Orestes Brownson and New England Religious Culture, 1803-1827

Gilmore, William James, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Peterson, Merrill D., Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Kett, Joseph, Department of History, University of Virginia

This is a cultural biography of the formative years of Orestes A. Brownson (l803-1876), a study in the growth of his personality in conjunction with his culture. In its major cultural concerns, it is a three-pronged investigation: into religious belief and practice , into communications processes and the dissemination of information; and into the difficulties entailed in growing up in early nineteenth century New England society. As much as it is intimately related to New England cultural forces, 1803-1827, this is simultaneously the story of Brownson the man, the development of his particular personality. Here, the emphasis is on the man's tortured rise to maturity, a course which points up the fallacy of viewing his life through his late twenties as one marked by steady progress in search of truth.

The major problem young Brownson faced in his first twenty-five years was a stunting psychological dualism, and in a logical sense this is the implicit matter of the entire thesis. Religion is the best angle from which to approach this problem hence a great deal of space is devoted to the tangled roots of early nineteenth century religious culture in Greater New England.

Another matter receiving some attention is the process of cultural transfer from one generation to the next. What young Brownson learned from his mother, aunt, and foster parents stayed with him well into middle age. The whole matter of intellectual and general cultural traditions assimilated early, and remaining to determine in part one's direction and purpose in life has been too little appreciated. The concluding chapter addresses itself specifically to this problem from the point of view of Brownson's intellectual germination. It studies the formation of his intellect up to the point at which he readied himself to write for publication. Too frequently Brownson scholars have conceived of his mind as gravitating toward something, usually toward Rome. Possibly more consideration ought to be given to that which he was moving out from, the matrix of his mind during his first two decades.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
19th century New England, religious culture, Orestes A. Brownson
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