American Transcendentalism "WE WILL WALK ON OUR OWN FEET; WE WILL WORK WITH OUR OWN HANDS; WE WILL SPEAK OUR OWN MINDS...A NATION OF MEN WILL FOR THE FIRST TIME EXIST, BECAUSE EACH BELIEVES HIMSELF INSPIRED BY THE DIVINE SOUL WHICH ALSO INSPIRES ALL MEN.” -RALPH WALDO EMERSON “THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR” 1837 Hudson River School Painting as a vehicle through which the universal mind could reach the mind of mankind Art as an agent of moral and spiritual transformation Asher B. Durand, Kindred Spirits If nature were untouched by the hand of man--as was much of the primeval American landscape in the early 19th century--then man could become more easily acquainted with the hand of God. Thomas Cole, Romantic Landscape with Ruined Tower The Transparent Eye-ball "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” EMERSON, NATURE Towards a Definition of Transcendentalism: A Few Comments "The spirit of the time is in every form a protest against usage and a search for principles." - Emerson in the opening number of The Dial "I was given to understand that whatever was unintelligible would be certainly Transcendental." Charles Dickens in American Notes "I should have told them at once that I was a transcendentalist. That would have been the shortest way of telling them that they would not understand my explanations." - Thoreau, Journal, V:4 Additional Comments “Transcendentalism is the recognition in man of the capacity of knowing truth intuitively, or of attaining a scientific knowledge of an order of existence transcending the reach of the senses, and of which we can have no sensible experience." - J. A. Saxton, Dial II: 90 "Literally a passing beyond all media in the approach to the Deity, Transcendentalism contained an effort to establish, mainly by the discipline of the intuitive faculty, direct intercourse between the soul and God." - Charles J. Woodbury in Talks with Ralph Waldo Emerson "The problem of transcendental philosophy is no less than this, to revise the experience of mankind and try its teachings by the nature of mankind, to test ethics by conscience, science by reason; to try the creeds of the churches, the constitution of the states, by the constitution of the universe." - Theodore Parker in Works VI: 37 A Definition, Somewhat. the capacity of knowing intuitively, or of attaining knowledge transcending (going beyond) the reach of the senses Idealism “seeing into the life of things” -Wordsworth By meditation, by communing with nature, through work and art, man could transcend his senses and attain an understanding of beauty and goodness and truth. Basic Premises Glorification of nature everything in the world is a microcosm of existence "Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact." Idealization of each individual the spark of divinity lies within man the individual soul is identical to the world soul, or Over-Soul "Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related." Freedom of thought and expression Reliance on intuition Independence from the restrictions of society Self-reliance Humanitarian reform Albert Bierstadt, Storm in the Rocky Mountains (Mount Rosa) Objections and Commendations Transcendentalism, like other romantic movements, proposes that the essential nature of human beings is good and that, left in a state of nature, human beings would seek the good. Society is to blame for the corruption that mankind endures. Hawthorne's juxtaposition of the red rose, the flower of nature, and the rusty, blackened prison, the "black flower" of society, exemplifies this perspective. This view opposes the neoclassical vision that society alone is responsible for keeping human beings from giving in to their own brutish natures. Transcendentalism also takes the Romantic view of man's steady degeneration from childhood to adulthood as he is corrupted by culture: "A man is a god in ruins."