Edward Taylor was born in Leicestershire, England in 1642. He originally worked as a school teacher, but later left England for the United States. He studied divinity at Harvard and then became a minister in Massachusetts.
The son of a non-Conformist yeoman farmer, Taylor was born in 1642 at Sketchley, Leicestershire, England. Following restoration of the monarchy and the Act of Uniformity under Charles II, which cost Taylor his teaching position, he emigrated in 1668 to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in America.
Early Days in America
He chronicled his Atlantic crossing and early years in America (from April 26, 1668, to July 5, 1671) in his now-published Diary. He was admitted to Harvard College as a second year student soon after arriving in America and upon graduation in 1671 became pastor and physician at Westfield, on the remote western frontier of Massachusetts, where he remained until his death.
Taylor, a New England Puritan, worked as a minister for sixty years. During that time wrote a great deal of poetry and has become known as one of the best writers of the Puritan times. His poetry has a pious quality and emphasis is given to self examination, particularly in an individual's relations to God. His works were not published until 1939 - over two years after his death. One collection was edited by Donald E. Stanford who commented:
"Taylor seems to have been endowed with most of those qualities usually connoted by the word puritan. He was learned, grave, severe, stubborn, and stiff-necked. He was very, very pious. But his piety was sincere. It was fed by a long continuous spiritual experience arising, so he felt, from a mystical communion with Christ. The reality and depth of this experience is amply witnessed by his poetry."
A custom of Taylor's was to write a poem (or 'Meditation') before each Lord's Supper. Important themes in his work included: his adoption of the Biblical David as his model for the poet; the concept of poetry as an act/offering of ritual praise; distinctions between the godly and ungodly; God's power as Creator; and God's voice as that which speaks truly and which man's voice merely an echo at best.
Taylor's poems, in leather bindings of his own manufacture, survived him, but he had left instructions that his heirs should "never publish any of his writings," and the poems remained all but forgotten for more than 200 years. In 1937 Thomas H. Johnson discovered a 7000-page quarto manuscript of Taylor's poetry in the library of Yale University and published a selection from it in The New England Quarterly. The appearance of these poems, wrote Taylor's biographer Norman S. Grabo, "established [Taylor] almost at once and without quibble as not only America's finest colonial poet, but as one of the most striking writers in the whole range of American literature." His most important poems, the first sections of Preparatory Meditations (1682–1725) and God's Determinations Touching His Elect and the Elects Combat in Their Conversation and Coming up to God in Christ: Together with the Comfortable Effects Thereof (c. 1680), were published shortly after their discovery. His complete poems, however, were not published until 1960. He is the only major American poet to have written in the metaphysical style.
Family and Death
He was twice married, first to Elizabeth Fitch, by whom he had eight children, five of whom died in childhood, and at her death to Ruth Wyllys, who bore six more children. Taylor himself died on June 29, 1729.