Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman: Transcendental Supermen

  • David Morse
Part of the Macmillan Studies in Romanticism book series (SR)


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.


Civil Disobedience Political Corruption American Scholar Divine Power Divine Nature 
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  2. 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
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  9. Walt Whitman, The Complete Poems, ed. F. Murphy (London, 1975) p. 753Google Scholar

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© David Morse 1987

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  • David Morse

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