Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalism
In my essay I would like to provide an overview of Transcendentalism and its times. My other goal is in this paper to introduce Ralph Waldo Emerson’s most important essay: The American Scholar. To achieve these goals, I have separated the parts of this theme. After a detailed introduction in the first section, I determine what Transcendentalism really is. In the next section, I would like to write about the connection between Nature and Emerson’s way of thinking. In the last part I give a short analysis of Emerson’s essay.
“It was Emerson, in literary terms at least, really put America on the map, who created for himself the practically nonexistent role of man of letters, (…) mainly inspired audiences in America and abroad.” (Porte, 1) This quotation proves that Ralph Waldo Emerson was an important figure in American culture. In the nineteenth century he was the person who started to chide the American conscience even when its ears were filled with other voices. He produced lectures, essays, addresses and poems which were concerned with contemporary cultural analysis. This time was that crucial moment of American history when the old and the new stood side by side. There were unanswered questions about conservatism and radicalism, the establishment and the movement, private property and communism, slavery and freedom. An American thinker deeply concerned with these public issues and Emerson was one of the lecturers who inspired the “Man Thinking” as a way of life.
In the first part of my essay I would like to take up the question of Transcendentalism. “It was an idealistic philosophical and social movement which developed in New England around 1836 in reaction to rationalism.” (Oxford Dictionaries) But this term did not have a clear definition because as I mentioned it represented “the party of the Past” and “the party of the Future”. (Porte, 13) This was the time when new intellectual categories and new relations among persons and classes emerged. There was a kind of desire for rethinking and remaking which characterized the movement. The roots of this movement went back to the mid-eighteenth century. That was the time when New England religious culture was shaped by the Calvinist theory but Puritans started to form their own Puritan theology. These mixed theories planted a direction of thinking that implied a more positive view of human nature. The emphasis on this new conception defined the spiritual life in terms of a continuing effort to cultivate the spiritual resources of the individual. (15) This was the point when the so called “self-culture” as term was born. Self-culture was an extended process of inner growth which dependent on discipline and self-cultivation through the way of experience and the feeling of a “Divine presence”. (15) Emerson characterized the Transcendentalist movement by his spirit of restless energy and his spiritual aspiration. The Transcendentalists and Emerson were influenced by many religious and philosophical influences. They responded with enthusiasm to the English Romantics, especially William Wordsworth. Wordsworth had a concern with spiritual growth and his sensibility to nature inspired Emerson. For Emerson the influences of the modern literature were also important. For example the recognition of daily experiences as the formative elements in the culture of the soul had an important impact. Furthermore, there were religious and philosophical influences on the works of Transcendentalists. Mostly the Platonic and Neoplatonic traditions were formative to Emerson’s thinking included Plato and Kant. (19) In the following paragraphs I write about the connection between the Nature and Emerson. Other believers believed that the determining force in their lives was grace, economics, race, sex or genetics. (Porte, 97) But Emerson’s basic teaching was that the fundamental context of people’s life was Nature. According to him, Nature is the...
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