Transcendental Forerunners


Emerson wrote Nature, the little book which is the base text of American Transcendentalism, after over ten years of extensive reading. Kenneth Cameron spent much of his scholarly life collecting and publishing these intellectual sources of Emerson’s thought, most notably in Young Emerson’s Transcendental Vision, through his Transcendental Books press in Hartford, Connecticut. His massive collections, listed in his Bibliography on Transcendentalism or the American Renaissance [formerly Transcendentalism and American Renaissance Bibliography], bring together manuscripts and reprints by Transcendentalists, newspaper articles, lists of library reading and key passages from those readings, and much else. Many of these materials are useful and illuminating, though usually fragmented and presented with little context, critique, or ordering. One might think of them as a massive, unlinked hypertext, useful primarily when linked to the context of Transcendentalism as a way of understanding the works and the people.

The Transcendentalists, Emerson in particular, read widely and appropriated ideas freely and eclectically from their reading. Emerson and Thoreau both kept notebooks in which they recorded choice passages, and those are increasingly available to scholars for study. When they drew on these ideas in their works, sometimes they explored them in some depth, as Emerson did in his essays onMontaigne  and Swedenborg;  more often we find the ideas greatly modified and pulled together into the fabric of their own ideas, with little attribution. Margaret Fuller was particularly interested in German literature, translating and writing Dial essays on Goethe and Bettina von Arnim [see Arnheim’s book on her correspondence with Goethe]. The study of their reading and how they used it has attracted many scholars, primarily in academic source studies. Joel Myerson’s The Transcendentalists: a Review of Research and Criticism is the best source for finding many of those.

Emerson was profoundly influenced by European philosophical and religious thought, as well as literature, while he thought through his ideas about nature before 1836, as his journal and notebooks show. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as introduced to the Transcendentalists by James Marsh, was especially influential. (See Yoder thesis)

Emerson’s Inheritance: The Influence of English and German Metaphysics and Literature on the Philosophy and Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson [Bryan Hileman, VCU]

Emanuel Swedenborg. Emerson was introduced to Swedenborg through the agency of Sampson Reed’s “Observations on the Growth of the Mind.” Cameron has listed ideas and values that Emerson found in Swedenborg’s ideas (at least, as conveyed by Reed). Emerson would later write an essay on Swedenborg [Representative Men.  1850.] 

Platonism and Neo-Platonism. Emerson acknowledged his great debt to the thought of Plato in two essays in Representative Men“Plato; or the Philosopher”and “Plato: New Readings.”  Nature is grounded in Platonism, especially Neo-Platonism,  as embodied in the writing of the Cambridge Neo-Platonists such as Ralph Cudworth. 

The transcendentalists were all dedicated, life-long readers. Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott were especially attracted to Oriental philosophy and religion, reading in translations available to them and copying favorite passages (from Confucius, Laws of Menu, Hinduism, Buddhism, and more) into their personal notebooks and from there into the Dial, their prose and poetry [see Emerson’s HamatreyaSaadi, and Brahma, for example.] Tracking these influences can be difficult, as David Ch’en’s essay on Thoreau and Taoism shows. See also East Meets West: Oriental Seeds in Occidental Soil. by Swami B. G. Narasingha and Satyaraja dasa (Steven Rosen).

There were also profound influences from American thought and literature. Foremost may have been the eloquent sermons of Reverend William Ellery Channing of Boston, which anticipated much of Transcendentalism, in particular its philosophy and opposition to slavery.

Bryan Hileman, VCU

Transcendental Disseminations: How a Movement Spread Its Ideas

Robert Michael Ruehl, Syracuse University (2011)

The Transcendentalist movement largely began as a form of religious revolt in the 1830s. The Transcendentalists were, however, also writers, lecturers, and philosophers whose ideas and values permeated and attempted to change the cultural landscape of nineteenth-century America. As one examines this movement for its creativity and its limitations throughout the nineteenth century, it is important to keep in mind the ways in which these writers and cultural reformers attempted to spread their ideas and visions of a new world. To understand how this dispersion occurred, it is necessary to look at two categories of dissemination: the “personal” and the “public.” For simplicity’s sake, the first is composed of journal writing and conversations, and the second category is made up of periodicals and lyceum lectures.1 It is through these various dissemination processes that the Transcendentalists created a cohesiveness within their movement and also brought their alternative religious, literary, and philosophical ideas to nineteenth-century America and Europe.2

