Friday, January 19, 2007

The Yale Edwards by Alan Heimert

The 1985/1986 Winter edition of Early American Literature contains a fascinating article by the late Alan Heimert of Harvard University. Heimert wrote when only seven volumes of the Yale edition were available. That is, seven volumes from 1957 to 1985. The rate of publication was lamentably slow and paralleled the disinterest of both Yale and Princeton in their (in)famous son and President respectively.

Heimert doesn't mince his words. He describes the situation as "a major scandal in American scholarship." Of course, the early volumes had great merit, they "unquestionably helped to inspire the efflorescence of Edwards scholarship in the 1960s and early 1970s, scholarship that has in turn informed the subsequent volumes ..." What is really striking is what was not available even in the late 1980s! No "Miscellanies", no collections of sermons, no "Blank Bible" and no notebooks on controversies. It is astonishing that these vital texts have only become widely available in the last decade.

Moreover, Heimert notes that "even biographical information on Edwards was comparatively scanty in 1957." Now we have the definitive volume by George Marsden (what a wonderful text for introducing Edwards and for guiding college students!) and numerous other biographical works.

Heimert's review of the first few volumes in the Yale Edition is worth reading to underline for a younger generation of scholars the vast strides that were taken in the 1990s. Much remains to be done and doubtless the next generation will offer up numerous revisions of previous studies of Edwards - both his ideas and his historical significance. But what a joy to work on Edwards in 2007 with 25 volumes of the Works in print and the online archive taking accessibility and searchability to a level hardly conceivable in 1986, let alone 1957!


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