American Transcendentalism: A History
Philip F. Gura
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American Transcendentalism is a sweeping narrative history of America's first group of public intellectuals, the men and women who defined American literature and indelibly marked American reform in the decades before and following the American Civil War. Philip F. Gura masterfully traces their intellectual genealogy to transatlantic religious and philosophical ideas, illustrating how these informed the fierce theological debates that, so often first in Massachusetts and eventually throughout America, gave rise to practical, personal, and quixotic attempts to improve, even perfect the world. The transcendentalists would painfully bifurcate over what could be attained and how, one half epitomized by Ralph Waldo Emerson and stressing self-reliant individualism, the other by Orestes Brownson, George Ripley, and Theodore Parker, emphasizing commitment to the larger social good.
By the 1850s, transcendentalists turned ever more exclusively to abolition, and by war's end transcendentalism had become identified exclusively with Emersonian self-reliance, congruent with the national ethos of political liberalism and market capitalism.
obtained by “intelligent moral culture and spiritual development.”33 His preaching satisfied the congregation, that is, a majority of the parishioners, but not the church members, who controlled the organization, and on their complaint a council of neighboring churches urged Wasson’s dismissal. Shortly thereafter he met Higginson, ministering in nearby Newbury, who lent him books and introduced him to fellow Unitarians. Wasson’s intellect grew exponentially—in natural history, in Swedenborg’s
humanity united by an inherent spiritual principle. In this light, however, his magnum opus, Transcendentalism in New England: A History (1876), published the same year as Stedman’s encomium to him, is oddly elegiac. Here if anywhere one should look to understand in what, among second-generation Transcendentalists, the movement’s legacy consisted. But for someone with friends among the most vital successors to first-generation Transcendentalists, Frothingham approached the period as though it
distinguish sharply “the transcendental grammar of the intellect” from the “various transcendental systems of the universe, which are chimeras.”26 Santayana identified Emerson as one who had best understood Transcendentalism as a mode of seeing. “He was a cheery, child-like soul, impervious to the evidence of evil.” He practiced the transcendental method in all its purity, opening his eyes to the world every morning “with a fresh sincerity, marking how things seemed to him then.” Nature,
definition of; second-generation representatives of; solitude as element of; spiritual element in man as basis for; Swedenborg and; theological foundation of; Unitarianism and; varieties of; women and Transcendentalism (Greene) Transcendentalism in New England (Frothingham) Transcendentalism of the Germans and of Cousin and Its Influence on Opinion in the Country (Norton) “Transcendentalism” (Parker) “Transcendentalist, The” (Emerson) Trial of Theodore Parker for the “Misdemeanor” of A Speech in
review predictably. She stressed that the words of the Old Testament were the product of men “limited in their power of taking in what was so freely poured upon them by their partaking in the spirit and character of the age in which they lived.” But she quickly recognized that the uniqueness of Old Testament texts resided in their poetry, what she described as the “expression of abstract and spiritual truths by sensible objects, by the forms, colors, sounds, changes, [and] combinations of