Transcendental Roots: Emerson’s Inheritance

Transcendental Roots: Emerson’s Inheritance
Divining with any degree of accuracy the influence of one writer upon another is by its very nature a difficult and subjective task. There is in truth no precise way of knowing to what stage the fetuses of thought have developed in an author’s mind at various stages prior to their birth on paper. It is even more difficult to ascertain the significance of the contributions of a multiplicity of parents. Hypotheses have been put forth, however, as to the nature of the influence of certain English and German writers upon the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, hypotheses which possess a high degree of validity.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas Carlyle were the two most important contemporary influences on Emerson’s intellectual development. Madame de Stael, Frederic Henry Hedge, and Margaret Fuller as well as various scientists and British romantics also exerted a degree of influence. These were the primary channels through which the outpouring of literature and philosophy streaming from Germany flowed into the mind of Emerson. These Teutonic fountainheads included Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling and a host of others. These poets and thinkers fertilized the seed incipient in the mind of Emerson, bringing about the germination that was to bear fruit in Nature and beyond.

See Emerson's Dial articles, "Thoughts on Modern Literature" and "Europe and European Books" Web Site.

Bryan Hileman, Virginia Commonwealth University
Ideas & thought: