Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


David Willson was a visionary famous in his own life-time for his controversial theological writings for the many poems and hymns he composed; and for the utopian community--the Children of Peace--he helped build at Sharon, Ontario. This thesis initiates a thorough understanding of Willson's literary achievements by providing a critical overview of the entire canon, and by exploring Willson's thought and dominant metaphors--the design of his visionary system. The thesis presents the most comprehensive Willson bibliography yet assembled, including two books by Willson previously unknown to scholars, and the first listing of the Sharon Temple Museum manuscript collection. To establish the intellectual and religious background to Willson's writings, the thesis traces the influences of Jacob Boehme's mysticism on George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, and from Fox to Willson, through Willson's membership in the Society of Friends. The thesis examines Quakerism contemporary with Willson to account further for the genesis of some of Willson's theological and social precepts. To establish the historical setting, the thesis presents details of Willson's involvements with political leaders and issues of the period. A sketch of contemporary Upper Canadian publications suggests the literary context.;The thesis proceeds through Willson's books and manuscripts in chronological order to show the development of Willson's ideas and insights. Some of the topics are: Willson's treatment of evil--similar to Boehme's--as integral to divine creation; Willson's concept of the Bible as a way to know God, and the relations between the Old and New Testaments; his understandings of the Jews, God's chosen people, as a spiritual state; his image of Christ as the mediator between God and mankind, and whose way of universal love, available to the living, is the regaining of paradise. From these subjects and their presentations, the figure of the circle emerges consistently as the organizing shape in the design of Willson's visionary system. In conclusion, the thesis advances reasons for the decline of the Children of Peace after Willson's death.



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