In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, spurred by the social upheavals of abolition, women's rights, industrialization and civil war, as well as their own existential and metaphysical drives, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and a unique group of American writers set about creating a renewed vision of age-old truths and gave birth to American Transcendentalism, a movement with lasting impacts on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world.
In perhaps his most famous lecture, the "Harvard Divinity School Address" - a lecture that would herald his break from the Unitarian Church that helped birth his vision of man, God and himself - Emerson remarked:
"This intuition of the moral sentiment is an insight of the perfection of the laws of the soul. These laws execute themselves. They are out of time, out of space and not subject to circumstance. Thus in the soul of man there is a justice whose retributions are instant and entire. He who does a good deed is instantly ennobled. He who does a mean deed is by the action itself contradicted."
"If a man is at heart just, then in so far is he God; the safety of God, the immortality of God, the majesty of God do enter into that man with justice. If a man dissemble, deceive, he deceives himself, and goes out of acquaintance with his own being. A man in the view of absolute goodness, adores, with total humility. Every step so downward, is a step upward. The man who renounces himself, comes to himself."
"That is always best," he continued, "which gives me to myself."
"The sublime is excited in me by the great stoical doctrine, Obey thyself. That which shows God in me, fortifies me. That which shows God outside of me, makes me a wart and a wen. There is no longer a necessary reason for my being. Already the long shadows of untimely oblivion creep over me and I shall decease forever."
"The divine bards are the friends of my virtue, of my intellect, of my strength. They admonish me that the gleams which flash across my mind are not mine, but God's; that they had the like, and were not disobedient to the heavenly vision. So I love them. Noble provocations go out from them, inviting me to resist evil; to subdue the world; and to Be."
"The time is coming," Emerson remarked, "when all men will see that the gift of God to the soul is not a vaunting, overpowering, excluding sanctity, but a sweet, natural goodness, a goodness like thine and mine, and that so invites thine and mine to be and to grow."
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