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Emerson and Thoreau's Ideas of Transcendentalism

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Alex Gates

on 18 November 2012

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Transcript of Emerson and Thoreau's Ideas of Transcendentalism

Transcendentalism and Nature The Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson Henry David Thoreau & Emerson "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know." "Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood." "All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better." 1803 Born in Boston, Massachusetts on May 25, 1803. Served as Class Poet at Harvard College where he graduated. 1821 1829 Married his first wife, Ellen Louisa Tucker and moved back to Boston from Florida. 1833 Toured Europe and later wrote of his travels in English Traits. 1833 Returned to America and made the first of what would become some 1,500 lectures discussing The Uses of Natural History in Boston. 1836 Published "Nature"
The Transcendental Club held its first official meeting. 1837 Emerson befriended Henry David Thoreau.
Gave his speech entitled "The American Scholar" 1882 Emerson died from pneumonia after over a decade of decreasing health. Most notable works: Nature: Addresses and Lectures Essays: First and Second Series Representative Men English Traits The Conduct of Life Circles The Poet Thoreau "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." "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." "It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." 1817 Born in Concord, Massachusetts. 1833-1837 Studied at Harvard University. 1837 Met Emerson, who encouraged him to contribute to a periodical called The Dial. 1840 His first essay was published in The Dial. 1841 Moved into the Emerson house where he seved as the chidren's tutor, editorial assistant, and repair man/gardener. 1845 He embarked on his 2 year experiment in simple living in a self-built house on land owned by Emerson in a forest. 1862 Died at the age of 44. Emerson wrote his eulogy. Most notable works: A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers Civil Disobedience Slavery in Massachusetts A Plea for Captain John Brown The Maine Woods Cape Cod Walden Walking Transcendentalism: Dictionary Definition History Transcendentalist
Beliefs A Rough Definition "any philosophy based upon the doctrine that the principles of reality are to be discovered by the study of the processes of thought, or a philosophy emphasizing the intuitive and spiritual above the empirical." dictionary.com So... Developed in the 1830s and 1840s in the Eastern region of the United States. Made to protest the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and the doctrine of the Unitarian church taught at Harvard Divinity School. Rooted in the transcendental philosophy of Immanuel Kant and of German idealism. Believed in the inherent goodness of both man and nature.
Society and its institutions ultimately corrupted the purity of the individual.
Man is at his best when truly "self-reliant" and independent.
The power of the individual and divine messages. Wikipedia: Transcendentalism Wikipedia: Transcendentalism The transcendentalist movement was based off of the ideal that in order to obtain knowledge or find answers, one must not rely on research or ideas produced by others, but rather experience it themselves as an individual. So how does nature
play a role? Emerson's essay, "Nature" collectively summarizes his transcendentalist ideas about the subject. Categorized into 8 different chapters. Chapter I NATURE
Chapter II COMMODITY
Chapter III BEAUTYChapter IV LANGUAGE
Chapter V DISCIPLINEChapter VI IDEALISMChapter VII SPIRITChapter VIII PROSPECTS Emerson's "Nature" These chapter titles give the reader a good idea of things Emerson related to nature. i.e. "Beauty," "Spirit", and "Idealism," in which we will look at in more depth. As it's been clearly displayed, spiritual and religious applications toward nature were very prominant in Transcendentalist thought. Trancendentalism was evolved out of idealist philosopies, so it only makes sense that it plays a role in their perspective of nature too. "A nobler want of man is served by nature, namely, the love of Beauty." Beauty Idealism Spirit Nature, Chapter III Throughout the entirety of "Nature," it is Emmersons aim to draw attention to his belief that man does not appreciate nature's beauty as they should. He thus chooses to "distribute the aspects of Beauty in a threefold manner." "First, the simple perception of natural forms is a delight." Emerson first embellishes on simply the perception of the tangible things in nature (forms). He speaks of the "the dewy morning, the rainbow, mountains, orchards in blossom, stars, moonlight, [and] shadows in still water" to provide examples. In this aspect of appreciation he is merely urging man kind to go out and really look at the nature around them to appreciate it for what it is. "The presence of a higher, namely, of the spiritual element is essential to its perfection." The next level of appreciation, Emerson claims, is through acknowledgement of a higher being; allowing a spiritual