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Full text of "[untitled] Modern Philology, (1917-09-01), pages 317-320"

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REVIEWS AND NOTICES 



Du Transcendardalisme considire essentiellemerd dans sa definition et 
ses origines frangaises. Par William Girard. University of 
California Publications in Modern Philology, Vol. IV, No. 3 
(October 18, 1916), pp. 351-498. 

The subject of this monograph is so difficult of treatment that, if our 
knowledge is even slightly increased thereby, we should be grateful. How 
shall we derive from book sources an intuitional philosophy? And how 
define a movement that called itself indefinable ? The subject is enormous 
as well as difficult. Mr. Girard apologizes for attempting so much, and 
probably most readers will feel that a survey of American thought down to 
1840, together with argumentative summaries and comparisons of the 
transcendental thinking of England, Germany, and France, could hardly 
be given with much thoroughness in a hundred and fifty rather verbose 
pages. 

The main thesis of the study concerns the derivation of the movement. 
Mr. Gkard in his most conciliatory moments holds that the transcendental- 
ists "ont retrouv4 chez les grands id^aUstes allemands un 4tat d'4me qui 
6tait plus ou moins le leur, ce qui expUque I'int^rSt qu'ils portSrent k leur 
philosophie, tandis qu'ils ont emprunt^ aux spiritualistes frangais, en parti- 
cuher, des formes qui se trouvferent exprimer de la fagon la plus satisfaisante, 
des iddes et des conceptions qu'ils devaient beaucoup plus k ce qu'ils etaient 
eux-m6mes qu'^ ce qu'avaient 6t4 les ^crivains qu'ils lurent, appr^ciSrent et 
comprirent" (p. 357). In the heat of argument he seems at times to be 
defending a thesis much like Brownson's hasty statement: "Germany 
reaches us only through France" (p. 474). Consistently he aims to show 
that the influence of Germany on the movement has been much overesti- 
mated, while that of France has been neglected. His success is partial. 

The method of the argument is open to severe criticism. Having given 
a historical survey of earher American thought, Mr. Girard, after reaching 
1825, drops the historical method and considers his facts in a topical arrange- 
ment that is not illuminating. No logical separation of the philosophical 
and the religious thinking of the group can be made. Mr. Girard's methods 
enable him, furthermore, to mistreat individuals easily. Not knowing 
what to make of Emerson, he obliterates him from the discussion.^ He 
neglects Hedge's Germanism most unwarrantably.^ He stresses Ripley's 

> See pp. 383, note, 395, and 482, note. 

» Cf. p. 397 with G. W. Cooke, Introduction to the Dial, II, 72-73. 
317] 125 



126 Reviews and Notices 

choice of French material for the early volumes of his Specimens of Foreign 
Literature, but neglects entirely Ripley's controversy with Andrews Norton 
and the Letters on the Latest Form of Infidelity resulting from it. These 
little known letters are highly important in the history of transcendentalism, 
and they show an indisputable and strong German influence on Ripley's 
thinking. Casual journalistic utterances Mr. Girard sometimes takes with 
naive seriousness, and seeming proofs are not always carefully weighed. In 
part proof of the proposition, "Que la philosophie des idealistes aUemands 
n'ait exerce, directement, aucune influence notable sur la pens6e religeuse 
liberate de la Nouvelle- Angle terre," the following statements are made 
(p. 403) : "G. Ripley nous declare k son tour qu'il n'a rien lu de Kant et qu'il 
doit ce qu'il salt des doctrines de ce philosophe k I'un de ses interpretes anglais 
(Dial, II, 91). Margaret Fuller avoue ne rien comprendre k ce qu'elle lit 
de Fichte, quoiqu'elle ^tudie ce dernier d'aprds un traits destin6 a en simpli- 
fier la doctrine, et se declare, en outre, incapable de comprendre, dans son 
ensemble, le systfeme de Jacobi." The Dial article here ascribed to Ripley 
is assigned by Cooke to J. A. Saxton;' on what ground does Mr. Girard 
assign it to Ripley? Frequent favorable references to Kant scattered 
through Ripley's work, together with the fact that he was an excellent 
scholar in German theology and possessed a good German library containing 
"much of Kant,"^ would certainly tend to establish an acquaintance on his 
part with Kant. With regard to Miss Fuller the fact that she said she could 
not understand Fichte is far from proving that she was uninfluenced by him. 
A comic moment is reported' when Mme de Stael upon meeting Fichte said: 
"Now, Mons. Fichti, could you be so kind as to give me, in fifteen minutes 
or so, a sort of idea or apergu of your system, so that I may know clearly 
what you mean by your ich, your moi, for I am entirely in the dark about 
it." Although Mr. Girard seems to think that such statements as Miss 
Fuller's and Parker's (that Kant is most difficult reading; see p. 442) are 
evidence for lack of German influence on transcendentaUsm, they demon- 
strate, on the contrary, earnest American attempts to fathom German 
thought. If Americans had professed a clear understanding of German 
idealism, then indeed we should have reason to beheve that they studied it 
second hand. 

Mr. Girard is at his best when collecting evidence of American fondness 
for French philosophers. It is here that he gives us his most important 
results. And yet the present reviewer would interpret this evidence in a 
manner different from Mr. Girard's. The more aggressive transcendental- 
ists — Hedge, Ripley, Parker, Follen, and perhaps Brownson — were, with 
the probable exception of the last-named, first stimulated by German 
thinking. They desired to popularize their highly unpopular transcendental- 
ism, but could not do so by use of German sources because of the horror 

' Introduction to the Dial, II, 115. 

