Transcendentalism was a philosophical/intellectual movement in the 1830’s to the 1840’s and faded from the scene in the 1850’s. Not only may it be perceived as an intellectual society, but it was conceived by religious origins. Transcendentalism was rooted in the state of New England, where the primary sponsors were Unitarian ministers. The Unitarians opposed New England Puritan doctrines such as; original sin, predestination, and the trinity, which teach that God is three different persons in essence, but not three different god’s. Unitarians believe God is one being absolutely. Ralph Waldo Emerson is considered the father of Transcendentalism. His intellectual movement was in direct protest against organized religion, and “rejected the ordered, rational world of the eighteenth century Enlightenment” (320). As a Unitarian, Emerson was far from New England Protestant doctrine. Emerson renounced the Unitarian faith, and ultimately renounced all organized religion.
The Transcendentalist was inspired by German idealism and philosophers such as Immanuel Kant. They opposed the views of divinity from John Lock, which may have led to their split with Harvard University. The general thought of the Transcendentalist was that, “nature was saturated with the presence of God” (321). Everything needed to know about God and truth may be learned through nature and intuition; making them the standard for what truth is. Emerson and his followers began to study the Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. They thought a loving God would not lead people astray by giving them confusing doctrines, so there must be truth in these religions; and if these truths are in agreement with the individuals and their intuition, then it is truth, (Lewis). Other known proponents of Transcendentalism were; “Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Theodore Parker, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, A. Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Ripley, F. B. Sanborn, Jones Very, T. W. Higginson, O. B. Frothingham, William Ellery Channing, Lydia Maria Child, Moncure Conway and many more” (Lewis).
Romanticism, also known as sentimentalism was another intellectual movement from the mid eighteenth century. Sentimentalism originated in Europe, but spread through all classes of American Society after the 1800, (233). The movement gained popularity through literacy, art and music. The movement endorsed subjects with strong emotion, pain, love, horror and terror. Romanticism became an anti-enlightenment movement. While the age of enlightenment focused on reason and rationality. Romanticism emphasized; intuition, religion, nature and emotions. In a sense the romantic era was an expression of individual freedom. In Europe people were under the rule of a monarchy. People began to use their creativity to relief themselves from monarch oppression. In America some people were against the enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. People were opposed to machines replacing the labor of man, and the rationality of the aristocrats. The people also fought back through poetry and story-telling with a concentration on nature, passion, and imagination instead of reason and logic.
The Romantic period expressed more artistic freedom than any period preceding the eighteenth century. Musical instruments were performed with a rise of great talent. Story telling was highly creative with relative connotations. The age of the virtuoso was at hand. Virtuosos such as Beethoven, Mozart, and Richard Wagner rose from the Romantic period. American poets cultivated the literature scene with writers such as; Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Mark Twain, Emerson and more. The Transcendentalist’s and the Romantics were both revolutions against the age of enlightenment. There is a vast difference between the two groups. On the Transcendentalist side, the movement led to a religious/philosophical way of life. Instead of subjecting themselves to reason and logic, the Transcendentalist chose to explore truth by their own intuition and standards. The Romantics expressed their conflicts with the establishment through creativity in literacy and music. They sought their music and literature as their means to escape their misfortunes, and to convey messages to the masses.
Henretta James, Brody David. America A Concise History, Volume 1 to 1877. Boston. Bedford/St. Martins. 2010. (320-321,233) Print Jone Johnson Lewis.
Transcendentalism, What is Transcendentalism? http://www.transcendentalists.com/what.htm