Religious Contrasts In New England

By 1800, New England's Congregationalist churches had roughly split into: an orthodox, still strictly Calvinist, wing; and a liberal wing, especially strong around Boston. The liberals had been strongly influenced by enlightenment ideas, and would soon give rise to the Unitarian Association. Two major events that mark this separation are: the ascendency, in 1805, of Henry Ware (senior), a liberal to the Professorship of Divinity at Harvard, after which Harvard was seen as a unitarian stronghold, and the founding, in 1825, of the Unitarian Association, which made an institution out of the movement.

The first piece, "Lord I am Vile", is from Watts Select, p133. Watts was a famous old hymnal reflecting the Calvinist viewpoint that man is innately depraved, that no one "deserves" salvation, but that God has pre-selected some people to save.

The second piece, called "Morning Hymn", is found in on p159, vol 3, of Specimens of American Poetry ... [ed.] by Samuel Kettell, originally published in Boston in 1828, and reissued in 1967 by Benjamin Blom, New York.

The writer, Levi Frisbie (1784-1822), was part of what was, in the early 1800s, the Unitarian establishment of Boston and Harvard University, in particular, and was Professor of Moral Philosophy when Ralph Waldo Emerson was at Harvard. Never a minister, he had studied for the law, but abandoned this because of his blinding eye disorder, becoming Latin Tutor, then Latin Professor at Harvard before attaining the Professorship of Moral Philosophy, which he had from 1817-22.

"Morning Hymn" may never have been sung as a hymn by any congregation, but is probably representative of how those liberal Congregationalists, who would soon join the Unitarian Association (see Edgell, Channing), thought.


While nature welcomes in the day, /My heart its earliest vows would pay /To him whose care hath kindly kept /My life from danger while I slept.

His genial rays the sun renews; /How bright the scene with glittering dews! /The blushing flowers more beauteous bloom, /And breathe more rich their sweet perfume.

So may the Sun* of righteousness /With kindliest beams my bosom bless, /Warm into life each heavenly seed, /To bud and bear some generous deed.

So may the dews of grace distil /And gently soften all my will, /So may my morning sacrifice /To heaven a grateful incense rise.

Wilt Thou this day my footsteps guide, /And kindly all I need provide, /With strength divine my bosom arm /Against temptation's powerful charm.

Where'er I am, oh may I feel /That God is all around me still, /That all I say, or do, or mean; /By his all-searching eye is seen.

Oh may each day my heart improve, /Increase my faith, my hope, my love, /And thus its shades around me close /More wise and holy than I rose.


[1] What, if any, hymnals might a Unitarian, or Liberal Congregationalist church have used in the 1820s?

[2] How were the church services structured in either Orthodox Congregationalist (or Presbyterian for that matter) or liberal Congregationalist, and later Unitarian, churches? To what extent were hymns used? What accompanying music, if any, was used?

[3] Can anyone provide information of who used Watts Hymnal? its publication history?

[4] Why did the ultra-liberal form of Christianitty, Unitarianism, and later Transcendentalism grow out of the originally Calvinistic Congregationalist churches?

From the title page of Watts Select:


Psalms, Hymns,


Spiritual Songs,

of the Rev. Isaac Watts, D.D.

to which are added

Select Hymns

from other authors;

and Directions for Musical Expression

by Samuel Worcester D.D.

Late Pastor of the Tabernacle Church, Salem, Mass.

New Edition

The selection enlarged, and the indexes greatly improved,


Samuel M. Worcester, A.M.

Professor of Rhetoric in Amherst College, Mass.

Boston, published by Crocker and Brewster, 1856

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