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Romanticism & Transcendentalism Part II: Romanticism & the New Nation

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1 Romanticism & Transcendentalism Part II: Romanticism & the New Nation
English III Advanced Composition & Novel Mrs. Snipes

2 Although romanticism flourished on both sides of the Atlantic in the 19th century, the feelings inspired by the American frontier and the formation of a new democratic society endowed America with its own special brand of romanticism. European romanticism tended to be founded on a wish to escape its own history and start over. America, however, was the embodiment of that wish. Everything was new and anything was possible. Continually breaking the molds of European traditions, the emergent United States began to place its unique stamp on government, art, philosophy, and literature.

3 Transcendentalism Defined:
The term refers to a literary and philosophical movement in America based on a belief that the transcendental—or spiritual—reality, rather than the material world, is the ultimate reality, and that knowledge is not solely derived from experience and observation. One must learn about the world not only through reason but through intuition.

4 Reason = the independent and intuitive capacity to know what is absolutely true.
Intuition = the direct perception of truth, fact, etc. independent of any reasoning process; a keen and quick insight.

5 The Transcendentalists upheld the essential goodness of humanity, the glories of nature, and the importance of free individual expression. This period is sometimes referred to as the American Renaissance. Transcendentalism emphasized the idea that individuals should act according to their innermost personal beliefs, or spiritual convictions, rather than the dictates of society. Closely related to this idea is that of the integrity of the individual—the idea/belief that each person is inherently good, capable of making rational decisions, and worthy of respect from every other human being.

6 The Role of Nature The Transcendentalists believed in living close to nature and taught the dignity of manual labor. They emphasized the beauty and importance of the natural world. They believed that by contemplating objects in nature the individual could transcend this world and discover union with God and the Ideal. The Fulfillment of human potential was attainable through mysticism and communion with nature.

7 Henry David Thoreau, one of the dominant writers of this period, wrote: “All good things are wild and free.”

8 Philosophical Influences
In opposition to the rational tendencies of the age, Transcendentalism incorporated elements from many philosophies and religions. Transcendentalism is closest to the philosophy of Idealism, which held that material objects do not have a real existence of their own. Rather, these objects are diffused parts or aspects of God, the over-soul, a term coined by Ralph Waldo Emerson meaning an ultimate spiritual unity that encompasses all existence and in which each human being has an equal share.

9 As the ultimate spiritual force, the over-soul encompasses all existence and reconciles all opposing forces in the world. Material objects, therefore, mirror or reflect and ideal world. Transcendentalism arose in reaction/ opposition to Rationalism, a theory that the reason in itself is a source of knowledge superior to sensory perceptions. Transcendentalists thought that Rationalism, from which modern science had sprung, denied the profound sense of mystery found in nature and humanity.

10 Other influences included Plato, Kant, and Rousseau, along with Romanticism, Deism, and Unitarianism. Jean Jacques Rousseau

11 Romanticism = a movement in art, literature, and music emphasizing passion rather than reason, and imagination and intuition, rather than logic. Most Romantic writers favored full expression of the emotions, as well as free, spontaneous actions rather than restraint and order. Romantic writers stressed freedom of the individual and restricting social conventions and unjust political rule.

12 Deism = a movement advocating natural religion, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century, denying the interference of the creator with the laws of the universe. Unitarianism = stresses individual freedom of belief, the free use of reason in religion, a united world community, and liberal social action. Unitarians rejected Calvinistic notions of Original Sin and Determinism in favor of beliefs in the basic goodness and innate free will of the individual. Quakers = emphasized the direct relationship between God and the individual without the mediation of a minister.

13 The French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778) argued that civilization was creating a race that was out of step with nature. Civilization stripped people of their natural instincts. “Everything is good when it leaves the creator,” he argued, “everything degenerates in the hands of men.” Rousseau believed human beings had innate intuitive powers; that is, they instinctively knew how to deal with the outside world. He felt that so-called “primitive” people, those who lived closer to and in harmony with nature, had a greater, more refined intuition than “civil” human beings. Rousseau believed that there were basic principles, such as liberty and equality, which were innate to human beings. Civilization and governments, however, had conditioned man to endure life without them. Rousseau’s ideas were influential to many, from the American and French revolutionaries to romantic writers. His ideas of nature and intuition were taken even further in the philosophy of Kant.

