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Transcendental Roots

Other German Influences on Emerson

Bryan Hileman, VCU

Friedrich Schleiermacher's Web Site work had an important influence on the theology of Theodore Parker and thus on Unitarianism.  Schleiermacher, however, was not a significant influence upon Emerson.  Rather Emerson's Germanic philosophical influences derived from Kant, Fichte and Schelling largely through the medium of Coleridge.  Emerson's philosophical development, however, was very much like that of Schleiermacher, and eventually their creeds developed to a highly similar point.  They both formed an "introspective and self-reflexive form of religious consciousness based upon equation with the divine essence with a state of modification of feeling than with a being" through separate though similar experiences. (Chai, 194)

Friedrich Schiller Web Site was the most popular German author in America during the early 19th century.  Emerson's perusal of Schiller's Wallenstein helped to reinforce many of the ideas emanating from Germany, as did the work of Novalis.  Emerson's second hand knowledge of Kant led him temporarily in 1835 to a dualism reminiscent of Schiller's On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry.

Emerson's philosophy of history shares many notions with that of Johann Gottfried Herder, though these were essentially due to a contemporaneous development of ideas rather than a matter of direct influence.  Lorenz Oken developed a scientific philosophy similar to Emerson that had a slight influence on Emerson's philosophy of science.  Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi's emphasis on the intuition complimented Fichte's conception of the 'I am I' to form an approximation of Emerson's vision.  Jacob Boehme held for Emerson a place alongside Swedenborg as an inspiring though overly mystical presence.  Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel had little influence on Emerson until late in life, for his prose was difficult, Emerson's German poor, and Hegel's major work was not satisfactorily translated into English until 1855.

Emerson's published work drifts away from philosophy in the 1840's.  His next important revelation was courtesy of a volume by J.B. Stallo.  This volume updated Emerson on the evolution of post-Kantian philosophy, particularly Oken, Saint-Hilaire, Schelling and Hegel.  Hegelianism, which Emerson received primarily via other sources, along with an admixture of Darwinian evolution, was to be his primary philosophical influence from 1850 until his death.

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