The Transcendentalists

“Good men must not obey the
laws too well.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
A Branch of the Romanticism Movement
Falls under the umbrella of the American Romantic
movement (1800-1860). The majority of the
Transcendentalists works were written in the 1830s and
It began as a protest against the general state of the
society and of the religious doctrines being taught at
Harvard College. The focus is that the ideas of an
individual are more important than following a religious
Emphasizes an appreciation and a deep connection to
The Origins of the Movement
 Transcendentalism took off as a literary and
cultural movement after Ralph Waldo Emerson
published the essay “Nature” in 1836, which
stressed the importance of the divine soul.
 “In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I
feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace,
no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature
cannot repair. 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 particle of God.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
 Those who supported this view formed a group
called the Transcendental Club. Members were
all living in the New England area and included
Margaret Fuller, Emerson, Henry David Thoreau
and Frederick Hedge. All were published authors
during their time. Some are even considered to
be “rebels” of the time period.
Henry David Thoreau
 For the first time, writers encouraged people to begin a
human revolution and to examine the world in a different
way. Emerson ended his essay “The American Scholar” with
this quotation:
“So shall we come to look at the world with new eyes. It shall answer the
endless inquiry of the intellect, — What is truth? and of the affections, —
What is good? by yielding itself passive to the educated Will. ... Build,
therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure
idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent
revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit.”
 For many, the urge to look at the world in a fresh way and to
build their own world based on their ideas of perfection was
appealing. The country was also at a crossroads and willing
to embrace some changes.
* New England had long been known for its interest in selfimprovement and intellectual inquiry.
* New England was a center of many reform movements.
* Social causes grew during this time including ideas such as
utopian projects.
*What is a utopian society?
*A perfect, harmonious society
*Ralph Waldo Emerson, a famous writer from this
time was a member of one of the most influential
utopian groups.
*Brook Farm was the name of his utopian society.
*Brook Farm =
*He helped inspire numerous reform movements that
aimed to improve public education, end slavery,
elevate the status of women, and smooth the edges of
rough social conditions of the time.
Ideas of the Transcendentalists
Many saw organized religion as an obstacle that
blocked one’s way to God. They felt that by
closely examining one’s soul, connecting to nature
and observing human nature, that a Divine
connection could be established.
**Do we still hold these views today?
 Transcendentalists believed that one could be
closer to God by relying on their own intuition and
that with practice, one could achieve personal
harmony and therefore reach God.
Ideas of the Transcendentalists
Transcendentalists were optimistic.
They believed
that all one needed to discover any answer was to
learn to read and to be open to nature.
One also had to be aware of the past, but willing to
look beyond it. One needed to be unwilling to
conform to the wishes of society and instead be
true to one’s true identity. An emphasis on taking
care of one’s own necessities was also evident.
Five Key Aspects of Transcendentalism
Create a definition for each of the terms below. Consult
a dictionary if needed to help define your terms. Then
give an example of what you believe this concept would
look like in our modern society.
Free Thought
Importance of Nature