14 Plato stated: “Absolute goodness is knowable only through intuition.”
The German philosopher Emmanuel Kant stated: “Man can neither prove or disprove the existence of God.” Plato stated: “Absolute goodness is knowable only through intuition.” Kant

15 Organized Religion Although the major writers of this period came from Protestant backgrounds, they found themselves at odds with the dominant religions of the time. Though they strongly felt the need of intellectual companionship and emphasized spiritual living, they felt that every person’s relation to God was to be established directly by the individual, rather than through a ritualistic or organized church.

16 They held that human beings were divine in their own right, an opinion opposed by the doctrines of the Puritans. Self-trust and reliance were to be practiced at all times, because to trust self was really to trust the voice of god speaking intuitively within us. They felt that current thought had reduced God to a watchmaker, who, having once built and wound up the universe, now sat back and observed it detachedly. The individual in this scheme was likewise reduced, as Thoreau, put it, “to a cog” or wheel in this cosmic machine.

17 The Political Landscape
Politically, America was uncharted territory. The American Revolution left a nation of loosely connected states the very real task of creating a workable democracy. Most Transcendentalists were, by nature, reformers, but these reforms were attempts to regenerate the human spirit, rather than to prescribe to particular movements. Social conformity, materialism, commercialism, and what they believed to be a lack of moral commitment angered and frustrated the transcendentalists. As basic American values were threatened by encroaching industrialization, reform groups sprang up. Support for women’s rights and the abolition of slavery became popular at this time. Public schools began. Utopian communities and communes were founded and established.

18 Civil Disobedience This is defined as the refusal to obey certain governmental laws or demands for the purpose of influencing legislation or government policy, characterized by the employment of such nonviolent techniques as boycotting, picketing, nonpayment of taxes—any form of passive and non-violent resistance. Thoreau outlines his philosophy in an essay titled “Civil Disobedience” in 1848.

19 The Social Landscape The Nation’s population doubled between 1790 and 1830 and doubled again before 1870. Socially, America was a study in contradictions. On the one hand, the large majority of Americans made their living by farming or by providing products and services to farmers. On the other hand, a growing number began to leave the farms to take jobs in factories and textile mills, especially in the East. Henry David Thoreau condemned industrial capitalism and the growing mechanism of work. To Thoreau, the “progress” of civilization was ruining the frontier spirit. Romantics such as Thoreau believed that humankind could find truth and happiness in nature. The economists of the day disagreed, believing that, rather than preserving nature, it was more important for people and government to advance human commerce. America’s westward expansion increasingly attracted immigrants from all over the world.

20 Dynamic advances were made in science and technology: new farm machines, roads, railways, and the telegraph inspired a sense of optimism across the country. Yet, there were some serious side effects of this progress: harsh working conditions and ugly mill towns were reflections of the nations growing industrialization. Skilled craftsmen were replaced by machines tended by lower paid women and children. Children were working hours a day in factories and no longer had the freedom to pursue an education or develop their potential.

21 The Cultural Landscape
Culturally, America also had uneasy ties to tradition. On the one hand, American artists, thinkers, and writers suffered greatly from what scholar Harold Bloom has called the “anxiety of influence.” Europe had a deep and complex cultural history. To ignore this history would be to reject a great deal that was good along with the bad. On the other hand, Americans were deeply suspicious of institutional authority and tradition. Americans writers wanted forms, themes, and a literary language that were completely new. At the same time, however, they could not help but be influenced by their “old world” cultural heritage.

22 Principle Writers in the Transcendental Movement
Ralph Waldo Emerson Henry David Thoreau William Cullen Bryant John Greenleaf Whittier Nathaniel Hawthorne Walt Whitman Emily Dickinson


24 Sources Phillips, Jerry and Andrew Ladd. Romanticism and Transcendentalism (1800 – 1860). New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2006. The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 5th Ed. Vol. 1. Nina Baym, Editor. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1998. The United States in Literature. Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1991.

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