Historical Context in Self-Reliance
The Transcendentalists: “Self-Reliance” was published in 1841 by the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was a member of the transcendentalist movement, which emerged in the first half of the 19th century in New England as a result of rationalism. It was a philosophical, political, and literary movement, influenced primarily by romanticism and the philosophies of Kant and Plato. As this essay’s title suggests, transcendentalists believed that individuals were most successful when left to their own devices—when reliant on themselves, as it were. They believed in the purity of the individual and echoed the emphasis the romantics placed on nature, and the importance of interactions between nature and the individual. Emerson was arguably the transcendentalist movement’s most important figure, and “Self-Reliance” was one of its key texts.
Historical Context Examples in Self-Reliance:
"I hope in these days we have heard the last of conformity and consistency..." See in text (Self-Reliance)
This essay is considered one of the most important pieces of writing in the history of US literature. This statement, and other themes in the essay, are still relevant today, which shows the timelessness of Emerson’s ideas and the impact of the transcendentalist movement.
"transcendent..." See in text (Self-Reliance)
Transcendent means to go beyond the range of physical and normal human experience. Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the leaders of the Transcendentalist movement, a philosophical and literary movement in the 19th century that supported a new way of thinking that argued for individualism, nature, and free spirituality.
"whose equipment exhausted the resources of science and art..." See in text (Self-Reliance)
Emerson compares Hudson and Behring’s (Bering’s) modes of explorations with that of Parry and Franklin to highlight how Hudson and Behring were able to make great strides in exploration without the aid of advanced exploration technology. Although we would not consider Parry and Franklin’s equipment to be advanced now, they most likely had access to the best equipment when Emerson wrote this in 1841.