Gathered underneath this umbrella, and known personally to Hawthorne, were the Transcendentalists. Believing a new era was at hand, they held that the goodness inherent in humanity was to be achieved through the rejection of society and its institutions. The movement’s leader, Ralph Waldo Emerson, expounded self-realization through the harmonious relationship between the individual and her environment. Other prominent members, including Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott and Hawthorne's sister-in-law, Elizabeth Peabody, pursued educational reform, the advancement of women and the eradication of slavery through an understanding of life as a spiritual process. Hawthorne maintained friendships with these luminaries and flirted with the philosophies they espoused. Ultimately, though, he was unable to reconcile their utopianism with his own darker view of the human heart.
Joel Myerson's Transcendentalism: A Reader contains extracts from a wide selection of key texts. Leaf through below.