Prior to addressing these categories, however, it is important to highlight a guiding idea behind the activities of the Transcendentalists. They believed in the importance of leading by example. Instead of a direct overthrow of the existing order or forcing people to comply with new standards, the Transcendentalists largely believed in a peaceful revolution by example.3 The way one lived, thought, and interacted with the world would become a model for others. An exemplary life would inspire others to live in a new way.4

For example, Frederic Henry Hedge argued for this approach in “The Art of Life.”5It was printed in The Dial in October 1840, and he was contributing to the internal debate among the Transcendentalists over how much one should withdraw from society or remain part of the larger community. Hedge wrote, “The work of life, so far as the individual is concerned, and that to which the scholar is particularly called, is self-culture,–the perfect unfolding of our individual nature. To this end above all others the art, of which I speak, directs our attention and points our endeavor … But the business of self-culture admits of no compromise. Either it must be made a distinct aim, or wholly abandoned.”6 In the next paragraph, Hedge wrote, “Of self-culture, as of all other things worth seeking, the price is a single devotion to that object–a devotion which shall exclude all aims and ends, that do not directly or indirectly tend to promote it.”7 Here he is reaffirming the idea of self-culture that is found throughout early American thought,8 and it sounds very similar to William Ellery Channing’s discourse on the subject of self-culture. Channing asserted, “When I speak of the purpose of self-culture, I mean that it should be sincere. In other words, we must make self-culture really and truly our end, or choose it for its own sake, and not merely as a means or instrument of something else.”9 Furthermore, Hedge argued that self-culture will help to transform society peacefully: “Whatever selfishness there may seem to be in such a discipline as this, exists only in appearance. The influence it would have upon Society would, in fact, be hardly less beneficial than its influence on the individual himself. In self-culture lies the ground and condition of all culture … The silent influence of example, where no influence is intended, is the true reformer.”10 This reform of self and the subsequent reform of society underlie the Transcendentalist emphasis on education.11

This emphasis on education and self-culture was the impetus behind the Transcendentalists’ actions of journaling, conducting conversations, publishing, and lecturing on the lyceum circuit. Through these acts, they could help others in the process of self-culture by modeling cultivated living and thinking. (This emphasis on education is not exaggerated; for example, the Transcendentalists who founded Brook Farm explicitly stated that education was the “leading purpose” of the utopian community; the full name of the farm was “Brook Farm Association for Industry and Education.”)12 The journals, conversations, publications, and lectures helped to provoke individuals, so they could cultivate themselves and regain a responsiveness to life and society culminating in the regaining of a “lost intimacy.”13 The aim of their disseminations was to change the self and the larger community.

Journals played an important role in the lives of the Transcendentalists and their attempts to bring about self-culture.14 Journals, however, played a number of roles. The most obvious is to help writers record and recollect important thoughts and events. This is clearest in one of the most prolific journal writers within the Transcendentalist movement, Henry David Thoreau. From the approximate age of twenty, Thoreau had kept a journal at Emerson’s urging, but within the last decade or so of his life, he often kept a pencil and a small journal with him. No matter where he was, Thoreau would jot down ideas, details, or paragraphs that he would later review and rewrite if necessary.15 This is the first part of the dissemination process supported by journal writing: Journals helped to shape the Transcendentalists’ published writings and their ruminations. This is the most personal level of the journal. It served as part of a private process of contemplation and the reworking of ideas for the best possible rhetorical provocation possible in their published texts.

The private nature of writing in a journal, however, should not obscure the fact that journals were much more than personal artifacts in a process of interpreting one’s life and experience. To the contrary, within the Transcendentalist movement, journals were a very public object open to the examination of others within the movement.16 Journals were part of a mutual process of opening up one’s personal intellectual world to others. It was through the activity of sharing one’s journal that one’s days and one’s thoughts could be shared with others to aid reflection. The journals served the purpose of helping to generate new thoughts or insights within the reader.

The use of the journal not only provided a detailed exposition of what the members were contemplating, but the use of the journals also helped to buttress the idea of spontaneity, which was one of the important values of the Transcendentalist movement. On 19 August 1851, Thoreau describes keeping “[a] meteorological journal of the mind.”17 The significance of the journal is to record the manifold happenings of the mind, the instantaneous reactions to one’s environment. The writer, poet, thinker does not shut down the flows of life through over-rationalized exercises that fit life into compartmentalized boxes. For the Transcendentalists, they wanted life; they wanted life to flow openly and freely allowing the pulses of joy and pain to be felt unimpeded. To keep a “meteorological journal of the mind” means that one recognizes the variations of life’s moments.

Moreover, the use of a journal helps to support Emerson and Fuller’s introduction to the reader in The Dial when they asserted that “[e]verything noble is directed on life.”18 They further asserted that “criticism should be poetic; unpredictable; superseding, as every new thought does, all foregone thoughts, and making a new light on the whole world.”19 Toward the end, they describe the periodical as a “discourse of the living.”20 The use of a journal supports this outlook. Thoreau’s description of a “meteorological journal of the mind” encapsulates this “discourse of the living.” The use of a journal, then, helped to support an ideological position that privileged fluidity, motion, and newness over more rigidified ways of living and thinking. The journal was an ideological tool that disclosed an active Transcendentalist mind always in motion, always in the realm of new thoughts. Journals provided a tangible object filled with newness; they were part of a literary and reflective identity that helped to sustain a particular posture toward the world. In other words, the use of a journal reinforced the idea of an independent self in intimate contact with the world of the senses and the emotions as this self chronicled its experiences to be expanded upon more fully at a later date within a more inspirational form, such as the essay, the conversation, or the lecture.

Like the journal, conversations brought into the world of interpersonal interactions many of the ideas central to Transcendentalism. Through direct human interaction, conversations provided a medium through which spontaneity, inspiration, and individuality could flourish. They were premised on the idea that within each person is the potential to access spiritual truths and the potential to put those spiritual truths into words, and this verbalization could then inspire others and force others to think in a new way. In this way, conversations reified Transcendentalism’s ideals while helping to disseminate their values to larger groups of people beyond the scope of exchanging journals. Conversations, then, were not plebeian acts of communication, but potential moments for personal transformation; the Transcendentalists “invested conversation with natural and supernatural attributes and with the agency to reform individuals and society.”21

Nowhere are these values clearer than in Amos Bronson Alcott’s Record of Conversations on the Gospels Held in Mr. Alcott’s School, Unfolding the Doctrine and Discipline of Human Culture published on 22 December 1836.22 The purpose of these conversations was to use children to help disclose how Christianity does not need external evidences for its support; instead, by approaching the nature and life of Jesus through conversations with children, the insights of the children would disclose how the untainted religious intuition of children could perceive Jesus’ elevated teachings without dogmatic aids. Not only could conversations with children reveal how they could intuitively understand Jesus, but Alcott also hoped that their insights might inspire adults to reconsider or re-envision their images and their ideas of Jesus. His approach adopted a Socratic method in which he allowed the children to provide their interpretations of biblical passages; then, he would further question them to elucidate possible themes or meanings–all the while disclosing their natural religious tendencies.

Margaret Fuller is probably best known for her conversations and how these conversations affected her publications in later life. She held her conversations in Boston, Massachusetts between 1839 and 1844. These meetings focused on different topics providing women with the opportunity to discuss art, politics, women’s roles in education and reform, and what it meant to be a woman. In fact, Fuller asked, “What were we born to do? How shall we do it?”23 Her interest was similar to Alcott’s; both wanted to reform human life through intellectual refinement and its impact on action in the world. Self-culture was their concern.24Her emphasis on “self-reflective learning and public aspiration” allowed her to meet other women and share ideas about what it meant to be a woman, which culminated in her positive description of the last meeting in 1844 in this way, “Our last meeting yesterday was beautiful; how noble has been my experience of such relations for six years now, and with so many, and so various minds! Life is worth living–is it not?”25 A list of the women who attended these meetings includes Lydia Maria Child, Lidian Emerson, Julia Ward Howe, Ednah Dow Littlehale Cheney, Caroline Wells Healey Dall, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Ann Terry Philips, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Angelina and Sarah Grimke.26 Many of these women were already in reform movements, such as abolitionism, or they would become leaders in other reform movements, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the women’s rights movement.

