Spirit/Matter: Transcendental Beauty

“Within the soul is the whole; the wise silence, the universal beauty to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal one.”

This definition of beauty is found in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1836 essay, Nature.  It is a concept of beauty with many strands including “purposiveness” and superiority. The overarching idea of this particular definition is the recognition of various factors related to spirit and nature, and their connections with one another. This “holistic” form of beauty allowed the spirit, or as Emerson phrases it, the soul, to recognise and appreciate every feature of the natural and transcendental form. In abiding to this method, American Transcendental thinkers claimed original insights of the world become likely and a form of enlightenment occurs.

However Emerson restricts this notion of holistic, transcendental beauty to be intangible and metaphysical; his focus is purely on spirit and matter is overlooked. A major part of Emerson’s transcendental ideology was the rejection of the physical body, for, he believed, it was “incompatible” with the soul. This mind-set may have originated from Emerson’s battle with Tuberculosis, a disease which also took the lives of many of his family members. Consumed by physical decline, restriction and the memories of demise, it is likely that Emerson became interested and then mesmerised by the transcendental attitudes of nature in order to overcome or distract his thoughts of physical ailment.

Margaret Fuller, a prominent American Transcendental thinker and close friend of Emerson, depicts a similar idea of the holistic spirit throughout her ground breaking 1840 text, Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Fuller is successful in applying the transcendental concept of beauty to a perspective of health. Fuller suffered her entire life with effects of spinal curvature and migraines, yet redefined her ailment as a spiritual awakening, an example of beauty which crafted her transcendental ideology.

“When the intellect and the affections are in harmony; when the electrical consciousness is calm and deep, inspiration will not be confounded with fancy.”

This idea of beauty, a collaboration of understanding and the emotions associated with illness, allowed the agency of spirit to transcend the confounding nature of medical perceptions of female ailments. Fuller’s insight was enabled by the use of Mesmerism, a popular hypnotic practise which was also plagued with claims of quackery and failure. While Fuller was not cured from her physical ailments, she utilised the Mesmeric methods as a way of unlocking and understanding intrinsic beauty of woman; illness was nothing more than an “overcharged” female genius.

Fuller was successful in extending Holistic Transcendental Beauty to the physical form and proved that the spirit and body were a powerful and compatible force. The context of her work may be a nineteenth century account of personal experiences and opinions, yet her transcendental ideology of health and beauty can be extracted. Ultimately every human, their mind and body collectively, is powerful, beautiful and equal.

Electrical Women

This post focuses on Margaret Fuller, the 19th century Transcendental and feminist philosopher and a key figure in my medical history research. Fuller was born Sarah Margaret Fuller on 23rd May 1810 in Massachusetts, America. She is credited as being the first woman to review and edit American journalism and her monumental text Woman in the Nineteenth Century is claimed to be the first feminist work in America. Fuller died in 1850 after drowning from a ship wreck near New York. Elements surrounding her death, namely the foreshadowing of her own demise and transcendental responses to her death are topics to discuss in the future.

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Free flying of the mind: The Lorina Bulwer scroll


In this post I discuss the interesting, yet emotional, life and story of Lorina Bulwer, an inmate at the Great Yarmouth Workhouse. On arrival to the workhouse, Lorina was confined to the lunatic ward. She expressed her thoughts and feelings by stitching long monologues of capitalised words which are often considered as rambles, rants and in some cases, powerful nonsense. There are currently three known surviving “Lorina” samplers in Britain. I refer to Lorina by her first name in this post as her embroidered texts depict  a clear personality and a particular level of familiarity and modern day relevance.

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Women In Science: Madame Caplin’s Reformed Corset

19th Century S&S Corset (Registered in Belgium) Image Courtesy of York Museums Trust

I have various historical interests and for my MA dissertation I decided to integrate my different interests and academic skills – focusing on the medical effects of dress reform and also putting a philosophical spin on it! The focus of my dissertation was the life and work of Madame Roxey Ann Caplin, a Canadian born writer and corset maker (or stay-maker, as Madame Caplin stated) who worked at 58 Berners Street, London throughout nearly the entire 19th Century. She was born in 1793 and died on the 2nd August 1888 – her long life was full of innovation, inspiration and individualism.

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Musing: Mathematical Beauty (Golden Ratio)



Maths and beauty? Are the two really linked?

In a sense, yes.

The term ‘Golden Ratio’ was not used until the 1800s, but the mathematical
ratio, arguably, dates back to Ancient Greece.

It’s all to do with proportions. My limited knowledge of maths would be fibonacci-1601158__340.pngpoor at attempting to explain the real formulation, but a specific proportion also known as 1.618 is deemed to be ‘aesthetically pleasing.’ Rumour has it the proportions are embedded within the Parthenon, and the ratio has been proved to be within
nature – a spiral arrangement of leaves and ‘perfect flowers’.

Developments have extended the Golden Ratio to human faces, claiming to deem some human faces more pleasing than others. Historical examples which fit with the Golden ratio include the bust of Nefertiti and slightly later example of Audrey Hepburn – who ironically stated “I never thought I’d land in pictures with a face like mine.”
So what does this mean? That something is beautiful just because of it complies with the golden ratio? I mean, maths is either right or wrong…..

Nope, definitely not! golden-beauty

The formulation may be always right, and tested continually on different objects but what is ‘aesthetically pleasing’ is surely dependent on your own tastes or other individual qualities within those objects.

A flower may be beautiful with full petals which coincidentally falls into the proportion of the ratio – but so is a wilting flower, a brightly coloured flower, a fake flower.

And the Parthenon may be spectacular, perhaps for its equal columns, but also for its historical context and the beauty and interest of its ruins. Or maybe it’s not aesthetically pleasing to you at all.

As for faces – surely you are drawn to particular features of a face rather than proportion? You may be drawn to someone’s beautiful eyes or their unique beautiful smile. Individual qualities may not even be part of their face, but something deeper – their warmth, compassion or general personality.

Beauty is not dependent upon maths.

What do you think? 🙂