Timothy Dwight IV.

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Timothy Dwight IV.
Painting by John Trumbull , 1817, Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven).

Timothy Dwight IV (born May 14, 1752 in Northampton , Province of Massachusetts Bay ; died January 11, 1817 in New Haven , Connecticut ) was an American clergyman, scholar, politician, and poet. From 1795 until his death he was President of Yale College, now Yale University .


His maternal grandfather was Jonathan Edwards , the leading head of the Great Awakening revival movement around 1740, and Timothy Dwight was also influenced by his upbringing in a puritanical way. He studied at Yale College from 1765 to 1769 and attracted attention early on because of his good performance. After graduating, he initially took a position as a school principal in New Haven. In 1771 his alma mater appointed him a tutoring position, and in 1772 he received his master's degree there . In the following time he first studied law and contemplated becoming a lawyer. In 1777, however, he was ordained a priest - in 1775 the war of independence had broken out and the revolutionary troops lacked chaplains, among other things . Dwight served in the Continental Army in 1777/78 ; during this time he also wrote some patriotic songs.

In 1782 he was a member of the state parliament of Massachusetts , but he declined to serve in Congress . Instead, in 1783 he became pastor of the Greenfield Hill Ward near Fairfield, Connecticut . He also founded a school there, which soon gained widespread recognition and attracted students from all over New England. In particular, Dwight made a contribution to the education of girls by providing the schoolgirls with an education that corresponded to the level of the male classes. From an ecclesiastical point of view, his greatest merit is the unification of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches of New England, which he promoted. In 1797 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences .

After the death of the President of Yale College, Ezra Stiles (1727–1795), Dwight was appointed in 1795 as his successor. He was to hold this office until his death in 1817, and in this function he implemented numerous reforms that contributed to the modernization of teaching. For all his will to progress, Dwight was a decidedly conservative man. Among other things, he spoke out against vaccinations against chickenpox , as these contradict God's will:

"If God has decreed that a person should die of chickenpox, it would be a terrible sin to vaccinate against that decision."

Dwight also believed that a man who had a preference for the theater risked “the loss of that most precious of all goods, the immortal soul”.

His eighth son, Henry Edwin Dwight, was a New Haven educator and writer. Timothy Dwight V , later Yale President, was a grandson of Timothy Dwight IV.

The poetic work

As early as 1771 he had started with an epic poem entitled The Conquest of Canaan ("The Conquest of Canaan "). From the beginning, this work was shaped by American exceptionalism , that is, by the idea of ​​America as the new promised land . Under the influence of the American Revolution, it became increasingly a song of heroes for the American independence movement. The final version did not appear until 1785 and was dedicated to George Washington . It comprises around 10,000 verses and is consistently written in heroic couplets , i.e. iambic five-headers rhyming in pairs . Dwight oriented himself in particular on the neoclassical poetry of Pope , which had long since gone out of fashion in England , on classical models such as Homer and Virgil and, above all, on the Bible. Even contemporary critics found The Conquest of Canaan all too pathetic, but Dwight still earned a literary reputation.

Impressed by the rural idyll in Fairfield, he wrote the long poem Greenfield Hill , which, with bucolic echoes, is in the tradition of Oliver Goldsmith , but ultimately became a very melodramatic and moralizing mix of different subjects and genres.

Dwight was also one of the leading figures in the Connecticut Wits , a group of intellectuals and poets who helped shape American intellectual life at the time. Dwight was probably one of the co-authors of the satirical collaborative work The Anarchiad (1786/87), in which the political turmoil of the post-war period was caricatured.


  • America, a Poem (1772)
  • The Conquest of Canaan (1785)
  • The Triumph of Infidelity (1788)
  • The Genuineness and Authenticity of the New Testament (1793)
  • Greenfield Hill: A Poem in Seven Parts (1794)
  • Triumph of Infidelity, a Satire (1797)
  • The Nature and Danger, of Infidel Philosophy (1798)
  • Discourse on the Character of Washington (1800)
  • Observations on Language (1816)
  • Essay on Light (1816)
  • Theology Explained and Defended in a Course of 173 Sermons (posthumously 1818/19; 5 volumes)
  • Travels in New England and New York (posthumous, 1821/22; 4 volumes)

Secondary literature

  • Stephen Berk: Calvinism Versus Democracy: Timothy Dwight and the Origins of American Evangelical Orthodoxy. Archon Books, Hamden CN, 1974.
  • Charles Cuningham: Timothy Dwight, 1752-1817: A Biography. Macmillan, New York 1942.
  • John R. Fitzmier: New England's Moral Legislator: Timothy Dwight, 1752-1817 . Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1998.
  • Kenneth Silverman : Timothy Dwight. Twayne, New York 1969. [Twayne's United States Authors Series]
  • Colin Wells: The Devil and Doctor Dwight: Satire and Theology in the Early American Republic. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2002. ISBN 0-8078-2715-0
  • Annabelle S. Wenzke: Timothy Dwight. Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston NY 1989.

Web links