(p. xxiii) Introduction
(p. xxiii) Introduction
The only extended attempt at defining Transcendentalism by a participant came from Ralph Waldo Emerson. In a lecture on “The Transcendentalist” delivered at the Masonic Temple in Boston in December 1841, Emerson, whose name was identified by the public as synonymous with the movement, stated, “What is popularly called Transcendentalism among us, is Idealism; Idealism as it appears in 1842” (EmCW 1:201). A few pages later, in typical Emerson fashion, he gave another definition: “Transcendentalism is the Saturnalia or excess of Faith” (1:206). These definitions did not satisfy skeptics then, and they appeal even less to scholarly inquisitors today. The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism presents fifty wide-ranging essays that exhibit this diverse and influential movement's complexity and its contemporary relevance.
These essays suggest that Emerson's broad-based definitions are, in fact, useful overtures for any reader embarking on a study of these remarkable and eclectic figures known as the Transcendentalists. Though they disagreed on many things, as a group they rose to challenge the materialism and the insularity of an expanding United States by bringing to its shores the latest texts from across Europe and Asia: German theology and European post-Kantian philosophy; Romantic poetry and fiction, from Goethe to George Sand to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and Thomas Carlyle; Persian poetry and Buddhist and Hindu scriptures. Consolidated as a group by their rebellion against conservatives, who were shocked at such daring cosmopolitanism, various Transcendentalists then diverged to found and contribute to a range of radical reforms in religion, education, literature, science, politics, and economics, centreed especially on securing equal rights for the working classes, women, and slaves. The fate of their movement, as it splintered, diversified, foundered, and triumphed, should rivet every scholar and student of contemporary affairs, for at a time of economic, religious, and political crisis, the Transcendentalists asked key questions: How can art reawaken faith in a reborn cosmos? How can an individual live a moral life in a society rife with injustice and cruelty? Is self-cultivation a means to social reform or a distraction from urgent social issues? How might America—indeed, should America—lead a world that it cannot master or control? Transcendentalists worked out answers to these questions, and though today we might differ with their strategies and solutions as we face our own parallel crises, we have the advantage of their words and experience, their triumphs and defeats, to instruct and inspire us. Never have the Transcendentalists had so much to say to their descendents.
Emerson's lecture demonstrates that he regarded Transcendentalism primarily as a philosophical movement. He argues that humankind was “ever divided into (p. xxiv) two sects, Materialists and Idealists; the first class founding on experience, the second on consciousness; the first class beginning to think from the data of the senses, the second class perceive that the senses are not final, and say, the senses give us representations of things, but what are the things themselves, they cannot tell” (EmCW 1:201). In a brilliant analogy, he shows that, while the Transcendentalist views material objects from the perspective of a participant in the physical world, at the same time “he looks at these things as the reverse side of the tapestry, as the other end, each being a sequel or completion of a spiritual fact” (1:202). This analogy shows that Transcendentalism is also a religious or spiritual movement: “The Transcendentalist…believes in miracle, in the perpetual openness of the human mind to new influx of light and power; he believes in inspiration, and in ecstasy” (1:204). But philosophy, religion, and spirituality are not enough: The Transcendentalist cannot take refuge in such pursuits but must derive from them the knowledge and inspiration needed to interact with and, importantly, to reform the day-to-day world, to improve society—and make good on the American promise—for all. As Emerson says, “the good and wise must learn to act, and carry salvation to the combatants and demagogues in the dusty arena below” (1:211).
Scholars through the years have been troubled by the fact that Transcendentalism was not monolithic or easily defined and that it was not, in fact, an organized movement at all. The name “transcendentalism” was initially bestowed by the movement's critics to ridicule that diverse group of philosophical idealists who held that certain beliefs and values transcended mere sensory experience. Some of these idealists were ministers, others former ministers; most were Harvard College or Harvard Divinity School graduates, while others were self-educated; most were men, but women made substantial contributions; most were from the Boston area, but some were from Connecticut and Virginia; most published prose, others poetry, but only one wrote fiction; most left formal religious institutions, but others remained in them; but all, key to their Transcendentalism, sought their own way of leading a purpose-driven life. Starting in the 1830s, these individuals met together, read each other's writings, attended each other's lectures and sermons, and often disagreed. Few of them liked being labeled “Transcendentalists” because such glib identification flattened out the complexity of their individual beliefs.
The Transcendentalists embraced a metaphysical position that placed God within the world and within each person rather than outside humankind's experience and knowledge. Though many of them grew up reading John Locke, they grew to reject his philosophical belief that the mind is a tabula rasa, a blank slate, at birth, on which all sensory impressions are written (the “Understanding”), in favor of the idealism of Immanuel Kant, which held that certain categories of preexisting knowledge could be grasped intuitively (“Reason”). They championed the new European literature and philosophy over traditional British Enlightenment figures. They did not reject but redefined Enlightenment ideals of scientific experimentation, following the latest scientific theories, which sought not only to understand the phenomena of nature through empirical investigation and sensory experience but also to discover behind the screen of appearances nature's underlying truths, its (p. xxv) laws or principles. They prized the quintessential American concept of individuality (as evidenced in their two most often read and taught works, Emerson's “Self-Reliance” and Henry David Thoreau's Walden) even as they experimented with new forms of association and community. They worked to transform antebellum educational methods of learning by rote memorization and replaced them with teachers who would draw out their students' own thinking rather than having them parrot conventional views. As ardent believers in social and political reform, they worked to abolish slavery and establish civil rights for women as well as to overhaul the church, the government, prisons, mental institutions, and health and dietary practices. They believed that Nature, like the gnomon on the face of a sundial, points to divine lessons from which we can benefit once we learn to sympathize with the natural world; as such, although the words did not yet exist, they were early ecologists and pioneer environmentalists. The Transcendentalists were, in other words, innovators and precursors of much that we now regard as central to American life, culture, literature, and national identity.
In “The Transcendentalist,” Emerson addresses the state of literary study in the young nation: “Our American literature and spiritual history are, we confess, in the optative mood; but whoso knows these seething brains, these admirable radicals, these unsocial worshippers, these talkers who talk the sun and moon away, will believe that this heresy cannot pass away without leaving its mark” (EmCW 1:207–8). The contributors to this volume demonstrate that Transcendentalism has indeed left “its mark,” and they shed new light on its rich legacy to American life, letters, and culture. They also adhere to Emerson's admonition: “Each age…must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the next succeeding” (1:56). These essays not only present a survey of previous and current interpretations of Transcendentalism but suggest potential new directions as well for a new generation of creative readers.
The fifty essays in this book are arranged topically and in a broadly chronological order; contributors were encouraged not to review standard coverage of topics but to provide new perspectives on old themes, explore new directions, open new topics, and point to work demanded by a new century. There is naturally some degree of overlap, which the editors hope will provide a variety of fresh perspectives; while we have provided a broad range of topics, we do not aspire to completeness of coverage—were such even possible. The opening section, “Transcendental Contexts,” sets the stage for the rise of Transcendentalism in the early nineteenth-century's transatlantic history and culture, from world literature and philosophy, to world historical movements in history, to the unique conditions of American print culture and religious history, out of which Transcendentalism had its most immediate birth. The second section, “Transcendentalism as a Social Movement,” follows the contested and multifarious diversification of Transcendentalist ideas as they ramified outward into the world, from religion, to politics, to education and self-culture, including abolitionism, women's rights, utopian communities, the vexed legacy of Manifest Destiny, and the origin of American environmentalism.
(p. xxvi) The third section, “Transcendentalism as a Literary Movement,” turns to the work of Transcendentalists as linguistic performers in a range of genres both oral and written: from conversations, to diaries and journals, to letters, lectures, and sermons, to printed essays, periodicals, and books in genres ranging from poetry and literary criticism to travel, nature, and life writing. The fourth section, “Transcendentalism and the Other Arts,” suggests new opportunities for scholarship by examining visual arts, photography, architecture, and music; the fifth, “Varieties of Transcendental Experience,” points beyond the texts themselves to sketch the diverse experiential worlds that Transcendentalism created for its proponents, geographically from Boston to the globe, culturally from the family living room to high philosophy, and historically from the Transcendentalists' day to our own. Finally, “Transcendental Afterlives” provides a look back, starting with the perspective of the post–Civil War generation, who tried to reconstitute Transcendentalism for their own time, to the various threads—politics, nature and environmental activism, poetry, and electronic texts—through which Transcendentalism has come down to our own day as a living legacy not just for scholars but also for readers, activists, and pilgrims. Given that these essays are thematic rather than bibliographical, appendices provide brief bibliographies of the figures discussed, together with a chronology of the movement and selected historical landmarks.
Part I, “Transcendental Contexts,” begins with the study of Greek and Roman classics, which pervaded education for every literate man and woman. As K. P. Van Anglen establishes, study of the classics pointed the Transcendentalists not only backward to a traditional grounding in concepts of the “good” and the “true” but also forward to redefine a fresh sense of origins, a commitment “to autonomy, independence, and intellectual renewal.” Similarly, Robin Grey shows that though Transcendentalists famously rejected their predecessors, particularly the materialism of Locke and the skepticism of Hume, they also turned to Enlightenment writers, particularly the Scottish School of Common Sense philosophers, to define their concepts of the social and moral dimensions of human nature, a dimension “not always acknowledged by scholars of Transcendentalism, who have tended to focus on their individualism.” A second corrective is offered by Alan Hodder in his essay on Transcendentalism's Asian influences—ironically, a product of British imperialism that allowed Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott to break the “centuries-long dominion of Christianity in the West.” Frank Shuffelton offers a third corrective by connecting the Transcendentalists' religious hunger for mystical experience to the Puritans' ability to discover God's grace and glory in earthly experience and by redrawing with a difference Perry Miller's line “from Edwards to Emerson.” Dean Grodzins explores in detail the origin of Transcendentalism “as a phase of American, or more precisely New England, Unitarianism” that “forced the expansion of the boundaries of liberal religious fellowship” and opened new possibilities for religious action. By contrast, Michael Ziser sets the Transcendentalists' religious revolution in a world perspective by tracing the powerful line of revolutionary activity that spread from America in 1776, through the French and Haitian revolutions and the Bolivarian wars of independence in South America, to the European Revolution of 1848 and (p. xxvii) beyond. The resulting “Romantic revolution” in literature and the arts and sciences, centreed in Great Britain and continental Europe, sent shock waves back across the Atlantic that, as Barbara Packer shows, led to what one participant called a “remarkable outburst of Romanticism on Puritan ground.” Finally, these were the years as well of the Industrial Revolution, which completely redefined print and manuscript production, dissemination, and reception as print went from conditions of Revolutionary-era scarcity to antebellum abundance; as Ronald Zboray and Mary Zboray show, while the “sensorium” that emerged was structured by the expressive social technology of print, during this era print culture did not replace but helped maintain “interpersonal relationships under stress from often chaotic socioeconomic conditions.”
