The Periodicals of American Transcendentalism

By Clarence L. F. Gohdes | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION

American transcendentalism, an eddy in the current of Romanticism, has never been satisfactorily defined. It has been variously regard as a distinct philosophical system, a mere "faith," a recrudescence of the Puritan spirit in an age of developing national consciousness, a reaction against the dominion of Locke and the Scotch theologians, pantheism with a peculiar admixture of skepticism, and so on. Most of the important students of the transcendental movement have commented upon the various foreign influences which have shaped its course. The writings of Plato, Kant, Schelling, Coleridge, Carlyle, Cousin, Constant, and even the Orientals have been mentioned as possible sources. There has also been suggested the importance of the spirit of individualism fostered by the Congregational churches in New England since the days of the Mathers, or the survival of an intellectual restlessness which was the aftermath of the war with England.

The failure of later treatments of transcendentalism to be explicit and definite is, of course, inherent in the very nature of the subject. Religion, philosophy, and, to a less extent, sociology and literature are all involved. Moreover, like every phase of idealistic philosophy in the nineteenth century, it was eclectic. Indeed, should a new variety of idealism be discovered among the tribes of Africa, it would probably bear some of the earmarks of transcendentalism, for the characteristics of a "high Platonic mysticism," so much in evidence in the writings of Emerson and his friends, are practically the same wherever manifested. Jacob Boehme, Swedenborg, Saint Francis of Assisi, the youthful Jonathan Edwards, Alcott --all have much in common with the Hindu seer con

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