When we think of Transcendentalism, we first turn to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. But the literary movement was made up of more personalities than just those two men; and while "Nature" and "Walden" are key writings, they're not the only examples anyone can or should read. Hence the need and attraction of any transcendental anthology: it brings us multiple voices, perhaps even some unfamiliar or unusual ones.
This volume represents a very small portion of those possibilities. Included are readings from Sampson Reed, James Marsh, Amos Bronson Alcott, Frederic Henry Hedge, and Margaret Fuller, in addition to Emerson and Thoreau. Geldard's focus here is captured by the word "essential." In his introduction, he clarifies that the word "not only speaks to the choices made from the huge body of material available but also reflects a vision of what is essential in measuring the value and meaning of human life as seen through the lives and minds of what has been come to be known as the Concord circle." A noble mission, indeed. The final section of the book studies the transcendental heritage as it continued in the words of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Loren Eiseley, and Annie Dillard.
"The Essential Transcendentalists" can be considered a basic introduction to the movement. One of its strong points is the historical treatment it provides in the opening section of the book. But while it includes portions of Emerson's "Nature" and Thoreau's "Walden," it ignores poets like Jones Very and William Ellery Channing as well as a number of essay writers and lecturers. The "essentials" as presented here stir us to seek out more.
Readers craving more selections can turn to one of four substantial anthologies of transcendental writings: "The American Transcendentalists: Essential Writings" (Lawrence Buell, ed., 2006); "Transcendentalism: A Reader" (Joel Myerson, ed., 2000); "The Transcendentalists: An Anthology" (Perry Miller, 1977), or "The American Transcendentalists: Their Prose and Poetry" (Perry Miller, 1957). Each anthology has a focus, and surprisingly little overlap occurs when comparing their contents. And each contains a few jewels not found in any other contemporary anthology. Happy hunting!