Part II takes up “Transcendentalism as a Social Movement.” Although only one extended study, Anne Rose's Transcendentalism as a Social Movement (1981), has focused on the totality of Transcendentalists' efforts to improve their society, numerous studies have recovered their contributions to specific nineteenth-century reform movements. The essays in this section provide historical overviews that establish the breadth of the Transcendentalists' activism as well as point to the conflicted nature and resulting controversy of their often radical speeches and writings. Albert von Frank contends that the relationship of Transcendentalism to Unitarianism is more complex than is commonly supposed and that the most central of the Transcendentalists' religious motives were adopted and ironically refashioned by later nineteenth-century popular movements. Len Gougeon discusses how drastic social changes in antebellum America directly impacted the everyday lives of Transcendentalists—from their personal financial wealth to their ability to secure meaningful employment. Wesley Mott's essay on education reveals the centrality of this subject to the Transcendentalists' concerns, so much so that Mott argues “that ‘the Movement’ might just as fairly be defined as an educational demonstration.” Transcendentalists' critique of their increasingly industrialized society is documented by Lance Newman, who reveals, particularly, how the Transcendentalists' concern with society's disconnection from nature led to a nascent environmental consciousness. Lawrence Buell, in “Manifest Destiny and the Question of the Moral Absolute,” points out the “unresolvable split image” of Transcendentalists' reform identity—the disconnect between their ideals and their pragmatic resolve to live in the world as it is, particularly as individuals attempted to “make sense of the paradox of Transcendentalism's strong antiestablishment tendencies as against the signs of complicity with American expansionism.” Similarly, Joshua Bellin points to the troubling paucity of Transcendentalists' seeming concern or action over U.S. genocide of its native population. Although Sandra Petrulionis demonstrates the pivotal antislavery activism of many Transcendentalists, Bellin notes the disparity between these efforts and those on behalf of Native Americans. With regard to another controversy, Phyllis Cole focuses in “Woman's Rights and Feminism” on the empowering “protofeminism” generated by the rhetoric and the idealism of Transcendentalism. On a more individual level, Mary Shelden demonstrates that self-reform pervaded the immediate reality of Transcendentalists: From austere (p. xxviii) vegetarian diets to physical activity and homeopathic regimes, they attempted to purify their physical bodies in addition to their spiritual selves. Such efforts were enabled, at least briefly, by joining with a community of the like-minded, as Sterling Delano demonstrates in “Transcendentalist Communities.”
Part III, “Transcendentalism as a Literary Movement,” takes up the subject that most often dominates discussions of Transcendentalism, yet for a movement usually taught in the literature classroom, Transcendentalists were decidedly unconventional and, moreover, rather less productive of canonical works than other American authors. Although two of them, Emerson and Thoreau, are included in F. O. Matthiessen's classic study of the literary “American Renaissance,” the Transcendentalists did not write best-selling fiction, publish the great American novel, or leave behind volumes of classic poetry. However, the wealth and value of their literary output, what Emerson valorized as “literature of the portfolio,” is readily apparent in the array of genres discussed in this section. Ed Folsom leads off with a comprehensive essay on transcendental poetics, which on the one hand assesses the modest output of individual poets, while on the other argues for the instrumental role of Transcendentalism (especially on Emerson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson) in shaping the trajectory of the two poets most central to nineteenth-century American literary studies: Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. Robert Sattelmeyer investigates journal keeping, this most transcendental of genres, practiced by nearly every figure associated with the movement, the wealth of which “ranged from the occasional notation of daily activities to highly self-conscious literary composition.” Similarly, Robert Hudspeth reveals the often artistic, self-consciously literary “performance[s]” of Transcendentalists' letters—private writings that often allowed the correspondents to achieve a closer connection than was possible in person. The genre with which most Transcendentalists were familiar was an oral one—the sermon, delivered weekly from various New England pulpits, and Susan Roberson shows that these dramatic messages