Transcendentalism was Spiritual Philosophical Literary
Nineteenth Century American Transcendentalism is not a religion (in the traditional sense of the word) It is not a religion because it does not adhere to the three concepts common in major religions: a. a belief in a God; b. a belief in an afterlife (dualism); c. a belief that this life has consequences on the next (if you're good in this life, you go to heaven in the next, etc.).
Nineteenth Century American Transcendentalism it is a philosophy, a state of mind, and a form of spirituality Transcendentalism is monist; it does not reject an afterlife, but its emphasis is on this life.
Basic Assumption Instinct vs. Logic The intuitive ability, instead of the rational, became the means for a conscious union of the individual psyche with the world psyche also known as the Oversoul, life-force, prime mover, and God
The Big Three Ralph Waldo Emerson Ralph Waldo Emerson Henry David Thoreau Henry David Thoreau Margaret Fuller Margaret Fuller
Basic Premises An individual is the spiritual center of the universe - and in an individual can be found the clue to nature, history and, ultimately, the cosmos itself. It is not a rejection of the existence of God, but a preference to explain an individual and the world in terms of an individual. The structure of the universe literally duplicates the structure of the individual self - all knowledge, therefore, begins with self-knowledge. Transcendentalists accepted the concept of nature as a living mystery, full of signs - nature is symbolic.
Basic Premises The belief that individual virtue and happiness depend upon self-realization which depends upon the reconciliation of two universal psychological tendencies: the self-transcending tendency - a desire to embrace the whole world - to know and become one with the world the self-asserting tendency - the desire to withdraw, remain unique and separate - an egotistical existence.
Basic Premises The external is united with the internal Physical or material nature is neutral or indifferent or objective; it is neither helpful nor hurtful; it is neither beautiful nor ugly What makes one give such attributes to nature is that individual's imposition of her/his temperament or mood or psyche. If I'm feeling lousy, I may ignore a gorgeous day; if I'm feeling bright and cheerful then the most dreary of days becomes tolerable
Basic Premises Transcendentalists believed that "knowing yourself" and "studying nature" is the same activity. Nature mirrors our psyche. If I cannot understand myself, maybe understanding nature will help.
Transcendentalism is rooted in the American past To Puritanism it owed its pervasive morality and the "doctrine of divine light." It is also similar to the Quaker "inner light." However, both these concepts assume acts of God, whereas intuition is an act of an individual. In Unitarianism, deity was reduced to a kind of immanent principle in every person - an individual was the true source of moral light. To Romanticism it owed the concept of nature as a living mystery and not universe which is fixed and permanent.
Basic Tenets Transcendentalism is a form of idealism. The transcendentalist "transcends" or rises above the lower animalistic impulses of life (animal drives) and moves from the rational to a spiritual realm. The human soul is part of the Oversoul or universal spirit (or "float" for Whitman) to which it and other souls return at death. Therefore, every individual is to be respected because everyone has a portion of that Oversoul (God).
Basic Tenets This Oversoul or Life Force or God can be found everywhere - travel to holy places is, therefore, not necessary. God can be found in both nature and human nature (Nature, Emerson stated, has spiritual manifestations). Jesus also had part of God in himself - he was divine as everyone is divine - except in that he lived an exemplary and transcendental life and made the best use of that Power which is within each one.
Basic Tenets "Miracle is monster." The miracles of the Bible are not to be regarded as important as they were to the people of the past. Miracles are all about us - the whole world is a miracle and the smallest creature is one. "A mouse is a miracle enough to stagger quintillions of infidels." - Whitman More important than a concern about the afterlife, should be a concern for this life "the one thing in the world of value is the active soul." - Emerson Death is never to be feared, for at death the soul merely passes to the oversoul. Emphasis should be placed on the here and now. "Give me one world at a time." - Thoreau
Basic Tenets Evil is a negative - merely an absence of good. Light is more powerful than darkness because one ray of light penetrates the dark. There is no belief in the existence of Satan as an active entity forcing humans to commit immorality. Humans are good and if they do immoral acts they do so out of ignorance and by not thinking. Power is to be obtained by defying fate or predestination, which seem to work against humans, by exercising one's own spiritual and moral strength. Emphasis on self-reliance. the emphasis is placed on a human thinking.
