Samuel Johnson, 1822 - 1882

Samuel Johnson was a second-generation Transcendentalist, graduate of the Harvard Divinity School, and nondenominational minister.  In fact, he was opposed to organized religion and remained unordained throughout his life.  With his friend Samuel Longfellow he compiled two hymn books, A Book of Hymns for Public and Private Devotion (1846) and Hymns of the Spirit (1864).  Johnson was fascinated with the Orient, and his greatest contribution to Transcendental thought is his comparison and synthesis of the major Oriental religions with Christianity.  His three-volume series, Oriental Religions and Their Relation to Universal Religion: India (1872), China (1877), and Persia (1885), though dated and unreliable, remains significant as the most comprehensive work of the time to address the union of Eastern and Western spirituality that enchanted so many of the Transcendentalists.
Johnson has been written about as follows by Octavius Brooks Frothingham, the first historian of American Transcendentalism.
A more remarkable instance of this tendency is Samuel Johnson's volume on the religions of India.  None save a Transcendentalist could have succeeded in extracting so much deep spiritual meaning from the symbols and practices of those ancient faiths.  The intuitive idea takes its position at the centre, and at once all blazes with glory.
"Man is divinely prescient of his infinity of mind as soon as he begins to meditate and respire."
"That a profound theistic instinct, the intuition of a divine and living whole, is involved in the primitive mental processes we are here studying, I hold to be beyond all question."
"From the first stages of its growth onwards, the spirit weaves its own environment; nature is forever the reflex of its life, and what but an unquenchable aspiration to truth could have made it choose Light as its first and dearest symbol, reaching out a child's hand to touch and clasp it, with the joyous cry, ''Tis mine, mine to create, mine to adore!'"
"Man could not forget that pregnant dawn of revelation, the discovery of his own power to rekindle the life of the universe."
"Man is here dimly aware of the truth that he makes and remakes his own conception of the divine; that the revealing of duty must come in the natural activity of his human powers."
"As far back as we can trace the life of man, we find the river of prayer and praise flowing as naturally as it is flowing now; we cannot find its beginning, because we cannot find the beginning of the soul."
These passages give the key to Mr. Johnson's explanation of the oriental religions, and to his little monograph on "The Worship of Jesus," and to the printed lectures, addresses, essays, sermons, in which subjects of religion, philosophy, political and social reform have been profoundly treated.
Mr. Johnson came forward when the excitement of transcendentalism was passing by; the "Dial" no longer marked the intellectual hours; the Unitarian controversy had spent its violence.  It was in part owing to this, but more to the spiritual character of his genius, that his Transcendentalism was free from polemic and dogmatic elements; but it was none the less positive and definite for that--if anything, it was more so.  In the divinity school he was an ardent disciple of the intuitive philosophy.  On leaving Cambridge he became an independent minister of the most pronounced views, but of most reverent spirit; a "fideist" or faith man, he loved to call himself; his aim and effort was to awaken the spiritual nature, to interpret the spiritual philosophy, and to apply the spiritual laws to all personal, domestic and social concerns.  Like all the Transcendentalists, he was a reformer, and an enthusiastic one; interested in liberty and progress, but primarily in intellectual emancipation and the increase of rational ideas.  The alteration of the lot was incidental to the regeneration of the person.  So absolute is his faith in the soul that he renders poetic justice to its manifestations, seeing indications of its presence where others see none, and glorifying where others are inclined to pity.  The ideal side is never turned away from him.  He discerned the angel in the native African, the saint in the slave, the devotee in the idolater.  During the civil war, his faith in the triumph of justice and the establishment of a pure republic, converted every defeat into a victory; as in the vision of Ezekiel, the Son of Man was ever visible riding on the monstrous beasts.  If at any time his sympathy has seemed withdrawn from any class of social reformers, it has been because the phase of reform they presented held forth no promise of intellectual or moral benefit.
Mr. Johnson illustrates the individualism of the Transcendentalist.  While Mr. Channing trusted in social combinations, and Mr. Clarke put his faith in organized religion, he had a clear eye to the integrity of the separate soul.  He attended no conventions, joined no societies, worked with no associations, had confidence in no parties, sects, schemes, or combinations, but nursed his solitary thought, delivered his personal message, bore his private witness, and there rested.
Were Mr. Johnson more known, were his thoughts less interior, his genius less retiring, his method less private, his form of statement less close and severe, he would be one of the acknowledged and conspicuous leaders of the ideal philosophy in the United States, as he is one of the most discerning, penetrating, sinewy, and heroic minds of his generation.