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American Transcendentalism Essay

1448 words - 6 pages

American Transcendentalism "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to from only essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived" (Thoreau). American Transcendentalism was a literary and philosophical movement that emerged in New England around 1836 and flourished for ten years until 1846. This school of thought had a profound influence on American religion, philosophy, politics, literature, and art. The American Transcendentalist rejected this empiricism, asserting that wisdom is inherent in the soul of each human being. The roots of the Transcendentalists' humanistic philosophy is that which exalts the individual as a reflection and integral part of God's divine universe.According to critics, American Transcendentalism was driven by the circumstances of nineteenth-century American life. American Transcendentalism is rooted in the American past. It owes its pervasive morality and the "doctrine of divine light" to such aspects of Puritanism and its concept of nature as a living mystery and not a clockwork universe which is fixed and permanent to the Romanticism age (Reuben 2). The American landscape inspired the Transcendentalists' reverence for nature, which provided them with much of the sustaining language and metaphor of their philosophy.Among the chief proponents of American Transcendentalism, Ralph Waldo Emerson is widely regarded as its central figure and catalyzing force. Critics often cite his essay Nature and An Address Delivered Before the Senior Class in Divinity College as touchstones of the movement. His subsequent essays, journals, and poems are credited with giving further shape to its ideals. Emerson was also an important inspiration to such authors as Walt Whitman, who, along with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, and Edgar Allan Poe, were strongly influenced by Transcendentalism (Mullen and Wilson 1).Perhaps the best known and most influential of Emerson's immediate disciples is Henry David Thoreau, noted for his book Walden; or Life in the Woods, which has been regarded as a nature study, spiritual autobiography, and philosophical abstract, for his "Civil Disobedience", a seminal essay outlining peaceful social protest. Among American Transcendentalism's other key figures was Margaret Fuller, editor of the leading Transcendentalist periodical, The Dial, and author of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, considered a primary document of American feminism."The currents of the Universal Being through me; I am part of particle of God." Ralph Waldo Emerson believed in order to comprehend the divine, God, and the universe, one must transcend or go beyond the physical and emotional descriptions of normal human thought. With that philosophy, Emerson became the leader of philosophers and writers termed Transcendentalist. His essay Nature, is considered the "gospel" of American Transcendentalism. The major thesis of...

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