Transcendentalism is a philosophy that evolved from the writings of German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who favored intuition over reason as a method for determining an ultimate truth that he believed was innate and intuitively understood by man. At its base, Transcendentalism is the belief that we are not merely physical beings, we are spirit.
TRANSCENDENTALIST WRITERS OF CONCORD, MASSACHUSETTS:
AMOS BRONSON ALCOTT - (1799-1888) - Born in Wolcott, CT. He is best known as the father of author, Louisa May Alcott, but he was an innovative educator, philosopher and a leading member of the transcendentalist movement in Concord. In 1830, he married Abigail May, who was from the wealthy and respectable May family of Boston. Their daughters, Anna, Louisa, Elizabeth and May were models for the characters in Louisa's book, Little Women.
From Amos Bronson Alcott's Orphic Sayings, 1840-1842 - All life is eternal; there is none other; and all unrest is but the struggle of the soul to reassure herself of her inborn immortality; to recover her lost intuition of the same, by reason of her descent amidst the lusts and worship of the idols of flesh and sense. Her discomfort reveals her lapse from innocence; her loss of the divine presence and favor. Fidelity alone shall instaurate the Godhead in her bosom.
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT
(1832-1888) - Born in Germantown, PA. She wrote, Little Women
, as well as numerous other books and short stories. Her success as a writer provided the physical comforts that her family had so long done without. She never married, but she was for the last eight years of her life, mother to her sister May's daughter, Lulu. She was exposed to transcendentalism at an early age, through her father and his many friends who frequented their home in Concord, including Thoreau and Emerson.
Excerpt from letter written by Louisa May Alcott to Maggie Lukens, February 14, 1884.
"I think immortality is the passing of a soul through many lives or experiences, & such as are truly lived, used and learned help on to the next, each growing richer, happier and higher, carrying with it only the real memories of what has gone before. If in my present life I love one person truly, no matter who it is, I believe that we meet somewhere again, though where or how I don’t know or care, for genuine love is immortal. So is real wisdom, virtue, heroism &c. & these noble attributes lift humble lives into the next experience, & prepare them to go on with greater power & happiness.
I seem to remember former states before this, & feel that in them I have learned some of the lessons that have never since been mine here, & in my next step I hope to leave behind many of the trials that I have struggled to bear here and begin to find lightened as I go on. This accounts for the genius and great virtue some show here. They have done well in many phases of this great school and bring into our class the virtue or the gifts that make them great or good. We don't remember the lesser things. They slip away as childish trifles, and we carry on only the real experiences."
RALPH WALDO EMERSON
- (1803-1882) - Born in Boston, MA. He was one of five sons born to William Emerson II and Ruth Haskins Emerson. His ancestry went back for generations in Concord. It was his grandparents, William and Phoebe Emerson who were living at the Old Manse, near the North Bridge in Concord the day the fighting broke out there in April 1875. He attended Boston Latin School and later Harvard Divinity School and, following a long line of ministers in his family, he was ordained as a minister in the Unitarian church in Boston in 1829. That same year he married his first wife Ellen Tucker, who died just over a year later. Ellen's death sent him into a period of reflection and for the next few years he traveled in Europe, met Coleridge, Wordsworth and Carlyle and began to formulate his ideas for what would become the transcendentalists manifesto, his essay Nature (1836)
. He returned to Concord in 1834 and moved into his ancestral home, The Old Manse, now owned by his step-grandfather, the Reverend Ezra Ripley. There he wrote Nature
. A year later he married Lydia Jackson from Plymouth, MA, changed her name to Lidian and they moved into their home on the Turnpike Road. Emerson spent his life writing and lecturing on his transcendental beliefs.
Ralph Waldo Emerson - written upon return from Europe - 1833 - " Man begins to hear a voice that fills the heavens and the earth, saying that God is within him; that there is the celestial host. I find this amazing revelation of my immediate relation to God, a solution of all the doubts that oppressed me. I recognize the distinction of the outer and the inner self; the double consciousness that within this erring, passionate, mortal self sits a supreme, calm, immortal mind, whose powers I do not know; but it is stronger than I; it is wiser than I; it never approved me in any wrong; I seek counsel of it in my doubts; I repair to it in my dangers; I pray to it in my undertakings. It seems to me the face which the Creator uncovers to his child."
HENRY DAVID THOREAU - (1812-1862) - Born in Concord, MA. He was the third of four children born to John and Cynthia (Dunbar) Thoreau. He attended Concord Academy (1828-33); attended Harvard College (1833-37); and along with his brother, John, taught at a private school in Concord (1838-1841). In 1839 Thoreau and his brother took the journey that Thoreau later wrote about in his book "A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers" (1849). Thoreau's poems and essays began to appear in The Dial in 1840. In January 1842 his brother died suddenly of lockjaw. Two weeks later Emerson's 5 year old son, Waldo died of scarletina. The loss of his brother and that of young, Waldo, who Thoreau had grown close to while living in the Emerson home (1841-43) sent Thoreau into his own period of contemplation. In 1843 he accepted a job as tutor to Emerson's brother William's children and moved to Staton Island, NY. He did not stay there long. On July 4, 1845 Thoreau, then 28 yrs old, moved into a cabin he built on Emerson's land at Walden Pond. While living there Thoreau worked on the manuscript that would become A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers and he recorded the notes he would later use to write the book he titled, Walden: Or Life in the Woods. Also during this time he traveled to Maine and climbed Mt. Katahdin, and in 1846 spent a night in the Concord jail for failing to pay a poll tax. He left the pond on September 6, 1847 and returned to his family's home in Concord, where, except for a stay at the Emerson home from 1847-48, he remained for the rest of his life. Thoreau's career as a professional lecturer began in 1848 with the publication of his lecture "Ktaadn and the Maine Woods". His book, A Week on the Concord and Merimac Rivers and his essay Resistance to Civil Government (better known as "Civil Disobedience") were published a year later. In 1854 Thoreau's book, Walden or Life in the Woods was published and for the next several years Thoreau continued to write, to lecture and to speak out against slavery. It was October 30, 1859 when he delivered his impassioned "Plea for Captain John Brown" in Concord. Thoreau passed on in Concord on May 6, 1862, after a long final battle with tuberculosis. He was not yet 45 years old.
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLLI - (1810-1850) - Born in Cambridgeport, MA. She was the daughter of Boston politician, Timothy Fuller, who encouraged her education and she was one of the most educated and outspoken women of her day. She became famous for the "conversations" she presented in Boston. She was inspired by the German writers and philosophers and like Thoreau, she was also greatly inspired by Emerson's essay, Nature (1836), recognizing in it many of the concepts that were present in German philosophy. She met Emerson soon after its publication in the fall of 1836 and their friendship was forged around the sharing of these transcendental ideals. They established a magazine, The Dial, as a place where they could publish their own work and Fuller served as editor from 1840-42. She wrote several books, including Summer on the Lakes (1843) and Woman in the Nineteeth Century (1845), along with several essays before traveling to Europe in 1846. She settled in Rome where she met Giovanni Ossoli. In 1848 she gave birth to their son, Angelo. She, Giovanni and their son, Angelo died in a shipwreck off Fire Island, New York in July 1850.
EMILY DICKINSON - (1832-1888) - Born in Amherst, MA where she lived all of her life. Although not one of the Concord writers, Emily Dickinson shared many of the Concord writers transcendentalist views.
ELIZABETH PALMER PEABODY
- (1804-1884) - Born in Billerica, MA, but lived most of her early life in Salem, MA, Elizabeth is the oldest of the famed "Peabody Sisters of Salem". Her sisters were Mary Peabody (1806-1887), who married educator, Horace Mann, and Sophia Peabody Hawthorne (1809-1871), who married writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Elizabeth is famous for helping to launch the writing career of her brother-in-law, and as an educator who brought the concept of Kindergarten to America. She was a strong and independent woman all of her life, driven by her passion for education and by her devotion to the principles of transcendentalism. She was an admirer of Emerson and the other transcendentalists, and formed close bonds with many men, although she never married. Both of her sisters were married at the Peabody home on West Street in Boston, MA, and it was also there in the front parlor at West Street where Elizabeth Peabody operated her foreign language library, providing foreign language books to many of the notable literary figures of the time, and it was there where Margaret Fuller's series of "conversations" were held.