The themes Jones Very wrote about


Jones Very was an American essayist, poet, clergymen, and mystic associated with the American Transcendentalism movement. He was known as a scholar of William Shakespeare and many of his poems were Shakespearean sonnets. He was well-known and respected amongst the Transcendentalists, though he had a mental breakdown early in his career.

Born in Salem, Massachusetts to two unwed first cousins, Jones Very became associated with Harvard University, first as an undergraduate, then as a student in the Harvard Divinity School and as a tutor of Greek. He heavily studied epic poetry and was invited to lecture on the topic in his home town, which drew the attention of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Soon after, Very asserted that he was the Second Coming of Christ, which resulted in his dismissal from Harvard and his eventual institutionalization in an insane asylum. When he was released, Emerson helped him issue a collection called Essays and Poems in 1839. Very lived the majority of his life as a recluse from then on, issuing poetry only sparingly. He died in 1880.


Very was born on August 28, 1813, in Salem, Massachusetts and spent much of his childhood at sea. He was the oldest of six children, born out of wedlock to two first cousins. His mother, Lydia Very, was known for being an aggressive freethinker who made her atheistic beliefs known to all. She believed that marriage was only a moral arrangement and not a legal one. His father, also named Jones Very, was a captain during the War of 1812 and was held in Nova Scotia for a time by the British as a prisoner of war. When the younger Jones Very was ten, his father, by then a shipmaster, took him on a sailing voyage to Russia. A year later, his father had Very serve as a cabin boy on a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana. His father died on the return trip, apparently due to a lung disease he contracted while in Nova Scotia.

As a boy, Very was studious, well-behaved, and solitary. By 1827, he left school when his mother told him he must take the place of his father and care for the family. After working at an auction house, Very became a paid assistant to the principal of a private school in Salem as a teenager. The principal, Henry Kemble Oliver, exposed his young assistant to philosophers and writers, including James Mackintosh, to influence his religious beliefs and counteract his mother's atheism. He composed a poem for the dedication of a new Unitarian church in Salem: "O God; On this, our temple, rest thy smile, Till bent with days its tower shall nod".

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