Transcendentalism (American History Through Literature)
In the mid-1700s, the New England Puritan churches began to divide, as some ministers and congregations in Boston and eastern Massachusetts began to resist key doctrines of Calvinism. These churches had been established during the Puritan migrations of the mid-1600s and were grounded theologically on the doctrines of John Calvin (1509564). Calvin's theology, as interpreted by the New England Puritans, stressed the absolute nature of God's sovereignty and the inevitability of human depravity. These churches were the official or sanctioned churches of the Massachusetts Commonwealth, the "parish" churches, retaining their public status and support into the early nineteenth century. While theological controversy of one kind or another had been a regular aspect of Puritanism in both England and New England, and indeed in Protestantism generally, the religious divisions that began to emerge in this period would prove to be of particular significance because they led to the formation of a separate movement of religious liberalism that eventually took the name of Unitarianism. Centered in the well-established churches of Boston and at Harvard College, the liberals gained an intellectual and cultural influence that outstripped their relatively small numbers and helped to shape a powerful American liberal tradition in education, literature, the arts, and politics. It was from this movement of Boston liberal theology that the literary and political movement of transcendentalism evolved in the 1830s and 1840s.
THE EVOLUTION OF A NEW DENOMINATION
As the name "Unitarian" might suggest, the liberals differed with the Calvinists, or orthodox as they were also known, on the doctrine of the trinity. But a more fundamental point of division between the two camps was their conception of human nature. The Calvinists held that men and women were naturally corrupt, and their doctrine of innate depravity expressed this darker view of human motives and capabilities. Furthermore, the Calvinists held that the human will was incapable of changing the condition of the individual, that no human effort of belief or works could of itself produce salvation. Salvation was a work of grace, a gift of forgiveness and redemption given by God and not earned by humans. The liberals increasingly dissented from these views.
Liberal ministers such as Charles Chauncy, Jonathan Mayhew, and Ebenezer Gay offered important articulations of liberalism in the eighteenth century, and in the early nineteenth century the movement was carried on and expanded by Joseph Stevens Buckminster, William Emerson, Henry Ware Sr., and Andrews Norton. The most influential exponent of liberal religion, William Ellery Channing (1780842), emerged as an important voice in the second and third decades of the nineteenth century, advocating a more generous view of human motives and capabilities and a more positive view of the nature of God. The Supreme Being was, for Channing, less a dreadful, judgmental figure than the epitome of the just and compassionate morality for which human beings could strive. Convinced that men and women could and did act out of selfless and compassionate motives, Channing rejected the idea of innate depravity. With Henry Ware Jr. and other liberal theologians, he depicted human life as a period of probation in which each person was tested and thereby encouraged to develop an ever-improving character, one that would take them closer to the moral model of God. Religion thus became an art of developing a growing "Likeness to God" (1826), as Channing put it in one of his most important sermons, a continual process of spiritual devotion and ethical character building.
Controversy between the Calvinists and the liberals continued into the nineteenth century, flaring up in an 1805 dispute over the appointment of the liberal Henry Ware Sr. as Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard and again in 1819, when Channing, in his sermon "Unitarian Christianity," declared the principles of liberalism and offered a trenchant refutation of Calvinism. By then, many congregations in Boston had begun to split between Calvinists and liberals, and a legal dispute over the church in Dedham in 1826 helped the liberals retain control of the church buildings and assets. Unitarianism thus became a new religious denomination, still embroiled with its Calvinist opponents but optimistic and ambitious to spread its message of positive spiritual development and human capability.
