About the Magazine
The Dial seeks to establish a conversation on philosophy, aesthetic culture (classic and pop), politics and religion that acknowledges and reflects the spirit of the original Transcendentalist journal founded by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller and their cohorts in the 1840s. Our essays, stories, poetry, and even our satirical pieces are devoted to exploring “the Necessary, the Plain, the True, the Human,” as Emerson wrote, from a full range of perspectives. And we’ll be adding some new essentials to the Concord Sage’s list as well: the Animal, the Ecological, the Urban, the Technological.
Does Transcendentalism, with its promotion of self-reliance and collective reform, have a place in modern life? We think so–and we invite readers to join the conversation and to commit themselves, along with us, to “self-culture” through reflection, intellectual engagement, and free expression.
To the Readers—
I had been teaching for five years in the MFA program at Emerson College (named for its founder Charles Wesley Emerson, distant cousin to Ralph Waldo) before I saw my way to offering a course in Transcendentalism. Although I’d spent two decades researching the lives of the Peabody sisters, three women who were intimately connected with the movement, and another six years on Margaret Fuller, I didn’t feel prepared. I could not quote Emerson chapter and verse, and Thoreau had been only an ancillary character in my narratives of Transcendentalist women–leading Sophia Hawthorne on a tour of an Indian encampment on the banks of the Concord River near the Old Manse, searching for Margaret Fuller’s lost manuscript at Fire Island after her tragic drowning in a shipwreck.
But Transcendentalism, notoriously difficult to define, was always a quest, entered on by women and men of prodigious learning who nevertheless believed that the search for knowledge and understanding–about matters of the mind and spirit, society and culture–was and should be a never-ending one. Margaret Fuller adopted a phrase from Goethe as her motto–“extraordinary, generous seeking”–and tried her best to live by it. This spring I invited fourteen students in a class called “The Literature of Transcendence” to join a quest in the spirit of the young New England writers of the Dial. I expanded the scope of our inquiry to include William Lloyd Garrison and writers for the Liberator, his abolitionist weekly of the same era. We would read, learn, and then write our own compositions to fill a 21st-century online Dial, designed by a team of students from the MA in Publishing program at Emerson.
Our quest began with a trip to the Concord Free Public Library to view original manuscripts by Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller and others. When I read a February 12, 1843 letter from Emerson to Thoreau asking–“The Dial for April–what elements shall compose it?”–and recognized the same question I’d just been asking my students, I knew we were on the right path.
One hundred seventy years farther into American history than the original Transcendentalists, who began their Dial in 1840, we could not write, as Emerson proposed in his opening letter to readers, as “one cheerful rational voice amidst the din of mourners and polemics.” In contemporary American life there is much to mourn, much to drive a young writer of conscience to distraction; you will find both elegy and jeremiad in our new Dial. But we offer hope as well to those “sleepers” we may awake with our creations, that they may be “instantly apprised not what part of dead time, but what state of life and growth is now arrived and arriving.”1 After all, as our motto, borrowed from Thoreau’s Walden, advises “Things do not change, we change.”
1 Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Editors to the Reader,” Dial, vol. 1, no. 1, July 1840.