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During this period of Transcendental agitation, from 1835 to 1850, Mr. Alcott gradually passed through the various degrees of his progress as a reformer. In 1835, he gave up the use of animal food, and the next year wanted Dr. Sylvester Graham to lecture in his school. Still earlier he had joined the anti-slavery society, when founded by William Lloyd Garrison, and he was present at many of the celebrated gatherings of abolitionists,-for instance, at the Lovejoy meeting in Fanueil Hall, in 1837, when Wendell Phillips made his first appearance as an anti-slavery orator. In 1840, he met at Chardon street chapel, with the 'Friends of Universal Reform,' among whom were Garrison, Edmund Quincy, Henry C. Wright, Theodore Parker, W. H. Channing, Mrs. Maria Chapman, Abby Kelly, Christopher Greene, and others of the same school of thought.
Labor and Culture—Fruitlands. About 1840, plans for life in communities began to be much talked about, and Mr. Alcott indulged in the hope that something might thus be done to reform the evils of the time. He was invited to join the Brook Farm community, and that of Adin Ballou at Hopedale in Milford, but declined, and instead fell back for a while on plain living and manual labor at Concord, where he worked in field and garden, and in the winter of 1840-1 chopped wood in the woodlands of that village.
Speaking of this period in Mr. Alcott's life, Dr. Channing said in a letter to one of his friends, written in July, 1841:
—Mr. Alcott little suspects how my heart goes out to him. One of my dearest ideas and hopes is the union of labor and culture. I wish to see labor honored, and united with the free development of the intellect and heart. Mr. Alcott, hiring himself out for day labor, and at the same time living in a region of high thought, is, perhaps, the most interesting object in our Commonwealth. I do not care much for Orpheus in “The Dial,” but Orpheus at the plow is after my own heart. There he teaches a grand lesson; more than most of us teach by the pen.'
Sailing for England in May, 1842, his experience there confirmed Mr. Alcott in his dream of an ideal community, and on his return, in October, he began to prepare for founding such a paradise. Meanwhile he refused to comply with the requirements of civil society, and for declining to pay his tax was lodged in the Concord jail, January 16, 1843. The late Samuel Hoar, father of Judge Hoar, and Hon. George F. Hoar, paid the tax without Mr. Alcott's consent, and he was released the same day. During the following spring,
in company with one of his English friends, Charles Lane, he examined estates, with a view to purchase one for the proposed community, and finally Lane bought the Wyman Farm,' in Harvard, consisting of 90 acres, with an old farm-house upon it, where Mr. Alcott and his family, with Mr. Lane and a few others, took their abode in June, 1843, calling the new home · Fruitlands.'
This place, a picturesque farm, lying now along the Worcester and Nashua railroad, and bordering the Nashua river in Harvard, Mass., was not well adapted for such an experiment as Mr. Alcott and his friends undertook; nor did their hopes and plans agree with the condition of things in the world. Their way of life was to be cheerful and religious, free from the falsehood and the cares that infested society; it became, in fact, hard and dismal, and ended in bringing Mr. Alcott, almost with despair in his heart, to give up his hopes of initiating a better life among mankind by the example of such communities as he had planned Fruitlands to be. He finally abandoned the farm, in poverty and disappointment, about the middle of January, 1844. The lesson thus taught, was a severe one, but Mr. Alcott looks back upon it as one of the turning points in his life. From that day forward, he has had less desire to change the outward condition of men upon earth than to modify and enlighten their inward life.
Return to Concord— Instruction by Conversation. In 1845, Mr. Alcott bought a small farm in Concord, with an old house upon it, which he rebuilt and christened • Hillside.' A few years later, when it passed into the hands of Nathaniel Hawthorne, he changed the name to Wayside.' At Hillside' Mr. Alcott gardened and gave conversations, and in the year 1847, while living there, he built in Mr. Emerson's garden, not far off, the unique summer-house which ornamented the grounds until within ten years past, when it decayed and fell into ruin. In 1848 he removed to Boston, and did not return until 1857. Since then he has lived constantly in Concord.
It was a favorite theory of Mr. Alcott's, through all this period of agitation and outward activity, that he could propagate his ideas best by conversations. Accordingly, from 1839 to the present time, a quarter of a century, he has held conversations on his chosen subjects, and in many and widely separated parts of the
, country. He has not valued, as many reformers do, the opportunity of moving great numbers of people, at conventions and in churches, but has preferred the more quiet, and, as he esteems it, the more natural method of conversing. This period of his life
may perhaps, then, be best described as the period of conversation; although of later years he has often spoken from pulpits and platforms on the same topics with which his conversations have to do. It is to be remembered, also, that Mr. Alcott was the first person in America, at least in modern times, to develop conversation as a means of public instruction, for which it was much employed in the period of Greek philosophy.
His home has been at all times a center of hospitality, and a resort for persons with ideas and aspirations. Not unfrequently his formal conversations have been held there ; at other times in the parlors of his friends, at public halls or college rooms, or in the chambers of some club. A list of the towns and cities in which these conversations have taken place, with the names of those who have had part in them, would indicate how wide has been the influence, for thought and culture, exercised by Mr. Alcott, in this peculiar manner.
