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Introduction to Transcendentalism

Emerson & Thoreau
by

Jessica Barewicz

on 19 November 2012

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Transcript of Introduction to Transcendentalism

Transcendentalism Emerson and Thoreau The Transcendentalism Movement:

Renaissance or coming of age? Henry David Thoreau Civil Disobedience Philosophical Foundation Spiritual Beliefs Political Activism 1803-1882 Ralph Waldo Emerson Emerson gave hundreds of lectures throughout the US.

Expected to follow his forefathers into the ministry and attended Harvard (and eventually gave the "blasphemous" Divinity School Address)

Experience and exposure to non-western writings made him question existing religious ideas. Regarded himself as “…a poet of low class…
in the sense of a perceiver and lover of the
harmonies that are in the soul and in matter…”

Believed individual souls part of a larger entity:
the “Over-Soul”

Both man and nature are part of a universal world in which people could see their souls reflected Demanded that the American scholar free themselves from the shackles of the past and called for a rejection of institutional religion in favor of a personal relation with God

Expressed "advantages" of America better than anyone before him:
- Freedom from old, corrupt and dying thought and customs of Europe
- Access to higher laws through nature rather than books and teachings
- Energy
- Opportunity to reform the world Institute social reform:
- Education
- Facilities for the mentally ill
- Abolitionists
- Women's rights

Lyceum Movement:
- Train teachers
- Establish museums “In determining the Ultimate reality of God, the Universe, the self, and other important matters, one must transcend—go beyond—everyday human experience in the physical world.”

•True reality involves ideas vs. world perceived by the senses
•Permanent reality underlies physical appearance
•Human perfection is possible
•Nature=mystical world holding important truths
•Self-improvement and intellectual inquiry are essential to individual and societal advancement Everything, including humans, is a reflection of Divine Soul.

The physical facts of the natural world are a doorway to spiritual or ideal worlds.

People who use their intuition to behold God’s spirit revealed in nature or their own soul.

Self-reliance and individualism must outweigh external authority and blind conformity to custom and tradition.

Spontaneous feelings and intuition are superior to deliberate intellectualism and rationality.

There is a spiritual freedom and peace found in simplifying our lives. Kant and Hegel argued that there is a body of knowledge within man, innate, and that this knowledge transcended the senses, thus Transcendentalism

The child is born with an ability to tell right from wrong. His moral sense became calloused as he grew and listened to the world rather than that inner voice:
"I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born."

By their insistence on individualism, they may doomed their movement. •Harvard educated, yet had little literary success
•He was 28 and considered a “failure,” lasting only two weeks as a school teacher because he refused to whip a student (mandatory punishment back then)

o Public lectures were considered uninspiring
o The woman he proposed to turned him down (never married)
o No interest in the family business (manufacturing pencils).

•Surprisingly ornery, hard to get along with
•Best friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson
•Wore green to church (because the rules called for black): non-conformist
•Went to jail for not paying his poll tax, though his friends and family paid it for him o Civil disobedience: non-violent resistance to
unethical government (inspired MLK and Gandhi)

o Dissent is an individual act, not an organization of people Ultimate truths are found in nature:

Sought experimental living in nature and to write his first book. He built his cabin on Emerson's land on Walden Pond.

Lived Emerson's ideas in the essay "Nature"

Lectured against slavery and strongly supported the abolitionist movement

Walden
•July 4, 1845: moved to Walden (there is some controversy as to whether this is the true date and/or “coincidental”)
•Mythical experience at Walden Pond, yet he still went to his mother’s to do laundry and had access to some material comforts
•Distained materialism, living for money
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