Devil and Doctor Dwight: Satire and Theology in the Early American Republic

Colin Wells
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    The Devil and Doctor Dwight
    Book Description:

    At the close of the eighteenth century, Timothy Dwight--poet, clergyman, and, later, president of Yale College--waged a literary and intellectual war against the forces of "infidelity."The Devil and Doctor Dwightreexamines this episode by focusing onThe Triumph of Infidelity(1788), the verse satire that launched Dwight's campaign and, Colin Wells argues, the key to recovering the deeper meaning of the threat of infidelity in the early years of the American Republic. The book also features the first modern, annotated edition of this important but long-overlooked poem.Modeled after Alexander Pope's satiric masterpiece, theDunciad, Dwight's poem took aim at a number of his contemporaries, but its principal target was Congregationalist Charles Chauncy, author of a controversial treatise asserting "the salvation of all men." To Dwight's mind, a belief in universal salvation issued from the same naive faith in innate human virtue and inevitable progress that governed all forms of Enlightenment thought, political as well as religious. Indeed, in subsequent works he traced with increasing dismay a shift in the idea of universal salvation from a theological doctrine to a political belief and symbol of American national identity. In this light, Dwight's campaign against infidelity must also be seen as an early and prescient critique of the ideological underpinnings of Jeffersonian democracy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0108-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    The subject of this study is an episode in American literary and religious history in which Timothy Dwight, outspoken Connecticut poet, clergyman, and educator during the Revolutionary and early republican periods, undertook to wage war against the forces of “infidelity.” My argument is that an understanding of this literary campaign makes possible a reconstruction of the more momentous ideological struggles and transformations taking place in America during this period—party warfare between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, the theological and social struggles among various groups of orthodox and dissenting Protestants, and the intellectual controversies arising from Enlightenment secularism and progressivism. Such a...

  4. CHAPTER 1 An American Dunciad
    (pp. 17-59)

    In the fall of 1796, at the conclusion of his first year as president of Yale College, Timothy Dwight delivered the baccalaureate sermon, “On the Duties Connected with a Professional Life.” In large part, the sentiments of the sermon are conventional enough: he reminds the graduates, for example, of the responsibilities of leadership and the importance of continued study throughout their lives. Yet, midway through the sermon, Dwight begins to emphasize a lesson that might seem oddly suited to a ceremony celebrating the students’ academic achievement: beware of ideas that exaggerate the virtues and capabilities of human beings. “In this...

  5. CHAPTER 2 The Salvation of All Men
    (pp. 60-102)

    Shortly before his death in 1787, the eighty-one-year-old Charles Chauncy sat for what he no doubt knew would be his final portrait. In it, he holds a copy ofThe Mystery Hid from Ages and Generations, announcing to posterity that, however hesitant he had once been about making his belief in universal salvation publicly known, he had finally come to accept his role as the leader of the Universalist camp within the Congregational Church. This decision may perhaps surprise those who remember Chauncy mainly for such earlier works asSeasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New-England, when, as...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Progress and Redemption
    (pp. 103-141)

    Within the larger story of American Universalism in the two decades following the death of Charles Chauncy, the importance of an otherwise minor theological treatise such as William Pitt Smith’sUniversalistarises from the sheer exhilaration over the possibility of a new “age of Universalism.” In this dawning era, not only Christianity but history itself would be imagined in a fundamentally new way. Smith celebrates the implications of universal salvation that Chauncy had at first been most hesitant to acknowledge, particularly those that concerned the doctrine’s special role as a savior of Christianity, the one essential truth that would ultimately...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Theology of Man
    (pp. 142-182)

    If there is a single moment in Dwight’s poetic career that registers his own realization that the literary and ideological warfare he had waged would likely prove a losing cause, it is “An Extract from ‘The Retrospect,’” a four-hundred-line response to the French Revolution that would constitute at once his last substantial poem and his final poem on a political subject. He had written “The Retrospect” in 1796 and 1797 but chose not to publish it until 1801, when he offered it as the New Year’s poem in theMercury and New-England Palladium, the Federalist newspaper Dwight had helped to...

  8. APPENDIX A The Triumph of Infidelity
    (pp. 183-210)
  9. APPENDIX B Textual Notes to The Triumph of Infidelity
    (pp. 211-218)
  10. APPENDIX C Explanatory Notes to The Triumph of Infidelity
    (pp. 219-244)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 245-254)