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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Sylvester Judd (1813–1853)

SYLVESTER JUDD was a figure in his place and time, as clergyman, lecturer, and author. And he is still a figure in American literature; for he wrote a novel—‘Margaret’—which must be recognized in the evolution of the native fiction, and is, judged by critical standards, a work of remarkable literary and spiritual power.

Judd was born at Westhampton, Massachusetts, July 23d, 1813. His father was a noted antiquarian. The son got his Yale degree in 1836, and then declined a professorship in Miami College to enter the Harvard Divinity School. In 1840 he became pastor of the Unitarian Church at Augusta, Maine, continuing in the one parish until his death, January 20th, 1853. While yet a theological student he published ‘A Young Man’s Account of his Conversion from Calvinism,’ interesting as showing his serious nature and subjective tendency. At thirty he was working on ‘Margaret,’ which was printed in 1845; a revised edition in 1851; and a fine edition, with illustrations by Darley, in 1856.

In his ministerial work Judd developed the idea that all his congregation were born into full church privileges, and many other Maine parishes accepted his teaching. He was much in demand as a lecturer on temperance and other social topics. The same spirit of earnest didacticism runs through his noted novel. It is a loosely constructed story of old New England life, with fine descriptions of nature. The tale is made the vehicle of the conveyance of Judd’s views on liberal Christianity, temperance, and universal peace. Thus it is a pioneer example of “purpose” fiction in American literature. The full title of the story, ‘Margaret: A Tale of the Real and Ideal, Blight and Bloom; including sketches of a place not before described, called Mons Christi,’ conveys a sense of this in language that now sounds stilted and sentimental.

But were ‘Margaret’ nothing more than an ill-disguised sermon, it would not be the remarkable book it indubitably is. Judd was first of all a literary man when he made it. It was written, as he says in the preface to the edition of 1851, “out of his heart and hope.” And again: “This book was written for the love of the thing.” It depicts with vigor and picturesqueness the crude, hearty New England country life of the period transitional between the Revolution and the settled Republic. Judd’s genius puts before the reader the essential homely details of that life, described realistically and with great sympathy; the realism being relieved by descriptive passages of delicate beauty, or mystical imaginings in a high vein of poetry. And in the midst of the other admirable character sketches is the striking central conception of Margaret herself, child of nature and of dreams, a wood-flower growing up wild, to turn out a noble woman who rebukes even as she transcends the harshness, narrowness, and illiteracy that surround her. She is a lovely creation, which only a writer of rare gifts could have evolved. The book is unequal in parts; but the earlier portion of the novel, dealing with the heroine’s childhood, is still an unsurpassed picture in its way.

Judd’s other works include ‘Philo: An Evangeliad’ (1850), a didactic poem defending the Unitarian position; ‘Richard Edney and the Governor’s Family’ (1850), another novel not dissimilar from ‘Margaret’ in purpose, but without its charm; and a posthumous work, ‘The Church: In a Series of Discourses’ (1854). He left in manuscript a tragedy called ‘White Hills,’ showing the evils of avarice. Arethusa Hall in 1854 published ‘The Life and Character of Sylvester Judd.’