Monday, January 12, 2015

Transcendentalism and the Road to Equality

“I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instil is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,—— and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another . . . Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.”

This excerpt is taken from one of the most innovatively influential pieces of writing in American history, Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self Reliance, which focuses on the idea of transcendentalism, a romanticism-inspired ideology that divinity is seen through nature and humanity. Being essentially the leader of the entire transcendentalist movement along with his friend Henry David Thoreau, Emerson's goal in writing Self Reliance was to spread his knowledge of  transcendentalism and to present self-reliance, one of the main aspects of transcendentalism, as an idealistic lifestyle, attempting to destroy the tendencies of people to conform to the expectations of the rest of society. Self Reliance provides a full picture of transcendentalism and what Emerson tries to convey in this essay is that one must not conform to societal norms in order to live a full life, which is one of the essential principles of transcendentalism. He claims that many of  the people who have been nonconformists seem to have lived the fullest lives. Because this source almost exactly marks the start of the transcendentalist movement and its author is ultimately the leader of the transcendentalist movement, this essay should be considered a valid and reliable primary source explaining the ideas of transcendentalism and more specifically, self reliance. Many people involved in this movement were very idealistic, and it inspired many other movements, such as the Women's Rights Movement, proving the transcendentalist movement to be an essential ingredient in carving the road to equality that America is still traveling.