Early liberal theology was heavily influenced by the English philosopher John Locke and by Scottish Enlightenment philosophers such as Francis Hutcheson, Thomas Reid, and Dugald Stewart. Its orientation was empirical and anti-idealist, positing the reality and primacy of the material world and describing knowledge, following Locke, as chiefly the product of the bodily senses. In defending the reality and truth of the New Testament in his Evidences of the Genuineness of the Gospels (1837844), the Harvard theologian Andrews Norton placed great emphasis on the New Testament's historical record of the attested miracles, resting biblical truth on the recorded confirmation of the actual eyewitness to these miraculous claims. In other words, he grounded religious truth in presumed material fact and historical event. But this view of the literal truth of the biblical narrative was being steadily undermined by the "Higher Criticism" of German biblical scholars such as Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (1752827), Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768834), and Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792860). Using methods of historical research and rational analysis to recognize the Bible as a collection of books written by men at different chronological periods, they made positions such as Norton's, which represented the views of many Unitarian ministers of the early nineteenth century, increasingly doubtful and untenable.
If religious certainty could not be secured through the senses and the evidence of the material world, must one then abandon the spiritual life altogether? A number of younger Unitarian ministers began to resist this conclusion in the 1830s, taking instead a wholly different approach to the problem of religious knowledge. If external evidence was weak or inconclusive, perhaps internal evidence was more certain. Perhaps the mind did not passively absorb knowledge from its surroundings but instead possessed innate qualities and powers that provided religious understanding and spiritual experience of another sort. The mind, in fact, might be understood to tally or correspond with the natural world, to possess within itself the same energy or power as that which we see in natural objects and processes. The most arresting proponent of these theories was a young Unitarian minister, recently separated from his Boston pulpit, named Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803882). In an original and challenging book titled Nature (1836), Emerson propounded a theory of religion based on "intuition" rather than empirical evidence, explaining the religious sentiment as deeply ingrained into the nature of the mind itself. He argued that mind and nature corresponded in fundamental wayshat nature could mirror to us our own identities and potentialitiesecause they had a common origin and shared a common nature. Both were vehicles of a divine energy that shaped reality and gave it value and significance.
Emerson had listened closely to the preaching of Channing and had sought him out for a list of reading materials when he began his divinity studies. In Channing's conception of religion as a process of continual spiritual advancement and self-culture Emerson found an important new way to consider the religious life. Extending Channing's premises, he began to preach an empowering version of spiritually intense, ethically grounded nonconformity, in which each man and woman was enjoined not to accept passively the religious premises and imperatives of others, or the dictates of a church or other institution, but to rely instead on an innate moral sense. "Souls are not saved in bundles," Emerson wrote. "The Spirit saith to the man, 'How is it with thee? thee personally'?" (W 6:214). This philosophy, which rested on the premise of a unifying transcendent or spiritual energy that generated all reality and held it in unity, came to be known as transcendentalism.
By 1836 Emerson had moved from his Boston pulpit into the role of freelance lecturer. He followed Nature with two important lectures at Harvard, "The American Scholar" (1837) and the "Divinity School Address" (1838), and summarized his developing philosophy in two volumes, Essays (1841) and Essays: Second Series (1844). The "Divinity School Address," in particular, was controversial for its pointed critique of the conventional preaching of the day, and its insistence that the "religious sentiment" was not mediated by the church or by the supernatural intervention of Jesus, but was instead a universally available capability. The great achievement and legacy of Jesus was that "alone in all history, he estimated the greatness of man" (CW 1:81). With these and other works in the late 1830s and early 1840s, all marked by Emerson's stirring poetic and rhetorical gift, he began to make an important impact on American literature, one that continues into the twenty-first century.
