Abolitionists, Emerson, and Thoreau by Sanderson Beck
Some listed here may now be out of print or unavailable. (Sacks)
Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Self-Reliance" is often the first or only exposure students get to Emerson's thought. Here are some resources to help understand this essay:
An essay introducing the background and context of Transcendentalism, for help in understanding where Emerson's ideas came from.
From Emerson himself, with some dictionary and other simple definitions listed as well.
Basic information on Transcendentalism - links to the two items above plus more.
- HTML searchable copy of the text at
Ann Woodlief's excellent introduction to the Emerson essay, Self-Reliance.
An article by Alfred I.
Self-Reliance - Understanding the Essay - Henry David Thoreau
Along with Emerson, other important Transcendentalists including Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickenson, and Walt Whitman also took on the unconventional morals of this movement....
This July 12 marks the bicentennial birthday of poet, essayist, social activist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. He was born in Concord, Mass., where his father owned a pencil factory. Thoreau studied at Harvard College, though he apocryphally refused to pay the $5 fee for his diploma. He became a public school teacher, then resigned rather than use corporal punishment on his students. The young Thoreau's writing career was nurtured by like-minded locals such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ellery Channing and Margaret Fuller. In 1845, following the advice of Channing to "build yourself a hut, & there begin the grand process of devouring yourself alive," Thoreau set out on a two-year stint of simple living in a cabin on the banks of Walden Pond in Concord.
Thoreau's time on Walden Pond begat his two greatest works. The first, the essay "Civil Disobedience," resulted from Thoreau's brief stint in prison over his refusal to pay taxes. Thoreau objected to slavery and the Mexican-American War, and argued that an individual could not allow a government to overrule their conscience, an approach that influenced Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Walden (1854) is a transcendentalist tract on Thoreau's spiritual self-discovery and practical lessons on isolated life, perhaps best explained by the book's most famous lines: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." --