These conversations provided Fuller and the women of Boston with opportunities to come together outside of the male-dominated gaze, so they could openly discuss issues important to them. Fuller’s conversations provided an opening for women to improve their rhetorical skills as they asserted and defended their positions on specific topics. Not only was Fuller attempting to bring Transcendentalist principles into practice, she was also attempting to create a democratic community among women that directly opposed the restricted views of democracy guiding the American nation. While her conversations did not escape the criticisms of some of the women,27 she helped to create and support a network of women who would help to reform cultural ideas on such issues as gender and slavery. Through these conversations, Fuller helped to keep the link between reform of the mind and the reform of society within the view of women.28

Through Alcott’s book about his conversations with children and through Fuller’s organized conversations with women, the relevance of conversations for Transcendentalism is clear. The Transcendentalist movement depended on not only written texts, but also on social interactions between people where they could discuss and openly confront each other’s ideas and beliefs. From the beginning, Alcott intended to publish his conversations,29 so he could disseminate his ideas to a larger community beyond the school children. Fuller never intended to publish her conversations.30 She did expect, however, that the insights of these conversations would disseminate through the community as women took the ideas from the conversations into the larger community and home. For both Alcott and Fuller, conversations played a central role in their Transcendentalist outlook on life, and they prove false the view that Transcendentalism fostered an isolated individualism.

While the journal served an intimate group of friends as journal writers shared their daily writings with others close to them, as is clear with Alcott and Fuller, they wanted to spread their ideas and values beyond a narrow group of friends. Their conversations served a mediating position between the more private role of the journal and the more impersonal role of the periodicals and the lyceum lectures. The conversations had a special role. Alcott made this point clear. He asserted, “I value lectures very cheap. They deceive people into the false notion that they are made wise by listening to discourse once or twice a week.”31 He also quipped, “Wisdom cometh from spontaneous thought alone.”32 Through their conversations, Transcendentalists connected with a larger group of people in a more personal way that allowed them to put their thoughts, lives, and values on display. They used this interpersonal mode of communication to buttress and to disperse their core beliefs in spontaneity, intellectual development, and an open search for truths that would transform the individual and society.

The Transcendentalist use of periodicals was meant to be an extension of the ideas that informed their use of journals and conversations. While the use of periodicals could not provide the immediate interpersonal provocations found in face-to-face meetings, the Transcendentalists envisioned them as a form of conversation in print that would be a discourse about life and filled with life. They intended the periodicals to disseminate their ideas in a way that would inspire people to think in new ways; they wanted people to read the poems, essays, and reviews in the periodicals, so they could catch a glimpse of life in a new way that would lead to a transformation of how they envisioned and saw the rest of the world. To support this approach, their periodicals were often left open ended in a way that could provoke responses from the readership.33

The Transcendentalists emerged and established themselves largely in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. This period was marked by an increasingly active refinement and use of information systems.34 During this time, the telegraph came into being. The railroad was expanding, and a proliferation of print media was occurring. This means that the use of a periodical to spread one’s ideas was nothing new; it was becoming a common occurrence. In fact, by the time The Dial began publishing its first volume in 1840, there were already over fifteen hundred periodicals in print, and approximately twelve new magazines and journals came into existence each year.35 This high number of periodicals remained steady throughout much of the nineteenth century; by 1871, the number had dropped slightly, but held steady at twelve hundred periodicals in print.36 This common approach to the use of periodicals is clear within the Transcendentalist movement itself; members of the movement helped to publish thirteen periodicals that either directly supported Transcendentalism or was implicitly in support of their ideas while buttressing another movement’s agenda, such as feminism. The thirteen titles are Western Messenger (1835-41), Boston Quarterly Review (1838-42), The Dial (1840-44), Present (1843-44), Harbinger (1845-49), Massachusetts Quarterly Review (1847-50), Spirit of the Age (1849-50), Aesthetic Papers (1849), Una(1853-55), The Dial (1860), Radical (1865-72), Index (1870-86), and Woman’s Journal (1870-1917).37 Through this common practice of publishing periodicals, the Transcendentalists attempted to extend their actual conversations in real life into the periodicals in order to disseminate their ideas.38

The most common Transcendentalist periodical studied is The Dial published from July 1840 through April 1844. This periodical grew out of Transcendentalist conversations and shows how they attempted to bring their interpersonal conversations into print.39 The Transcendental Club had been created in 1836 to discuss current topics in religion and expanded its conversations to include dialogues on philosophy and literature. It was at these meetings that the idea of The Dial emerged as a possible forum for Transcendentalist ideas and a continuation of their conversations in print form.40

The reason the Transcendentalists had to create their own periodical instead of using other journals as their mouthpiece resulted from other periodicals’ refusals to publish their writings. For example, the leading Unitarian periodicals in Boston, the Christian Disciple and the Christian Examiner, would no longer publish their texts because of different theological beliefs and different religious values.41Eventually on 18 September 1839, the Transcendental Club met and seriously began considering publishing their own periodical. It was to be an outgrowth of the type of sharing the members experienced within their meetings.42

The editor position initially went to Margaret Fuller who had been reading and studying the contemporary periodicals for some time, and in 1842, Ralph Waldo Emerson would take over the task of editing The Dial for Fuller–with the help of Henry David Thoreau. The description of the journal initially included the idea that it would be a “revolution” for the mind; it would change thought and action.43Both Fuller and Emerson contributed to the introductory essay, “The Editors to the Reader.”44 Here they linked the periodical with new ways of entering into life; they wanted to make it a periodical about the living. They did not want to simply add to the endless publications of books. They wanted the periodical to “impart life,” and it would not come from experienced writers, but from the conversations and bonds created among friends: “our resources are therefore not so much the pens of practiced writers, as the discourse of the living, and the portfolios which friendship has opened to us.”45

In Emerson’s journal entry on 27 April 1840, his expectations for the periodical are high. The periodical will not pay attention to common newspapers and magazines; instead, it will be a periodical entering directly into its topics and its goal. It will offer poetic criticisms; it will measure the spirit of America’s books and culture with a “broad glance,” and the whole world will be its intended audience.46 On 31 July 1840, Emerson clarifies his expectations of the periodical: “It ought to contain the best advice on the topics of Government, Temperance, Abolition, Trade, & Domestic Life. It might well add to such compositions such as poetry & sentiment as now will constitute its best merit. Yet it ought to go straight into life with the devoted wisdom of the best men & women in the land.”47 Fuller’s expectations coincide with Emerson’s in her “A Short Essay on Critics.”48 Instead of criticisms being “mere records of impressions” of another’s work where critics offer nothing new,49 critics should be poets, philosophers, and observers who display the power of invention through their interpretations.50

The periodical, then, was to be a forum for new thoughts and new forms of writing, but more than this, however, The Dial also helped to support the writers within the Transcendentalist movement. Many of the Transcendentalists found an outlet for their writings through The Dial. For example, it published works from the following abridged list of authors: Amos Bronson Alcott, William Henry Channing, Lydia Maria Child, Christopher Cranch, James Freeman Clarke, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Frederic Henry Hedge, Ellen Sturgis Hooper, Theodore Parker, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Sophia Ripley, J. A. Saxton, Caroline Sturgis, and Henry David Thoreau.51 It was also in The Dial that some of the important works of the Transcendentalists appeared, such as Fuller’s “The Great Lawsuit” and Thoreau’s “A Winter Walk.”2 While the periodical helped to disseminate ideas to a larger audience, it also helped to support writers in their youth as they attempted to refine their writing skills. With this approach, they held true to their desire not to turn to practiced writers.53

The Dial provided peer support of others within the Transcendentalist movement while also disseminating their ideas to a larger audience. While some have criticized The Dial and presented it in a disparaging way, such views are shortsighted. The Dial was actually a heavily reviewed periodical; its circulation numbers were approximately 300, which was a respectable figure for the time. Furthermore, The Dial lasted for four years when most periodicals ended within two.54 It was through this success that the Transcendentalists helped to influence the religious, philosophical, and literary ideas of nineteenth-century America. By using The Dial as the leading example of Transcendentalist periodicals, it is clear to see that this genre helped to strengthen Transcendentalism as a movement through mutual support and the spreading of their ideas in the larger culture.

