'In Radical Cousins (1976), Joseph Jones conclusively demonstrates, within a broader project, affinities between American 'transcendentalist' literature and much colonial Australian verse: Harpur, Gay and O'Dowd, for example, are considered in relation to Emerson and Whitman. Jones reaffirms the 'American' circumstantial particularity of his 'transcendentalism', yet rightly insists also on derivative elements of its metaphysic and poetic, particularly from Coleridge and Carlyle, and from German Romanticism. The present paper will consider the colonial authors and several other manifestations of Australian 'transcendentalism' in relation to counterparts within the European diaspora, particularly American, and will discuss various contextual responses to the shared war against utilitarianism. Authors to be discussed to whom Jones gives little attention include Marcus Clarke, Catherine Spence and Ada Cambridge, as well as the painters Streeton and Roberts and from the early twentieth century, Elioth Gruner.
The challenges to Australian literary historiography presented by Jones's insights have been generally neglected. This paper will attempt to extend his approach by suggesting a frame of reference which individuates colonial Australian 'transcendentalism' by relating its common elements to different but pertinent colonial circumstances (both locally and globally conditioned) concerning, for example, 'nature', landscape and ecology; industrialism and urban settlement; philosophical idealism and Romantic theory. Questions will be raised concerning literary history, and also its relationship to nationalism: for example, why is 'transcendentalism' more prominent in American literary historiography than in its Australian counterpart, especially since its widespread significance can so readily and obviously be perceived? Why, indeed, is it erased or simply not seen? Why do discourses of literary nationalism in America focus on 'transcendentalism' whereas in Australia it is marginalized or excluded? What is the Australian colonial relationship, if any, between literary idealism and social improvement or transformation, in comparison with the social optimism and practical activism promoted by American literary transcendentalism?' (Author's abstract).