Lorenzo Snow and Oberlin College, part II

The second part of Lorenzo Snow’s letter (March 1836) to his sister Eliza Roxcy Snow shows a thoughtful disposition and some interesting assumptions about human behavior. It also suggests his respect for Eliza’s thinking. Snow gets dangerously close to Hume-ian criticisms of reality and self that may entail a God who carries responsibility for human-caused evil. His notion of emergent mind plays into an interesting kind of determinism.[1] This transitions to a psychology of motivation. Snow’s description of life at school suggests both his distaste for hypocrisy and an unwillingness to deal in graphic description of it. He seems to reveal what is behind his prior questions (in part I) regarding verification of claims of influence by the Holy Spirit.

What happened to Lorenzo that summer? Something interesting.

the child is told by its parents that there is a Supreme Being who requires it to perform certain duties; and unless it does these it will [2] be punished or tormented eternally; but if it does them it will be rewarded with the highest degree of happiness which no tongue can express or imagination can conceive. Hence, now according to the laws of Nature this child will be haunted with fearful thoughts so long as it conceives itself liable to this horrible punishment; it will desire the happiness and fear the punishment. But the moment it performs these supposed duties the fear of punishment, the idea of which being[3] joined to that of being entitled to an endless abode in realms of happiness will produce in its mind the most wonderful effects. These are ascribed to a supernatural cause or to the spirit of God acting in the mind Is it so? Or is it owing to the circumstances in which the mind was placed?

All minds are formed of like materials, governed by the same laws, and of course must be affected in a the [4] similar same manner when similarly circumstanced- I want you should give me your philosophical views as concerning the matter – It is supposed by many that religion here in Oberlin is enjoyed in a higher degree than in any other place in the United States, that it is here in its most perfect state; that God has manifested a great partiality in bestowing his spiritual favors upon Oberlin. Now if this be truth that the people of Oberlin enjoy the Divine Spirit. If in all, or even in any of their undertakings they are actuated by this Holy and uner[r]ing principle I desire to make no further inquiries concerning religion I do not believe in the whole world [there] is a viliage to be found in which has been performed more deeds of intrigue and rascality than in this; yet all are professors of religion; all say they enjoy the Holy spirit. But I must write no more of this. L.S.

[1] Lorenzo’s ideas here are easily linked to his later ( ca 1842) notions about divine family and the origin of the human spirit as a being organized by “birth” in a pre-mortal setting by “our Spiritual Father”. [Snow letterbook typescript of Feb. 14, 1842, CHL.] His ideas were probably influential with his sister. (Think: O My Father.)

[2] Snow seems to have recopied this line, but with the change of wording: “discharge” becomes “perform.” See part I of this post.

[3] The strike out is a dittograph, of the “being” that follows a few words later, resulting apparently from an eye slip copying (his copy of) the original letter.

[4] Italicized words are interlinear insertions in the original.

5 Responses to Lorenzo Snow and Oberlin College, part II

  1. Christopher says:

    As you know by now, I’m really interested in this and appreciate you providing transcriptions of this letter and a place to discuss it. I’ve tracked down some materials from Oberlin course catalogs, instructor writings, and manuscript papers of other students there in 1835-36, and am excited to see what sort of context all of that gives this letter.

  2. W. V. Smith says:

    Looking forward to see what you come up with.

  3. Pingback: Lorenzo Snow, His Pre-Mormon Thoughts at Oberlin « Boap.org's Blog

  4. Eric Nielson says:

    Pretty cool, WVS.

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