Basic Tenets The necessity of examples of great leaders, writers, philosophers, and others, to show what an individual can become through thinking and action. It is foolish to worry about consistency, because what an intelligent person believes tomorrow, if he/she trusts oneself, tomorrow may be completely different from what that person thinks and believes today. "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." - Emerson The unity of life and universe must be realized. There is a relationship between all things. One must have faith in intuition, for no church or creed can communicate truth. Reform must not be emphasized - true reform comes from within.
Transcendental Legacy The influence on their contemporary writers: Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, and Dickinson. The Concord School of Philosophy founded in 1879 The Movements: Mind Cure through Positive Thinking - Christian Science (Mary Baker Eddy) and New Thought (Warren F. Evans). The influence on Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. M. L. King, Jr. and others who protested using civil disobedience. The influence on the "beat" generation of the 1950s and the "young radicals" of the '60s and '70s who practiced dissent, anti-materialism, anti-war, and anti-work ethic sentiments. The influence on Modernist writers like: Frost, Stevens, O'Neill, Ginsberg. The popularity of Transcendental Meditation, Equal Rights, Feminism, and sexual freedoms.
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. We have keys to all doors. The world is all gates, all opportunities, Strings of tension waiting to be struck.
Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. Insist on yourself; never imitate... Every great man is unique
Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. The only way to have a friend is to be one. Hitch your wagon to a star. Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.
Emerson’s Biography (shortened) Born on May 25th in 1803 in Boston One of eight children born into the Emerson family but the only one to live till full maturity. His father, William Emerson, was a reverend who was able to trace his family tree back to the first generation of Americans and was the product of a long line of ministers. When his father died in 1811 the Emerson’s money diminished quickly and forced his mother to open boarding houses to provide for the family. Emerson entered Harvard University at age fourteen. While attending Harvard university Emerson took quite a liking to both writing and Latin but performed merely only satisfactorily in mathematics and philosophy. Between the years of 1821 and 1825 upon graduating Harvard Emerson took a job in teaching in the Boston area. As he came from a long line of ministers Emerson felt inclined to join the ministry himself. In 1825 Emerson studied at the Harvard divinity school but did not take a degree. In 1827 he preached at his father’s old church in Boston until he began to experience problems with his eyes and joints which he knew to be signs of tuberculosis so he sought the advice of a physician who advised him to spend some time in the south to recuperate.
Emerson’s Biography (shortened) Emerson returned to Boston in mid 1827, and married Ellen Louise Tucker on September 30th 1829. Ellen died of tuberculosis on February 8, 1831 In 1836 while mourning the death of his brother Charles Emerson kept working on one of his most important works “Nature”. Around the time Emerson was writing “Nature” he became a member of a transcendental club and founded the “Dial” (a literary paper) which was first published in 1840 with co members such as Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, and Henry David Thoreau. Died on April 27th 1882 at the age of 78.Close to one thousand people came to concord to remember an honor Emerson and writers such as Louisa May Alcott spoke at his service in the Unitarian church in Concord.
Emerson Nature (1836) Considered the "gospel" of American Transcendentalism The major thesis of the essay, in Emerson's words, is that we should now "enjoy an original relation to the universe," and not become dependent on past experiences of others and on holy books, creeds and dogma.
Emerson "Self-Reliance" (1841) This essay elaborates further on the familiar Emersonian belief- trust yourself. This is also a very popular essay written in forceful and memorable language. "There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide... " "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string."
Emerson "The American Scholar" (1837) Delivered as a lecture to the Phi Beta Kappa Society, Harvard College, on August 31, 1837, "The American Scholar" is popular and important in expressing the practical aspects of Transcendentalism. Emerson prods the students to become more confident in their abilities and to take pride in Americanism: "We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe.... We will walk on our own feet, we will work with our own hands, we will speak our own minds."
