Emerson, Theau, and the Transcendentalist Movement
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Where did the America we know today-so different in its fundamental views about almost every aspect of life as to be unrecognizable to our countrymen of two centuries ago-really come from?
How, f example, did the colonial idea of the classroom as a place devoted to "breaking the will" and "subduing the spirit" of students, change to that of a vibrant, even pleasurable experience-including innovations such as kindergarten and recess-with children encouraged to participate actively in their own education?
What fces eventually enabled our nation to see slavery as mally abhrent and unequivocally wrong , when we had once passed a law permitting the capture and return of escaped slaves who managed to make their way to the "free" Nth?
How did the struggle f women's rights-not just f the right to vote but also to have control over their own aspirations and destinies-gain the momentum to unleash changes still felt today?
Why did the once-unassailable power wielded from the pulpit begin to weaken in the 1800s? Why did certain theologies become me liberal and increasing numbers of people choose less dogmatic expressions of faith- even no faith at all?
What are the roots of our love f nature, of the near-spiritual experience so many of us now find in the ripple of a stream in the mning sun the thunderous roar of ocean waves?
Finally, and perhaps most imptant of all, what is the source of our distinctly American way of experiencing ourselves-confident in our value as individuals, certain of our ability to discover personal truths in the natural wld, self-reliant in the face of uncertainty and change?
Answers to questions like these are found in and around Boston and the town of Concd, Massachusetts, which became, little me than five decades after the American Revolution, the epicenter of a profoundly influential movement that would reshape many beliefs and make possible the America we know today.
That movement is Transcendentalism. Drawing on an array of influences from Europe and the non-Western wld, it also offered uniquely American perspectives of thought: an emphasis on the divine in nature, on the value of the individual and intuition, and on belief in a spirituality that might "transcend" one's own sensy experience to provide a me useful guide f daily living than is possible from empirical and logical reasoning.
A Movement that Transfmed America
The extradinary members of this infmal movement provided intellectual and mal leadership f many social transfmations: the abolition of slavery, equal rights f women, freedom of religious thought and practice, educational refm, and me. The influence of their ideas continues today in many aspects of our culture, from effts to preserve large tracts of wild nature to civil disobedience around the wld.
But although the ideas that contributed to New England Transcendentalism had many roots, the strength of its impact came from the intellectual energy of two remarkable individuals: Ralph Waldo Emerson, the most imptant figure behind Transcendentalism in America, and Henry David Theau, his most influential disciple.
The Power of the Individual
"Without Emerson and Theau," notes Profess Ashton Nichols, "the United States would not have developed into the nation it has become. We would not believe in the power of the individual to the extent that we do, n would we see nature at the center of one view of the American psyche. ... If Emerson gave us a new view of America and American thinking, Theau gave us a new way of living and a new vision of each individual."
In Emerson, Theau, and the Transcendentalist Movement, Profess Nichols introduces us to these two remarkable thinkers and a diverse group of intellectual activists, literary figures, and social refmers whose ideas, often considered radical in the decades befe and after the Civil War, would remake American society.
Among those you'll meet:
Liberal theologian Theode Parker. He made the pulpit a fum f social activism and, as a staunch opponent of slavery, would sometimes preach with a pistol in the pulpit, knowing that the fugitive slaves who often attended his massive rallies of 2,000 me were likely to attract slave-catchers.
Educat Amos Bronson Alcott. A self-taught teacher and educational refmer, he did away with cpal punishment and even extended his own hand f students to hit to demonstrate his position that classroom confusion was likely to be the teacher's fault.
Writer Margaret Fuller. The brilliant writer, edit, and voice f women's rights was also the most influential of the female Transcendentalists and one of the first female feign crespondents. She was onboard a ship that sank within sight of Fire Island, New Yk, and a saddened Emerson dispatched Theau in hopes of at least recovering Fuller's manuscripts from the wreckage. Theau repted finding only unidentifiable human remains on the desolate beach.
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