Difference Between Romanticism and Transcendentalism

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023


Difference Between Romanticism and Transcendentalism

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With the advent of technology, it is no surprise that most people out there are stuck like glue to any screen they can find be it the regular old television screen or the phone screen in your palm. Nothing wrong with the act, I assure you. The screens hold an entrancing power with dynamic and life-like imitation that draws you deep and keeps you fixated. Gone are the days when people pored over tables filled with faded scrolls trying to make head and tail of the forlorn scriptures. This act now is selective to rigid scholars. And they deserve a salute.

Today, most literature takes place over the phone in the form of text messages. Did you know that teens send over 50 texts per day? How crazy is that? And what, pray is the content of such texts? If it’s teens, it is probably back and forth of school gossip or assignment completion or the latest superhero movie. While the statistic could be lower in adults, their messages would mostly consist of work and in between couples – some cringy movie dialogue claiming love forever or a wicked dispute. While the art of literature has lost its significance over time, its importance cannot be stressed enough, other subjects have risen in popularity like the sciences and even commerce. Despite that fact, it would be rather unwise to consider it less important as quite a few momentous changes that shape our world today were brought about by literature.

Romanticism vs. Transcendentalism

The 19th century was a magical period. People were still naïve and craved knowledge. During such a period of a thirst for wisdom, scholars thrived. There came about to be literary revolutions and interventions that baffled the common folk with wonder and often rendered them speechless with marvel at the deep thoughts proposed by these intelligent scholars. Romanticism and transcendentalism were two such literary revolutions that came about at the time. They may sound similar and also have similarities in what they propose but they are very different.

Difference Between Romanticism and Transcendentalism in a Tabular Form

Parameters of Comparison Romanticism Transcendentalism
Origin Romanticism saw its origins in Europe. Transcendentalism originated in New England, United States.
Period Romanticism began in the late 18th century and ended in 1840. Transcendentalism dominated in the mid 19th century, between 1830 to 1855. 
Style of writing The style of writing in Romanticism features mostly individualism, creativity and moral values. The style of writing in Transcendentalism features individualism along with importance given to humanistic values and insight.
Advocates The significant writers in the Romanticism period were Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, John Keats, P. B. Shelley and Lord Byron to name a few. The significant writers of the Transcendentalism period were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller among many more.
Principles Romanticism depended mostly only observations made from the nature, emotions and essentially the ‘human spirit’. Transcendentalism depended mostly on inner insight and finding the deeper meaning of life and truth.
Religion Romanticism did not stress on religion. It focused mostly on the human nature – the consequences of human behavior, sin and guilt. Transcendentalism was based on religion. The belief was embedded in the knowledge of God being present in all things.
Reason Romanticism was created as a reaction to outward beliefs of humans. Transcendentalism was inspired by Romanticism and was created as a reaction to the practice of religion.
Inner values Romanticism believed an individual was capable of both goodness and evil. Transcendentalism believed solely in the inner goodness of individuals.

What was Romanticism?

The Romantic era or Romanticism originated in Europe. It began in the late 18th century and lasted till the mid 19th century and was born as a reaction against Neoclassicism. The main objective of Romanticism was to rebel against the classes and norms. To a degree, it was also a reaction against the period of Enlightenment, the mid-18th-century rationalism and also physical materialism. Thus, the era of Romanticism celebrated the individual. Importance was placed on the individual human spirit, being subjective, being irrational, being sentient and being imaginative. It bespoke of sense of freedom and that emotion swelled in the masses.

Romanticism saw increased appreciation for beauty and nature. There was outright exuberance of individualism where the individual feelings and emotions were given credence. Human personality and the mind, the motives that cause unexplainable actions were focused upon. There was a deeper understanding of the human psyche, and a heightened interest in the culture with secondary importance spared for rules and traditions. People explored their ethnicities and ventured to learn more about the exotic, the mysterious, the gothic and even the satanic arts.

In literature, the romances narrated a tale showcasing heroism and chivalry. The grievances and mystery of the hero coupled with an exotic and adventurous background promised the reader an unforgettable experience and a roller coaster of emotions. The romances were nothing like the preceding elegant Neoclassicist tragedies. They were rather naïve and unruly but full of longing for freedom and individualism.

It began with the Lyrical Ballads of William Wordsworth and S. T. Coleridge. The poetry was deemed to have ‘powerful feelings’, which were not the norm or the style of the time. William Blake was also amongst the pioneers of the era. His art evolved into more powerful images deeming him a visionary. There were two phases of the romantic era. The first one began in Germany. Principal writers of this phase were Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schelling and Madame de Staël, to name a few. The second phase, between 1803 and 1840, was more influenced by nationalism. There was a peak in the folk arts and dances that was previously ignored. Romantic poetry in English saw a dynamic change with principal writers – John Keats, Lord Byron and P. B. Shelley taking the reins. The stories, in this era, featured a deeper dive into the subconscious, an exploration of the supernatural and an appreciation of the mystical unknowns. A prime example is the famous work of Mary Shelley – Frankenstein.

In the field of arts, there was defiance against the strict art depicting classical history and ancient mythology. Artists like James Barry, John Flaxman and Henry Fuseli featured heroism and the bizarre in their artworks. The landscapes focused more on the dynamism of light and nature. The famed French romantic artist, Eugene Delacroix, was praised for his zestful brushstrokes and exotic use of colour. In architecture, gothic architecture saw a revival of the gothic culture.

Musical Romanticism saw importance given to individuality and originality. Carrying their art from the Classical era, musical legends like Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert took to experimenting with their emotional expressions in the notes. In Germany and Italy, romantic operas saw new heights where nationalism and heroism were brought to life with dramatic music.

What is Transcendentalism?

Transcendentalism was inspired by the romantic era. It saw its origin in Massachusetts, in the year 1830. Quite like Romanticism, it also rebelled against the traditional values and saw to focus on individualism. Drawn towards the thought were great writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott among many more. Transcendentalists had a religious quest as well. They believed that there was more than just the human spirit when it came to an individual. There was innate goodness to be explored which was an influence of God.

Transcendentalists maintained that inner goodness was unavoidable and that God was within all of us. They claimed the ultimate goal of life was to be unified with God within. That was the purpose of human existence and the result of the entire experience of life.

While they did give God specific importance, when it came to society, they valued the supremacy of individuals over the collective society. Their reason to study nature was so that the study would benefit personal development. And they welcomed the events as they came believing them to be gifts of the universe – whatever came their way was inherently supposed to be good.

In literature, transcendentalists drew from sensations more than facts. Although that was the common case, there is a lack of similarity in every transcendentalist writer. Their work is often grouped because of their co-existence in the same period. A common observation though of their writing was the fact that the stories spoke more of a journey of the spirit. They did not focus on individualism or the mind as heavily as the romanticists did.

In addition to religion, they also directed attention to the crisis being faced by the common folk at the time like woman’s suffrage and the horrible working conditions of the labourers. The efforts of the transcendentalist brought about a change in those conditions. They also revolutionized education and the standards of living of all classes.

When given more thought, transcendentalism can almost be thought of as the succeeding step to Romanticism. While Romanticism focused on the individual mind, thought and behaviour, Transcendentalism took the step forward and delved into the spirit. Transcendentalism seems like the natural offspring of Romanticism. Both literary revolutions would not have flourished if the other were absent. For the birth of Transcendentalism, the existence of romanticism is imperative. And were it not followed by Transcendentalism Romanticism would have been forgotten. Both may preach otherwise but they are vital for each other’s survival even today.

Main Differences Between Romanticism and Transcendentalism in Points

Following are the main differences between Romanticism and Transcendentalism:

  1. Romanticism was born in Europe while transcendentalism was inspired by Romanticism and was a creation in the United States of America.
  2. Romanticism came before Transcendentalism. Romanticism saw its beginning in the late 18th century and lasted till the mid 19th century (1840) whereas Transcendentalism lasted between 1830 to 1855.
  3. Romanticism was based mostly on human nature and behaviour while Transcendentalism was based mostly on inner insights and truth.
  4. The style of writing in Romanticism was mostly individualistic, creative and based on emotions and feelings. The style of writing in transcendentalism was mostly about insights and deeper truths of life.
  5. Romanticism did not focus on God and religion but Transcendentalism was embedded in the belief in the presence of God in all things.
  6. Romanticism was created with an outlook to better human behaviour and transcendentalism was created to improve religious beliefs.
  7. The heroes of romanticism are great writers like John Keats, Lord Byron and P. B. Shelley. The heroes of Transcendentalism are great writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller.
  8. Transcendentalism believed only in the inner goodness of individuals. On the other hand, Romanticism embraced both the inner goodness and the inherent darkness.


Both Romanticism and Transcendentalism saw ensured that humans thrived in their eras. Romanticism celebrated individual emotions, dissected the human psyche, and embraced the dark and mysterious crevices that the Classical era was too above exploring. It paced the way for artists to be unafraid to express themselves and to believe in the freedom of the spirit. Transcendentalism, much like Romanticism, did place importance on individualism but it also gave equal weightage to the influence of God on human lives. It believed in the divine inner spark of the spirit and the journey of the soul to God and heaven.

These literary revolutions brought about momentous changes to the world views back then and they continue to inspire and awe the present generation. They have given us highly influential artists like Mary Shelley, Beethoven and Emerson that even today find their spots in popular culture. Their ideas and ideals are relevant and extremely crucial for the modern generation. Especially in a culture where there are still mindsets that look down on freedom of choice of living and loving. Such high standards and ancient values need a wake-up call. Perhaps it is time to bring back the Romantic era. To bring about another revolution that leads to no expectations and total acceptance. Those are high presumptions indeed. If nothing, though, hopefully, a comeback of Romanticism would at least see an improvement in the literature we use in texts and emails daily.


  1. https://www.britannica.com/event/Transcendentalism-American-movement
  2. https://www.britannica.com/art/Romanticism/Music
  3. https://prezi.com/ontpyrnuacfb/romanticism-vs-transcendentalism/


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"Difference Between Romanticism and Transcendentalism." Diffzy.com, 2024. Mon. 26 Feb. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-romanticism-and-transcendentalism-162>.

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