The writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson dealt with three aspects of transcendental thought, which consisted of spiritual, philosophical, and literary content. In his time, Emerson imparted an influence upon his contemporaries and American literature. He explicitly encouraged other writers by his appeal for new American literature and new voices because America had failed to denounce European literature and produce its own literary scholarship. Emerson believed that literature should have a spiritual influence because of personal religious convictions. Also, he thought philosophy could espouse essential forms through which the mind itself quantified. Finally, Emerson believed that literary authenticity played an integral part in the formation of American literature. Because Emerson realized America needed to develop its own literary works, he perpetuated the transcendentalist movement to sculpture American literature through spirituality, philosophy, and literary content.
In religion, it was post-Unitarian and freethinking, and he articulated it in his “Divinity School Address”. In the address, Emerson perceived religion as a tedious pursuit needed to obtain virtue in life. The controversy of Emerson’s thinking directly addressed the Christian Church. Jesus Christ in Emerson’s retrospection was a miraculous authority, but he asserted that the Christian Church erred by exaggerating the miracles of Jesus and the confinement of revelation. His resolution was audacious:
Let me admonish you, first of all, to go alone;
to refuse the good models, even those which are
sacred in the imagination of men, and date to
To Emerson, the religious aspect of transcendentalism was intended to deny past ways of significance and to discover new, perceptive approaches to God.
Nature, Emerson’s first book, reinforces the philosophical concepts of the movement. The book is an attempt to answer the proactive question on the first page, “Let us inquire, to what end is nature?” “Language,” one of Emerson’s desired chapters, indoctrinates his logical thesis of Nature saying:
1. Words are signs of natural facts. 2. Particular
Natural facts are symbols of particular spiritual
Facts. 3. Nature is the symbol of spirit. The
use of natural history is to give us aid in supernatural history: the use of the outer creation,
to give us language for the beings and changes of
This indicates that the natural realm exist as a model of the spiritual realm.
Emerson’s essay, The American Scholar, articulates the literary movement of Transcendentalism. He articulates how the United States of America demanded and deserved a new literature, and that this literature would speak about and to the American people. His reasoning for this outcry is the dependency America continued to have on European literature. Emerson asserted that scholars needed to be self-reliant through the powers of human intuition. Also, he suggested that scholars must be students of nature, because nature is the suitable influence upon the mind of the scholar: “1. The first in time and the first in importance of the influences upon the mind is that of nature….The scholar….must settle its value in his mind. What is nature to him?” He is asking the scholar to assume the same survey he attempted in Nature. Emerson used “The American Scholar” as an address designed at stimulating American men and women of letters as individuals and as a nation:
We have listened too long to the courtly muses of
Europe… We will walk on our own feet; we will
work with our own hands; we will speak with our
own minds. The study of letters shall be no longer
a name for pity, for doubt, and for sensual
indulgence. The dread of man and the love of man shall be a wall of defense and a wrath of joy around all. A nation of men will for the first time exist,
because each believes himself inspired by the Divine
This was intended as a message for America to develop its own culture. When the American scholar is independent of Europe, he will recognize that “the ancient precept ‘Know Thyself,’ and the modern precept, ‘Study nature,’ become at last one maxim.”
Therefore, Emerson uses nature as a catalyst for his transcendentalist movement. The influence of nature must be shaped by the mind of the past. By embracing natural history in terms of literary and spiritual ends, Emerson’s work suggests that American literature can greatly be inspired by America’s nature.