Christopher Cranch Transcendentalism Essay

Biographical Sketch

Richard Cranch (1726-1811) of Braintree, Mass. was a watchmaker, legislator, and a jurist. He was associated with Harvard College, being attached to the Class of 1744 and receiving an honorary degree in 1780. He was a representative from Braintree to the Constitutional Convention in 1788; Representative to the Mass. General Court 1778-1782, 1786; member of the Mass. Senate 1787; Justice of the Suffolk County Court of Common Pleas 1779-1793, and Postmaster at Quincy 1794. He married Mary Smith of Weymouth, sister of Abigail Smith who became wife of John Adams. Cranch children include:

William Cranch (1769-1855) of Washington, D.C.: Harvard Class of 1784, lawyer, and jurist. He was associated with Morris, Nicholson and Greenleaf of Washington, D.C. in real estate transactions 1794-1797; appointed Commissioner of Public Buildings 1801; Jr. Assistant Judge of Circuit Court for District of Columbia 1801 and Chief Justice, 1805 1855. He married Nancy Greenleaf and their thirteen children included:

Christopher Pearse Cranch (1813-1892) attended the Harvard Divinity School, was a Unitarian minister, a Transcendentalist, painter, and poet. He married Elizabeth de Windt in 1843, traveled extensively in Europe while painting with a studio in Rome 1858-1859, locating finally at Cambridge, Mass., in 1873.

Back to Top

Collection Description

The papers of Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist, Christopher Pearse Cranch of Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1828-92 include original letters, typescripts and extracts of letters and diaries gathered by Cranch's daughter, Leonora Cranch Scott, in preparation for her 1917 book, The Life and Letters of Christopher Pearse Cranch. They consist of the interfiled papers of Richard, William, and C.P. Cranch, as well as other members of the Cranch family.

The Richard Cranch papers contain items related to his church interests at Braintree and Quincy, Mass. and his service on the Massachusetts General Court during and immediately following the Revolution.

Cranch's correspondence with his wife, Mary Smith Cranch (1778-1786), in Braintree documents his activities at Boston while attending councils and court, his health, and news of the Revolution. Cranch's marriage to the sister of Abigail Smith (Mrs. John) Adams also resulted in a significant amount of correspondence between Cranch and Abigail and John Adams. Cranch's retained copies of his letters to John (1780-1783) inform him of family activities and of national and state Legislative concerns during the final years of the Revolution.

Mary Smith Cranch papers include two letters to her sister Abigail Adams, revealing John Quincy Adams's need for tutoring before entering Harvard. Also, manuscripts of music scored for flute by John Quincy Adams.

Letters between Richard and his nephews, Richard and Christopher Cranch, in England (1766-1792) relating mostly to family matters, and with his American cousins, Robert Garland and Joseph Cranch (1769-1791), pertaining to his continual financial assistance to them, are also among the family papers.

One additional subject covered in Richard Cranch's papers (1782-1811) is his real estate endeavors in Salem, Vt., with Col. Thomas Johnson, James Whitelaw, and James H. Foster also involved in the ventures. Papers related to this subject include receipts, surveys, notices of meetings of proprietors, and letters from land agents.

Finally, Richard Cranch's memoranda interleaved in an almanac for 1797, can be found with the bound volumes in the collection.

William Cranch's papers include correspondence, primarily with his family and his father Richard in particular, written while William was a student at Harvard College (1784-1787), while studying law at Haverhill, Mass. (1789-1794), and while an agent with the Washington, D.C. real estate firm of Morris, Nicholson, and Greenleaf. Williams's business and real estate interests include his involvement in the financing of the Haverhill and Andover bridges, investments in lands in the Washington, D.C. and Alexandria area, and the Washington Alexandria toll bridge. With regard to the latter, a lengthy series of correspondence (1801-1811) with his father details the surveying, building, financing, and maintenance of the bridge.

