What is the difference between Romanticism and Transcendentalism?

Expert Answers
jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While Romanticism and Transcendentalism were both inspired by a rejection of rationalism and a dislike of industrialization in favor of the power and beauty of nature, the two schools of thought had some differences. First, Romanticism had a dark view of humankind and expressed a kind of perversity about human nature in works such as Poe's "The House of Usher." Transcendentalists, on the other hand, believed in essential human goodness and the rightness of what came from the soul—the so-called "inner light." To Transcendentalists, the divine was something internal, while Romantics saw the divine as an exterior force.

Romantic writings tend to be dreamlike and are often fictional (such as works by Poe and Hawthorne in America and works by Blake and Shelley in Britain). Transcendentalists, on the other hand, such as Emerson and Thoreau, often wrote nonfictional accounts of their philosophies. Examples of Transcendental works include Emerson's "Self-Reliance" and Thoreau's Walden, which are both in part descriptions of the way people should live their lives. Romantic works do not tend to be didactic in that way.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly these two literary movements share many similarities, however both are distinctly different enough to warrant their separate grouping. Romanticism values feeling and intuition over reason, places faith in inner experience and the power of the imagination, shuns the artificiality of civilisation and seeks unspoiled nature, prefers youth innocence to educated sophistication, champions individual freedom and the worth of the individual and reflects on nature's beauty as a path to spiritual and moral development.

A Transcendental view of the world, on the other hand, believes that everything in the world, including human beings, is a reflection of the Divine Soul, it argues that the physical facts of the natural world are a doorway to the spiritual or ideal world, it believe that people can use their intuition to behold God's spirit revealed in nature or in their own souls, it believes strongly in self-reliance and individualism, and finally it champions spontaneous feelings and intuition over deliberate rationality.