The appearance of Nature in 1836 was accompanied by the publication in the same year of several works by others that suggested that a transcendentalist movement had begun to blossom. William Henry Furness (1802896), a Unitarian minister in Philadelphia and a friend of Emerson's, published Remarks of the Four Gospels, a work that accepted the reality of the biblical miracles but resisted their relevance in the establishment or proof of the truth of Christianity. Convers Francis (1795863), a Unitarian minister in Watertown, Massachusetts, and later a member of the Harvard faculty, published Christianity as a Purely Internal Principle, which, as its title suggests, made internal or intuitive evidence fundamental to religious belief. It was also in 1836 that Amos Bronson Alcott (1799888), who would later become one of Emerson's closest friends, published his Conversations with Children on the Gospels, a book that grew out of his work at his experimental Temple School in Boston. Alcott prefaced his work with a treatise titled "The Doctrine and Discipline of Human Culture," which approached Channing's doctrine of the culture and development of the soul from the perspective of education rather than theological doctrine. Alcott's philosophy of education was dialogic and interactive rather than hierarchical. The role of the educator was not to impart facts and ideas to a passive student but to strengthen and cultivate that student's inner strengths and capabilities. What had been essentially a theological movement was thus beginning to open into a more general movement of reform, with
Almost from its beginning, transcendentalism was an embattled movement. Its critique of the more moderate form of liberal religion represented by the Unitarian mainstream generated a counter-critique, and controversy sizzled in Unitarian circles from the middle 1830s to the early 1840s. In 1836 George Ripley (1802880), a Boston Unitarian minister and one of the best-read and most incisive theological thinkers among the transcendentalists, published two essaysSchleiermacher as a Theologian" and "Martineau's Rationale of Religious Inquiry"n the Unitarian journal Christian Examiner. These essays further advanced the view, shared by Emerson, Furness, and other transcendentalists, that acceptance of the biblical miracles was not a necessary element of Christian faith. Andrews Norton, who had been a liberal firebrand in his youth, now found himself in the role of defender of what had become a somewhat conservative position on the miracles. Norton attacked Ripley's position and Ripley replied, bringing the transcendentalist controversy, as it has come to be known, into the pages of the Christian Examiner.
In this already overheated environment, Emerson's "Divinity School Address" (1838) generated further controversy. Andrews Norton responded to it with his own address, "A Discourse of the Latest Form of Infidelity" (1839), and another Unitarian leader and Harvard faculty member, Henry Ware Jr. (1794843), who had preceded Emerson in the pulpit of the Second Church of Boston, also responded critically to the "Divinity School Address" in an 1838 sermon titled "The Personality of the Deity." Ware's objections, however, were different from those of Norton. He believed that Emerson's emphasis on a more abstract concept of "soul" depersonalized the more commonly held belief in the father-like nature of God. God's "personality" was an essential element, Ware felt, in the possibility of worship and religious devotion. Unless men and women understood God as a "person," they would have no deeply emotional attachment to him and would thus lose the sense of comfort and security that the parental qualities of God provided.
A further, and somewhat more bitter, dispute followed in 1841, when Theodore Parker (1810860), minister of the Unitarian church in Roxbury, delivered a sermon titled "The Transient and Permanent in Christianity." Parker's sermon, now regarded as a key text of the transcendentalist movement, made a crucial distinction between the historical trappings and manifestations of religion, which changed from age to age and from culture to culture, and its unchanging spiritual core. His argument, of course, was that theologies, with their particular doctrines and symbols, fade away, while a pure essence of religionarker thought of it as "Absolute Religion"emains an eternal part of human experience. As part of his argument, Parker categorized the accounts of miracles in the Bible with the "transient" elements of religion. Some of the ministers in the audience who did not hold liberal views were alarmed and outraged at Parker's sermon, and they demanded that other Unitarian ministers take a stand on it. A fierce controversy within Boston Unitarian circles ensued, in which most of Parker's fellow ministers distanced themselves from him and maneuvered to exclude him from their group. Parker, stung by the ostracism but hardheadedly determined to continue as a Unitarian minister, resisted their efforts and eventually turned his ostracism into a badge of honor, moving to a new pulpit in Boston and becoming one of the city's most prominent preachers. His fame continued to grow as he embraced the antislavery movement, earning a reputation as one of America's greatest antislavery orators.