Williams's letters from Washington also note prominent individuals on the national political scene, among them George and Martha Washington, with whom he had tea (12 Nov. 1794), Charles Carroll, Thomas Boylston Adams, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Harrison Gray Otis. Of these, the papers reflect the assistance of his uncle John Adams in securing Cranch's position as a Jr. Assistant Judge on the U.S. Circuit Court at Washington. Cranch's letters home describe his work on the court, including his later appointment by Jefferson as Chief Justice of the same body; articles written for the Federalist under the name Lucius Junius Brutus, and work on his project of reporting Supreme Court cases for publication with many of his letters describing recent Supreme Court action.

The bulk of the papers of Christopher Pearse Cranch date from 1828-1892 and many are typescripts and extracts of letters and diaries gathered by Cranch's daughter, Leonora Cranch Scott, in preparation for her 1917 book, The Life and Letters of Christopher Pearse Cranch. Originals of some letters are present, some of which have typescripts and only some of which were published. This is especially true for family letters, in particular with his son, Quincy A. Cranch. Also present in C.P. Cranch's papers are Leonora Cranch Scott's notes and plans for the book and letters to her upon its publication.

Cranch's letters describe his student activities at the Harvard Divinity School and his growing interest in the New England based Transcendentalist movement, including his subsequent friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson and his involvement in the experimental Brook Farm community at West Roxbury, Mass.

Letters written from 1846-1863 include those to his family and wife regarding his trip to Europe and newly chosen profession as a painter (1846-1848) and accounts of his activities at the studio, procuring commissions, and other personal and social aspects of his career as an artist. Letters to friends, among them Mrs. George L. Stearns, John S. Dwight, and George William Curtis, describe his musical, literary, and artistic pursuits.

Below is a partial list of the correspondents of C.P. Cranch as represented in letters and typescripts:

  • Frank Boot (1880-1889)
  • James Freeman Clarke (1838-1877): on personal, philosophical and artistic subjects.
  • Moncure Conway (1876): on poetry.
  • George William Curtis (1844-1891): a major correspondent whose long run of letters delineate his literary and artistic interests; his work as a writer, publisher, and lecturer; and his friendships with the major literary figures of the day including Robert Browning and Margaret Fuller.
  • John S. Dwight (1836-1890): a major correspondent, his letters covering theological, literary and personal matters.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson (1843-1855): on editorial and literary matters.
  • O.B. Frothingham (1885-1888): discussing William Ellery Channing and covering literary subjects.
  • Frederick H. Hedge (1878): on lecturing.
  • Thomas Hicks (1885): on painting.
  • William Dean Howells (1870-1879): on editorial, literary and artistic matters.
  • James Russell Lowell (1855-1856): giving advice and critiques on Cranch's poetry.
  • Jervis McEntee (1851): on artistic activity.
  • Theodore Parker (1836): on theological subjects.
  • George Ripley (1865-1876): on personal matters.
  • Clinton Scollard (1889): on literary matters.
  • William Wetmore Story (1850-1894): on literary subjects including accounts of Americans abroad.
  • Bayard Taylor (1865-1869): on Cranch's poetry and songs.
  • John Weiss (1878): on lecturing.
  • John Greenleaf Whittier (12 May 1877): on Cranch's poem in honor of his birthday.

Other Cranch family materials include a long series of letters from Abigail Adams 2d to her cousin Eliza Cranch (1784-1791) covering subjects from schoolgirl confidences and family news, to comments on foreign matters and social activities while in Europe.

Back to Top

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Adams, Abigail, 1744-1818.

Adams, John, 1735-1826.

Cranch, Eliza.

Cranch, Elizabeth de Windt.

Cranch, Mary Smith, 1741-1811.

Cranch, Richard, 1726-1811.

Cranch, William, 1769-1855.

Curtis, George William, 1824-1892.

Dwight, John Sullivan, 1813-1893.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882.

Garland, Robert, ca. 1808-1863

Lowell, James Russell, 1819-1891.

Ripley, George, 1802-1880.

Scott, Leonora Cranch, b. 1848.

Smith, Abigail Adams, 1765-1813.

Story, William Wetmore, 1819-1895.

Cranch family.


Brook Farm Phalanx (West Roxbury, Boston, Mass.).