connection. This idea will be conceptualized more so under analysis of Chapter VII. "The visible heavens and earth sympathize with Jesus." "There is still another aspect under which the beauty of the world may be viewed, namely, as it becomes an object of the intellect." The last aspect is an intellectual one. Emerson states that by looking upon the beauty of Earth, man will be compelled to understand and create beauty of their own. "The beauty of nature reforms itself in the mind, and not for barren contemplation, but for new creation." His belief is that creating art is an automatic response to an appreciation of nature's beauty. "The world thus exists to the soul to satisfy the desire of beauty." Emerson choses to approach the subject through analogies and the usage of poetry as an example. He exudes poets as being capible of producing the most ideal forms inspired by nature, yet ironically enough, this is done by manipulation of natures true qualities (symbolically magnifying or shrinking their values). He then goes on to one again relate the subject withing nature to religion, stating: "Idealism sees the world in God. It beholds the whole circle of persons and things, of actions and events, of country and religion, not as painfully accumulated, atom after atom, act after act, in an aged creeping Past, but as one vast picture, which God paints on the instant eternity, for the contemplation of the soul." "The aspect of nature is devout. Like the figure of Jesus, she stands with bended head, and hands folded upon the breast. The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship." "Three problems are put by nature to the mind; What is matter? Whence is it? and Whereto?" Emerson ponders these questions which identify the mysteries behind nature, yet its spiritual properties remain undeniable. Emerson implies that nature has much to tell us about our creator and our own spirituality. Connecting back to the elements of the "Rough Definition" of Trancendentalism: thought. How Emerson's Views of Nature Relate Back to Common Transcen-
dentalist "a philosophy emphasizing the intuitive and spiritual" Emerson said that one way of appreciating the beauty of nature was intellecual, and another being spiritual. Nature was seen as containing strong, yet mysterious spiritual connections. "Believed in the inherent goodness of both man and nature." Nature was not only inherently spiritual, but undeniably beautiful as well; inspiring creation and various forms of art. "Rooted in the transcendental philosophy of Immanuel Kant and of German idealism." The idealist roots of transcendentalism still remain prominant. A form of the "ideal" can be seen in the pure beauty of nature, especially when put into an art form such as poetry. Now moving on to Thoreau: Emerson's view of nature provided an ideal environment with undeniable beauty and setting of spirituality, allowing it to hold a vital role in Transcendentalist point of view. Many of Thoreau's ideas stemmed off of ideas and encouragements from Emerson. To him, nature expressed "radical correspondence of visible things and human thoughts," In his later years, he became more directly involved by studying botany and natural history. He became a land surveyor and kept journals of his observations . "Walden" Thoreau's book, detailing his experiences while at Walden Pond. The idea behind his experience in Walden Pond, was to immerse himself in nature in hopes of gaining more insight about life. As identified earlier, transcendentalist thought revolved around the concept of self-reliance; finding answers by yourself and within yourself. Thoreau utilized nature to apply this concept. By immersing himself in nature he belived that it could accomplish a better understanding of society, as well as spiritual discovery. "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. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion." Walden by Henry David Thoreau Emerson and Thoreau were both prominant figures in the Transcendentalist movement, as well as each other's ideas and discoveries. Emerson and Thoreau both acknowledged the importance, beauty, and inherent goodness of nature. Nature provided a pure, spiritual, and beautiful setting for one to "find" themself. Making it a vital element of transcendentalist thought. Connecting Emerson and Thoreau's
Ideas They shared very similar views on nature which contributed to their transcendentalist theories. ideas, especially those of Emerson and Thoreau, two great minds of the movement. The aspect of self-reliance in transcendentalist thought was very important to both Emerson and Thoreau, who both identified nature as a setting for intellectual thought. They believed that it's undeniable beauty and spirituality should be appreciated more and that by doing so one can become more self reliant, which was the ultimate goal of their philosophies. Therefore, nature played a huge role in transcendentalist Emerson and Thoreau believed that nature's undeniable beauty and spirituality should be appreciated more and that by doing so one can become more self reliant, which was the ultimate goal of their transcendentalist philosophies. THE END
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