Trancendentalism: From Roots to a Movement

Benjamin Franklyn
Benjamin Franklyn

Trancendentalism

Many of the issues addressed by American transcendentalist writers, such as, Benjamin Franklyn, and later, Henry David Thoreau, or Ralph Waldo Emerson are still relevant today due to the unique ideas that help readers gain mental and spiritual character. Franklyn’s autobiography offers readers the capability to see how he became a well-rounded, self-educated person, so that they may see his inventiveness and use it to their advantage. Both Thoreau and Franklyn teach how well regimented vegetarian diets can keep a man healthy as an ox, and Ralph Waldo Emerson empowers readers with his words, just as well as Thoreau or Franklyn; yet he has a more philosophical approach to his writing. “I would write on the lintels of the door post, Whim.” (Self-Reliance 1166) Of course, Emerson never intended to write on the lintels like a crazed lunatic, he meant to follow your dreams; utilize any available resources and use them to your advantage. That is inspirational. All three writers utilize significantly educational themes, such as, self-reliance, individualism, and the pursuit of knowledge.


Trancendentalism: In the Enlightenment

Ben Franklyn, one of the first American born authors, politicians, and inventors, left a legacy for students of all ages. His historical significance is not lost on the average second grade student, who learns of the Declaration of Independence, or his use of lightning to conduct electricity. For students of elevated learning, his belief system and his motivating virtues leave readers awestruck. He developed daily affirmations by keeping charts of when he sidetracked from any one of 13 virtues; then, he minded his manners especially to the riddance of that particular incompetence. “I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.” (Autobiography 526) His virtues included temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. He was humorous in his teaching as well, “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.” Franklyn’s virtuousness becomes evident through his legacy of good works not through his church attendance.


Benjamin Franklyn's Autobiography Lecture

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson, who may be one of the best transcendentalist writers of the 19th century, offers stimulating ideas about Nature and Self- Reliance. He felt humans needed to meet nature face to face rather than through historical documentation; that people should live life not read about it in a book; “Nature, in its ministry to man, is his material, the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other’s hands for the profit of man.” (Nature 1113) Emerson was one of the first reported transcendentalists, he belonged to a spiritual community that upheld certain non-religious faiths similar to Benjamin Franklyn’s. The group included Thoreau, as well. The group’s intrinsic idea was to bring forth new ways of thinking, or developing new philosophies. These philosophies clung more to the spiritual aspects rather than clinging to the bible and its teachings.

Ralph Waldo Emerson felt that “he [man] is no longer upright. He dares not say ‘I think,’ ‘I am,’ but quotes some saint or sage.”(Self-Reliance 1171) He felt men and women were abusing their rights to prayer; it was selfish to ask God to look over our individual needs. If it does not rain on your crops find a way to irrigate, do not waste energy on a rain dance or prayer.

Emerson felt that each person should “enjoy an original relation to the universe.” He believed that man should not be dependent on society and its demands; upon gaining this freedom, man could stand upright, with nature at his side not his mercy.

Ralph Waldo Emerson annd the Oversoul Philosophy

Walden Pond
Walden Pond

Emerson’s philosophical idealism prompted Henry David Thoreau to write Walden Pond, a book about his ‘experience project’ at a remote location. In the book Walden Pond Thoreau puts into action many of Emerson’s philosophical ideas. The book teaches what humanities’ intrinsic needs are, how to base your lifestyle around those intrinsic needs, and how to enjoy life with those needs met. Thoreau interpreted necessities of life as food, clothes, shelter, and fuel, devised his own plan, cut his own wood for his house, and wrote about that. He offered in his writing descriptions of the smells and sounds he encountered to illustrate mankind’s need to have a one on one relationship with nature. Emerson and Thoreau’s work combine well, they teach how complex people were becoming and how we could change for the better. A very simple lesson, to enjoy the grass between your toes, and not take it for granted.

As noted before, both Thoreau and Franklyn chose vegan diets at different periods in their life. Franklyn wrote about his diet in his autobiography, as a youth he consumed meat, however as he went on his own in the world he maintained his health on mostly bread, rice and potatoes alone. Inspired by Trion, author of the book Health, Wealth, and Happiness at age 16, he refused to eat flesh for the majority of his life. This aided him tremendously as he used the extra money to buy books, which furthered his growing knowledge. Thoreau’s diet consisted mainly of peas, corn, potatoes and bread hoed by his own hand, he sold the excess crop he tilled to meet household expenses. Reading works like Walden Pond or Franklyn’s Autobiography inspires readers to maintain healthier lifestyles.


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