Transcendentalism During the late 1800s and early 1900s, a new era was developing in American society. The United States was an idealistic nation with separate beliefs and lifestyles. One of the most intriguing lifestyles introduced during this time was transcendentalism. Many authors, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathanial Hawthorne, Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau, developed this idea and tried to make people understand the meaning behind this new way of lfe. Through his extensive writings of books, essays and poetry, Thoreau gave the American public a deep insight to the new world of transcendentalism. While he was growing up, Thoreau rarely left his birth town of Concord.
He felt that man didnt need wider horizons in order to write efficiently (Hoff, 31). He wrote his private thoughts in journals to help him write lectures and books, and never wrote or spoke about what he himself had not experienced (Hoff, 32). Thoreau attened Harvard, but believed that he had not really learned anything of worth while there(Hoff, 34). This is surprising because most people think of Thoreau as an intellectual, who most definitely had a sound education that he appreciated. Thoreau was a “skilled naturalist (Whitman, 802)” who was extremely knowledgable about weather, geology, flora and fauna. He was known to be quite friendly with birds and other such animals.
He was a self-proclaimed mystic, transcendentalist and natural philosopher. (Whitman, 802). The first person to use the word “transcendental” was German philosopher Immanuel Kant. He used the term “transcendental philosophy” to describe the study of pure mind and its forms. The word “transcendentalism” is defined as the “belief or doctrine asserting the existence of an ideal spiritual reality that transcends the empirical and scientific and is knowable through intuition (Koster, 1).” It is also known as, in philosophy and literature, “the belief in a higher reality than that found in sense experience or in a higher kind of knowledge than that achieved by human reason (Encarta).” This idea originated with the Greek philosopher, Plato, who had recognized the existence of absolute righteousness. American transcendentalism began with the formation of the Transcendental Club in Boston in 1836. The leaders of this movement included essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, feminist and social reformer Margaret Fuller, minister Theodore Parker, teacher Bronson Alcott, philosopher William Ellery Channing, and Thoreau.
This club published a magazine, The Dial, and some members performed an experiment of communal living at Brook Farm in Massachusetts during the 1840s. The American roots of transcendentalism began in New England with Puritanism. This was the idea that transcendentalists were direct descendents of people that fled to this region in search of religious freedom. Another major influence of the transcendental movement was platonism. This ideal held the supreme god as being primary, with all other things derived from it.
Romanticism also played an important role in the development of this new era. It was: The delight in, and wonder at, the beauty and beneficience of nature, the recognition of the individual human being as being superior to society, the concomitant objection to social restraints upon the individual, and, above all, the ascendency of emotion and intuitive perception over reason (Koster, 8). It also involved the celebration of individualism and self-examination. Another factor was that of Orientalism. Many people believed that American interest in the Orient began as a purely economic interest, but then moved on to other things such as spirituality and morality.
Religious philosophers that appeared later applied Platos idea of transcendentalism to the fact that God could not be described nor understood through the voice of human experience (Encarta). The Scholastics recognized six transcendental concepts: essence, unity, goodness, truth, thing and something. The terms transcendent and transcendental were used in a more narrow and technical sense by Scholastic philosophers late in the Middle Ages to signify concepts of unrestricted generality applying to all types of things (Encarta). Bibliography “American Philosophy: Transcendentalism.” http://www.uh.edu/~cfree/courses/americanphil/tran sc.html. Arpin, Gary Q.
“The American: Renaissance: The Literary Coming of Age.” Elements of Literature. By Richard Sime. Fifth Course. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1997. 230-31. Crowell, Robert L.
“Thoreau, Henry David.” The Readers Encyclopedia of American Literature. 1962 ed. “Henry David Thoreau.” Why They Wrote: Dickens, Thoreau, Flaubert, Clemens, Stevenson. By Rhoda Hoff. 1961. 31-60.
Koster, Donald N. Transcendentalism in America. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1975. Microsoft Encarta 96 Encylclopedia (1996). [Computer program]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation.
“Thoreau, Henry David.” American Reformers. By Alden Whitman. 801-03. Thoreau, Henry David. “Civil Disobedience.” “Transcendentalism.” http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/474/. 5-3-99. “Transcendentalism.