offer a “valuable window into the evolution of Transcendentalism.” Secular outlets for their spoken eloquence included the public venues examined by Kent Ljungquist; not only did Transcendentalists such as Emerson and Alcott exploit the lecture podium to offer literary, philosophical, and historical addresses, but Thoreau, Caroline Healey Dall, and others spoke out on political topics such as slavery and women's rights. The oral nature of the movement's œuvre is further elucidated by Noelle Baker's discussion of Transcendentalist conversations, a practice especially empowering to women that drew on a history and culture rich in informal reading and writing practices. As Baker explains, Bronson Alcott “invested conversation with natural and supernatural attributes and with the agency to reform individuals and society.” The print medium in which Transcendentalists enjoyed the greatest success was the vastly expanded periodical market, the subject of Todd Richardson's work, a study that, as Richardson notes, is now greatly enabled by various digitization projects, in addition to the recent formation of the Research Society for American Periodicals. Premier among periodical outlets for Transcendentalist authors was, of course, the Dial, the focus of Susan Belasco's essay, which assesses the impact of this four-year quarterly (p. xxix) on the workload of its editors, Margaret Fuller and Emerson, and on the literary aspirations of its numerous contributors. As critics, Fuller and Emerson differed in their mode of appraising literary works, according to Jeffrey Steele. For Emerson, individual genius transcended time and place—great literature came about “as the expressive acts of exceptional individuals”; in contrast, Fuller valued both the end product and the contexts in which authors created. For Steele, then, Fuller's goal as a critic was not only “to define empowering ideals of selfhood but also to measure the social and psychological obstacles to that imagined development.” Barbara Packer demonstrates that examples of possibly the Transcendentalists' “best writing” are found in the popular antebellum genre of travel writing. From Emerson's travel journals, to Fuller's Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 and dispatches from Europe, to Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, travel writing permitted the free flow of ideas and individual reflection most suited to Transcendentalist expression. Thanks in large part to Thoreau and Walden, the literary genre most indelibly associated with Transcendentalism is nature writing, which, as Philip Gura's essay on this subject evaluates, reflects the Transcendentalists' attempts both to interrogate and to honor their relation to the external world. Thus, this genre as a whole includes some of the earliest examples of contemporary ecocriticism. Robert Habich elaborates on the Transcendentalists' privileging of self-reflection, particularly as individuals memorialized each other and as biographers have since narrated their life stories. For Emerson, as Habich reminds us, biography trumps history, and his essay usefully weighs how the genre transformed before and after the Civil War, from work that “constructs subjects with an eye to the essential and the philosophical” to studies that do so with a regard for “the individual and the social.”
Part IV, “Transcendentalism and the Other Arts,” expands the range of Transcendentalist interest and practice beyond print culture. Albert von Frank takes the 1839 exhibition of Washington Allston's romantic paintings—rather than the work of Hudson River School artists—as the focus of the Transcendentalists' most intense encounter with the art of painting, and shows that it prompted several quite distinct rhetorics of art criticism. Photography vexed this relation in both creative and disconcerting ways, as Sean Meehan shows; both Emerson and Thoreau were intrigued by early photographic technology, which emerged “alongside Transcendentalists' interest in reproducing in thought and word the legible traces of the invisible in the visible world.” Domestic architecture presented another new aesthetic, one that offered to improve domestic life; indeed, Barksdale Maynard argues that Transcendentalism's most famous house, the one Thoreau built at Walden Pond, was a sophisticated and creative adaptation of the contemporary craze for country “villas,” which allowed the urban dweller to retire to nature and led directly to the suburban American home-and-garden ideal. Finally, Ora Frishberg Saloman shows that Transcendentalism left a rich legacy of music criticism in the writings of John Sullivan Dwight and, moreover, helped build “a strong intellectual foundation for the development of art music in the nation,” including improvements in concert practices and “increased respect for the valuable role of creative and performing artists in American society.”