Emerson "The Divinity School Address" (1838) A lecture addressed to the senior class at the Harvard Divinity College on July 15, 1838. The important theme of this lecture is that truth cannot be presented as doctrines or creeds. Emerson says, "It (the truth) cannot be received at second hand. Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can receive from another soul." He goes on to tell the graduating class to be original and not imitative.
At Harvard, Emerson was selected as the class poet of 1821 His many poems can be grouped together in broad categories (with few examples) like: Public, political, and patriotic ("Concord Hymn," "Boston Hymn," "Voluntaries) Nature poems ("Berrying," "The Rhodora," "The Snow-Storm," "Wood-notes," "Musketaquid," "May-day," "The Adirondacs," "My Garden," "The Titmouse," "Seashore) Personal poems ("To Ellen," "Thine Eyes Still Shined," "Threnody" "Terminus," "Grace) Philosophical, religious and aesthetic ("The Sphinx," "Each and All," "The Problem," "Uriel," "Hamatreya," "Ode Inscribed to W. H. Channing," "Give All to Love," "Initial, Dtmonic, and Celestial Love," "Merlin," "Bacchus," "Saadi," "Brahma," "Days," "Two Rivers," and "Waldeinsamkeit")
Thoreau Born on July 12, 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau studied at Concord Academy (1828-33), and at Harvard University, graduating in 1837. He was a teacher in Canton, Massachusetts (1835-36), and at Center School (1837). In 1835 he contracted tuberculosis and suffered from recurring bouts throughout his life. American essayist, poet, and practical philosopher, best-known for his autobiographical story of life in the woods, Walden (1854). Thoreau was one of the leading personalities in New England Transcendentalism. His "Civil Disobedience" (1849) influenced Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther A decisive turning point in Thoreau's life came when he met Ralph Waldo Emerson in Concord. He was a member of Emerson's household from 1841 to 1843, earning his living as a handyman.Ralph Waldo Emerson In 1845 Thoreau built a home on the shores of Walden Point for twenty- eight dollars, and described his observations and speculations in A Week On The Concord And Merrimack Rivers (1849).
Thoreau Thoreau's most famous essay, "Civil Disobedience" (1849), was a result of a overnight visit in 1846 to a jail, when he refused to pay his taxes in protest against the Mexican War and the extension of slavery. Later Thoreau lectured and wrote about the evils of slavery and helped fleeing slaves. Walden; or, Life in the Woods described a two-year period in Thoreau's life from March 1845 to September 1847 during which the author retired from the town to live alone at Walden Pond. Although Thoreau never earned a substantial living by his writings, his works fill 20 volumes. Aware that he was dying of tuberculosis, Thoreau cut short his travels and returned to Concord, where he prepared some of his journals for publication. He died at Concord on May 6, 1862. Thoreau's letters were edited by his friend Emerson and published posthumously in 1865. Poems Of Nature appeared in 1895 and Collected Poems in 1943. Thoreau's collection of journals was published in 1906 in 14 volumes.
Thoreau "Resistance to Civil Government" also known as "Civil Disobedience" (1849) For failing to pay poll tax, Thoreau was sent to jail. The famous and influential essay is the result of that gesture. Its message is simple and daring - he advocates "actions through principles." If the demands of a government or a society are contrary to an individual's conscience, it is his/her duty to reject them. Upholding moral law as opposed to social law "divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine." Inspired by Thoreau's message, Mahatma Gandhi organized a massive resistance of Indians against the British occupation of India. Thoreau's words have also inspired the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the peace marchers and the numerous conscientious- objectors to the Vietnam war.
Thoreau Walden (1854) Considered one of the all-time great books, Walden is a record of Thoreau's two year experiment of living at Walden Pond. The chief emphasis is on the simplifications and enjoyment of life now. Known as a nature book a do-it-yourself guide to simple life a satirical criticism of modern life and living a spiritual book.
Thoreau's Poetry Although Thoreau wrote a considerable number of poems, very few are regarded as excellent. Among those which are well-known are "Light- Winged Smoke, Icarian Bird," "A Winter and Spring Scene," and "Low in the Eastern Sky.“ Common themes of Thoreau's poetry are nature, impressions of life, and transcendental philosophy.