Anglo-American Antiphony: The Late Romanticism of Tennyson and Emerson

By Richard E. Brantley | Go to book overview

Theme and Variations

Mutually contradictory principles of knowing, according to Immanuel Kant, are ultimately irreconcilable. However, according to G. W. F. Hegel, they merge into a higher truth that supersedes them. The continuous "unification" of empiricism and evangelicalism can produce a synthesis. Although empiricism is "natural" and evangelicalism is "spiritual," the great principle of empiricism, that one must see for oneself and be in the presence of the thing one knows, applies as well to evangelical faith. Each of these two methodologies operates along a continuum that joins emotion to intellect; each code of experience joins externality to words through "ideas/ideals of sensation," that is, through perception-cum-grace. While empiricism refers to immediate contact with and direct impact from objects and subjects in time and place, evangelicalism entertains the notions that religious truth is concerned with experiential presuppositions and that experience need not be nonreligious. On the basis of the experiential common denominator between empiricism and evangelicalism, through the "both/ and" logic of philosophical theology, I argue that Alfred, Lord Tennyson ( 1809-1892), the Poet Laureate of England, and Ralph Waldo Emerson ( 1803-1882), the Sage of Concord, theologize empiricism. They ground transcendentalism in the world, balance religious myths and religious morality with scientific reverence for fact and detail, and ally empirical assumptions with "disciplined" spirit. Above all, they share the simultaneously rational and sensationalist reliance on experience as the avenue to both natural and spiritual knowledge.

The empiricism and the evangelicalism of Anglo-American culture, like

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