(p. xxx) Part V, “Varieties of Transcendental Experience,” expands the range of Transcendentalism in several directions. By focusing on the local, Ronald Bosco shows how succeeding generations traveled much in Concord, their steps directed by guidebooks to the relics of Transcendentalism—buildings and monuments—that re-created the hometown of Emerson, Thoreau, and the Alcotts as a quaint village outside the stream of time that promised to reenchant the modern world. On the other hand, Robert Scholnick follows a cosmopolitan arc of partnership along the transatlantic axis from Boston to London, recovering the vigorous radicalism of John Chapman's Westminster Review and the channel opened by Chapman and his stable of contributors (including Harriet Martineau and George Eliot), by which Transcendentalism and British radicalism energized and challenged one another. Taking up the global scale, Laura Dassow Walls points to the cosmopolitanism at the heart of Transcendentalism, which paradoxically fused the world's texts into an image of American nationalism while also using them to remake America into a global, planetary ideal that extended a “cosmopolitics” to human and nonhuman planetary partners. As Elizabeth Addison writes, the personal relationships that forged the movement and kept it going are becoming “ever more evident”; this cross-generational project then branched into “lateral connections with others of like mind, writers and reformers well beyond Boston and Concord.” Philip Cafaro's essay on “virtue ethics” takes up the Transcendentalists' challenge to conventional ethics and their attempts to vitalize American ethical thought, as the traditional foundations seemed to be giving way; in response to the challenges of modernity, they emphasized “the full flourishing of the whole human person” and asserted that change and uncertainty are “ineliminable aspects of human life” in an evolving world that is continually bringing radical new possibilities for human life. Lawrence Rhu further examines the ethical philosophy of Transcendentalism through the recent work of Stanley Cavell, who has built on Emerson and Thoreau to deepen our contemporary understanding of the Transcendentalists' skepticism and engagement with tragedy. In Cavell's view, the intractable predicaments we face in life require of us “patience, if not surrender, and the transformation of the self,” a striving toward the perfectable without any assurance that perfection can be reached. Eric Wilson also takes up the Transcendentalists' response to a fluid, changing, and increasingly turbulent world but through aesthetics rather than ethics: In their quest to make words that are alive, “the time-honored distinction between words and things can entirely collapse and thus leave animated words and verbal vitalities,” a “generative coincidence of opposites, a pulsating synthesis of mind and matter.” That science is indeed at the heart of the Transcendentalists' philosophy and theology, not an “extraterrestrial domain” peripheral to the concerns of humanists, is the argument advanced by Laura Dassow Walls, who offers not a detailed study of any one science but a hypothetical portrait of how Transcendentalism might look were science and technology restored to the integral place they held in literature and culture during the nineteenth century. William Rossi tackles head-on the evolutionary science that undergirded the Transcendentalists' understanding of a changing nature. He offers a detailed case (p. xxxi) study of the way they not only assimilated radical thought from cosmopolitan and continental sources but also fused “moral philosophy and experiential theology with science, grounding all in a species of natural law.” Finally, Richard Kopley looks to the key American writers—“naysayers”—who set themselves in opposition to the Transcendentalist school. To the “prelapsarian” vision of Emerson and the Transcendentalists, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville offered a “postlapsarian” corrective, one that more fully acknowledged the darker side of human life: “Neither vision was ascendant. And the tension between the two endures—for we need both.”
That the tension and the vision do indeed endure is the theme of the final section, “Transcendental Afterlives.” Although its heyday was broadly the three decades prior to the Civil War, Transcendentalism lived on through the thought and writings of subsequent generations. Both in the specific lives of individuals such as Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Caroline Healey Dall, who as young adults imbibed the mantra of self-culture from reading Emerson and attending Fuller's conversations, and in the principled examples of civil protest and calls for an environmental consciousness, the Transcendentalists bequeathed to later generations the urgency—the moral obligation—of the examined life. These various afterlives are taken up in this section, first by David Robinson, whose study of the Free Religion movement traces the role played by Higginson and other second-generation Transcendentalists in the establishment and ensuing success of a “‘pure’” religious community that perpetually reformed itself, after the manner of Transcendentalism. Linck Johnson discusses the now centuries-long afterlife of Thoreau's exemplary political protest in “Civil Disobedience,” and he sets straight the various, often uncontexualized, misinterpretations of this famous essay, whose influence is arguably greater than any single Transcendentalist-authored work; Johnson argues that “Civil Disobedience” “speaks in different voices to those engaged in other protests and social causes.” Robert Burkholder discusses Thoreau's other primary legacy in an essay that evaluates the Transcendentalists' centrality to the genre of nature writing, particularly in their example of humanism coalescing with a political sensibility toward the environment—today's “ecocentrism”—which directly inspired John Muir, John Burroughs, Rachel Carson, and others to environmental activism. Paying homage to the sine qua non of Transcendentalist places is the focus of Leslie Wilson's “Walden: Pilgrimages and Iconographies,” which appraises the afterlife of Thoreau's cabin site at Walden Pond—from the first stone laid at what is now a sprawling cairn to the late twentieth-century crusade to save Walden Woods from development. Wilson points out that, in contrast to the other literary and historical Concord sites, “Walden beckons as a shrine, offering retreat, removal from the distractions of town life, opportunity for contemplation, enhanced receptivity to spirit, and personal transformation.” Saundra Morris argues for the longevity and centrality of Transcendentalist thought on major American poets and stresses Transcendentalism's “fundamental concern with a politically ethical aesthetics that calls us to imagine the poetically beautiful in terms of the politically just.” And in “The Electronic Age,” Amy Earhart (p. xxxii) situates Transcendentalism scholarship in the surfeit of online search tools, databases, full-text articles, and Google books. She examines resources essential to Transcendentalism studies and authors; while noting the limitations of each, she points to the direction of future technologies.
Given the expansive topics covered in this volume, it is perhaps ironic that we conclude by emphasizing the need for continued scholarship on the Transcendentalists and Transcendentalism. However, most of these essays raise questions and point to unexamined terrain—figures and eras only partially recovered or contextualized. Particularly in light of the ongoing democratization of the archive achieved by a plethora of digitized collections, additional biographical treatments are needed. While we have enjoyed recent studies of Emerson, Fuller, Parker, Whitman, Mary Moody Emerson, the Peabody sisters, and Lydia Maria Child, we await those on William Henry Channing, Caroline Healey Dall, Franklin B. Sanborn, Ednah Dow Cheney, and Moncure Conway. Similarly essential are more published volumes of private writings: The letters and journals of Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Bronson Alcott are only partially available; the letters of most antislavery women and other reformers remain unpublished. The ongoing effort to situate various Transcendentalists in the context of antebellum reform must persist, particularly their role in the woman's rights movement. Additionally beneficial would be studies of Transcendentalists in dialogue with each other and with their society on crucial issues such as manifest destiny and U.S. expansionism, the Mexican War, the nullification crisis, the Fugitive Slave Law, and Charles Darwin's publications. Although the relation of Emerson and Thoreau to nineteenth-century science and evolutionary theory has been established, what of other figures, particularly women like Mary Moody Emerson, Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley, and Susan Fenimore Cooper? How would the conventional picture of this period change if science and technology studies were to become integral to literary and cultural studies instead of supplemental background material? No one doubts that “nature” was a central term in nineteenth-century literature, especially in the United States—Perry Miller's “Nature's Nation”—but too often “nature” is unproblematized and unmediated. Much of this work needs to be pursued through the periodical archive, and indeed, the explosion of the digital archive suggests completely new avenues for periodical studies—for example, how do the letters published in various newspapers from Transcendentalist lecturers and reformers, particularly in their western travels, expand the boundaries of and expectations for travel literature? For literary criticism? For science and exploration? We must also reinforce the transnational, even planetary, scope of the movement through studies that recover the rapidly changing relationships between American national identity and the evolving identities of other nations, whether imperialistic or cosmopolitan, both within (Native American) and without, hemispheric, transatlantic, and transpacific. It is, after all, in their diverse conceptions of America, as well as in their refusal to be more than a “club of the like-minded” (in James Freeman Clarke's words), that the strength and ongoing relevance of the Transcendentalists reside.
(p. xxxiii) Joel Myerson and Laura Dassow Walls are both grateful to Steven Lynn and William Rivers, chairs of the English department at the University of South Carolina, for helping them to do their work (especially in Mr. Myerson's case since he is supposedly retired). They also thank Dean Mary Anne Fitzpatrick for her support and Jessie Bray for her assistance in preparing the volume. Sandra Harbert Petrulionis thanks Penn State Altoona's Division of the Arts and Humanities and Academic Affairs for their ongoing support of her research; for proofreading and other administrative assistance, she thanks Christina Seymour.
All three editors would like to thank the contributors for responding to our invitations with such enthusiasm and creativity and for their patience during the long process of pulling this volume together. We also appreciate the patience of our respective and long-suffering spouses. Finally, we are grateful to Shannon McLachlan for presenting us the challenge and opportunity of preparing this volume and for her continued support as we worked on it. (p. xxxiv)