There is way of talking about the New England Transcendentalists that takes solitary departure as their most representative trajectory, focusing especially on Emerson’s retirement from his Boston congregation to his sage’s retreat in Concord. Emerson, it is said, lead a circle of intellectual revolutionaries who rooted out the last vestiges of Puritan conformity and birthed the long-awaited self-creating Individual, the high-toned older brother of the self-made man, the American Adam. This last phrase is borrowed, of course, from the great Americanist R.W.B. Lewis, who described the Transcendentalists as leading the creation of national mythology based on the figure of “an individual emancipated from history, happily bereft of ancestry, untouched and undefiled by the usual inheritances of family and race; an individual standing alone, self-reliant and self-propelling, ready to confront whatever awaited him with the aid of his own unique and inherent resources.” The idea that the Transcendentalist movement was unified by a commitment to individualism rests on a tenacious set of mutually reinforcing assumptions about the movement. Emerson is the major Transcendentalist. Transcendentalism is a philosophy of individualism. Individualism is the ground of American thought. American thought begins with Emerson. Emerson is the major Transcendentalist.1


Social Movement Liberal Tradition Expansive Monetary Policy Representative Trajectory North American Literature 
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  1. 1.
    Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960), 178. Lewis, The American Adam, 5. There is an inexhaustible flow of new material on the Transcendentalists, both individually and as a group. I will indicate those sources that shape my thought the most strongly. The best synthetic history of the movement isGoogle Scholar
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© Lance Newman 2005

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