Cyrus Augustus Bartol, 1813 - 1900
Cyrus Augustus Bartol was a Unitarian minister, author, and member of the Transcendental Club. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1835 and promptly became a Transcendentalist who sought to infuse vitality and Spirit into the Unitarian church and liberate it from unnecessary forms and rituals. His dedication to the primacy of the individual conscience led him in 1867 to meet with a number of radical Unitarians in his home to help establish the Free Religious Association. In the 1880s he lectured on Transcendentalism at Amos Bronson Alcott
's Concord School of Philosophy: "The Transcendent Faculties in Man" (1881), "The Nature of Knowledge: Emerson's Way" (1882), and "Emerson's Religion" (1883). He was a prolific writer who contributed articles to the Christian Examiner
, the Radical
, the Index
, the Unitarian Review
, and many other magazines. Among his books exploring Transcendentalism are Discourse on the Christian Spirit and Life
(1850), Church and Congregation: A Plea for Unity
(1858), The Word of the Spirit to the Church
(1859), Radical Problems
(1872), and The Rising Faith
As a generally conservative Transcendentalist, Bartol found himself disagreeing with the more extreme positions of Ralph Waldo Emerson
and Theodore Parker
at the same time as he felt a bond of kinship with them in their common search for a higher religion of Spirit. Between Bartol and Alcott there was mutual and enduring admiration, as both believed in a personal theism. Bartol lauded Alcott in his sermon "Amos Bronson Alcott: His Character" (1888), and Alcott celebrated Bartol as the "Poet of the Pulpit" in his "Sonnet XXI" in Sonnets and Canzonets
In the list of the Transcendentalists Cyrus Augustus Bartol must not be forgotten, a soaring mind enamored of thoughts on divine things, inextricably caught in the toils of speculation. Acute and brilliant, but wayward; with a quick eye for analogies, fanciful and eccentric, of clear intuitions, glimpses, perceptions astonishingly luminous; but without fixed allegiance to system, and therefore difficult to classify under any school. In the Unitarian controversy, which was a tryer of spirits, it was not always plain to observers in which camp he belonged; not that his fundamental principle was unsteady, but because his curious and critical mind was detained by considerations that others did not see; and his absolute sincerity gave expression to the moods of feeling as they passed over him. Some words in Parker's farewell letter to him seem to imply that at critical junctures they had been on opposite sides, but the difference could scarcely have touched fundamental truths. No man was further from the school of Locke, Paley or Bentham than C. A. Bartol. His Transcendentalism had a cast of its own; it was not made after any pattern; it took its color from an original genius illuminated by various reading of books, and by deep meditation in the privacy of the closet, and the companionship of nature of which he is a child-like worshipper. No wealth of human sympathy prevents his being a solitary. His song is lyrical; his prophecy drops like a voice from the clouds. In the agitations of his time he has had small share; organized and associated effort did not attract him. To many he represents the model Transcendentalist, for he seems a man who lives above the clouds,--not always above them, either.
His faith in the soul has never known eclipse. It waxes strong by its wrestling, and becomes jubilant in proportion as nature and life try to stare it out of countenance. Ballast is wings to him.
"Transcendentalism relies on those ideas in the mind which are laws in the life. Pantheism is said to sink man and nature in God; Materialism to sink God and man in nature, and Transcendentalism to sink God and nature in man. But the Transcendentalist at least is belied and put in jail by the definition which is so neat at the expense of truth. He made consciousness, not sense, the ground of truth; and in the present devotion to physical science, and turn of philosophy to build the universe on foundations of matter, we need to vindicate and reassert his promise. Is the soul reared on the primitive rock? or is no rock primitive, but the deposit of spirit--therefore in its lowest form alive, and ever rising into organism to reach the top of the eternal circle again, as in the well one bucket goes down empty and the other rises full? The mistake is to make the everlasting things subjects of argument instead of sight."
"Our soul is older than our organism. It precedes its clothing. It is the cause, not the consequence, of its material elements; else, as materialists understand, it does not exist."
"What is it that accepts misery from the Most High, defends the Providence that inflicts its woes, espouses its chastiser's cause, purges itself in the pit of its misery of all contempt of His commands, and makes its agonies the beams and rafters of the triumph it builds? It is an immortal principle. It is an indestructible essence. It is part and parcel of the Divinity it adores. It can no more die than he can. It needs no more insurance of life than its author does. Prove its title? It is proof itself of all things else. It is substantive, and everything adjective beside. It is the kingdom all things will be added to."
This was published in 1872, and proves that one Transcendentalist has kept his faith.