David Atwood Wasson was a prominent second-generation Transcendentalist minister, essayist, and poet who was known for his perceptive contributions to the Radical
and the Atlantic Monthly
. He was active in the "Concord Club" and the Free Religious Association and helped organize the Radical Club. He was appointed in 1865 to succeed Theodore Parker
in the ministry.
Another remarkable man, of the same school, but of still different temper--a man who would have been greatly distinguished but for the disabilities of sickness--is David A. Wasson. Though contemporary, he came forward later; but when he came, it was with a power that gave promise of the finest things. As his latent faith in the intuitive philosophy acquired strength, he broke away from the Orthodoxy in which he had been reared, with an impulse that carried him beyond the lines of every organized body in Christendom, and bore him into the regions of an intellectual faith, where he found satisfaction. He has been a diligent writer, chiefly on Ethical and Philosophical themes, on the border land of theology. His published pamphlets and sermons on religious questions, even the best of them, give scarcely more than an indication of his extraordinary powers. He is a poet too, of fine quality; not a singer of sentimental songs, nor a spinner of elegant fancies, but a discerner of the spirit of beauty. "All's Well," "Ideals," "The Plover," "At Sea," are worthy of a place in the best collections.
It has been the appointed task of Mr. Wasson to be on the alert against assaults on the intuitive philosophy from the side of material science. Like Transcendentalists generally, he has accepted the principles of his philosophy on the testimony of consciousness and as self-evidencing; but more than most, he has regarded them as essential to the maintenance of truths of the spiritual order; and as a believer in those truths, he has been holily jealous of the influence of men like Herbert Spencer, Mill, Bain, and the latest school of experimental psychologists. His doctrine, in its own essence, and as related to the objective or material system, is closely stated in the essay on the "Nature of Religion," contained in the volume, entitled "Freedom and Fellowship in Religion," recently published by the Free Religious Association. It is not easily quotable, but must be read through and attentively. Whoever will take pains to do that, may understand, not merely what Mr. Wasson's position is, but what fine analysis the intuitive philosophy can bring to its defence. A volume of Mr. Wasson's prose essays and poems would be a valuable contribution to the literature of Transcendentalism; for he is, on the whole, the most capable critic on its side. Unfortunately for the breadth of his fame and the reach of his power, he writes for thinkers, and the multitude will never follow in his train.