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Transcendentalism Introduction

Background on Transcendentalism movement as well as Emerson and Thoreau.

Jonathan Ayer

on 11 December 2018

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Transcript of Transcendentalism Introduction

Transcendenatalism Background of Movement,
Emerson, & Thoreau Three Principle Beliefs Thoreau's Take on... Materialism Work/Labor Government III. Trust and Follow Yourself I. Universe to Man Connection II. Union with the “Over-Soul” Where it stems from Major Supporters
and Advocates Core Beliefs What is Transcendentalism? Transcendentalism was a literary movement that flourished during the middle 19th Century (1836 – 1860).

It began as a rebellion against traditionally held beliefs by the English Church that God superseded the individual.
Finding its root in the word “transcend,” Transcendentalists believed individuals could transcend to a higher being of existence in nature.
Transcendentalists believe that God is located in the soul of each individual.
Humanity’s potential is limitless.
Experience is valued over scholarship. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Writer and Naturalist Henry David Thoreau
Educator Bronson Alcott (Louisa May’s father)
Walt Whitman
Emily Dickinson
Reverend George Ripley
Publisher Palmer Peabody I. The universe is connected to the individual through nature

II. By contemplating nature, one can transcend the world and be united with the “Over-Soul”

III. One must follow his own intuition and beliefs, no matter how they stray from those of society
From Emerson’s “Divinity School Address”:

“The first in time and the first in importance of the influences upon the mind is that of nature…there is never a beginning, there is never an end, to the inexplicable continuity of this web of God”
From Emerson's “Nature”:

“The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me, I am part or parcel of God.”
From Emerson's “Nature”:

“If the single man plant himself indomitably on his own instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him.”
I am convinced that if all men were to live as simply as I, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place in communities where some have more than is sufficient, while others have not enough.” “. . . Everywhere, in shops, and offices, and field, men have appeared . . . to be doing penance in a thousand remarkable ways. . . . I am convinced. . . that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely. It is not necessary that man should earn his living by the sweat of his brow, unless he sweats easier than I do.”
“In a government which supports injustice, the proper place for a just man is in jail.”
“We should be men first and subjects afterwards. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law so much as for the right . . .”
“I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government.
“The mass of men serve the state . . . Not as men mainly, but as machines.”
“A wise man will only be useful as a man, and will not submit to be clay . . .”
Detractors Herman Melville (Moby Dick and Billy Budd) mocked Emerson in his novel The Confidence of Man as a philosophical fraud During his two year experiment, Thoreau was arrested for not paying his poll tax, which he had withheld in protest against the Mexican War. Out of his night spent in jail, he wrote Civil Disobedience, questioning which has primacy—the laws of a state or a man’s conscience? In his time at Walden Pond, Thoreau turned out essays
on any subject that appealed to him and wrote his first
book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.

He kept his journal and nearly completed the draft of his most renowned work, Walden. At Walden, Thoreau intended to reduce life to its bare essentials, forgoing what others considered “necessities.” He grew only as much food as he could eat, worked only enough to provide himself shelter, and led the “deliberate life,” apart from the impediments of “civilization.”

He spent his time roaming the woods, observing nature and his fellows. In 1843, Emerson secured a position for Thoreau as a tutor for his brother William Emerson in New York, where Thoreau met Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune and who published many of Thoreau’s essays.
After only one year in Staten Island, Thoreau could no longer try to fit in to the mold of society.
In 1844, he returned to Concord where, on July 4, 1845, he began the 26-month experiment that made him famous.
On the banks of Walden Pond, on property owned by Emerson, Thoreau built a cabin. Though essentially a friendly person, Thoreau
seemed not to fit in. While other young men pursued
typical paths of career, marriage, and family,
Thoreau spent his time wandering about the fields
surrounding Concord village.

He had liked teaching, and after resigning his position with the Concord school board, he and his brother established their own experimental school. It was successful, but his brother’s illness and early death caused the school to close in 1842.

