The Ramist Logic of Edward Taylor's Upon a Spider Catching a Fly

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The Ramist Logic of Edward Taylor's Upon a Spider Catching a Fly

Like other Puritanical writers of his generation, Edward Taylor looked to nature and utilized it as an example of a belief system that he had already deemed factual. The use Ramist logic here may seem irrational to many. The very essence of logic commands that we must first look toward nature and then draw conclusions from it. In his work, "Upon a Spider Catching a Fly", Taylor applies his doctrine in advance by using the interaction between an arachnid and a certain contrasting insect as an example of the Calvinist theory of predestination; the belief that one's fate cannot be influenced by one's works or earthly deeds. It is also part of his belief system, however, that a person's prosperity on the earthly plain could be a testament that that individual is already a member of 'the elect'. Taylor interprets a natural situation with a personal hermeneutics with which he selectively reads situations that serve to enforce his beliefs.

Upon introducing the central character of the spider in the first stanza, Taylor immediately questions the driving force that causes the spider to behave in the way it does. "To spin a web out of thyself /To catch a Fly?/ For Why?" Such a beginning immediately petitions the reader to question the nature of things. In the first line, Taylor refers to the spider as the "venomous elf" in order to plant the idea that the spider is an evil entity. The spider then becomes representative of the Christian devil, Satan, who instinctively casts his web amidst any of the unfortunate beings who would enter into his sphere. This devil image is further enforced in the seventh stanza when he refers to the predator as "Hell's spider". The spider ca...

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...bility to do so, while the fly has been created defenseless; with no option but to fall victim to the spider. These two insects serve as a metaphor for the two differing castes of humans within the Calvinist school of thought. The wasp is representative of 'the elect'; those who are predestined to enter into the kingdom of heaven while the fly is representative of those who are doomed for damnation from the point of their incarnation. Within the life of the wasp, it is evident that it surpasses the fly, just as the Calvinists believed that 'the elect' were more successful in life than other humans. This idea of predestination did not come from the observation of the trials and tribulations between two insects and an arachnid. It was just the opposite. The situation was sited only after it fulfilled the requirements to serving as an example of Taylor's belief system.

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