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·Antidotes Against Oblivion": AmericanTranscendentalism Peter Carafiol.TranscendentReason: James Marshand the Forms of Romantic Thought. Tallahassee: University Press;s ofFlorida, 1982.222 + xviiipp. F.dith E.W.Gregg, ed. The Letters of Ellen Tucker Emerson. 2 vols. Kent, Ohio: KentState University Press, 1qs2.1,383 +xxviipp. Philip F.Guraand Joel Myerson, eds. Critical EssaysonAmerican Transcendentalism . Boston: G.K. Hall, 1982. 638+li pp. Leonard Neufeldt. The House of Emerson. Lincoln: Universityof Nebraska Press, 1982. 272pp. William G. Heath Exactly two decades ago, Walter Harding noted the abundance of studies dealingwith the star attractions of Transcendentalism, Emerson and Thoreau, and the scarcity of work being done on a host of secondary figures. Hesuggestedthat scholars "might do well to turn their attention to some of thesefigures and thus make some real contributions to our knowledge of Transcendentalism." 1 Since then, books and articles have appeared which seem almost to be an answer to Harding's call. These studies- in Emerson's phrase, "antidotes against oblivion" - have shed new light on such individuals asMargaret Fuller, Theodore Parker, Jones Very, David Wasson, Cyrus Bartol, Convers Francis and Sylvester Judd, to name only a few.The scholarly imbalancethat existed twenty years ago has all but disappeared. Nor have thelesser luminaries of the movement been the only recipients of this increasedattention . Interest has also grown in such general topics as the intellectualand religious background to the movement, the history of the TranscendentalClub and of the Dial, the communitarian experiments at BrookFarm and Fruitlands, and the literary and esthetic contributions of TranscendeI1talism to American literature. Inthe meantime, interest in Emerson and Thoreau has hardly been on the wane.The centenary of Emerson's death, observed last year, was marked bya number of new books about him, and the publication of the complete works of both Emerson and Thoreau, by Harvard and Princeton respectively, CanadianReview of American Studies, Volume 15, Number 3, Fall 1984, 311-321 312 WilliamG.Heath continues apace (the Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Emersona now complete). Looked at in its entirety, the field of Transcendentalist studi~e is currently very active as scholars take advantage of the many opportunitie: that exist to make new discoveries and offer genuine contributions toour understanding of the period. In short, Transcendentalism has becomeamajor growth industry within the academic marketplace. Two new books reflect the widening interest, not only in figures likeJames Marsh who have peripheral connections with Transcendentalism, butinthe various aspects of the movement itself. One lives up to its promise, theother does not. Peter Carafiol's book, Transcendent Reason: James Marshandthe Forms of Romantic Thought, claims to be revisionist in two ways.First. Carafiol states his determination to write a work that searches for patterns of diversity, not identity, in American intellectual history. His argumentwith much American historiography is that it looks for unity and coherence, thus blurring distinctions between, say, Puritan and Romantic. Second, Carafiol claims that his interpretation of Marsh departs from the prevailing view. Whereas existing scholarship tends to portray Marsh as a precursor ofNew England Transcendentalism through the influential "Preliminary Essay"he wrote for his edition of Coleridge's Aids to Reflection, Carafiol believes a more accurate view is to see him as transitional and mediating, a kindof intellectual and religious schizophrenic who never succeeded in reconciling orthodox Calvinist leanings with liberal religious ideas. One isnaturally forced to ask whether the assumptions underlying thesetwo claims are valid, and the answer would seem to be yes in the first casebutno in the second. Carafiol successfully demonstrates Marsh's complexity asa thinker, preserving a clear line between his subject's affinities with Edwards and with Emerson. But in the second case, Carafiol's assertion to the contrary, there is little here that shows Marsh in a new light. What we have insteadis an elaboration of positions taken elsewhere. Perry Miller and John Duffy,for example, have both written about Marsh as a transitional figure. Carafiol spends considerable time expounding on Marsh's relationship to the Carn· bridge Platonists and on the connection between his spiritual viewsandhis philosophy of education. Both subjects have been treated previously.2 Carafiol had at one time planned a standard biography of Marsh, buthis subject's unique position in the history of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 311-321
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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