George Bancroft, 1800 - 1891

George Bancroft, best known as a historian and diplomat, was one of the first of the New England Transcendentalists to study at the University of Göttingen, Germany, from 1818 to 1820.  After earning his Ph.D. he studied under Friedrich Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher in Berlin until 1821.  He studied Oriental languages and Higher Criticism and met Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  His early and direct exposure to German literature, philosophy, and theology preceded by many years the flowering of American Transcendentalism.
In 1823 Bancroft and his friend Joseph Cogswell established the Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts, where they put into practice the European educational concepts of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Schleiermacher.  Though this school lasted longer than Amos Bronson Alcott's Temple School, it, too, eventually failed.  Bancroft continued to contribute to Transcendentalism by writing significant translations and reviews of German literature.  Several of his translations were published in the third volume of George Ripley's Specimens of Foreign Standard Literature, edited by John Sullivan Dwight.
Bancroft has been written about as follows by Octavius Brooks Frothingham, the first historian of American Transcendentalism.
The Philosophical Miscellanies of Cousin were much noticed by the press, George Bancroft in especial sparing no pains to commend them and the views they presented.  The spiritual philosophy had no more fervent or eloquent champion than he.  No reader of his "History of the United States," has forgotten the noble tribute paid to it under the name of Quakerism, or the striking parallel between the two systems represented in the history by John Locke and William Penn, both of whom framed constitutions for the new world.  For keenness of apprehension and fullness of statement the passages deserve to be quoted here.  They occur in the XVI. chapter of the History.
"The elements of humanity are always the same, the inner light dawns upon every nation, and is the same in every age; and the French revolution was a result of the same principles as those of George Fox, gaining dominion over the mind of Europe.  They are expressed in the burning and often profound eloquence of Rousseau; they reappear in the masculine philosophy of Kant.  The professor of Königsberg, like Fox and Barclay and Penn, derived philosophy from the voice in the soul; like them, he made the oracle within the categorical rule of practical morality, the motive to disinterested virtue; like them, he esteemed the Inner Light, which discerns universal and necessary truths, an element of humanity; and therefore his philosophy claims for humanity the right of ever renewed progress and reform.  If the Quakers disguised their doctrine under the form of theology, Kant concealed it for a season under the jargon of a nervous but unusual diction.  But Schiller has reproduced the great idea in beautiful verse; Chateaubriand avowed himself its advocate; Coleridge has repeated the doctrine in misty language; it beams through the poetry of Lamartine and Wordsworth; while in the country of beautiful prose, the eloquent Cousin, listening to the same eternal voice which connects humanity with universal reason, has gained a wide fame for the 'divine principle,' and in explaining the harmony between that light and the light of Christianity, has often unconsciously borrowed the language, and employed the arguments of Barclay and Penn."
A few pages later is the brilliant passage describing the essential difference between this philosophy and that of Locke:
"Locke, like William Penn, was tolerant; both loved freedom, both cherished truth in sincerity.  But Locke kindled the torch of liberty at the fires of tradition; Penn at the living light in the soul.  Locke sought truth through the senses and the outward world; Penn looked inward to the divine revelations in every mind.  Locke compared the soul to a sheet of white paper, just as Hobbes had compared it to a slate on which time and chance might scrawl their experience.  To Penn the soul was an organ which of itself instinctively breathes divine harmonies, like those musical instruments which are so curiously and perfectly formed, that when once set in motion, they of themselves give forth all the melodies designed by the artist that made them.  To Locke, conscience is nothing else than our own opinion of our own actions; to Penn, it is the image of God and his oracle in the soul. . . .  In studying the understanding Locke begins with the sources of knowledge; Penn with an inventory of our intellectual treasures. . . .  The system of Locke lends itself to contending factions of the most opposite interests and purposes; the doctrine of Fox and Penn, being but the common creed of humanity, forbids division and insures the highest moral unity.  To Locke, happiness is pleasure, and things are good and evil only in reference to pleasure and pain; and to 'inquire after the highest good is as absurd as to dispute whether the best relish be in apples, plums or nuts.'  Penn esteemed happiness to lie in the subjection of the baser instincts to the instinct of Deity in the breast; good and evil to be eternally and always as unlike as truth and falsehood; and the inquiry after the highest good to involve the purpose of existence.  Locke says plainly that, but for rewards and punishments beyond the grave, 'it is certainly right to eat and drink, and enjoy what we delight in.'  Penn, like Plato and Fenelon, maintained the doctrine so terrible to despots, that God is to be loved for His own sake, and virtue to be practised for its intrinsic loveliness.  Locke derives the idea of infinity from the senses, describes it as purely negative, and attributes it to nothing but space, duration and number; Penn derived the idea from the soul, and ascribed it to truth and virtue and God.  Locke declares immortality a matter with which reason has nothing to do; and that revealed truth must be sustained by outward signs and visible acts of power; Penn saw truth by its own light and summoned the soul to bear witness to its own glory."
The justice of the comparison, in the first part of the above extract, of Quakerism with Transcendentalism, may be disputed.  Some may be of opinion that inasmuch as Quakerism traces the source of the Inner Light to the supernatural illumination of the Holy Spirit, while Transcendentalism regards it as a natural endowment of the human mind, the two are fundamentally opposed while superficially in agreement.  However this may be, the practical issues of the two coincide, and the truth of the contrast presented between the philosophies, designated by the name of Locke on the one side, and of Penn on the other, will not be disputed.  Mr. Bancroft's statement, though dazzling, is exact.  It was made in 1837.  The third edition from which the above citation was made, was published in 1838, the year of Mr. Emerson's address to the Divinity students at Cambridge.