Summary and Analysis of The Transcendentalist
About The Transcendentalist
Originally delivered in January 1842 as a lecture to an audience at the Masonic Temple in Boston, "The Transcendentalist" was first printed in The Dial, the literary magazine devoted to the transcendentalist movement. It was then included in Emerson's 1849 Nature; Addresses, and Lectures.
In the essay, Emerson offers a definition of the transcendentalist, describing the follower of this philosophy of optimism and positive thinking as a rather passive, even bored individual, who feels misunderstood — and mistreated — by the general public. It is likely that he had specific people in mind who fit the description of this isolationist, although he mentions no names. Perhaps he intended the essay primarily for them, hoping that his critique would inspire transcendentalists to act more in accord with their exalted principles. In any case, "The Transcendentalist" is important in understanding the development of Emerson's thoughts as he struggles with the perceived contradictions and shortcomings of the philosophy he devoted so much time and effort to promoting.
The essay does not have internally marked divisions. However, it falls into three main sections: The first section (paragraphs 1-5) discusses transcendentalism as a form of idealism and contrasts it with materialism; the second section (paragraphs 6-14) focuses on charges made against transcendentalism, its history, and its shortcomings; and the remainder of the essay (paragraphs 15-30) describes a set of people who, Emerson believes, adhere to this philosophy. He addresses the misunderstandings between these adherents and the public at large.
Readers should number each paragraph in pencil as this discussion will refer to individual paragraphs.