Harvard College (1780- ) -- Students.

Harvard Divinity School -- Students.

Morris, Nicholson and Greenleaf (Washington, D.C.).




Family history -- 1750-1799.

Family history -- 1800-1849.

Family history -- 1850-1899.


Transcendentalism (New England)


Europe -- Description and travel -- 1800-1918


Transcendental Ideas

Philosophy of Writing and Aesthetics

The Dial: A Magazine for Literature, Philosophy, and Religion, 1840-1844.

Aesthetics is defined by Random House as "having a sense of the beautiful." This can certainly be said of such Transcendental writers as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both writers were constantly seeking beauty, not only in terms of nature, but also in terms of the individual spirit. While aesthetics can refer to any sense of beauty, it is often used in terms of literature. How does a piece work aesthetically? How does it look or how is it shaped and/or crafted? When reading Thoreau, I often feel as if he is writing for himself. But if his only intended audience was himself, why would he have bothered shaping such works as Walden into different sections? He would have written in his own internal language that would hold little meaning for anyone other than himself. The Transcendentalists did not write only for themselves. They wrote for anyone who was and is interested in the notion of transcendence, or the notion of using reason and intellect in order to go beyond the pre-existing limits of the world. When considering aesthetics, most people think of poetry, which often attempts to portray beauty --however pleasant or terrifying-- in some way or another.

While Emerson and Thoreau are usually thought of as the fathers of American Transcendentalism, they are not the only poets who are considered in the Transcendentalist poetic canon. Although he wrote "The Poet" and a vast number of his own poems, Emerson has a strange role in the aesthetics of American Transcendentalism. Many critics consider his ideas on the role of the poet, or writer, to be revolutionary. However, those same critics are less than thrilled about Emerson's own poetry. He is said to have influenced such famous writers as Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, both poets who are extremely well-known on their own, but who are also linked to Transcendentalism by many scholars and critics. There are also lesser known, or lesser remembered poets, such as Jones Very and Christopher Cranch, who were encouraged and influenced by Emerson. Although Thoreau did not have the impact on poetry or poets that Emerson can claim, he wrote many poems himself and had his own theories about poetry and beauty. His main contribution to aesthetics lies in his ideas of nature and the ability to transcend the rest of the world and focus supremely on nature.

Overall, the major elements of aesthetics that we can attribute to the Transcendentalists include a new definition of the role of the poet and a different perspective of nature. The transcendentalists believed that the poet was representative of everyman or everywoman, but simultaneously different, in that he or she could observe the world, nature in particular, and express its beauty through his or her own verse. They believed that function was just as important, if not more so, as form, and that art lies in the process, or the experience, and not so much in the product. In fact, the Transcendentalists usually eskewed anything that was said to be definitive or all-encompassing. They believed in the circularity of ideas, in that as long as people are using their intellect, ideas are always evolving and never-ending.
Ellen Moore, Virginia Commonwealth University

Emerson, The Poet (1844) and Poetry and Imagination
Thoughts on Modern Literature.
Thoughts on Art.
Emerson: Selected Poetry
On Emerson's Poetry. Ellen Moore, VCU
Close Reading of "Give All to Love"
"The Editor to the Reader" [The Dial]
Literary Criticism in the Dial

Thoreau, Selected Poetry
Close Reading of "The Prayer"
Thoreau's Journal: thoughts on writing
"Friday" from A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

Selected Poems of Jones Very

Selected Poems of Christopher Pearse Cranch

Selected Poems of Ellery Channing

Selected Poems of Caroline Sturgis Tappan.

Selected Poems of Ellen Sturgis Hooper.

What is Beauty?. Lydia Maria Child, The Dial.

Margaret Fuller
American Literature: Its Position in the Present Time, and Prospects for the Future [1846]
A Short Essay on Critics.The Dial, 1840.

Preface to Leaves of Grass [a brief guided tour]
"Song of Myself"[hypertext]
"Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking Study web text.

Categories: 1

0 Replies to “Christopher Cranch Transcendentalism Essay”

Leave a comment

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *