Selected Criticism

Taylor, Father (Edward Thompson) (1793–1871)
Jellicorse, John Lee
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Born in Richmond, Virginia, on 25 December 1793, Edward Thompson Taylor was orphaned as an infant and went to sea as a cabin boy at the age of seven. Upon conversion to Methodism in 1811, he aspired to preach. He began as lay chaplain to fellow prisoners while held by the British during the War of 1812, was licensed in 1814, and ordained in 1819. He traveled extensively as a missionary, including duty in 1827 as chaplain aboard the Macedonian, but after 1830 he primarily served the Methodist Seamen's Bethel in Boston. There, in a chapel noted for its resemblance to a timbered ship, he paced his quarterdeck pulpit, exhorting in a sincere, joyous, spontaneous, colorful, idiomatic manner that enthralled all who heard him. For literati no trip to Boston was complete without taking in the hallelujah drama of Father Taylor and his congregation of rough-and-ready sea dogs grappling to rescue impenitent sinners from storm-tossed brine and rock-bound coasts. Ralph Waldo Emerson exalted Taylor as the near perfect master of oratory. William Ellery Channing, Charles Dickens, Jenny Lind, Harriet Martineau, and countless others chorused similar paeans, while Herman Melville immortalized Father Taylor by transforming him into Father Mapple of Moby-Dick. During his visit to Boston in 1860, Walt Whitman, too, pilgrimaged to experience Taylor's struggle for sailors' souls. Father Taylor died on 6 April 1871, but Whitman's memory of him remained vivid. In 1884, a brief "reminiscence" of Father Taylor fetched Whitman fifty dollars from Century magazine. Echoing Emerson, Whitman characterized Taylor as the "one essentially perfect" practitioner of oratory, "the rarest and most profound of humanity's arts" (Whitman 549). The article was published in Century in 1887 and was included, with minor editorial changes, as "Father Taylor (and Oratory.)" in November Boughs (1888).


Oliver, Egbert S. "Emerson's Almost Perfect Orator: Edward Taylor." Today's Speech 8 (1960): 20–22.

"Taylor, Edward Thompson." The Columbia Encyclopedia. 5th ed. New York: Columbia UP, 1993. 2700.

"Taylor, Edward Thompson." The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. Vol. 8. New York: J.T. White, 1906. 464.

Whitman, Walt. Prose Works 1892. Ed. Floyd Stovall. Vol. 2. New York: New York UP, 1964.


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