2 Of. Girard, p. 402, with Frothingliam, Ripley, p. 46. 
» Life of George Ticknor (1876), I, 497-98. 

318 



Reviews and Notices 127 

most of the clergy felt for all German theology^ and, more especially, because 
of obvious rhetorical difficulties. Hence they turned to the admirable 
French simplifications of the Germans and commended them habitually 
for those unskilled in German or in philosophy. The influence of Mme de 
Stael in attracting Americans to a further study of German thought is 
undoubted; but it is certain that before the Critique of Pure Reason was 
translated in 1838 several New Englanders and some transcendentalists 
had studied the work in the original. Mr. Girard is then justified in assum- 
ing an immediate French origin for the thinking of some minor transcenden- 
taUsts, but not in trying to emphasize such an origin for the thought of the 
leaders of the movement, other than possibly W. E. Channing and Brown- 
son. Since Brownson is praised so much — and very likely deservedly — by 
Mr. Girard, it is worth while to quote Hedge's statement concerning the 
members of the famous Transcendental Club: "Orestes Brownson met with 
us once or twice, but became unbearable, and was not afterward invited."^ 
Channing had as early as 1816 sent inquiries to Ticknor concerning German 
metaphysics,' and later was further influenced by FoUen to admire the 
Germans, whom he could not read. 

The reviewer's notion that the French writers with whom we are con- 
cerned were valued usually as potential popularizers fits in perfectly with 
passages of praise of them quoted by Mr. Girard.^ Especially is it clear 
that the writer quoted on p. 454 regards Degerando as best suited to the 
tired (New England!) business man in his family hours. Other passages 
might have been quoted to show regard for French writing and its populariz- 
ing power. S. Osgood, reviewing Ripley's Specimens in the Christian 
Examiner (XXVIII, 138), says: "The French, indeed, are masters of the 
intellectual mint; they understand how to give thought such shape that it 
will pass current. Commend us to the Germans for skill, ardor, and patience 
in digging out the precious metal from its depths, and to the English for 
readiness and talent to use it in actual business; but it must first pass through 
the French mint and take the form and beauty that fit it for practical 
purposes." This seems to present the usual view and to explain perhaps 
why Ripley's early Specimens were from French rather than German philos- 
ophers. 

Mr. Girard is usually least happy in his anti-German efforts. He does 
succeed in showing that it is easy to overemphasize — and, for that matter, 
to underemphasize — direct influence from Kant and the greater German 
idealists. But it remains true that the movement is stamped "made in 
Germany." Mr. Girard seems to come close to a really important emphasis 
— and a rather new one — when he thinks the diffusion of German idealism 
in America due to such men as Herder, Schleiermacher, and De Wette 

■ See Rev. Daniel Dana in the American Quarterly Register, XI (August, 1838), 59; 
also Howe, Life of Bancroft, I, 55, 65, etc. 

2 Cooke, Introduction to the Dial, II, 73. 

» Life of George Ticknor (1876), I, 96. < Pp. 443, 454, 474, 477. 

319 



128 Reviews and Notices 

(p. 400). Portions of the works of all three of these were translated by New 
Englanders and were used in transcendental arguments. Ripley's account 
of the last two in his Letters on the Latest Forms of Infidelity is notably enthu- 
siastic, and he published articles on all three men in the Christian Examiner. 
George Bancroft when in Berlin had been very intimate with Schleiermacher, 
whose abilities he greatly admired, while FoUen and De Wette had worked 
in close association on the faculty of the University of Basle. But the 
greater Germans must have had influence as well — ^if not so much direct 
influence. FoUen's outspoken praise of Kant in his "Inaugural" (1831), 
Hedge's important commendation of him in the Christian Examiner (XIV 
[March, 1833], 119-127), as well as Parker's opinion that Kant was "one 
of the profoundest thinkers in the world, though one of the worst writers, 
even of Germany"' — all are conclusive as to the direct influence of Kant 
on some transcendentalists. It may have been difiicult, as Clarke is quoted 
as saying (p. 398, note), to buy German books in Boston. No one has ever 
thought that German metaphysicians or theologians had a large public in 
New England, but it is certain that Hedge, Francis, Ripley, Parker, and 
a few others^ would have all the books that need be presupposed. The 
predilection of Boston and Cambridge for things German was well enough 
known by 1825 so that Lafayette could call the region "la portion des Etats 
Unis oft la Ut^rature allemande est le plus en honneur."' 

We must go back to the method of dealing carefully with the transcen- 
dentalists one by one. Then we shall find that their ideas came from many 
diverse places. W. E. Channing and Emerson derive perhaps from the 
least usual sources. Bancroft, FoUen, Francis, Hedge, and Ripley were so 
steeped in German that it is useless to deny their Teutonic origins. Brown- 
son is the loudest of the Gallophile group; while Margaret Fuller, though a 
faithful student of German literature, may well stand as representative of a 
class who were inspired and taught mainly by Americans. It is unnecessary 
to assume, with Mr. Girard, that only thinkers who held religious views 
entirely acceptable to transcendentalists influenced them; William Penn 
and even Jonathan Edwards^ were among those whose thinking was found 
to contain germs of intuitionalism. 

Mr. Girard, while taking an unwarrantably extreme position as to 
German influence on the transcendentalism of New England, has thrown 
definite light on the interesting part French influence played in the move- 
ment. For those who believe the movement essentially obscurantist it 
will be possible to give the Germans their due weight of influence without 
violating any present patriotic sensibilities. 

George Sherburn 

University op CracAGO 

» Weiss, Life of Parker, II, 454. 

' See Appendix to Professor H. O. Goddard, Studies in New England Transcenden- 
talism. 

« E. L. FoUen, Life of Charles Fallen, p. 92. 

• See Howe, Life of George Bancroft, 1, 223, and Weiss, Life of Parker, I, 112 ,141. 

320