Reports, and other Publications. The 'Record of a School,' and the Conversations on the Gospels,' were compiled by other persons, reporting what was said. During the publication of the Dial, from 1840 to 1844, when it was the organ of the Transcendentalists, Mr. Alcott contributed some pages, among them his Orphic Sayings,' which attracted much notice, not always of the most respectful kind. Other writings of that period and earlier, for the most part, remained in manuscript. After a long period, in which he published little or nothing, Mr. Alcott, in 1858, became the Superintendent of Schools in Concord, and in this capacity printed several long reports, which are noticeable publications. He published some essays, poems, and conver sations in the Boston Commonwealth and The Radical, between 1863 and 1868, and in the last named year brought out a modest volume of essays, entitled “Tablets.' This was followed, in 1872, by another volume, styled Concord Days,' and still other volumes are said to be in preparation.
Mr. Alcott is in person tall and fair, of kindly and dignified bearing, resembling somewhat the portraits of Wordsworth, but of a more elegant mien and a more polished manner than Wordsworth seems to have possessed. At this period, though touched by time, he is still youthful in spirit and capable of much travel and fatigue and of assiduous mental labor. It is not, however, so much by intellectual efforts that he has distinguished himself, as by a 'wise passivity,' and a natural intuition, or as Mr. Emerson has said of him, in the sketch which the New American Cyclopedia contains, by subtle and deep science of that which actually passes in thought.'
JOHN CARTER BROWN.
ASSOCIATED with the memory of the Hon. Nicholas Brown, as a benefactor of learning and philanthropy, is that of his son and successor, the late John Carter Brown. This gentleman was born in Providence, August 27, 1797, and died June 10, 1874. He was educated at Brown University, where he graduated in 1816. After spending some years in Europe, he engaged in business pursuits in Providence, and at length became a partner in the ancestral house of Brown & Ives, of which, at the time of his death, he was the senior partner. Accustomed to the use of wealth, he devoted it to the gratification of elevated tastes. He began early in life to form a collection of rare books; at first in several different departments of literature; at length, however, restricting it to books relating to the continent of America, prior to the beginning of the 19th century. In making this collection, his first aim was to secure, as far as possible, the rarest books relating to this subject, in the original editions, in whatever language they might be printed. Beginning at a period when competitors were comparatively few, and devoting to it a large part of a long life, he was able to obtain nearly all the works of this description which are most highly prized, some of which were possessed by no other person. His collection at the time of his death, in 1874, was thought to be surpassed by no other of similar character extant.
He had caused a catalogue to be prepared, which was printed between 1865 and 1871. This catalogue is in four parts, or volumes. The first part, embracing the period from 1487 to 1600, contains 600 titles. The second, for the period between 1601 and 1700, contains 1,152 titles, and the third and fourth, for the period between 1701 and 1800, contain together 4,173 titles. Important additions had also been made of works relating to each of these periods. He was exceedingly liberal in allowing access to his collection, to authors and others, who were engaged in the study of the subjects to which it relates. He also frequently lent his books to be used at a distance; and in at least three instances, he sent across the Atlantic volumes which, if they had been lost, could not have been replaced.
Mr. Brown, at the time of his death, was the largest benefactor of Brown University next to his father. His gifts to this institution were in different forms, and were scattered over a long period of his life. He took a special interest in the University Library, and made important additions to its books; and a few years before his death, he gave a band
some sum to be used for the erection of a Library building. To his numerous gifts, he added, by his last will and testament, the bequest of a lot of land, as a site for such a building, and $50,000 towards its erection, which, together with the previous sum, will secure that result. The entire amount of his benefactions to the University is not less than $155,000, an amount which, as has been stated, has been exceeded only by that bestowed by his father. He was also a friend of poor students, and was at all times ready to aid them in defraying the expenses of their education, provided they were really earnest in their work. He also not unfrequently extended aid to academies and colleges in distant parts of the country that appealed to his generosity; and of the libraries and institutions of education in his native State, he was a liberal supporter.
Mr. Brown took a lively interest in the educational movement initiated by Hon. Wilkins Updike of South Kingstown, in the Legislature of October, 1843, and conducted successfully to the establishment of an efficient System of Public Schools for the whole State, by Henry Barnard of Connecticut, with the coöperation of prominent teachers and public spirited citizens organized and acting through the Rhode Island Institute of Instruction. To any call for pecuniary contributions from the President of the Institute (John Kingsbury, LL. D.,) Mr. Brown promptly responded.
But his benefactions were by no means limited to institutions of education. Of the Butler Hospital for the Insane, which owes its origin to a bequest in his father's will, he was one of the original corporators and a trustee till 1867, when he was made President of the Corporation, a position which he continued to hold to the end of his life. He frequently united with its other friends in liberal contributions for its benefit. When the Rhode Island Hospital was projected, in 1863, he was one of the earliest and largest contributors for its foundation, and subsequently increased his gifts, and bequeathed to it, in his will, the sum of $25,000, raising the entire amount of his benefactions within about ten years to at least $65,000.
Mr. Brown never took any prominent part in public affairs, whether State or National, save in the movement against slavery. With this he was more or less connected from the beginning. He was a member of the ‘New England Emigrant Aid Society,' the object of which was to people Kansas with settlers who would make it a free State. Of this Society he acted for a time as President, and made liberal contributions to its funds; but in none of the institutions with which he was connected was he fond of prominent positions, nor did he ever seek to exercise any controlling influence over their affairs. He was distinguished for the honesty and simplicity as well as the sterling integrity of his life and character. He deserves to be ranked among the foremost benefactors of learning, and the most liberal promoters of philanthropic institutions in the State where he was born and where he spent his life.