Charles Timothy Brooks (1813-1883)

In the last number of “The Dial” were printed two translations from the poems of Ferdinand Freiligrath, one entitled “The Emigrants,” and the other “The Moorish Prince.” These were made by Charles Timothy Brooks, then the minister of the Unitarian church in Newport. Brooks was born in Salem, June 20,1813, graduated from Harvard in 1832, and from the Divinity School in 1835. He was ordained and settled at Newport in 1837, and there he continued until the end of his life. He was by nature a transcendentalist, and many of his friends belonged to that school. Of his most intimate friends were Parker, Dwight, Cranch. Samuel Osgood, and others of that way of thinking. He also came into close relations with Dr. Channing, James Walker, Hedge, Francis, and Ripley. He was in no sense an iconoclast, but a quiet student, reserved, retiring, with a love for the mystical and the ideally beautiful.

“The new views greatly influenced Charles Brooks,” says his biographer, “and shaped, more than he was himself aware, his theological and ethical opinions. He was indeed a natural transcendentalist, and could hardly, with his mental constitution and antecedents, have been anything else. This influence is distinctly traceable throughout his later career. It transfused his prayers and discourses. decided his selection of such authors as Goethe, Jean Paul, and Schefer for translation, inspired his own verse with spontaneity and fervor, and imparted to him that broad spiritual and forward-looking attitude which characterized him as a man of literature and a teacher of religion. His sympathy with the new school of thought was never obtrusive; perhaps it was never thorough and complete. His inborn humility and reverence for past traditions and forms, a certain lack of incisiveness in his mental make-up, and his dislike of all partisanship prevented any such enthusiastic avowal as to some minds. differently constituted, was easy and inevitable.”

It was a very quiet and uneventful life passed by Brooks in Newport. that had in it almost no outward events of interest. He won and held the love of his congregation, preached a truly spiritual religion, made many friends amongst the literary men and women who visited that city in the successive summers, and nobly exemplified the religion he taught. In 1853 Brooks spent a number of months in India, partly in search of health. A year was devoted to Europe, in 1865-66, and he came to know many men and women in the literary and other circles of the various countries he visited, especially England, Germany, and Italy. In 1873 he resigned the charge of the pulpit he had occupied for many years; and he died in Newport, June 10, 1883.

Brooks was a devoted student of German literature, and he attained to a masterly command over the language. He translated many of the German poets, his success in that field of effort being remarkable in its range and fidelity. His translation of Schiller’s “William Tell” was published in Providence, in 1837. Then followed, in 1838, a volume of “German Lyrics,” in George Ripley’s “Specimens of Foreign Literature.” A volume of songs and ballads, with the title of “German Lyric Poetry,” was published in Philadelphia, in 1842. His other German translations were Schiller’s “Homage of the Arts” and other poems, 1846; Goethe’s “Faust,” 1856; Richter’s “Titan,” 1862; Kortum’s satirical poem, “The Jobsiad,” 1863; Richter’s “Hesperus,” 1864; Schefer’s “Layman’s Breviary,” 1867; Busch’s “Max and Maurice,” 1871 and, “The Tall Student,” 1873; Schefer’s “World Priest,” 1873; Auerbach’s “Aloys,” “Poet and Merchant,” “The Convicts,” “Lorley and Reinhard,” all in 1877; Ruckert’s “The Wisdom of the Brahmin,” first six books, 1882; Busch’s “Plish and Plum,” 1883; and Richter’s “Invisible Lodge,” 1883. Brooks also published several volumes of original poems, one or two volumes of sermons, and two or three works devoted to local history. In 1885 appeared a memoir from the hand of Charles W. Wendté, with a collection of his poems.

Charles T. Brooks exemplified the best qualities of the transcendental movement. He was not a man of original thought; but his idealism gave a charm to his life and to his work, making him tolerant, generous, and high-minded. He was a radical in his sympathies, but deeply spiritual in his religious convictions.

—George Willis Cooke, A Historical
and Biographical Introduction to the Dial
(Cleveland: Rowfant Club, 1902) v. 2, pp. 184-186