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God’s Scrivener

The Madness and Meaning of Jones Very

A biography of a long-forgotten but vital American Transcendentalist poet.
In September of 1838, a few months after Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered his controversial Divinity School address, a twenty-five-year-old tutor and divinity student at Harvard named Jones Very stood before his beginning Greek class and proclaimed himself “the second coming.” Over the next twenty months, despite a brief confinement in a mental hospital, he would write more than three hundred sonnets, many of them in the voice of a prophet such as John the Baptist, or even of Christ himself—all, he was quick to claim, dictated to him by the Holy Spirit.
Befriended by the major figures of the Transcendentalist movement, Very strove to convert, among others, Elizabeth and Sophia Peabody, Bronson Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and, most significantly, Emerson himself. Though shocking to some, his message was simple: by renouncing the individual will, anyone can become a “son of God” and thereby usher in a millennialist heaven on earth. Clark Davis’s masterful biography shows how Very came to embody both the full radicalism of Emersonian ideals and the trap of isolation and emptiness that lay in wait for those who sought complete transcendence.
God’s Scrivener tells the story of Very’s life, work, and influence in depth, recovering the startling story of a forgotten American prophet, a “brave saint” whose life and work are central to the development of poetry and spirituality in America.

312 pages | 10 halftones | 6 x 9

Biography and Letters

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Prologue: 1823

I. “There is something very strange in it all”
1. Cousins
2. Federal Street
3. Eldest Son
4. Biography (I)
5. Cornelia Africana
6. Biography (II)
7. A Student’s Notes, 1833–34
8. A Poet’s Notes, 1834
9. Early Poems, 1833–35
10. The Uses of Faith, 1835
11. “Change of heart”
12. Scrapbook, 1835–36
13. Lamartine
14. Poems, 1835–36
15. “The Torn Flower”
16. Spiritual Freedom

II. “Flee to the mountains!”
17. “Part or particle of God,” 1836
18. The Messianic Moment
19. Mr. Tutor Very
20. Temptation and Peace
21. “My heart in life’s winter”
22. The White Mountains, 1837
23. Arrival
24. “Beauty”
25. Concord
26. Miracles
27. “Newborn bard of the Holy Ghost”
28. “The end of all things”
29. Madness

III. God’s Scrivener
30. Prince Hamlet
31. Asylum
32. “In obedience to the Spirit”
33. “Pierced through with many spears”
34. “Insane with God”
35. “Epistles to the Unborn”
36. “Between Very & the Americans”
37. Essays and Poems by Jones Very
38. Madness and Meaning
39. “True relations . . . in a false age”

IV. Man of Peace
40. Nonresistance
41. “Heaven is a state and not a place”
42. War, Slavery, and Intemperance
43. “I war not, nor wrestle with the earthly man”
44. “But still the poet midst the tumult sings”
45. Knowledge and Truth
46. “The presence of things invisible”
47. “The Book of Life”

List of Abbreviations
A Note on Sources

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