To adapt Calvinism to changing times, he invented evangelical Christianity, and in his attempt to prove to his congregation that God was present in every facet of reality, tried to reveal the myriad ways God was alive in nature. As he put it: “There is an analogy between the divine constitution and disposition of things in the natural and in the spiritual world.”
William Cullen Bryant of Cummington grew up in the spiritual culture Edwards created, and his poems Thanatopsis and A Forest Hymn were celebrated by his audience as the first examples of American literature. Providing the model for what followed, they unleashed the nature-loving Romantic movement in the USA.
Thomas Cole‘s struggling painting career was saved by Bryant, who moved to NYC to become the dean of its journalistic and literary culture. Cole’s painting of the Oxbow is the first great work of Romantic painting in the USA, and is given the same status as Bryant’s Thanatopsis. The Oxbow secured Cole’s position as the founder of the Hudson School of landscape painters.
You’ve probably seen Kindred Spirits, Asher Durand’s famous painting of Bryant and Cole:
Emerson of Concord came after our local heroes, and is considered to be the premier Transcendentalist. His mixing of Pioneer Valley natural philosophy with German Idealism provided Americans with a way of living naturally and spiritually at the same time, and he gained an international readership. He belittled his protege, Thoreau, yet Thoreau’s work has had a much wider and more lasting impact upon world history—inspiring John Muir, Mahatmas Gandhi & Martin Luther King (& countless other natural rights activists).
America’s first landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead, designed Smith- & Mount Holyoke- College’s campuses, Boston’s Commons and NYC’s Central Park. Each of these public spaces is an inhabitable 3-D expression of Transcendentalist philosophy, a carefully conceived place where people can restore their sanity by escaping the clamor of human affairs. They were designed to infuse nature into lives of highly-refined and/or urban citizens, who Olmstead feared, might otherwise lose the green source of their spiritual and political liberty—and these places were inspired by Bryant and Cole, who had been inspired by Edwards: “New York City’s need for a great public park was voiced by the poet and editor of the Evening Post (now the New York Post), William Cullen Bryant.”
The Club will convene in May, and is open to 6 people, who can be adults, college- or advanced high school students. All that is required is a deep curiosity about Transcendentalism. We will read and discuss key works together, and I will urge you to express, and share, your ideas in writing.
Our 4 discussion sessions will each be 2 hours long, and happen on Wednesdays from 7-9 pm At Haymarket Cafe in Northampton. The first 1/2 hour will be devoted to a concise presentation of the author, their writings, and their historical contexts. Then we’ll discuss this content, play with the ideas found in the reading we’ve done, and consider our “Club member’s” questions and input (including some journal reading) in a round-table fashion.
One week after each discussion, we’ll have a Sunday field trip in the Biocitizen van to places that either inspired our local Transcendentalists, or were inspired by them; and we’ll revisit, and amplify, the ideas and feelings we expressed during our discussions. The 2 trips in our area will be 3 hrs long each and bring us to “hotspots” 1st in the Valley and 2nd in the Hilltowns. The trips to Walden Pond and NYC will be approximately 6-8 hrs long.
The 8-event course costs $200., which includes transportation for our trips. Most reading materials will be digital, online and free, though you are welcome to buy hard copies (and we’ll suggest the best editions to buy).
Schedule for Discussions & Walks
Edwards: Northampton as Paradise City
Discussion: Weds. May 2, 7-9 pm, Haymarket Cafe
Walk: Sunday, May 6, 1-3 pm
Bryant & Cole: The Valley and Hilltowns as Eden
Discussion: Weds. May 9, 7-9 pm, Haymarket Cafe
Walk: Sunday, May 13, 1-4 pm
Emerson & Thoreau: Concord’s American Religion
Discussion: Weds. May 16, 7-9 pm, Haymarket Cafe
Walk: Sunday, May 20, 9-4 pm
Olmstead: The Garden in the Machine
Discussion: Weds. May 23, 7-9 pm, Haymarket Cafe
Walk: Sunday, May 27, 9-6 pm
Tuition: $250.00, which pays for course instruction, digital and hand-out reading material, and transportation.
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