Thursday, August 31, 2017

Where Are The Transcendentalists When We Need Them

 I'm a big fan of the Transcendentalists:  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Amos Bronson Alcott, Walt Whitman and a whole bunch of other free thinkers who believed passionately in the power and worth of each individual.  The Transcendentalists also pretty much believed that society and its institutions -- particularly organized religion and political parties -- corrupted the purity of the individual.  They had faith that people were at their best when they were truly "self-reliant" and independent.  Only with those "real individuals" could a true community emerge.
So off I went to the Morgan Museum for the Thoreau exhibit which will close in a few days.  Thoreau was an interesting guy most famous for living in not quite isolation in a cabin on Walden Pond.  I say not quite because the cabin wasn't far from Concord, Massachusetts, and because Thoreau frequently entertained in his little cabin.  However, there is absolutely no doubt about whether or not Thoreau was eccentric.  He was about as eccentric as a person can become.  He spent most of his time on Walden Pond writing in his journals.  He loved to measure things.  And sometimes he drew in his journals.  Several open journals were on display as was his walking stick on which he notched inches for more accurate measuring.  Also on exhibit was a letter of recommendation for a teaching job written by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  The lock from the jail cell where Thoreau was confined for a particular act of civil disobedience is also part of the exhibit.  And the only things remaining from his cabin on Walden Pond were also exhibited - a bundle of nails. Thoreau was against slavery and for human dignity.  He has at times been called an anarchist. Thoreau wished not to abolish government but to improve it:  "I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government."
We can probably all get on board with that wish.

1 comment:

Tom Walker said...

Good piece on Ralph and Henry. Ralph Waldo is a favorite of mine, in part because he played a big part in the novel Mary and I wrote, "Contrary Creek." Which is amazing, for an 18th century transcendentalist. But there you are.