On this day in 1836 Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Henry Hedge (pictured to the right), Bronson Alcott, James Freeman Clarke and Convers Francis gathered at Sophia and George Ripley’s home in Concord in response to a letter from Hedge to Emerson calling for the creation of a “symposium” that could allow for a “free discussion of theological and moral subjects.”
Among others the club would eventually include were Theodore Parker, Margaret Fuller, Orestes A. Brownson, Elizabeth and Sophia Peabody, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jones Very, Christopher P. Cranch, Charles T.Follen, and William Henry Channing. This was the cream of intellectual and spiritual New England.
Most subsequent meetings occurred when Hedge who was then serving the Unitarian congregation in Bangor, could make his way to the Boston area. While officially the “Transcendentalist Club,” Emerson dubbed it the “Hedge Club” acknowledging Hedge’s central importance in this gathering. There would be thirty gatherings of the club, the last being held at Elizabeth Palmer Peabody’s home in 1840.
For much of America, indeed the world, Transcendentalism would become the first flowering of a non-European dominated American literature. In fact that flowering was simply a side-effect of a major theological revolution in American religion where the Bible and revealed religion began to take second place to a direct experience of the natural world.
It should be noted this generation of thinkers , in addition to being heirs to the greatness of European thought and particularly the new thinking coming out of Germany, they were the first Americans to have access to translations of major religious writings from the East, including Hindu, Taoist and Buddhist texts. They made full use of this gathered wisdom in their deliberations.
And their (both the texts and these spiritual thinkers) influence continues in Unitarian Universalism to the present moment.