Timothy Dwight

by Zack Vaughn

Music: Away Here in Texas
This article is reprinted from the May-June 1997 issue of Away Here in Texas.

I was looking through an old book entitled, Selections from Early American Writers, 1607-1800, edited by William B. Cairns, and published by the MacMillan Company in 1910, when I accidentally came across the poem "Columbia," by Timothy Dwight. It consists of six eight-line stanzas with 11 syllables per line. The last stanza of the poem is used in "Murillo's Lesson," page 358 in The Sacred Harp. According to Cairns, the following version is from the "Columbian Muse" (New York, 1794):

Columbia, Columbia, to glory rise,
The queen of the world, and the child of the skies!
Thy genius commands thee; with rapture behold,
While ages on ages thy splendours unfold.
Thy reign is the last, and the noblest of time,
Most fruitful they soil, most inviting thy clime.
Let the crimes of the east ne'er encrimson thy name,
Be freedom, and science, and virtue, thy fame.

To conquest, and slaughter, let Europe aspire,
Whelm nations in blood, and wrap cities in fire.
Thy heroes the rights of mankind shall defend,
And triumph pursue them, and glory attend.
A world is thy realm: for a world be thy laws,
Enlarg'd as thine empire, and just as thy cause;
On Freedom's broad basis, that empire shall rise,
Extend with the main, and dissolve with the skies.

Fair Science her gates to thy sons shall unbar,
And the east see thy morn hide the beams of her star.
New bards, and new sages, unrival'd shall soar
To fame, unextinguish'd, when time is no more;
To thee, the last refuge of virtue design'd,
Shall fly from all nations the best of mankind;
Here, grateful to heaven, with transport shall bring
Their incense, more fragrant than odours of spring.

Nor less shall thy fair ones to glory ascend,
And Genius and Beauty in harmony blend;
The graces of form shall awake pure desire;
And the charms of the soul ever cherish the fire;
Their sweetness unmingled, their manners refin'd,
And Virtue's bright image, instamp'd on the mind,
With peace, and soft rapture, shall teach life to glow,
And light up a smile in the aspect of woe.

Thy fleets to all nations thy pow'r shall display,
The nations admire, and the ocean obey;
Each shore to thy glory its tribute unfold,
And the east and the south yield their spices and gold.
As the day-spring unbounded, thy splendour shall flow,
And earth's little kingdoms before thee shall bow;
While the ensigns of union, in triumph unfurl'd,
Hush the tumult of war, and give peace to the world.

Thus, as down a lone valley, with cedars o'erspread,
From war's dread confusion I pensively stray'd-
The gloom from the face of fair heav'n retir'd;
The winds ceas'd to murmur; the thunders expir'd;
Perfumes, as of Eden, flow'd sweetly along,
And a voice, as of angels, enchantingly sung:
"Columbia, Columbia, to glory rise,
The queen of the world, and the child of the skies."
Timothy Dwight
Timothy Dwight

Timothy Dwight was one of the more famous "Hartford Wits," a group of Connecticut men who were associated I literary work during and after the Revolution. They held strong Federalist leanings and satirized the political scene. Dwight was born May 14, 1752 in the town of Northampton, Massachusetts. During his early years, he was educated by his mother, a daughter of the famous preacher, Jonathan Edwards. He was said to have learned the alphabet in one lesson, and was reading the Bible by age four. At age thirteen he entered Yale College, from which he graduated in 1769. He was a tutor at Yale from 1771-1777. For one year he was chaplain in the Continental Army, after which he tried farming and teaching, and served a single term in the Massachusetts State Legislature. In 1783, he was ordained and became pastor of the Congregational Church at Greenfield Hill in Fairfield, Connecticut. From 1795 to 1817, the year of his death, Dwight was president at Yale College, in addition to teaching ethics, literature, logic, metaphysics, oratory, and theology. He also served as the college chaplain. While president at Yale, he modernized the curriculum, fought religious apathy, and led in the "Little Great Awakening."

Many writings of Timothy Dwight were published-many of them bring on religious and theological subjects. "Columbia," a song written while he was chaplain in the army, circa 1778, and which suggests his idea that America would be the seat of God's kingdom and Americans its saints, was popular for a long time. "The Conquest of Canaan," a poem first published in 1785, was said to have been written in 1774, but some references to Revolutionary battles must have been inserted after these events took place, and it is likely that the poem was revised before it was published. Some critics believe it is the first American epic poem. "Greenfield Hill," a poem in seven parts, appeared in 1794. It was intended that each part should be in the manner of some popular English poet. This plan was abandoned, but the imitation is still obvious. In 1797, Dwight published a bitter verse satire called "The Triumph of Infidelity," which was probably drawn from his resistance to post-Revolutionary deism and infidelity.

In 1801, he made a revision of Isaac Watts' Psalms, popularly called Dwight's Watts. In it appears 33 hymns of his own. One of these is Psalm 137, which is used in The Sacred Harp, 1992 Cooper Revision-"I Love Thy Kingdom," page 448. In Hymns of Our Faith, William Reynolds suggests that this is "the earliest American hymn with remains in common usage."

As a writer of verse, "Dwight had command of a small but intense poetic vocabulary" and produced many lines in imitation of the 18th century English poets. According to Cairns, "he was deficient in a sense of humor, and in real poetic insight, and little of his work can truly be called poetry."

Dwight died January 11, 1817 in New Haven, Connecticut. One of Yale's residential colleges, Timothy Dwight College, built in 1935, is named after him.

I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our bled Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.

I love Thy church, O God!
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall,
For her my pray'rs ascend;
To her my cares and toils be giv'n,
Till toils and cares shall end.

Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heavenly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.

Jesus, Thou Friend divine,
Our Saviour and our King,
Thy hand from ev'ry snare and foe,
Shall great deliverance bring.

Sure as Thy truth shall last,
To Zion shall be given
The brightest glories earth can yield,
And brighter bliss of heaven.

Last Revised 4/3/2021