An introduction to 19 th century american transcendentalism
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An Introduction to 19 th Century American Transcendentalism. English 358, Fall 2010 Welcome to class!. What is Transcendentalism? .

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An introduction to 19 th century american transcendentalism

An Introduction to 19th Century American Transcendentalism

English 358, Fall 2010

Welcome to class!

What is transcendentalism
What is Transcendentalism?

How did this “movement” arise? What was it reacting against? What did one have to do/say/think to call himself or herself a “Transcendentalist”? Why might people be suspicious of this label?

A progression of thought
A Progression of Thought

  • Transcendentalism

  • Rejects Locke’s idea that all knowledge derives from empirical reason which is still widely held among all but the most liberal Unitarians

A sample transcendental passage
A Sample Transcendental Passage Thoreau (1817-1862)

  • “If a man is at heart just, then in so far is he God; the safety of God, the immortality of God, the majesty of God do enter into that man with justice. If a man dissemble, he deceives himself, and goes out of acquaintance with his own being.”

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Divinity School Address”

    delivered before the senior class in Harvard Divinity College,

    on a Sunday evening in Cambridge, MA

    July 15, 1838

Tendencies in transcendental writing
Tendencies in Transcendental Writing Thoreau (1817-1862)

The main tendencies in Transcendentalist writing are dominant motifs in American literary history (Buell, Literary Transcendentalism, 20).

Relationship between piety and aesthetics in 19 th century new england
Relationship between Piety and Aesthetics in 19 Thoreau (1817-1862) th century New England

  • “art (with a capital “A” always understood) is the product of the religious sentiment, and the religious sentiment, by its very nature, demands an imaginative expression”

    Buell, Literary Transcendentalism (22)

From emerson s journal
From Emerson’s Journal… Thoreau (1817-1862)

“What shall forbid us to universalize the operations of God & to believe the operation of the Holy Spirit is the same in kind in the prophet Isaiah as in the poet Milton?…

To create is the proof of a Divine presence. Whoever creates is God, and whatever talents are, if man create not, the pure efflux of Deity is not his.”

The call for a poet priest
The Call for a Poet-Priest Thoreau (1817-1862)

  • “[What is needed is a] poet-priest, a reconciler, who shall not trifle with Shakespeare the player, nor grope in graves with Swedenborg the mourner; but who shall see, speak, and act with equal inspiration.”

    Emerson, from Representative Men (1850)

Transcendentalism s central principles
Transcendentalism’s Central Principles Thoreau (1817-1862)

  • The affirmation of man’s ability to experience God firsthand

  • Such experience can be communicated more by re-creation than analysis

  • A convincing expression of spiritual experience demands that we push the boundaries of our use of language

  • Emerson pairs his call for an original relation to the universe with a call for the original use of language