Lastly, the lectures on the lyceum circuit not only helped to support the Transcendentalists financially, but they also helped to spread their ideas across America. Like the periodical movement in America, the lyceum circuit was nothing new when the Transcendentalists began lecturing.55 Around the time of the 1850s, the lyceum circuit had already created an intricate network of approximately 4,000 communities across the United States that supported public lectures.56 The movement back and forth among these communities was facilitated by the railroad, and newspapers and periodicals often addressed the lecturers’ performances and ideas. From the beginning of the American lyceum movement, which Josiah Holbrook helped to initiate in 1826,57 the emphasis was on self-culture. Holbrook wanted to help educate members of the working class, and the expectation was that this information would enter into the common sphere of American public life.58 Another aspect of the lyceum movement cannot be overlooked; it also provided a form of acceptable social entertainment in contradistinction to unacceptable or devalued forms of social entertainment, such as taverns and theatres.59 Moreover, these lectures helped to conserve the emphasis on oratory found in early America.60

From this outline, it is clear how the lyceum movement supported the values of Transcendentalism. The Transcendentalists focused on provocative and influential language; the inspirational component of speech and written texts was important to them, and they were pleased to have captive audiences ready to listen to their words. While the lyceum movement did not provide the same interpersonal setting found in the conversations, some of the Transcendentalists felt that the lectures provided an intimate setting in which the proximity of human bodies and speech provided the right setting for provocation and inspiration, which was similar to a conversational atmosphere because of the democratic nature of both.61 They also downplayed the emphasis on lectures being a socially accepted form of entertainment and continued to think of the lyceum movement as aiding the process of self-culture. The lyceum movement also helped them to perform their role as prophets to the community in the attempt to improve America’s cultural, intellectual, and spiritual life.

Nowhere is this clearer than with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s success as a lecturer on the lyceum trail. The profession of a lecturer was not always comfortable or enjoyable; lecturers often had to travel in less than comfortable conditions, and their lodgings were often less than accommodating.62 They had to struggle with inclement weather conditions that made their travels less than desirable. With these difficulties, however, came the opportunity to earn a comfortable living. For example, an instructive case is Henry Ward Beecher who was earning approximately $200 per appearance with an annual income of $30,000 by the 1870s.63 While Emerson did not earn the same amount as Beecher, for much of his working life after resigning from the ministry, Emerson supported himself by lecturing, which largely began in 1834.64 By 1850, Emerson was giving approximately seventy lectures a year in approximately 50 towns or cities across the United States from Concord, Massachusetts and eventually to the Mid-West and California.65 He earned approximately $2,000 for lectures over the “winter season,” and a series of six lectures could earn him $900.66 Over four decades, Emerson gave approximately forty lectures a year and was often away from home anywhere from four to six months per year.67 For Emerson, the lyceum lectern took on a religious connotation as it became his new pulpit.68

Emerson’s professional career as a lecturer provided the experimental space for him to develop his ideas and to transform them into provocative and inspiring published texts. He became the personification of his ideal scholar as “man thinking,” then as “man saying,”69 and this role allowed him to transform his lectures systemically into published texts in book form. For example, Emerson’s first series of essays published in 1841 had already been given as lectures, as were the essays in his second series of essays published in 1844.70 For example, his essays “History” and “Self-Reliance” harbor threads of thought that are present throughout his early sermons, journal entries, and lectures,71 and they developed out of his lecture series “The Philosophy of History,” which he gave in the winter of 1836 and 1837.72 He intentionally never published these lectures because he was reworking them to be included in his first published book of essays.73

