The Transcendental Club was associated with colorful members between 1836 and 1860. Among these were literary figures , , and . But the most interesting character by far was , who tried to put transcendentalism into practice. A great admirer of Emerson, Thoreau nevertheless was his own man — described variously as strange, gentle, fanatic, selfish, a dreamer, a stubborn individualist. For two years Thoreau carried out the most famous experiment in self-reliance when he went to , built a hut, and tried to live self-sufficiently without the trappings or interference of society. Later, when he wrote about the simplicity and unity of all things in nature, his faith in humanity, and his sturdy individualism, Thoreau reminded everyone that life is wasted pursuing wealth and following social customs. Nature can show that "all good things are wild and free."
As a group, the transcendentalists led the celebration of the American experiment as one of individualism and self-reliance. They took progressive stands on women's rights, abolition, reform, and education. They criticized government, organized religion, laws, social institutions, and creeping industrialization. They created an American "state of mind" in which imagination was better than reason, creativity was better than theory, and action was better than contemplation. And they had faith that all would be well because humans could transcend limits and reach astonishing heights.
The American Transcendentalism Movement History Essay
L. Tom Perry Special Collections contains many early publications by the Transcendentalists, from works by major figures of the movement like Ralph Waldo Emerson (including his seminal essay, Nature), Henry David Thoreau (a first edition of Walden is pictured here), and Theodore Parker; to lectures given at the Concord School of Philosophy.