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The Great Transcendentalist Movement Essay, Research Paper
The Great Transcendentalist Movement
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, a new era was
developing in American society. The United States was an
idealistic nation with separate beliefs and lifestyles. One
of the most intriguing lifestyles introduced during this
time was transcendentalism. Many authors, such as Ralph
Waldo Emerson, Nathanial Hawthorne, Walt Whitman and Henry
David Thoreau, developed this idea and tried to make people
understand the meaning behind this new way of lfe. Through
his extensive writings of books, essays and poetry, Thoreau
gave the American public a deep insight to the new world of
While he was growing up, Thoreau rarely left his birth
town of Concord. He felt that man didn?t need wider
horizons in order to write efficiently (Hoff, 31). He wrote
his private thoughts in journals to help him write lectures
and books, and never wrote or spoke about what he himself
had not experienced (Hoff, 32). Thoreau attened Harvard,
but believed that he had not really learned anything of
worth while there(Hoff, 34). This is surprising because
most people think of Thoreau as an intellectual, who most
definitely had a sound education that he appreciated.
Thoreau was a ?skilled naturalist (Whitman, 802)? who
was extremely knowledgable about weather, geology, flora and
fauna. He was known to be quite friendly with birds and
other such animals. He was a self-proclaimed mystic,
transcendentalist and natural philosopher. (Whitman, 802).
The first person to use the word ?transcendental? was
German philosopher Immanuel Kant. He used the term
?transcendental philosophy? to describe the study of pure
mind and its forms. The word ?transcendentalism? is defined
as the ?belief or doctrine asserting the existence of an
ideal spiritual reality that transcends the empirical and
scientific and is knowable through intuition (Koster, 1).?
It is also known as, in philosophy and literature, ?the
belief in a higher reality than that found in sense
experience or in a higher kind of knowledge than that
achieved by human reason (Encarta).? This idea originated
with the Greek philosopher, Plato, who had recognized the
existence of absolute righteousness.
American transcendentalism began with the formation of
the Transcendental Club in Boston in 1836. The leaders of
this movement included essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson,
feminist and social reformer Margaret Fuller, minister
Theodore Parker, teacher Bronson Alcott, philosopher William
Ellery Channing, and Thoreau. This club published a
magazine, The Dial, and some members performed an experiment
of communal living at Brook Farm in Massachusetts during the
The American roots of transcendentalism began in New
England with Puritanism. This was the idea that
transcendentalists were direct descendents of people that
fled to this region in search of religious freedom.
Another major influence of the transcendental movement
was platonism. This ideal held the supreme god as being
primary, with all other things derived from it.
Romanticism also played an important role in the
development of this new era. It was:
The delight in, and wonder at, the beauty and
beneficience of nature, the recognition of the
individual human being as being superior to
society, the concomitant objection to social
restraints upon the individual, and, above all,
the ascendency of emotion and intuitive perception
over reason (Koster, 8).
It also involved the celebration of individualism and
Another factor was that of Orientalism. Many people
believed that American interest in the Orient began as a
purely economic interest, but then moved on to other things
such as spirituality and morality.
Religious philosophers that appeared later applied
Plato?s idea of transcendentalism to the fact that God could
not be described nor understood through the voice of human
experience (Encarta). The Scholastics recognized six
transcendental concepts: essence, unity, goodness, truth,
thing and something.
The terms transcendent and transcendental were
used in a more narrow and technical sense by
Scholastic philosophers late in the Middle Ages to
signify concepts of unrestricted generality
applying to all types of things (Encarta).
?American Philosophy: Transcendentalism.?
Arpin, Gary Q. ?The American: Renaissance: The Literary Coming of Age.? Elements of
Literature. By Richard Sime. Fifth Course. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1997.
Crowell, Robert L. ?Thoreau, Henry David.? The Reader?s Encyclopedia of American
Literature. 1962 ed.
?Henry David Thoreau.? Why They Wrote: Dickens, Thoreau, Flaubert, Clemens,
Stevenson. By Rhoda Hoff. 1961. 31-60.
Koster, Donald N. Transcendentalism in America. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1975.
Microsoft Encarta 96 Encylclopedia (1996). [Computer program]. Redmond, WA:
?Thoreau, Henry David.? American Reformers. By Alden Whitman. 801-03.
Thoreau, Henry David. ?Civil Disobedience.?
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