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 foremost spiritual figures: Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William James (James, curiously enough, though a New Englander only by adoption, being scarcely less representative of the most recent phase of New England religious evolution than Emerson and Edwards were of two of its earlier stages). Edwards, the last great apostle of theocratic dogmatism; Emerson, the prophet of a generation of romantic aspiration; James, the pragmatic philosopher of a scientific and democratic age-how far apart, at first thought, they seem! And not merely far apart, but often hostile. Emerson gave much of his best effort to demolishing the remnants of the Calvinistic structure Edwards had done so much to fortify. James's career was one long assault on that philosophy of the Absolute which is the intellectualized counterpart of the religion of the Over-Soul. The respective attitudes of the three men toward nature well illustrate their differences. To Edwards, in spite of his feeling for natural beauty, nature is essentially evil and is consistently set over against grace, which is of God. To Emerson, God and Nature are merely two aspects of a single spirit. To James, endlessly interesting as the natural world is in its instrumental capacity, in any ultimate sense nature is merely “so much weather.” And yet, under analysis, such distinctions turn out to be partly nominal and relatively superficial, for, deeper than all their differences of doctrine, there is a community of spirit among these men, a something central and controlling in them all, something which in its day was the driving force of transcendentalism, the innate idealism and individualism of the New England mind.
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