In short, the journals, conversations, periodicals, and lectures formed an intricate part of the Transcendentalists’ dissemination process. Each activity provided different interactions with others interested in the Transcendentalist message, and these four dissemination activities directly supported the underlying theme of self-culture and the subsequent transformation of society as the cultivated self would act as a model within the larger community. In each of these dissemination processes, an emphasis on ideas is present, but these ideas were not inert. The Transcendentalists believed that firmly held ideas would lead to action.74 As they used journals, conversations, periodicals, and lectures to disperse their ideas, they did so with the firm conviction that once people were exposed to provocative spiritual ideas, they would be inspired to act. Each avenue of dispersion was an attempt to deploy provocative rhetoric and ideas for transformative ends, and this belief allowed Thoreau to write in “Civil Disobedience” that “action from principle … is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was.”75 Ideas are the principles that guide human actions, and journals, conversations, periodicals, and lectures provided opportunities for those ideas to become rooted firmly in another’s mind creating the opportunity for new life and new relationships.


1. This approach is intentionally overlooking the obvious use of books as their primary source of dissemination in order to explore other avenues.

2. Unlike many of the histories that usually describe the Transcendentalist movement as ending with Emerson’s death, I am extending the movement to at least the end of the nineteenth century. Common Transcendentalist histories overlook the women involved in the movement, and they usually focus on Emerson, Thoreau, or some other male Transcendentalist. Women, however, helped to sustain the movement; and female Transcendentalists were still active in women”s rights up to the end of the nineteenth century. I am basing this on the argument and evidence found in Tiffany K. Wayne, Woman Thinking: Feminism and Transcendentalism in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Lexington Books, 2005).

3. This, of course, changed slightly as the years went by and the Transcendentalists became more aggressive in their opposition to slavery. For example, by the end of Thoreau’s life, he was more prepared for a forced/violent revolution as is clear in “Slavery in Massachusetts” where he wrote, “Who can be serene in a country where both the rulers and the ruled are without principle? The remembrance of my country spoils my walks. My thoughts are murder to the State, and involuntarily go plotting against her.” See Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings, ed. Brooks Atkinson (New York: The Modern Library, 1992), 713. Len Gougeon, “Thoreau and Reform,” in The Cambridge Companion to Henry David Thoreau, ed. Joel Myerson (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 205.

4. Lance Newman, Our Common Dwelling: Henry Thoreau, Transcendentalism and the Class Politics of Nature (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 151-54. But it is also clear that exemplary lives can help inspire observers to radical revolution as in the case of John Brown and the Transcendentalist support of him. See Newman, Our Common Dwelling, 169-70. Henry Steele Commager, Theodore Parker: Yankee Crusader (Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1978), 250-54.

5. Frederic Henry Hedge, “The Art of Life,” in The Transcendentalists: An Anthology, ed. Perry Miller (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950), 471-75.

6. Hedge, “The Art of Life,” 472.

7. Ibid.

8. Daniel Walker Howe, Making the American Self: Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 1-3.

9. “Self-Culture” in William Ellery Channing, The Works of William E. Channing, D. D, New and complete ed. (Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1898), 21.

10. Hedge, Ibid.

11. Wesley T. Mott, “Education,” in The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism, ed. Joel Myerson, Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, and Laura Dassow Walls (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 153-71.

12. Mott, “Education,” 162. Lance Newman, “Environmentalist Thought and Action,” in The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism, 178.

13. For the emphasis on provocation, see Mott, “Education,” 169-70. Cornel West,The American Evasion of Philosophy (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 25-28. For the idea of “responsiveness,” see Lawrence F. Rhu, “The Cavellian Turn,” in The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism, 550. For the idea of “lost intimacy,” see Edward F. Mooney, Lost Intimacy in American Thought: Recovering Personal Philosophy from Thoreau to Cavell (New York: Continuum, 2009), 3-12.

14. Catherine L. Albanese, “Transcendentalism,” in Encyclopedia of the American Religious Experience: Studies of Traditions and Movements, ed. Charles H. Lippy and Peter W. Williams (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1988), 1124. Lawrence Buell, Literary Transcendentalism: Style and Vision in the American Renaissance (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1973), 274-83. Leonard N. Neufeldt, “Thoreau in His Journal,” in The Cambridge Companion to Henry David Thoreau, ed. Joel Myerson (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 107-23. Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 42. Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 270-71. Robert Sattelmeyer, “Journals,” in The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism, 291-308.

15. Sattelmeyer, “Journals,” 300. For more on this process, see Buell, Literary Transcendentalism, 280.

16. Susan Belasco, “The Dial,” in The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism, 374. Sattelmeyer, “Journals,” 293.

17. Henry David Thoreau, The Journal, 1837-1861, ed. Damion Searls (New York: New York Review Books, 2009), 68.

18. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Editors to the Reader,” in The Transcendentalists: An Anthology, 250.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Noelle A. Baker, “Conversations,” in The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism, 348.

22. Amos Bronson Alcott, “Conversations with Children on the Gospels,” in The Transcendentalists: An Anthology, 150-56.

23. Baker, “Conversations,” 353. Wayne, Woman Thinking, 18.

24. Baker, “Conversations,” 351.

25. As quoted in Charles Capper, Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life, vol. 2, The Public Years (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 138-39. Italics found in original text.

26. Capper, Margaret Fuller, 110. Wayne, Woman Thinking, 25.

27. Wayne, Woman Thinking, 23.

28. Ibid., 25.

29. Baker, “Conversations,” 353.

30. Ibid.

31. As quoted in Baker, “Conversations,” 352. Italics found in text.

32. Ibid.

33.Todd H. Richardson, “Transcendentalist Periodicals,” in The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism, 361-62.

34. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 1-7.

35.Belasco, “The Dial,” 375.

36. Richardson, “Periodicals,” 362-63.

37. Ibid., 363 and 366-67.

38. Ibid.., 362.

39. Belasco, “The Dial,” 373.

40. For a brief overview of The Dial, see Mark W. Harris, “The Dial,” in Historical Dictionary of Unitarian Universalism (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2004), 151-52.

41. Belasco, “The Dial,” 374.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid., 377.

44. Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Editors to the Reader,” The Dial: A Magazine for Literature, Philosophy, and Religion 1 (1841): 1-4.

45. Fuller and Emerson, “The Editors to the Reader,” 4. Also see Belasco, “The Dial,” 377.

46. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Lawrence Alan Rosenwald, Selected Journals, 1820-1842 (New York: The Library of America, 1982), 737-38.

47. Ibid., 754.

48. Margaret Fuller, “A Short Essay on Critics,” The Dial: A Magazine for Literature, Philosophy, and Religion 1 (1840): 5-11.

49. Ibid., 6.

50. Ibid., 7.

51. Belasco, “The Dial,” 373-83. Commager, Theodore Parker, 44. Philip F. Gura, American Transcendentalism: A History (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007), 10. Barbara Packer, The Transcendentalists (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2007), 124. Wayne, Woman Thinking, 15-16.

52. Gura, American Transcendentalism, 171. Richardson, Thoreau, 141.

53. Fuller and Emerson, “The Editors to the Reader,” 4.

54. Belasco, “The Dial,” 380-81.

55.Richardson, Emerson, 209.

56. Kent P. Ljungquist, “Lectures and the Lyceum Movement,” in The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism 333.

57. Ibid., 331.

58. Ibid.

59. Ibid., 344.

60. Ibid., 345.

61. Ibid., 342-3.

62.Ibid, 337. R. Jackson Wilson, “Emerson as Lecturer,” in The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Joel Porte and Saundra Morris (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 78.

63. Ibid., 344.

64. Ljungquist, 337. Richardson, Emerson, 153 and 418-22. Wilson, 78.

65. Wilson, Ibid.

66. Ibid.

67. Richardson, Emerson, 418.

68. Ljungquist, 338.

69. Wilson, 77.

70. Brooks Atkinson, ed., The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (New York: The Modern Library, 2000), 111 and 285.

71. Richardson, Emerson, 322.

72. Ibid., 257.

73. Ibid.

74. Newman, “Environmentalist Thought and Action,” 175.

75. Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings, 676.



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