Jonathan Edwards (1703 - 1758)
Edwards was the great preacher, revivalist,
theologian, and philosopher of eighteenth-century New England. Even as a child
he showed personal piety and intellectual brilliance: at age seven he began
leading other children into the woods for prayer, and by age fourteen he was
reading John Locke and Isaac Newton.
Despite his later learned writings on subjects
like the nature of the mind and its relation to the natural world, he remained
a parish pastor in Northampton, Massachusetts. In 1734, his intense preaching,
first considered old-fashioned, began producing emotional conversions
that soon numbered thirty a week. His fame spread throughout the colonies.
By 1741 he became concerned about the excesses of the Great Awakening, especially
as conducted by uneducated revivalists, but he still defended it strongly.
Tall, slender, with piercing eyes and a soft
but perfectly modulated voice, Edwards rose daily at 4:00 A.M. and devoted
thirteen hours to study. His later years were absorbed by controversies with
parishioners who objected to his strong moral demands on them. In 1750 a majority
voted to dismiss him, and he was left jobless and in debt. In 1757 he was
appointed president of Princeton University but died of a smallpox inoculation
before taking office.
Quote: All will
allow that true virtue or holiness has its seat chiefly in the heart, rather
than in the head: it therefore follows.that it consists chiefly in holy
affections.Now if such things are enthusiasm, and the fruits of a distempered
brain, let my brain be evermore possessed of that happy distemper! If this
be distraction, I pray God that the world of mankind may be all seized with
this benign, meek, beneficent, beatifical, glorious distraction! (1742)
REFERENCE: J.E. Smith, Jonathan
Edwards: Puritan, Preacher, Philosopher (1992).
Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790)
Franklin, the most famous American of the eighteenth
century and a great cultural hero in Europe as well as in his own country,
was born to a Boston soapmaker. In 1718 he became a printers apprentice
under his brother James. At age seventeen he moved to Philadelphia, which
became his permanent home.
Once Franklin had made a substantial fortune
from Poor Richards Almanack and other publishing
business ventures, he concentrated on science, philosophy, and politics. Although
largely self-taught (he learned five languages on his own), he was immensely
knowledgeable in many areas. Besides electricity, he studied meteorology,
hydrology (water), geology and demographics (population).
While serving as a colonial agent in England
in the 1760s, he considered permanently moving to that country, and in America
he was suspected of favoring the Stamp Act until he testified against it in
Parliament. When he served as minister to France during the Revolution, his
portrait was put in shop windows and on medals, rings, watches, snuffboxes,
and bracelets. His charm and simple democratic manners endeared
him to everyone, especially aristocratic French ladies. Practical, skeptical,
cool-minded, insatiably curious, sexually passionate, uninhibited, plainspoken,
and above all humorous, Franklin was at ease with all kinds and levels of
people, from kings to tavern maids.
Quote: It was
wise counsel given to a young man, Pitch upon that course of life which
is most excellent, and custom will make it the most delightful. But
many pitch on no course of life at all, nor form any scheme of living, by
which to attain any valuable end; but wander perpetually from one thing to
another. (From Poor Richard, 1749)
REFERENCE: H.W. Brands, The
First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (2000).
Charles W. Peale (1741 - 1827)
Peale was one of the best-known American painters
of the eighteenth century and one of the few to make his career in the United
States rather than Europe. Originally apprenticed as a saddler, he was forced
out of that trade because he joined the Sons of Liberty and most of his customers
were Loyalists. He then became interested in art and studied under John Singleton
Copley in Boston and Benjamin West in London. Besides art, he was a prominent
museum curator, essayist, civic leader, silversmith, and landscape gardener.
Because of his diverse talents, he was sometimes called the American
Leonardo da Vinci.
Serving as an army captain during the Revolution,
he executed numerous portraits of his fellow officers. He painted Washington
from life seven times and made more than fifty other portraits of him as general
and president. He usually portrayed Washington more realistically and less
heroically than other painters, showing his high cheekbones, sloping shoulders,
and long arms and legs. Yet his portraits were very popular with Washington
Quote: A good
painter of either portrait or history must be well acquainted with the Grecian
or Roman statues, to be able to draw them at pleasure by memory. . . . these
are more than I shall ever have time or opportunity to know. (1772)
REFERENCE: Charles Coleman Sellers, Charles
Willson Peale (1969).
Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753 - 1784)
Wheatley, the gifted black poet who published
admired verse in late-eighteenth-century America and England, was brought
as a slave from Africa to Boston in 1761, when she was about eight years old,
and bought by John Wheatley, a tailor. She was made Mrs. Wheatleys
personal servant but quickly impressed her master with her remarkable intelligence,
which he cultivated.
She began writing poems at age thirteen; the
first is called On Being Brought from Africa to America. Her
first published poem (on George Whitefields death) was composed at
age seventeen, and she soon gained renown in Boston and then elsewhere. Her
masters daughter took her to England in 1773, where she was introduced
to many literary people.
Four years after her return to America in 1774,
she contracted a disastrous marriage to John Peters, a black baker. He apparently
treated her badly, and she wrote no more poems. She bore three children, two
of whom died before her own death in 1784.
Quote: On Being
Brought from Africa to America
Twas mercy brought me from my
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That theres a God, that theres
a savior, too;
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
Their color is a diabolic lie.
Remember, Christians, Negroes black as Cain
May be refined and join the angelic train.
REFERENCE: Julian D. Mason, Jr., The
Poems of Phillis Wheatley (1966).