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Transcendentalism The American Renaissance. A Literary Coming of Age (1830-1850) Hiba Taylor AP Language and Composition Oxford Academy. A Movement. Movement (noun):

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transcendentalism the american renaissance

TranscendentalismThe American Renaissance

A Literary Coming of Age (1830-1850)

Hiba Taylor

AP Language and Composition

Oxford Academy


A Movement

Movement (noun):

“A series of organized activities working toward an objective; also : an organized effort to promote or attain an end (the civil rights movement).”


Opening Thoughts

Movements are often sparked by a shift in philosophical thought.


The Context

New England Massachusetts

1830 - 1850


The Context

  • The literature of Transcendentalism was mostly non-fiction prose and poetry.
  • The transcendentalists were often referred to as poets.
  • Their works included rhetorical strategies and literary devices with a heavy emphasis on imagery, paradoxes, and aphorisms.
the philosophy
The philosophy

Philosophy is an articulation of an understanding of who we are, the way we view the world and ourselves.

the philosophy1
The philosophy
  • What was the dominant philosophy before Transcendentalism?
  • What shift in philosophical thought took place?
the philosophy2
The philosophy

John LockeKnowledge is created through experience.Think: Tabula Rasa

the philosophy3
The philosophy

Immanuel Kantknowledge is created through intuition.Think: Universal Truths

the philosophy4
The philosophy

Intuition“The power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.”

the philosophy5
The philosophy

Lockean philosophy and the philosophy before Transcendentalism was empirical and rational. Kantian philosophy fuses the two to create idealism, and it is based on intuition.

from a recent edition of merriam webster s collegiate dictionary
From a recent edition of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

transcendentalism n. 1: A philosophy that emphasizes the a priori conditions of knowledge and experience or the unknowable character of ultimate reality or that emphasizes the transcendent as the fundamental reality.

2: a philosophy that asserts the primacy of the spiritual and transcendental over the material and empirical.

3: the quality or state of being transcendental

informal definition of transcendental thought
Informal Definition of Transcendental Thought
  • The idea that in determining the ultimate reality of God, the universe, the self, and other important matters, one must transcend or go beyond everyday experiences in the natural world.
in the words of ralph waldo emerson in his1842 lecture the transcendentalist
In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his1842 lecture, The Transcendentalist

“The Transcendentalist adopts the whole connection of spiritual doctrine. He believes in miracle, in the perpetual openness of the human mind to new influx of light and power; he believes in inspiration, and in ecstasy. He wishes that the spiritual principle should be suffered to demonstrate itself to the end, in all possible applications to the state of man, without the admission of anything unspiritual; that is, anything positive, dogmatic, personal. Thus, the spiritual measure of inspiration is the depth of the thought, and never, who said it? And so he resists all attempts to palm other rules and measures on the spirit than its own.”

the transcendentalist lecture
The Transcendentalist (lecture)

“It is well known to most of my audience, that the Idealism of the present day acquired the name of Transcendental, from the use of that term by Immanuel Kant, of Konigsberg, who replied to the skeptical philosophy of Locke, which insisted that there was nothing in the intellect which was not previously in the experience of the senses, by showing that there was a very important class of ideas, or imperative forms, which did not come by experience, but through which experience was acquired; that these were intuitions of the mind itself; and he denominated them Transcendental forms. The extraordinary profoundness and precision of that man's thinking have given vogue to his nomenclature, in Europe and America, to that extent, that whatever belongs to the class of intuitive thought, is popularly called at the present day Transcendental. “

major tenets and principles
Major tenets and principles
  • Everything in the world, including human beings, is a reflection of the Divine Soul (“over-soul”)
  • The physical facts of the natural world are a doorway to the spiritual ideal world.
  • People can use their intuition to behold God’s spirit revealed in nature or in their own souls
  • 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.
major tenets and principles1
Major tenets and principles
  • Freethinking
  • Self-reliance
  • Non-conformity
  • Growth and renewal of the individual
  • Revolt against tradition and established institutions
  • Civil disobedience
  • Brotherhood of man
  • Nature and spiritual unity
  • Educational reform
ralph waldo emerson 1803 1882
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
  • Emerson Quotes:
    • I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.
    • Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist
    • 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.
    • The only way to have a friend is to be one.
    • Hitch your wagon to a star.
    • What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not been discovered.
    • There are always two parties; the establishment and the movement.
    • Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
    • That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself is changed, but that our power to do is increased.
henry david thoreau 1817 1862
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
  • Thoreau Quotes
    • It is never too late to give up your prejudices. Walden
    • Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. Walden
    • Things do not change; we change. Journal
    • I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Civil Disobedience
    • Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. Civil Disobedience
    • Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.
    • True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance.
    • Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.