Transcendentali smEmerson, Ralph Waldo Henry David Thoreau & An Introduction to Transcendentalism
Ralph Waldo• Emerson Born May 25, 1803 in Boston• Educated at Harvard• Was a pastor until wife’s death in 1831;resigned in 1832 with questions about the Church• Travels to Europe, England, meets Romantic poets including Wordsworth and Coleridge• Publishes Nature in 1836…thought of as the beginning of the Transcendentalist movement—the first real American literary movement• 1841: “Self-Reliance”• Loses son to scarlet fever in 1842; work becomes increasingly jaded• Lives until 1882
Henry David• July 12, 1817 Thoreau Born David Henry Thoreau in Concord, Mass• 1821 The family (including siblings Helen, John, Jr., and Sophia) moves to Boston• 1837 Graduates from Harvard Accepts a job as a school teacher in Concord (Is fired after 2 weeks for refusing to beat a child) (Divine,• 1838-1841 327) Heads a private school in Concord with his elder brother, John
Henry David Thoreau• 1841-1843 Lives with Ralph Waldo Emerson and his family in Concord• 1842 John dies suddenly of lockjaw (Contracted by cutting his ring finger with a razor)• 1845-1847 Lives in small house he builds for himself on Walden Pond• 1846 Mexican War begins (Thoreau spends a night in jail for refusing to pay a poll tax)
Henry David• 1848 Thoreau Begins career as a professional lecturer• 1849 Publishes “Civil Disobedience”• 1854 Publishes Walden; or, Life in the Woods• 1862 Dies in Concord, Mass
In His Own Words• Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.• Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life youve imagined.• Men have become the tools of their tools.• Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is in prison.• What is the use of a house if you havent got a tolerable planet to put it on?
In His Own Words• I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.• What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.• All good things are wild, and free.• I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.• I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion.• Most people dread finding out when they come to die that they have never really lived.
Transcendentalism• Basic Assumption: The intuitive faculty, instead of the rational or sense- based, became the means for a conscious union of the individual psyche with the world psyche also known as the Oversoul, Life-Force, Prime Mover, or God. In other words: The basic truths of the universe lie beyond what we can obtain from our senses • Senses get us facts and laws, we can reason to book knowledge and technology, but there is more to the world • Transcendentalism is not a religion, a philosophy, or a literary theory…but it has components of each
Transcendentalism• Major Tenets: 1. An individual is the spiritual center of the universe Emerson: Intuition is “the highest power of the Soul” 1. The structure of the universe literally duplicates the structure of the individual self, therefore all knowledge begins with self-knowledge 3. Nature is a living mystery, full of signs; Nature is Symbolic (God, humanity, and nature are all connected) 4. Individual Virtue & Happiness Depend Upon Self- Realization • Requires the reconciliation of 2 things: The Expansive or Self-Transcending Tendency The Contracting or Self-Asserting Tendency
Two Tendencies• The Expansive or Self-Transcending Tendency The Desire to Embrace the World – To Know and Become One with the World• The Contracting or Self-Asserting Tendency The Desire to Withdraw, to remain Unique & Separate – The Egotistical Existence
Anti-• Transcendentalists Connected with high class, good taste, distinguished achievement, Boston/Harvard• Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville appreciated power of transcendental ideals, but argued critically against them Saw much in nature that was not good and godlike…saw gap between desire and possibility, the blending of good and evil in even the highest human motives found in humanity a strange mixture of will and desire, an “uneven balance” opposed to transcendentalist optimism Melville: Seeks “the intense feeling of usable truth”: “By usable truth, we mean the absolute condition of present things as they strike the eye of the man who fears them not”
Civil Disobedience“Civil Disobedience” Focuses on the Relationship between Two Bodies: • The Government • The Individual
The Government• “Government is best which governs least” (1)• Men as machines (2-3)• The Individual’s Duty (6-11) To Break the Law: “If a law requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say break the law” (8) To Withdraw from Society (8-11) • Majority of one (8) • Rich Men vs. Poor Men (money v. virtue) (10) “Cast your whole vote” (9)