Summary and Analysis of The Transcendentalist Glossary


Transcendentalism A religious, literary, and philosophical movement in New England between 1836, when Emerson published Nature, and 1844, when The Dial — the publishing entity of the transcendental movement — ceased publication. Influenced by Unitarianism, transcendentalists denied the existence of miracles, preferring a Christianity that rested on the teachings of Christ and not on his deeds. They experimented with communal living and supported educational innovation, the abolitionist and feminist movements, and the reform of the church and society, generally. New England transcendentalists were committed to intuition as a way of knowing, to individualism, and to a belief in the divinity of humans and nature.

Idealism The philosophical assumption that material objects do not exist independently of human perception.

Materialism The philosophical belief that all human events and conditions depend upon material objects and their interrelationships; sensory perception is the key to learning.

gold eagle A gold coin.

anomalous Departing from the regular arrangement, general rule, or usual method; abnormal.

Condillac, Etienne (1715-80) A French philosopher, he established the doctrine known as sensationalism, which holds that all human knowledge is strictly the result of sensory perception.

impalpable Incapable of being readily grasped or comprehended.

Quincy granite The granite mined from the quarries in Quincy, Massachusetts, near Boston.

Exchange Stock exchange.

pantomimic Mimicry; expressed by a silent show.

cumber To confound or trouble the mind or senses.

anti-nomianism Belief in a religious doctrine that promotes faith rather than adherence to moral laws; moral laws are relative, not fixed or universal.

Othello The main character of Shakespeare's five-act tragedy of the same name.

Desdemona The wife of Othello, who, in a jealous frenzy, smothers and kills her in her bed.

Jacobi, Friedrich Heinrich (1743-1819) A German philosopher who opposed idealism, Jacobi believed in the reality provided by the senses, but he also acknowledged truths present in the heart and in the human spirit, including the knowledge of God.

Fichte, Johann Gottlieb (1762-1814) A German idealist who held that the ego is neither subjective nor personal, but is the universal and "absolute ego" from which all objective reality is derived; he believed that if all people were fully developed morally, laws would be unnecessary.

Pylades In Greek mythology, Pylades was the son of Strophius, king of Phocis. He was raised with his cousin Orestes and became his faithful friend, assisting him in the murder of his mother and her lover.

Orestes The legendary son of Agamemnon, Orestes avenged his father's death by killing his mother and her lover.

Timoleon One of Achilles' immortal horses.

Epaminondas (418-362 B.C.) Greek Theban general.

de Witt, John (1625-72) Political leader of Holland (1653-72).

Cato, Marcus Porcius (95-46 B.C.) Also known as Cato the Younger, he was a leading Stoic and Roman conservative in the last years of the Roman republic; he supported Pompey against Caesar in the nation's civil war and committed suicide after Caesar's victory.

commit sacrilege with David Although David distinguished himself as a monarch who was faithful to God and as a ruler who administered justice impartially, he did not escape the demoralizing influences of his great prosperity and unrestricted power. He had numerous wives and lovers, and because his passion for Bathsheba was so great, he sent her husband, Uriah, to the front lines, thereby ensuring his death. Afterward, David married Bathsheba, but God was so displeased with David's transgression that he caused the son of David and Bathsheba to die.

Sabbath Originally, Saturday, the seventh day of the week reserved by Jews as a day of rest; Sunday is observed as the Sabbath by Christians.

presentiment A feeling that something specific may happen in the future.

Buddhism A philosophical religion based on the teachings of Buddha; adherents believe that the self, or the "soul," has no independent reality apart from the many inseparable parts of the universe.

harbingers Those who foreshadow the approach of someone or something.

Saturnalia A period of unrestrained license and revelry; associated with the ancient Roman festival of Saturn.

Stoic One who approaches life rationally, indifferent to pleasure and emotional pain.

despotic Having absolute power and behaving arrogantly.

Brutus, Marcus (d. 42 B.C.) A Roman general who conspired to assassinate Julius Caesar.

Puritans A sixteenth-century group of Protestants in the Church of England, they thought the Church of England had not gone far enough in reforming the doctrines and the structure of the Church; they called for the eradication of all Roman Catholic elements from their services.

Quakers Officially called the Society of Friends; a group of Christians originating in seventeenth-century England under George Fox, they held that believers receive direct guidance from a divine inward light.

Unitarianism A form of Christianity that asserts that God is one person, the Father, rather than a three-in-one person, as the doctrine of the Trinity asserts; Unitarians are confident in the individual's rational abilities for moral self-guidance.

Kant, Immanuel (1724-1804) A German philosopher who influenced Emerson.

Locke, John (1632-1704) An English philosopher, Locke developed a theory of cognition that denied the existence of innate ideas and asserted that all thought is based on our senses. His works influenced American Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, who modified Puritan doctrine to allow for more play of reason and intellect, building a foundation for Unitarianism and, eventually, transcendentalism.

nomenclature A set of names or terms that makes up a system.

ennui Boredom.

asp A small, venomous snake.

ecclesiastical Pertaining to the church; concerned with the affairs of the church.

Gnostics A sect that believed that human experience was characterized by a radical disjunction between the spiritual, which they regarded as real, and the physical, which they regarded as illusory.

Essenes An ascetic Jewish sect of the first century B.C. and first century A.D.; authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, they lived communally and are often associated with the Jews who first followed Jesus.

Manichees Adherents of a religious system widely accepted from the third to the fifth century and composed of Gnostic Christian, Manichean, and pagan elements; in their religion, Satan was represented as coeternal with God.

Reformers Leaders of the sixteenth-century Reformation who believed that the Christian church no longer conformed to the biblical model; the reformers included John Calvin, Martin Luther, and John Knox.

optative Wishful.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-91) An Austrian composer whose music epitomizes the height of the Classical age. Among his masterpieces are two operas, The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni.

ief Willingly.

Temperance The nineteenth- and twenteenth-century American movement to promote — both by law and persuasion — abstinence from alcoholic beverages.

Calvinism A Christian theological perspective associated with the work of John Calvin (1509-64), who advocated the final authority of the Bible and salvation by grace alone.

Xanthus An ancient city of Lycia in present-day Turkey

Samos A Greek island.

Pericles (d. 429 B.C.) An Athenian statesman, he was responsible for reforms and for promoting democracy.

subaltern Subordinate.

monitors People who give an admonition, a warning to correct some fault.

frigate A fast, multi-sailed naval ship.

chronometers Highly accurate timepieces.