His brother’s death and the closing of his school left Thoreau with no means of support. It was then that his relationship with Emerson blossomed. “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” Some Good Advice…
(An Example of Transcendental Thought) True religion resides within the individual, not Christianity or the Church
Everyone has equal access to the “Divine Spirit”
This enraged the officials at Harvard Divinity School and he was barred from speaking there for 30 years Emerson’s Divinity School Address
(That kicked everything off) Returned to Concord, MA in 1835 and wrote his first important work Nature which describes how humans find God within nature:

“In the woods is perpetual youth… In the woods we return to reason and faith.” Transcendentalist Philosopher After graduation, Emerson became a school teacher in suburban Boston.
1823 graduated from seminary school and became a priest to follow in the footsteps of his father. Teacher and Priest 1803-1882 Ralph Waldo Emerson
Father of Transcendentalism In the remaining years of his life, after leaving Walden Pond, Thoreau also continued his observations of nature, traveling about New England, collecting specimens and writing in his journal.
It was on one of his winter forays
into the woods that he contracted
a cold so severe that his tubercular
lungs could no longer function.
Henry David Thoreau died in 1862, at the age of 45. Five more of his works were published after
his death. Abolitionist John Brown After his experience with civil
disobedience, Thoreau left
Walden to move in with the
Emersons. He continued his
activism, protesting the
Fugitive Slave Act and, in 1859,
delivering a passionate appeal
asking justice for abolitionist
John Brown, who was
condemned and later executed
for his raid on Harper’s ferry. “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” These words of Thoreau’s are perhaps his most well-known statement of philosophy. The integrity of each individual was, for him (and Emerson, too), the primary concern in his beliefs. Let each person be (and become) her or himself and go about it in the way most suited to each as a person. Henry David Thoreau Upset in the 1860s by the coming of the Civil War, lived a quiet life with his family.
His house burnt to the ground in 1872.
Emerson was so well-loved, that when his house burned down, his friends sent him on a trip to Europe and rebuilt it for him while he was gone.
Died on April 27th, 1882. Late Life and Death Emerson went on to become a famous lecturer sharing his transcendental philosophy throughout the country. Among his quotable phrases:

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.”
“To be great is to be misunderstood.”
“The only way to have a friend is to be one” Famous Lecturer His father passed away at age 8 and Emerson was left to support his four other brothers.
Ralph was asked to share a coat with his brother Edward to save finances.
His mother took in boarders to save money for her four sons to attend college.
Despite the hardships, all the Emerson boys, except one, graduated from Harvard University. Early Trials Born on Election Day in 1803 in Boston, MA.
Born on the same street as the birth home of Benjamin Franklin.
Father was a famous minister who encouraged young Ralph to pursue philosophy at a young age. Emerson’s Early Life Emerson’s home Emerson’s kindness toward and fondness for Thoreau led to the offer of various odd jobs around his Concord estate. At one point shortly after his brother’s death, Thoreau lived with the Emersons for a while, not the only time he would be welcomed into their home.

Emerson introduced Thoreau to the Concord intellectual group (including Hawthorne, Alcott, Ellery Channing and Margaret Fuller) and published Thoreau’s essays in his Transcendentalist magazine, The Dial. Thoreau at 39 Thoreau’s birthplace Born in Concord in 1817, he later became a protégé of Emerson
He attended Harvard, and became a teacher in Concord, but resigned when he was expected to whip his pupils.
He worked as a pencil maker, a handyman, a farmer, yet was at the same time an accomplished Greek scholar.
He remains one of the most accomplished and deliberate writers in the country.
Yet, as a person, he had only one goal—to live as honestly and wisely as he could. In 1831 Emerson made his first trip to England where he met poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth who introduced him to Romantic notions of nature and philosophy. Introduction to Transcendental Thought Philosophy “To be a philosopher is . . . so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.”
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