Transcendentalism in America By: Kimberlee Sohns
The Beginnings The height of transcendentalism occurred in America in the 1830’s to 1840’s Originated in the New England Area Was a response to the current state of affairs within society by a select few intellectual individuals Developed in the New England area of the United States Considered to be a loose set of principles
Beliefs Transcendentalists believed that man is inherently good Critical of government and organized religion Were progressive thinkers of their time in terms of equality and rights Favored imagination, creativity and the human spirit
What is in a name? Transcendentalists believed that humans could transcend what can be perceived with the five senses and logic. That each person has a level of intuition and imagination that allows the person to know themselves on a deeper level and act accordingly Transcendentalists in that way are similar to many eastern religions especially Buddhism and Hinduism
Famous Faces Ralph Waldo Emerson Louisa May Alcott Henry David Thoreau Emily Dickinson
The Dial Magazine of the movement edited by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller Published from 1840 to 1844 then again from 1880 to 1929 by other editors
“The Social Spirit in America” “…the government must be an opportunist, doing whatever is needed by the individual that the individual cannot well do for himself; and yet the individual must b e a living cell in a fluent organism rather than a cog in the mere machine.” (The Dial 18)
Walden One of the most recognized works of the Transcendental era Written by Henry David Thoreau Thoreau built a cabin on his friend’s, Ralph Waldo Emerson, land and lived there for a period of two years. Using minimal money, growing his own bean garden and writing about his experiences
Walden Continued Walden is about being with ones self, contemplation of life and self discovery Notice how this fits with the Transcendentalist’s move away from organized government and religion and towards the human spirit
From the Conclusion of Walden “Some are dinning in our ears that we Americans, and moderns generally, are intellectual dwarfs compared with the ancients, or even the Elizabethan men. But what is that to the purpose? A living dog is better than a dead lion. Shall a man go and hang himself because he belongs to the race of pygmies, and not be the biggest pygmy that he can? Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made.” (Gutenberg)
Food for thought… What is it about the Transcendentalist movement in America that caused it to be short lived? How do you think a Transcendental movement would be received in modern day America? Humans are very social creatures that prefer a hierarchy with a system of leading and following. Could transcendentalism transcend itself by incorporating that hierarchy to reach the masses? Or, would it at that point lose its purpose?
Food for thought continued… Going back to Eastern Philosophy and religion, why is it that the Transcendentalists did not gravitate towards an existing religion that paralleled in many of their ideas? Given that transcendentalists are so focused inward, does right and wrong exist in transcendental thought? Can an individuals perceptions ever truly be incorrect?
References Thoreau, Henry David“Walden, and, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” The Project Gutenberg Ebook of Walden, and On The Duty of Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau. 29 July 2012. Web. 13 September 2012. www.gutenberg.org/files/205/205-h/205-h.htm#CONC The Web of American Transcendentalism. Virginia Commenwealth University. Spring 1999. Web. 13 September 2012. transcendentalism.tamu.edu/index.html Campbell, Donna M. “American Transcendentalism.” Literary Movements. Dept. of English, Washington State University. 21 March 2010. Web. 13 September 2012. public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/amtrans.htm Transcendentalism. Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc 2012. Web. 14 September 2012. www.britannica.com/Ebchecked/topic/602448/Transcendentalism The Dial. Chicago: The Dial Company, Publishers, 1893. archive.org/stream/dialjournallitcrit15chicrich#page/n3/mode/2up. Web. 15 September 2012