July 23, 2010

Birth of Sylvester Judd

Most in the circle of Transcendentalists were philosophers, religious leaders, essayists, and poets. Only one was primarily a novelist: Sylvester Judd, born on July 23, 1813.

Born in Westhampton in the western part of Massachusetts, Judd (like most Transcendentalists) studied at Harvard Divinity School and was influenced by the work of Thomas Carlyle and Goethe. He heard Ralph Waldo Emerson present his speech "The American Scholar" in 1837 and became friends with Jones Very. After graduating, he became a pastor in Maine. He was somewhat controversial: he was such a pacifist that he even condemned the American Revolution.

His novel, Margaret: A Tale of the Real and Ideal, was published in 1845 after at least four years of research and writing. Margaret Fuller called it a "work of great power and richness" and James Russell Lowell called it "the most emphatically American book ever written." The Utopian novel follows the daughter of a German musician who is raised in New England. Using a philosophy similar to Brook Farm, the community is transformed into a perfect world through hard work and love for all.

The work was almost never published but the manuscript survived a fire. It was finally published anonymously in one volume in an edition of 1000 copies.A second edition, published in 1851, included a preface by Judd (written in the third person) which responded to many of his critics:

The book was written out of his heart and hope... It is like an old-fashioned ride on horseback, where one may be supposed to enjoy leisure for climbing hills, and to possess curiosity for the trifles of the way... To those who have been glad at what the author has written, he extends the hope that they may never regret their gladness.

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