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Section 2 Summit of Romanticism – American Transcendentalism

I. Background: four sources

1. Unitarianism

(1) Fatherhood of God

(2) Brotherhood of men

(3) Leadership of Jesus

(4) Salvation by character (perfection of one’s character)

(5) Continued progress of mankind

(6) Divinity of mankind

(7) Depravity of mankind

2. Romantic Idealism

Center of the world is spirit, absolute spirit (Kant)

3. Oriental mysticism

Center of the world is “oversoul”

4. Puritanism

Eloquent expression in transcendentalism

II. Appearance

1836, “Nature” by Emerson

III. Features

1. spirit/oversoul

2. importance of individualism

3. nature – symbol of spirit/God

garment of the oversoul

4. focus in intuition (irrationalism and subconsciousness)

IV. Influence

1. It served as an ethical guide to life for a young nation and brought about the idea that human can be perfected by nature. It stressed religious tolerance, called to throw off shackles of customs and traditions and go forward to the development of a new and distinctly American culture.

2. It advocated idealism that was great needed in a rapidly expanded economy where opportunity often became opportunism, and the desire to “get on” obscured the moral necessity for rising to spiritual height.

3. It helped to create the first American renaissance – one of the most prolific period in American literature.

V. Ralph Waldo Emerson

1. life

2. works

(1) Nature

(2) Two essays: The American Scholar, The Poet

3. point of view

(1) One major element of his philosophy is his firm belief in the transcendence of the “oversoul”.

(2) He regards nature as the purest, and the most sanctifying moral influence on man, and advocated a direct intuition of a spiritual and immanent God in nature.

(3) If man depends upon himself, cultivates himself and brings out the divine in himself, he can hope to become better and even perfect. This is what Emerson means by “the infinitude of man”.

(4) Everyone should understand that he makes himself by making his world, and that he makes the world by making himself.

4. aesthetic ideas

(1) He is a complete man, an eternal man.

(2) True poetry and true art should ennoble.

(3) The poet should express his thought in symbols.

(4) As to theme, Emerson called upon American authors to celebrate America which was to him a lone poem in itself.

5. his influence

VI. Henry David Thoreau

1. life

2. works

(1) A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River

(2) Walden

(3) A Plea for John Brown (an essay)

3. point of view

(1) He did not like the way a materialistic America was developing and was vehemently outspoken on the point.

(2) He hated the human injustice as represented by the slavery system.

(3) Like Emerson, but more than him, Thoreau saw nature as a genuine restorative, healthy influence on man’s spiritual well-being.

(4) He has faith in the inner virtue and inward, spiritual grace of man.

(5) He was very critical of modern civilization.

(6) “Simplicity…simplify!”

(7) He was sorely disgusted with “the inundations of the dirty institutions of men’s odd-fellow society”.

(8) He has calm trust in the future and his ardent belief in a new generation of men.