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American Transcendentalism (1836-1860)

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Sarah Zometa

on 26 September 2018

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Transcript of American Transcendentalism (1836-1860)

American Transcendentalism (1836-1860)
History & Origins
German philosopher Immanuel Kant: first to use "transcendentalism" in writing.
Began in New England in the late 1820s.
Pre-Civil War
Philosophical & literary movement that involved writers, artists, thinkers, and social reformers.

Reaction against:
Inadequate education system
Industrialization and urbanization
Extreme religious orthodoxy
Social injustice, including slavery
Empiricism, or the belief that knowledge comes only through experience & intellect.
Tenets of the Transcendentalist Movement
1. Humans are born good.
2. Nature is the pathway to God & spiritual fulfillment.
3. Intuition is the highest form of knowledge.
4. Humans should always question the established order; belief in non-conformity.
5. Perfection is possible.
6. Society is the source of all corruption.
7. The individual must rely on himself or herself.
Famous Transcendentalists: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Born in Boston, Massachusetts
Lecturer and ordained minister
Friends with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott & Henry David Thoreau
First publication:
in 1836
Famous for essays including "Self-Reliance" & speeches like "The American Scholar."
Staunch Abolitionist
Religious skeptic
Most prolific of Transcendentalists
Famous Transcendentalists: Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Born & lived in Concord, Massachusetts
Mentored by Emerson
Poet, philosopher & social critic.
Held many jobs, including pencil-maker & land surveyor
Built a shack & lived in seclusion at Walden Pond for 4 years
Most famous for his book
and essays like "Resistance to Civil Government"
'"Standing on the bare ground,--my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,--all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God."
"If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
--from the conclusion of
Famous Transcendentalists: Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
Born in Long Island, NY
Former journalist and schoolteacher
Poet; "father of free verse"
Most famous for volume
Leaves of Grass
Emerson was a huge fan
Lived through the Civil War
Work reflects the transition from Transcendentalism to Realism.
When I heard the learn'd astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
Transcendentalism in Practice
Reform Movements
Utopia: Creating the Perfect Society
Brook Farm:
1840s commune in West Roxbury, MA
Only 9 miles outside of downtown Boston
Members chose what kind of labor they liked
All members received equal wages
Nathaniel Hawthorne was a member
Because Transcendentalists believed modern society corrupted humans and nature & that perfection was possible, they created their own communities.
Short-lived 1840s commune in Harvard, MA
Members had vegetarian diet
Used no animal labor in farm work
Shared property ownership
Spirituality versus Religion
Rejected the concept of organized religion
Believed in the "Over-Soul"
Influenced by eastern religions.
Believed in individual relationships with God.
Many transcendentalists joined the Unitarian Universalist church in New England.
Reforming Society
Anti-slavery movement

Lyceum Movement:
Adult education
Local schools--or lyceums
Lectures, drama, classes & debates
Endorsed by Emerson & Thoreau--both of whom gave lectures at several lyceums.
Women's Rights:
Early feminism
Led by Margaret Fuller
Argued for equality between the sexes
Linked itself with Abolitionism
Other Transcendentalists:
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Louisa May Alcott
William Ellery Channing
Bronson Alcott
Orestes Brownson
Emily Dickinson
Margaret Fuller
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