KEY FIGURES AND EVENTS
While transcendentalism is usually referred to as a movement, it was in fact a very loose association of individuals, by no means in agreement on all issues, that generated very few institutional structures. One of the few meeting points was the Transcendental Club, which first met in 1836 and continued a series of gatherings in which Emerson, Parker, Ripley, Frederic Henry Hedge, and others played key roles. Composed with only a few exceptions of Unitarian ministers, the club helped to reinforce a shared sense of the need for change within Unitarianism. A clearer record of the thinking of the transcendentalist group can be found in the four-year run of The Dial (1840844), a journal edited by Margaret Fuller (1810850) and Emerson to provide a medium of expression for transcendental writing. Under the editorships of Fuller (1840842) and then Emerson (1842844), The Dial became a literary as well as a theological magazine, publishing poetry, book reviews, and fiction along with sermons and theological writings and commentary on political and social reform. One of the most significant early literary and cultural magazines in the United States, The Dial is one of the more important legacies of the transcendental movement. It gave voice to figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Parker, Amos Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Jones Very, Christopher Pearse Cranch, and Henry David Thoreau. With the Transcendental Club, it is one of the chief means we have for determining who was counted, and who counted themselves, as part of the transcendental movement. The Dial also gave Margaret Fuller a key place in the literary landscape of New England, helping to open the door for her later work for the New-York Daily Tribune. Emerson's younger protégé, Henry David Thoreau (1817862), often assisted Emerson with the details of copyediting and preparing the magazine for publication and also published some of his early work there. Thoreau's connection with The Dial gave him an introduction to publishing operations, exposed him to the writings of many of his contemporaries, and also provided a venue for work that he might not have otherwise completed.
Another series of cultural events that helped to shape the development of transcendentalism, and gave prominence to one of its key figures, were Fuller's public "Conversations," seminars for women held in Boston from 1839 to 1844. Fuller was (like Thoreau) an excellent linguist in both classical and modern languages, and she was one of the best judges of literature among the transcendentalists. She was deeply interested in the work of the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and published an important assessment of him in The Dial. She had been influenced by Amos Bronson Alcott's theory of the use of dialogue in education, and she adapted this technique for her "Conversations," building on an earlier New England tradition of women's reading groups. She hoped to use these formal but nevertheless dialogic events to encourage women's public self-expression, an essential step, she believed, in their full self-development.
Fuller's "Conversations" were important in the development of her advocacy for the rights of women, a process that was also advanced in her editorship and contributions to The Dial. Although she had to relinquish her editorship after two years because the magazine did not generate enough circulation to provide her any pay, she learned much in that role, and she also profited from the outlet for her essays that The Dial provided. Her 1841 essay "Goethe" was important in making Goethe's achievement known more widely, and it demonstrated Fuller's judgment and her potential as a literary critic. Her most significant Dial publication followed in 1843, an essay on women's rights titled "The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men, Woman versus Women." She expanded this essay into the book Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), her most important work and a historically significant articulation of the argument for women's rights.
Fuller argued that women, as well as men, should be allowed to develop the full range and capacity of their nature. The process of self-cultivation was a central value of Emerson and other transcendentalists; Fuller used the idea here to bolster her argument for women's rights. She combined this emphasis on self-cultivation with the observation that conventionally "masculine" traits were not necessarily restricted to men, nor were "feminine" traits restricted to women. These artificial barriers of gender definition had to be overcome, for the good of both men and women. Citing many examples of women's strengths and achievements, and of the positive conception of women in myth and history, Fuller defied the rigid division in her historical era between a public sphere restricted to men and a domestic sphere restricted to women. She would herself live this theory out in moving to New York in 1844 to become a columnist for the New York Tribune and by going to Europe in 1846, where she both reported on and became an active supporter of the unsuccessful Italian Revolution of 1848 led by Giuseppe Mazzini.
