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Transcendentalism was a group of new ideas in literature, religion, culture, and philosophy that emerged in the New England region of the United States of America in the early-to mid-nineteenth century. It is sometimes called "American Transcendentalism" to distinguish it from other uses of the word transcendental. It began as a protest against the general state of culture and society at the time, and in particular, the state of intellectualism at Harvard and the doctrine of the Unitarian church which was taught at Harvard Divinity School. Among their core beliefs was an ideal spiritual state that 'transcends' the physical and empirical and is only realized through the individual's intuition, rather than through the doctrines of established religions.


Prominent Transcendentalists included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, as well as Bronson Alcott, Orestes Brownson, William Ellery Channing, Frederick Henry Hedge, Theodore





The publication of Emerson's 1836 essay Nature is usually taken to be the watershed moment at which Transcendentalism became a major cultural movement. Emerson wrote in his essay "The American Scholar": "We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds...A nation of men will for the first time exist, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men." Emerson closed the essay by calling for a revolution in human consciousness to emerge from the new idealist philosophy:


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,

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It's been over 40 years since I read or studied anything to do with transcentalism and the romantic era authors but don't you think that Throeau, Emerson and the others who wrote for The Dial would be absolutely shocked at how free we all live now? They lived in stifling times with heavy victorican influences telling them how to think, act and live. They were the "brake away" boys, and I think you would have hated being a woman back in the 1830s, with the confines that society back then put on women.


We, in 2006, are free to live any way we want, to read and think anything we want. Granted, the average person on the street is too busy making a living for his/her family to sit around talking philosophy, except maybe on Sunday after church, but that doesn't mean that many of us haven't done that kind of itelligentual investigations in our youths. Life was easier for the educated men from wealthy families back then. I would imagine that all the same kinds of intelligentual conversations that the contributors to The Dial had back then are still going on in academy circles today.



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i think the Thoreau quote, from Walden, is, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."


Thoreau led what to me was, in a way, a sad life. From Wikepedia, "Thoreau first contracted tuberculosis in 1835 (he was born in 1817, so he was approx. 18 years old) and suffered from it sporadically over his life. In 1859, following a late night excursion to count the rings of tree stumps during a rain storm, he became extremely ill. His health declined over three years with brief periods of remission, until he eventually became bedridden. Recognizing the terminal nature of his disease, Thoreau spent his last years editing, rewriting, and organizing his unpublished works, particularly The Dispersion of Seeds, and petitioning publishers to produce his essays and books. He also maintained correspondences and his journals until he became too weak, after which he would dictate to his sister. His friends' letters and journals are filled with both alarm at his diminished appearance and impending death, as well as fascination with Thoreau's tranquility with his situation. When his aunt Louisa asked him in his last weeks whether he had made his peace with God, Thoreau responded quite simply: "I did not know we had ever quarrelled." Thoreau died of tuberculosis in 1862 at age 44."


to live your entire adult life sick with what was then an incurable illness-that is beyond sad. that fact probably played a large part in his intellectual and spiritual development, and the development of his philosophies. that was probably also a large part of why he never appeared (at least from what i know) to develop much of an intimate, personal life apart from his family of origin.


the quote from Walden seems, to me, both a predominent emotion of Thoreau's, and a feeling(s) around which he developed his philosophy as a tool to fight against it (them.)


everyone's life philosphy is, in part, developed around the circumstances of their life.





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Mom and Sandy,

Yes we have more freedoms now. But we still have heavy stifling influences that aren't victorian in nature but no less restricting. Truth be known you're right I would've hated being a woman back then. I hate being a woman now at different times. But I do still see stifling constrictive attitudes and influences. I think Good Morning America recently called it "The dumbing down of America" There is evidence of it all around us because the art of stimulating intellectual debate is lost on most modern americans today.Those that don't feel comfortable in partaking of a debate, dismiss it and label it childish games. Or worse yet, bite their tongues and never utter a word of their opinion and accept the opinions of others as gospel. Apathy is what is wrong with society or America today. No one has courage to take a stand on anything they believe in, because it may not be the popular choice. I'm starting to wonder if evolution has started to dissolve our backbones? Gee, I hope the mention of evolution doesn't hijack my blog.....

Maybe my next topic of research should be the monkey trials or whatever they were called.


Sandy, thanks for putting in the entire quote from Walden. I had forgotten the main gist of it. Not surprising is it?

But I still wonder why Transcendentalism wouldn't be helpful today? Bill has a good theory of why it wouldn't work, but it escapes me at this time. I think every generation needs a worthy movement to sink their teeth into or dig their heels in and stand behind it, especially if it wasn't a mainstream choice. Maybe physical backbones aren't necessary, it is stubbornness in disguise that needs to be nurtured.

Sandy, I agree with you as to where his philosphies came from, but just because TB isn't rampant in modern times, is that an acceptable excuse for most modern americans to not think and use their brains?


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