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[346] simply the focus and energizing centre of that larger area of illumination and activity which is coextensive with the whole movement of literary and spiritual expansion that transformed New England during the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century. For purposes of historical and critical discrimination, to be sure, it is convenient, as we have done, to treat transcendentalism as a distinct and separate movement. But in reality it was not. In reality it was so blended with wider currents of spiritual change that the relation between the two can never be precisely determined. All that can be asserted with any certainty is that the fundamentally religious complexion of New England life makes it a fair presumption that the religious phase of the whole development was as nearly central and determinative as any.

It is equally difficult, as may now be seen more clearly than at the outset of our discussion, to separate the European and the American contributions to transcendentalism. That spirit of freedom, of individualism, of revolution, of romance, which was abroad throughout the Western world during this period, took on a peculiar local colour in New England. Distilled in the New England alembic, French Revolutionary dogmas, German philosophy, Oriental mysticism, assume a semblance that often makes them scarcely recognizable. Yet, however fresh the utterance, an alert sense can usually detect, if not its particular source, at least its general European kinship.

When Emerson in the opening pages of Nature exhorts his countrymen to come forth and live their own lives, reminding them that “the sun shines to-day also,” we catch echoes of Rousseau's “Man is born free; and is everywhere in chains.” When Thoreau proclaims an intention “to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbours up,” we feel that here is the homely New England version of Shelley's cry to the West Wind:

Be through my lips to unawakened earth
The trumpet of a prophecy!

When Thoreau, on another occasion, writes that he was not aware “that the capacity to hear the woodpecker had slumbered within me so long,” the words have all the spontaneity of

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