Fuller's turn toward issues of politics and social reform typified the path that many of the transcendentalists took in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Reacting to the social injustices generated by the competitive market economy and to the malaise of materialism that infected American society, the transcendentalists searched for alternative forms of economic interaction and cooperation and were drawn to early forms of associationist thought advanced by the French social theorist Charles Fourier and his American disciple and popularizer Albert Brisbane. Under the leadership of George and Sophia Ripley, several transcendentalists helped to establish the Brook Farm commune in 1841. On a farm in Roxbury, just south of Boston, the group began a cooperative work association that included both raising crops and conducting a school. Ripley had been an important voice in the transcendentalists' critique of conventional theology and biblical interpretation. Respected by all the transcendentalists for his learning, he brought both leadership and deep dedication to Brook Farm. He and others became increasingly interested in Fourier's theories of the equitable and harmonious distribution of the labor, and in 1844 they reformulated Brook Farm into a Fourierist "phalanx" in order to pursue those goals. Fourier believed that the necessary work of a community could be divided among its members in such a way that individuals would be required to perform duties for which they had no affinity or attraction. He termed the arrangement of such a community a "phalanx" and saw such communities as the basis of a new social order. The periodical that they founded at Brook Farm, The Harbinger, offers an excellent record of the discourse of social theory during the years of the commune's existence.
Though not without its troubles, Brook Farm survived and was in a process of expansion until a fire destroyed a new building into which the commune had poured much of its resources and undermined the farm's financial stability, causing it to disband in 1847. Satirized by a disillusioned former commune member, Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his 1852 novel The Blithedale Romance, and generally discounted by historians of the period as a failed experiment, Brook Farm is nevertheless remembered as an important symbol of the tradition of progressive critique that accompanied the development of the American industrial economy at mid-century. Scholarly work on its history by Richard Francis and Sterling F. Delano have shown that it remains an important index of both the hopes for a more just society and the theoretical and pragmatic difficulties of implementing this form of utopian project. In this sense, Brook Farm provides a window into the spirit of dissenting social experimentation in the United States in the period just before the Civil War.
Amos Bronson Alcott's Fruitlands commune, undertaken on a farm near Harvard, Massachusetts, in late 1843, much smaller in scale and much less durable even than Brook Farm, is another example of dissenting experimentation. An inveterate experimenter, Alcott had blazed a trail in teaching with his Temple School in Boston and had also endured harsh criticism and social ostracism as a result. His contribution to The Dial, two collections of aphoristic "Orphic Sayings," also had become, to critics of the transcendentalist movement, targets of derision for their abstraction and portentousness. Alcott undertook the Fruitlands project with the English reformer Charles Lane in his typical spirit of hope, but also as a kind of vocational last stand, an attempt to make his and his family's way in the world while still avoiding the competitive and corrupting ways of the world. Like Brook Farm, Fruitlands became more famous through satiric depictions than through any historical accounts of it. Alcott's daughter Louisa May, who became one of America's most celebrated and widely read novelists, described the experiment through the eyes of a somewhat unwilling child participant (she was ten when the family moved to Fruitlands) in "Transcendental Wild Oats" (1873), a fable in which she depicts her father as the naive victim of the cunning Lane. It was Louisa May Alcott's income from her book sales that finally gave the Alcott family financial stability in the 1860s.
In 1845 Henry David Thoreau undertook a utopian experiment of a different kind when he began to build a cabin for himself at Walden Pond, on land that his friend Emerson had recently acquired. Aware of the Brook Farm and Fruitlands experiments, and sharing the spirit of resistance and experimentation that they embodied, Thoreau instead began an experiment in solitude, hoping to discover, through self-reflection and the close observation of nature, how to live a more wise and fulfilling "natural life." Thoreau stayed at Walden two years, and over the next seven years he worked through an expanding account of his life there. Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854) became a literary and environmental classic, a book that spoke deeply to many American readers, then and now, who felt a gnawing worry that life was sliding by them, out of their control and beyond their ability to comprehend or even enjoy. Thoreau's call to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life" (p. 91) has remained a challenge to a culture complacently awash in consumer goods and cowed into a pusillanimous conformity. The book charts the flow of the seasons as Thoreau lived at the pond, recording both his private thoughts and aspirations as well as his descriptions of the animal and plant life around him, which he took as his companions and teachers. Deeply spiritual in its sense of nature as a manifestation of transcendent spirit, but also resolutely this-worldly in its practical concerns about how life should be lived day to day, Walden reflected Thoreau's dual identity as a poet-seer and a skillful and grounded realist. In scaling back his material wants, and thereby dramatically simplifying his way of life, he established an enduring counterstatement to the development of American cultural values and to a modern style of life characterized by relentless consumption and frantic hurry.
