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Transcendentalism. What is Transcendentalism? Transcendentalism was a literary movement that flourished during the middle 19 th Century (1836 – 1860).

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Presentation on theme: "Transcendentalism. What is Transcendentalism? Transcendentalism was a literary movement that flourished during the middle 19 th Century (1836 – 1860)."— Presentation transcript:

1 Transcendentalism

2 What is Transcendentalism? Transcendentalism was a literary movement that flourished during the middle 19 th Century (1836 – 1860). It began as a rebellion against traditionally held beliefs by the English Church that God superseded the individual.

3 What does “transcendentalism” mean? There is an ideal spiritual state which “transcends” the physical and empirical. A loose collection of eclectic ideas about literature, philosophy, religion, social reform, and the general state of American culture. Transcendentalism had different meanings for each person involved in the movement.

4 Where did it come from? Ralph Waldo Emerson gave German philosopher Immanuel Kant credit for popularizing the term “transcendentalism.” It began as a reform movement in the Unitarian church. It is not a religion—more accurately, it is a philosophy or form of spirituality. It centered around Boston and Concord, MA. in the mid-1800’s. Emerson first expressed his philosophy of transcendentalism in his essay Nature.

5 What did Transcendentalists believe? The intuitive faculty, instead of the rational or sensical, became the means for a conscious union of the individual psyche (known in Sanskrit as Atman) with the world psyche also known as the Oversoul, life-force, prime mover and G-d (known in Sanskrit as Brahma).

6 The Oversoul Nature Individual God “In the faces of men and women I see God.” – Walt Whitman “The groves were God’s first temples” – Willam Cullen Bryant

7 Basic Premise #1 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 G-d, but a preference to explain an individual and the world in terms of an individual.

8 Basic Premise #2 The structure of the universe literally duplicates the structure of the individual self—all knowledge, therefore, begins with self- knowledge. This is similar to Aristotle's dictum "know thyself."

9 Basic Premise #3 Transcendentalists accepted the concept of nature as a living mystery, full of signs; nature is symbolic.

10 Basic Premise #4 The belief that individual virtue and happiness depend upon self- realization—this depends upon the reconciliation of two universal psychological tendencies: 1.The desire to embrace the whole world— to know and become one with the world. 2.The desire to withdraw, remain unique and separate—an egotistical existence.

11 Who were the Transcendentalists? Ralph Waldo Emerson Henry David Thoreau Amos Bronson Alcott Margaret Fuller Ellery Channing

12 Transcendentalist Authors

13 Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803-1882 Unitarian minister Poet and essayist Founded the Transcendental Club Popular lecturer Banned from Harvard for 40 years following his Divinity School address Supporter of abolitionism “To be great is to be misunderstood.”

14 Henry David Thoreau 1817-1862 Schoolteacher, essayist, poet Most famous for Walden and Civil Disobedience Influenced environmental movement Supporter of abolitionism “... Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

15 Amos Bronson Alcott 1799-1888 Teacher and writer Founder of Temple School and Fruitlands Introduced art, music, P.E., nature study, and field trips; banished corporal punishment Father of novelist Louisa May Alcott

16 Margaret Fuller 1810-1850 Journalist, critic, women’s rights activist First editor of The Dial, a transcendental journal First female journalist to work on a major newspaper—The New York Tribune Taught at Alcott’s Temple School

17 Ellery Channing 1818-1901 Poet and especially close friend of Thoreau Published the first biography of Thoreau in 1873—Thoreau, The Poet-Naturalist

18 Henry David Thoreau Walden, or Life in the Woods

19 On July 4 th, 1845 Thoreau began his experiment in “essential” living—living simply, studying the natural world, and seeking truth within himself. On land owned by Emerson near Concord, Massachusetts, Thoreau built a small cabin by Walden Pond and lived there for more than two years, writing and studying nature.

20 “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

21 “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.”

22 “Still we live meanly, like ants.” “Our life is frittered away by detail.” “Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life?

23 Ants Marching – Dave Matthews Band “He wakes up in the morning/Does his teeth, bite to eat and he’s rolling/Never changes a thing/The week ends, the week begins” “Take these chances/Place them in a box until a quieter time/Lights down, you up and die”

24 “Driving in on this highway/ All these cars and up on the sidewalk/ People in every direction/ No words exchanged/ No time to exchange”

25 “All the little ants are marching/ Red and black antennae waving/ They all do it the same/ They all do it the same way”

26 Walden (continued)

27 “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”

28 “It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct.”

29 “It is true, I fear that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity.”


31 “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

32 “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

33 “However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are.” “The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse.”

34 “Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.”

35 “Civil Disobedience” Henry David Thoreau

36 “Civil Disobedience” Thoreau’s essay urging passive, nonviolent resistance to governmental policies to which an individual is morally opposed

37 “That government is best which governs least…That government is best which governs not at all.” “I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government.” “I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave’s government also.” “Civil Disobedience”

38 “If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government let it go…but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.” Click on the photo for more information.


40 “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison…It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of the race should find them..”


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