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The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Johnson, Samuel (preacher)

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JOHNSON, Samuel, American preacher and author: b. Salem, Mass., 10 Oct. 1822; d. North Andover, 19 Feb. 1882. He was graduated from Harvard in 1842, and from the Harvard Divinity School in 1846. He joined no religious denomination, and save for one year with a Unitarian church in Dorchester was not settled as a minister until 1853, when he established in Lynn, Mass., an independent society, with which he remained till 1870, then withdrew to complete studies of many years, the results of which appeared later in his publications. With Samuel Longfellow (q.v.) he compiled a ‘Book of Hymns’ (1846) and ‘Hymns of the Spirit’ (1864). Some of his own inspiring hymns in these books are now found in the collections of various denominations. His critical study ‘The Worship of Jesus’ (1868), written in accordance with his views of universal religion, is described by O. B. Frothingham as ‘perhaps the most penetrating and uplifting essay on that subject in any language.’ He printed notable essays on religion, reform, etc., in The Radical and other periodicals. His great work ‘Oriental Religions,’ including ‘India’ (1872), ‘China’ (1877) and ‘Persia’ (1885) — the last containing an introduction and a critical estimate of Johnson by O. B. Frothingham — represents what Johnson himself calls his “purely humanistic point of view.” His philosophy was highly transcendental; but being versed in many languages, he was acquainted with all schools, and with the results of history, literature, science and criticism in every department. ‘Oriental Religions,’ in the task of writing which scholars have compared his competence, patience and thoroughness with the same qualities in Darwin, has taken its place among the most learned and liberal contributions to the study of comparative religion and civilisation. Prof. E. J. Eitel, the German Orientalist, wrote of “Johnson's pre-eminent merits as the historian of universal religion,” and F. Max Müller paid him tribute as the finder of “a religion behind all religions.” His ‘Theodore Parker’ (1890) is a profoundly spiritual interpretation of that preacher and reformer, whose work on the intellectual side was surpassed by Johnson's, while on the moral side, as in the anti-slavery conflict, they stood as equal comrades. A little volume of Johnson's hymns, with other poems, was published in 1899. Consult Longfellow, ‘Lectures, Essays and Sermons by Samuel Johnson, with a Memoir’ (Boston 1883). This volume contains some of Johnson's best papers, including brilliant lectures on ‘Switzerland’ and ‘Florence,’ the outgrowth of searching observations in Europe, ‘Equal Opportunity for Woman,’ ‘Labor Parties and Labor Reform,’ and an illuminative essay on ‘Transcendentalism.’