Transcendentalism / The New England Renaissance

2092 words - 8 pages

Transcendentalism an idealist philosophical tendency among writers in and around Boston in the mid 19th century. Growing out of Christian Unitarianism in the 1830s under the influence of German and British romanticism. Transcendentalism affirmed Kant principle of intuitive knowledge not derived from the senses, while rejecting organized religion for an extremely individualistic celebration of the divinity in each human being. The transcendentalists' manner of interpreting nature in symbolic terms had a profound influence on American literature of this period, notably in the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. This movement is often, regarded as a delayed manifestation of Romanticism.Historically, the stern theology of the Puritans may have been absolutely necessary to make them work with singleness and an inflexibility of purpose to lay the foundations of a mighty republic; but this very singleness of aim had led to a narrowness of culture which had starved the emotional and aesthetic nature. Art, music, literature, and the love of beauty in general had seemed reprehensible because it was thought that they took away the attention from a matter of far graver import, the salvation of the immortal soul. Now there gradually developed the conviction that these agencies not only helped to save the soul, but made it more worth saving. People began to search for the beautiful and to enjoy it in both nature and art. Emerson says: "... if eyes were made for seeing, Then Beauty is its own excuse for being." The years from about 1820 until the Civil War, and the 1840s in particular, witnessed a heightened awareness of a range of social issues - in which the antislavery movement was the most visible reform movement of the period- and gave rise to a number of active social reform movements including the intolerable working conditions and women rights. New England Transcendentalism flowered during a period in American history marked by expansion, change, a growing national self-awareness, and increasing political, social, and regional polarization. The years from 1830 to 1860 witnessed the exploration and annexation of much new territory, westward migration, dramatic improvements in transportation and communication, and development toward party politics as we recognize them today. The North became more urbanized and industrialized, whereas the South remained primarily agricultural. While many Americans maintained a cautious distance from, or blissful ignorance of, currents in foreign politics and culture, certain religious leaders and some intellectuals and writers were strongly influenced by foreign philosophy and literature, forging in Transcendentalism a radical expression of European idealism and Romanticism.Culturally, during the period between about 1825 and the Civil War, there was a explosion of institutions designed to enrich the average person and to promote self-culture. The public library movement gained momentum mid-century, providing...

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