Synopses & Reviews
In early Pennsylvania, translation served as a utopian tool creating harmony across linguistic, religious, and ethnic differences. Patrick Erben challenges the long-standing historical myth—first promulgated by Benjamin Franklin—that language diversity posed a threat to communal coherence. He deftly traces the pansophist and Neoplatonist philosophies of European reformers that informed the radical English and German Protestants who founded the "holy experiment." Their belief in hidden yet persistent links between human language and the word of God impelled their vision of a common spiritual idiom. Translation became the search for underlying correspondences between diverse human expressions of the divine and served as a model for reconciliation and inclusiveness. By revealing a mystical quest for unity, Erben presents a compelling counternarrative to monolingualism and Enlightenment empiricism in eighteenth-century America.
"With remarkable skill and formidable learning, Erben integrates the histories of radical religious sectarians, both English and German, in early Pennsylvania. His elegant readings cross a wide range of sources, from mystical texts to musical scores, to restore our understanding of the utopian culture shared by the linguistically diverse believers drawn to William Penn's 'Holy Experiment.'"--Mark Peterson, University of California, Berkeley
"Erben brilliantly demonstrates how religion, language, and affect come together in the interrelationships among nations, faiths, and individuals. . . . [This book] redefine[s] the parameters of discussion for colonial English and Germany literary culture in early Pennsylvania."
-Journal of American Studies
"Erben's work uses previously unexploited sources to give a fresh perspective on the founding and early history of Pennsylvania. . . . This is a magnificent book that deserves to be widely read and emulated."
-American Historical Review
"[A] wonderfully imaginative work on language and translation. . . . A Harmony of the Spirits
is thoroughly worth reading for those interested in the religious and ideological underpinnings of American colonization."
-Journal of American History
"Erben makes compelling arguments. . . . [He] successfully broadens our view of early Pennsylvanians and their efforts to create a harmony of the spirits."
-Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
About the Author
Patrick M. Erben is associate professor of English at the University of West Georgia.