Christopher Pearse Cranch
(March 8, 1813- Jan. 20 1890)
Poet, Artist, and Author of Children’s Books
After graduating from Columbian College (now known as George Washington University) in 1832, Cranch entered Harvard Divinity School, where he met Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), John Sullivan Dwight (1813-1893), and Theodore Parker (1810-1860). In 1836, another Harvard Divinity School alumnus, Frederic Henry Hedge (1805-1890), wrote to Emerson about the formation of a club, referred to as “Hedge’s Club” or “Transcendental Club,” to discuss moral and theological subjects. Club members included Emerson, Hedge, Cranch, Dwight, Parker, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) and William Ellery Channing (1810-1884).
Although Cranch is not as well known as his contemporaries, the young Unitarian minister’s poetry and prose was published in The Dial (1840-1844) and his famous rendering of Emerson as “The Transparent Eyeball” (c. 1840) refers to the following passage from Emerson's Nature (1836):
Standing on the bare ground, my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, all mean egotism vanishes. I am become a transparent eyeball — I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me I am part or particle of God,
Though known more for poetry than art, Cranch’s paintings are likened to the style of the Hudson River School, an art movement that shared some ideas with the Transcendentalists and focused on landscapes of America. Perhaps realizing the ways in which Transcendentalism opposed Unitarian principles, Cranch left the ministry by 1837 and turned to art and poetry. From 1837-1839, the poet edited The Western Messenger (1835-1841), one of thirteen Transcendentalist publications, with fellow Harvard alumnus and Transcendental Club member, James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888). In 1840, Cranch attended a meeting of multiple reformist groups, the “Friends of Christian Union,” which included Amos Bronson Alcott (1799-1888), George Ripley (1802-1880), and Theodore Parker (1810-1860). A few months later, Cranch submitted eight poems and three prose articles for The Dial, Vol. I.
In addition to publishing poetry, 1841 brought changes for Cranch when the poet met Elizabeth De Windt, a niece of John Quincy Adams, in August. The couple married October 10, 1843 and raised four children, one of whom wrote a biography based on personal memories and her father’s unpublished autobiography. As noted by Leonora Cranch Scott, most of her father’s writings went unpublished. Between 1841 and 1890, Cranch and his family moved between Italy, Paris, New York, and Massachusetts. Cranch traveled to Europe to learn landscape painting so he could support his wife and children after leaving the Unitarian ministry. The 1844 Poems is comprised of Cranch’s poetry collection that was previously published in The Western Messenger. Cranch also wrote and illustrated children’s books, including The Last of the Huggermuggers: A Giant Story (1856) and Kobboltozo: A Sequel to the Last of the Huggermuggers (1857). The manuscript for The Legend of Dr. Theophilus; or, The Enchanted Clothes (c. 1870) was undiscovered until the 1980s. According to the editors of the 1993 edition of Three Children’s Novels, which includes the aforementioned stories, the novel length books were written specifically for children and the first of their kind by an American author.
A prolific poet and author, Cranch contributed to several publications in addition to The Dial. Among the journals and magazines are Dwight’s Journal of Music (1852-1881), a literary and music criticism publication by John Sullivan Dwight; The Nation (1865- current), a publication that began as an Abolitionist journal that continues to publish about current topics; The Atlantic Monthly (1857-current); and The Harbinger (1845-1847), a journal published by the utopian Brook Farm community.
Christopher Pearse Cranch died in Cambridge, MA, on January 20, 1890 and interred in the city’s Mount Auburn Cemetery.
The Life and Letters if Christopher Pearse Cranch, edited by his daughter Leonora Cranch Scott (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1917): Chapter IV. Transcendentalism — Emerson Correspondence
A Partial List of Published Works
The Atlantic Monthly:
Dwight’s Journal of Music (1852-1881):
The Western Messenger:
Other published works: