Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman: Transcendental Supermen
In his classic analysis of Emerson’s thought George Santayana writes, ‘His constant refrain is the omnipotence of imaginative thought; its power first to make the world, then to understand it, and finally to rise above it.’1 With Emerson it is always morning. In an endless unfolding of prospects, yesterday always pales into insignificance in the dawn of today, just as tomorrow will be immeasurably greater still. What is most characteristic of American Trancendentalism, what marks it as a bundle of attitudes rather than as a system of ideas is the indignant rejection of any kind of restraint. The idea of a limit is unthinkable and unacceptable. In the act of unthinking it, the limit itself disappears. Indeed, thought itself is a work of demolition, a mighty hammer taken to all the edifices and obstacles that shackle the human spirit.
KeywordsVortex Manifold Smoke Bark Ghost
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
- George Santayana, Selected Critical Writings, ed. N. Henfrey (London, 1968) I, 119Google Scholar
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, VII: 1838–42, ed. A. W. Plumstead and H. Hayford (Cambridge, Mass, 1969) p. 254.Google Scholar
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, IX: 1843–7, ed. R. H. Orth and A. R. Ferguson (Cambridge, Mass, 1971) p. 269Google Scholar
- The Portable Emerson, ed. C. Bode and M. Cowley (New York, 1981) p. 255.Google Scholar
- Selected Writings of the American Transcendentalists, ed. G. Hochfield (New York, 1966) p. 65.Google Scholar
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, V: 1835–8, ed. M. M. Sealts, Jr (Cambridge, Mass, 1965) p. 92Google Scholar
- Henry D. Thoreau, Journal, I: 1837–1844, ed. E. H. Witherell, W. L. Howarth, R. Sattelmeyer and T. Blanding (Princeton, NJ, 1981) p. 309.Google Scholar
- Henry D. Thoreau, Reform Papers, ed. W. Gluck (Princeton, NJ, 1973) p. 78.Google Scholar
- Walt Whitman, The Complete Poems, ed. F. Murphy (London, 1975) p. 753Google Scholar