Ralph Waldo Emerson was a key literary figure in the development of transcendentalism and in the American Romanticism Movement. According to literary folklore, Ralph Waldo Emerson began the American Romanticism movement. The literature of American Romanticism was written between the late 1830's and the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. It was considered the first illustration of American literary genius. Its purpose was to examine the intersection between fantasy and reality. Encouraging the writers of America to establish their literary independence from Europe, Emerson addressed the society in his speech called, "The American Scholar." In this speech he wrote:.
Perhaps the time is already come when the sluggard intellect of this continent will look from under its iron lids, and fill the postponed expectation of the world with something better than the exertions of mechanical skill. Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close. The millions, that around us are rushing into life, cannot always be fed on the sere remains of foreign harvests. Events, actions arise, that must be sung, that will sing themselves (13).
It was this speech that sparked a period of creative energy, producing some of the greatest works of all time. Such works include, Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, Henry David Thoreau's Walden, the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Edgar Allan Poe's short stories (Hurley 13, 15).
Each American romantic adopted his own style and theme. However, all were unified by a common concern with the internal world, the world of the mind. Examining questions of human identity, imagination, and intuition, these writers turned inward for a source of truth. The instability of American society also inspired the Romantic faith in nature. Nature was a place of beauty, simplicity, and truth for American Romantics.