Thoreau's Walden, his voluminous and highly engaging Journal (which he kept assiduously over many years), and several key nature essays published posthumously in 1862 ("Walking," "Wild Apples," and "Autumnal Tints") expanded greatly on Emerson's descriptions of the spiritual importance of the natural world, making the study, celebration, and preservation of nature one of the characteristic themes and central legacies of transcendentalism. Thoreau's reputation rested largely on Walden throughout the twentieth century, but his Journal and later essays have come to gain more attention and respect. Those texts demonstrate his deep engagement with scientific thinking and botanical fieldwork, and they provide a greater sense of his deep commitment to environmental awareness and the protection and preservation of natural places. Considered now a founder of the modern American environmental movement, Thoreau offered a witness to his experience in nature that has had a shaping impact on American culture. As the severity of the threat to the environment has grown in the industrial age, Thoreau's writings have seemed more prophetic and more relevant to modern readers.
One of the most dramatic examples of the turn of transcendentalist thinking toward the political was the experience of Margaret Fuller in Italy. Fuller's work for the Tribune had substantially broadened her social awareness and deepened her commitment to progressive political change, perhaps preparing her for finding herself on the brink of a revolution in Italy. In the Risorgimento, as it came to be known, Giuseppe Mazzini led a revolutionary movement to unify Italy as a democratic state. While the 1848 uprisings that resulted in Mazzini's brief leadership in a Roman republic did not succeed, the struggle led the way for the eventual establishment of a unified and democratic Italian state later in the century. After her arrival in Italy, Fuller met and befriended Mazzini; she also met and married a young supporter of his cause, Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, and gave birth to a son, Angelo, in 1848.
Fuller saw the Italian Revolution as an important extension of democratic principles, part of the progressive movement of political history, and an essential aspect of human social development. In the movement for a democratic Italy, and in the resistance to it, she saw parallels to American history and to recent American political events. While in Italy, Fuller embraced more completely the doctrines of associationism and socialism that had been under intense discussion in the United States when she left, and she also accepted the necessity of militant struggle in the pursuit of signifi-cant progressive change and social justice. What she found in Italy, both personally and intellectually, was crucial to her, extending the path of self-cultivation and personal growth that she had begun years ago in her teaching experiences and in her work with The Dial. Her involvement with the Italian Revolution is a reminder that Fuller's feminism, the stance that she is best known for, was grounded in a wider commitment to democratic egalitarianism and universal justice.
Returning to the United States with her family in 1850, Fuller had begun to write a history of the Italian Revolution. But she and her family were killed in a shipwreck near the American coast. At age forty, with her public fame well-established and her skill as an essayist and commentator honed more finely through her Tribune work and Italian experiences, Fuller had been poised to make a significant public impact upon her return. It is tempting to speculate on how Fuller would have reacted to the American political scene in the 1850s, when the disputes over slavery were intensifying. It is a good probability that her new militancy would have found another outlet in the antislavery cause.
Emerson, who was a reluctant political activist, had grown increasingly outspoken on slavery and engaged in antislavery writing in the 1840s. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, part of the Compromise of 1850, ignited him as a piercing antislavery orator, in part because this new law brought the actual enforcement of enslavement into those parts of the country where slavery had long been outlawed. Emerson's gradual evolution from a spiritual poet of the inner life into an resolute advocate of political causes and influential public figure is one of the great transformations of American history, although it was not until the late twentieth century that his later career as a public intellectual truly came into focus. But his personal change, like Fuller's, was also the sign of the change in the transcendentalist movement itself, which responded to an era in which the claims of human rights, in the form of feminism and antislavery, became the dominant intellectual occupations.
LEGACIES OF TRANSCENDENTALISM
Transcendentalism had begun to lose cohesion as a "movement" by the mid-1840s. The termination of The Dial in 1844, Fuller's move to New York in that same year, the disbanding of Brook Farm in 1847, Thoreau's return from Walden Pond in 1847, Emerson's lecture tour in England in 1847 and 1848, and Fuller's death in 1850 are all markers of significant moments of change and adjustment in what was for six or seven years a somewhat synchronous intellectual insurgency. Although the relatively brief duration of transcendentalism as a movement may appear to indicate finally a narrative of failure or collapse, a longer historical perspective suggests the pervasive and continuing influence of transcendentalist principles and goals in the shaping of American culture. As a literary figure Emerson has certainly played the role of a cultural founder, establishing a tradition of American poetry oriented to the exploration of transcendent vision and the corresponding linkages between the inner life and the world of nature. Walt Whitman (1819892), who was profoundly influenced by Emerson's ideas and also by aspects of his experimental and innovative commitment to an organic, free-flowing style, is a key transmitter of Emersonian vision in the American poetic tradition. Students of Emerson such as Richard Poirier in his 1987 study The Renewal of Literature: Emersonian Reflections have also taken note of Emerson's anticipation of the key themes of the American philosophical pragmatism, noting continuities between Emerson's work and that of William James (1842910) and John Dewey (1859952). Emerson's emphasis on process and multiple perspective, rather than his visionary idealism, is in this case taken to be his most lasting impact.
Thoreau, too, has become the originating voice in an important tradition of American nature and environmental writing, one that blossomed in the last three decades of the twentieth century as the environmental crisis of the modern industrial age became more acute and more alarming. Thoreau's advocacy for the value of wild places influenced John Muir (1838914) and other writers and activists on the environment and helped create the cultural understanding that made possible the preservation of the national parks and other wild areas. The renewed vogue for Thoreau's writings in the 1960s and 1970s reflected the strengthening of the environmental ethic during that era. Thoreau's Walden has also became representative of an American cultural yearning for the simpler life, embodying a growing collective longing for an escape from a society defined by hurry, meaningless work, and obsessive material consumption.
Although Fuller's early death in 1850, when she was expanding dramatically as a public intellectual and a cultural critic, curtailed her influence somewhat, she did have a formative influence on Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815902) and other leaders the women's rights movement of the later nineteenth century. Fuller's feminist work, after a period of neglect in the early twentieth century, began to be rediscovered in the 1970s with the rise of the women's movement. The last three decades of the twentieth century saw an intensive rereading of Fuller's texts, especially Woman in the Nineteenth Century, and led to scholarly interest in the biographical reconstruction of her life and of her relationships with Emerson and other transcendentalists. The archival and editorial work of Robert N. Hudspeth resulted in a complete edition of her letters, one of her most revealing and absorbing modes of writing. Fuller stands in the twenty-first century as one of the most important and representative figures of her era, a woman who speaks directly to this later age.
During the late 1830s and early 1840s, the years of high transcendentalist activity, Emerson was prone to downplay the newness of transcendentalism, whose ideas were often referred to as the "new views" and which was identified with a novel and daring conception of spiritual experience and literary expression. The "new views," he wrote in an 1841 lecture, "The Transcendentalist," "are not new, but the very oldest of thoughts cast into the mould of these new times" (CW 1:201). While the origins of transcendentalist thinking may indeed have been ancient, its impact on American society was arousing, inspiriting, and finally progressive. The transcendentalists gave American culture its first distinctive literary voice, brought artistic endeavor and aesthetic appreciation into a more secure place in the culture, and advanced, on several fronts, the cause of human rights and social justice.
See also Concord, Massachusetts; The Dial; Lyceums; Nature; Nature; Reform; Romanticism; Unitarians; Utopian Communities; Woman in the Nineteenth Century
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