19 AUGUST 1876, Page 20

Tr anscendentalism in New England : a History. By Octavius Froth-

ingham. (G. P. Putnam's, New York.)—This volume discusses "Transcendentalism," not as a mere form of mental philosophy, but as a phase of thought which has powerfully stirred and affected the human mind. The author writes sympathisingly, and hints that it may be said he has composed a eulogy instead of a history. For our own part, we think his book will repay reading. If it be ever so true that transcendentalism has had its day, it is no less true that it has left a very distinct trace on the ideas of the present age. Of course we think first of Germany in connection with it, and then Coleridge, who

deep from the German fountains, comes into our mind. He was the very type of a transcendentalist, holding, as he did, that reason is the faculty "which sees the ideal forms of truth face to face, and beholds the inmost reality of things." Carlyle, too, who made fun of Coleridge's talk, his "om-inject and sum-inject," himself passed through a transcen- dental phase, and spoke admiringly of mystics like Fichte and Novalis,, till finally he became, so one gathers from his last books, a pure be- liever in force and strength of will. Transcendentalism found for itself a numerous following in America. Emerson, to whom the author is continually appealing, was, in fact, the accredited interpreter of the movement, though he confessed that it had its dangers, and made many people dreamy and listless, and excessively prone to shirk the ordinary duties of life. Still, it unquestionably had its good side, and produced earnestness, high aspirations, and enthusiastic energy. All this is pointed out in an interesting chapter on the practical tendencies of transcendentalism. Some would say such a phrase is a con- tradiction in terms, but our author gives reasons for thinking otherwise. A transcendentalist holds, he says, that all men have as a natural endow- ment what evangelical Christianity ascribes only to a few as a special gift of the Spirit. This, of course, may be twisted into the wildest mysticism, but it may also be turned to profitable account as a protest on behalf of the dignity of human nature, a truth we can never lose sight of without falling into low and debasing modes of thought. It was objected to transcendentalism that its tendency was to make self- culture everything, and to end in Goethe's gospel of a heart- less intellectual indifference. But self-culture, the author ex- plains, really meant the culture of that nobler self which in- cludes heart and conscience, sympathy and spirituality. And so the transcendentalist was by nature a reformer. His view' of human nature made him hopeful of change and improvement. If his disgust with things as they are kept him aloof for a time, his sympathy soon sent him back to active work, and his faith urged him to the front of the battle. The enthusiasm which broke out in America recently in the great war against slavery may have been due, as the author sug- gests, to the teaching of those who had made it their special business to proclaim the inherent worth of man. Critics, therefore, of a cynical east, when they call transcendentalists visionaries, show their ignorance of the immense forces latent in moral enthusiasm. It is a fact, too, that transcendentalism has attracted many singularly keen intellects. No one, we think, can question that it deserves to be attentively studied, and the present volume is one we recommend to those who can find time to do so.