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Latter Romantics



Latter Romantic Period 1840-1860

I.      Sometimes called the American Renaissance because literary achievements were of such high quality.

II.      Like the Early Romantic period, it was a time of “hopeful change.”

III.     Purposes for writing

         A.   Social Reform

               1.   Needed because of social disorders such as overcrowding; child labor; low wages for long hours; abuse of women at the workplace; unsafe work atmosphere at factories; and worst of all, slavery.

               2.   Kinds of social reforms included better treatment for the mentally ill and the physically handicapped, prison reform, women’s rights, and child labor laws.

               3.   Tax supported schools established in every state.

               4.   Newspapers and magazines grew in number.

               5.   Libraries and museums were established.

               6.   The Lyceum was established (an association of citizens who invited prominent intellectuals to give public lectures)—Also educated adults, trained teachers, worked for social reform, and established museums.

               7.   Outstanding people included Horace Mann (public schools), Dorthea Dix (worked to reform mental institutions), William Garrison (abolitionist), Elizabeth Peabody, Margaret Fuller, and Emma Willard (all worked for women’s rights).

         B.   Literary Reform

               1.   Writers wanted to create distinctively American literature (Irving, Bryant, and Cooper had proved that Americans could write respectable literature, but they were all influenced by European literature).

               2.   Emerson spoke out for a truly independent literature.

IV.     Major influences of the period

         A.   Industrialization—brought on a rapid concentration of people into cities, changed the nature of work.

         B.   Transcendentalism—(kin to idealism) a view which emphasized the qualities of self-trust, self-reliance, and individualism. This view stressed that the truths of the universe transcend or go beyond what we learn from books or what we learn through our senses and that intuition is the “highest power of the soul.”  Truth was reached through intuition, not through logic or reason.  Transcendentalists believed that each person had an inner voice, which should be followed no matter what society believed.  They believed this inner voice to be good; therefore, if every person acted on that good inner voice, the world would be a Utopia.  Man was believed to be innately good, and if he were corrupted, society was to blame.  Nature was thought to be a “doorway to the mystical world” where we may find important truths.

V.      Ideals versus realities

         A.   Ideally—man was good and acted from that goodness

         B.   Realistically—man was not always good and sometimes did evil as well as       good deeds.

Latter Romantic Period Writers

I.       Ralph Waldo Emerson—Transcendentalist—Lived childhood in poverty, often without enough to eat.  Came from a long line (seven generations) of clergymen.  He once said of himself: “I find myself often idle, vagrant, stupid…I am indolent and shall be insignificant.”  He became a Unitarian minister, but resigned because he felt “the profession to be antiquated,” and he could no longer perform the rituals.  After the death of his wife, he went to Europe where he discovered German transcendentalism and brought it back to America, where he made it distinctively American.  His optimistic philosophy stressed human goodness and intuition but failed to account for the evil in the world.  He was called “the great prophet of America.” He spoke out against slavery and other social ills.  The idea of the Over-Soul was his.  He also believed that there was something of God in every man.

II.      Henry David Thoreau—Transcendentalist—The basis of his life and his writing was “communion with nature.”  He believed in the beauty of nature and in the importance of the human spirit, and he tested both of these ideas by living a life stripped of nonessential “things,” thus becoming the self-reliant nonconformist, which Emerson urged everyone to be.  To show his disapproval of slavery, he refused to pay his poll taxes and was jailed.  He also helped runaway slaves escape to Canada after the Fugitive Slave Law had been passed.  Thoreau “went into to the woods to live to see what nature had to teach.”

III.      Nathaniel Hawthorne—dissenter—Differed with the transcendentalist in that he saw evil as well as good in the universe.  He appealed to the Calvinistic belief of “innate depravity” and “original sin,” and pointed to the differences in the ideals and realities in America.  He believed that evil existed primarily in people’s behavior toward one another. The greatest of sinners were people who were so concerned with themselves that they denied sympathy to their fellow human beings.  His writing criticizes Puritan morality, transcendental morality, and the world he knew.  He created the first American novel to become a classic—The Scarlet Letter.  He carried within himself a heavy burden of personal guilt because of his ancestor John Hathorne, who had participated in the Salem Witch Trials and Major William Hathorne, who had a Quaker woman whipped publicly and driven into the forest because she criticized priests and churches.  In his writing, he repeatedly probes the nature of good and evil, of guilt and sin:  repeatedly his characters must look within to face themselves and the moral consequences of their actions.

IV.     Herman Melville—dissenter—Believed, like Hawthorne, that evil was present in the universe.  At age nineteen, he went to sea, and his experiences as a sailor awakened the hatred of the darkness of man’s deeds and the evil seemingly present in nature itself as expressed throughout his fiction. His experiences as a sailor gave his first-hand knowledge of whaling, which he wrote about in his greatest novel Moby Dick, a story about a white whaile and a sea captain whose hatred destroys himself and his fellow sailors.  In the novel, Melville explores the evils of the universe, using a whale as a symbol for nature.