Henry David Thoreau and Transcendental Reformation

By Timko, Michael | The World and I, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Henry David Thoreau and Transcendental Reformation


Timko, Michael, The World and I


Emerson and the other Transcendentalists were the radicals of their time. The first quarter of the nineteenth century was a pivotal time for America. Emerson himself had written that "There are always two parties, the party of the Past and the party of the Future." The Transcendentalists, of course, were the Party of the Future. While they were never an organized group, the Transcendentalists were able to create an American "renaissance," a movement that generated a reevaluation of values. As one writer has put it:

"Reversing the European historical order, the Transcendental 'reformation,' announcing a gospel of spiritual self-sufficiency, came before the literary 'renaissance,' an awakening maturation, and release of radical energies. The Transcendentalists set themselves against what they considered to be the materialism, conformity, and played-out liberalism of American religion and society.... Transcendentalism arrived as social and religious protest. Transcendentalism, as Emerson articulated it during the 1830s and 1840s, deplored materialism. A religious, ethical, and aesthetic response to nationalism, a homegrown counterpart of European Romanticism with elements drawn from Eastern philosophy, this "latest form of infidelity" [as the conservative theologian Andrews Norton had called it], proved to be the animating Force without which, as Margaret Fuller said, there could be no 'American literature.'" [The Harper American Literature, vol. I, pp. 955-56]

The transcendentalists, in short, with Emerson as their spokesperson, provided a positive response to two questions that had been the chief concern of American authors: l) Did America provide a favorable cultural climate for writers, artists, and intellectuals? 2) Was America capable of making a literature of its own fit to stand with the literatures of England and the other countries?

Henry David Thoreau is considered today as one of the major Transcendentalists. He is known today chiefly as either the friend of Emerson or as a supreme nature writer, one chiefly associated with Walden Pond. If Emerson is the Father of Transcendentalism (William Ellery Channing being the Grandfather), then Thoreau might be regarded as the rebellious son.

Thoreau was born and raised in Concord, Massachussets, into what has been called a "poor but honest family." His father owned a pencil factory, in which Thoreau worked at times. He attended Concord Academy, learned surveying, and in 1837, after graduating from Harvard, taught for a brief time in the public school system. He soon left that position because he could not inflict bodily punishment on unruly students--something the local schoolmaster was expected to do. He then set up a private school with his brother and taught there for four years, until his brother's illness and death. Emerson had moved to Concord when Thoreau was 17 years old, and the two became friends. Their friendship led to Thoreau's membership in the Transcendental Club and contribution to the Dial.

Between 1841-1843, Thoreau lived with the Emerson family working as a handyman. At this time he also became friends with others living in and around Concord: Margaraet Fuller, Louisa May Alcott, Ellery Channing, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. By the mid-1840s, it was clear to Thoreau and all those that knew him that he was a loner. He was one who marched to a different drummer. He was to spend the rest of his life writing and lecturing about subjects that interested him most, especially Nature and what one critic has called "the cosmography of the imagination." He continued to write and talk about this cosmography until he died of tuberculosis in 1862. At his funeral service, Emerson delivered the eulogy, praising Thoreau but also lamenting that he had failed to reach his full potential.

Thoreau did not write much compared to many of his contemporaries. His works are relatively few. A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River (1849) records an actual journey he took with his brother John in 1839. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Henry David Thoreau and Transcendental Reformation
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.