James Freeman Clarke, 1810 - 1888
James Freeman Clarke was a Unitarian minister, author, editor, and member of the Transcendental Club. Through reading Samuel Taylor Coleridge
he became acquainted with Immanuel Kant
and discovered that he "was born a transcendentalist." He graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1832 and immediately moved to Louisville, Kentucky to help establish liberal religion in the West. There he helped found the first Transcendentalist periodical, the Western Messenger
, and served as its editor from April 1836 to April 1839. This magazine advocated the liberal tradition in religious thought, supported German literature, defended the views of Amos Bronson Alcott
, and printed important Transcendentalist texts--including the first poetry published by Ralph Waldo Emerson
. Clarke closely studied German works, especially those of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
, and translated Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette
for George Ripley
's Specimens of Foreign Standard Literature
in 1842. With his sister Sarah Ann Clarke
and Margaret Fuller
, he participated in Fuller's famous trip to the Great Lakes in 1843.
James Freeman Clarke as little deserves to be ranked among the Minor Prophets as any, for he was one of the earliest Transcendentalists, a contemporary and intimate ally of Parker, a co-worker with Channing, a close friend and correspondent of Miss Fuller, a sympathizer with Alcott in his attempts to spiritualize education, a frequent contributor to the "Dial," the intellectual fellow of the brilliant minds that made the epoch what it was. But his interest was not confined to the school, nor did the technicalities or details of the transcendental movement embarrass him; his catholic mind took in opinions of all shades, and men of all communions. His place is among theologians and divines rather than among philosophers. But, though churchly tastes led him away from the company of thinkers where he intellectually belonged, and an unfailing common sense saved him from the extravagances into which some of them fell, a Transcendentalist he was, and an uncompromising one. The intuitive philosophy was his guide. It gave him his assurance of spiritual truths; it interpreted for him the gospels and Jesus; it inspired his endeavors to reconcile beliefs, to promote unity among the discordant sects, to enlighten and redeem mankind. His mission has been that of a spiritual peacemaker. But while doing this, he has worked faithfully at particular causes; was an avowed and earnest abolitionist in the anti-slavery days; was ever a disbeliever in war, an enemy of vindictive and violent legislation, a hearty friend and laborer in the field of woman's election to the full privileges of culture and citizenship; a man in whom faith, hope and charity abounded and abound; a man of intellectual convictions which made a groundwork for his life.
Mr. Clarke is a conspicuous example of the way in which the intuitive philosophy leavened the whole mind. It associated him closely both with radicals and conservatives; with the former, because his principle involved faith in progress; with the latter, because it implied respect for the progress of past times which institutions preserved. His conservatism attested the fidelity of his radicalism, and both avouched the loyalty of his idealism. The conservative aspect of Transcendentalism which was exhibited in the case of Mr. Channing, who never left the Christian Church, was yet more strikingly illustrated by Mr. Clarke. All his books, but particularly the "Ten Great Religions," show the power of the transcendental idea to render justice to all forms of faith, and give positive interpretations to doctrines obscure and revolting. It detects the truth in things erroneous, the good in things evil.