Page images
PDF
EPUB

eclectic philosophy of the Frenchmen be possible to bring cultivated and Cousin and Jouffroy, whose books were thoughtful people together and make a translated from the French and used for society that deserved the name. Mr. a time as text-books in Harvard College Swift in his admirable book on Brook and elsewhere, as early as 1839. The Farm reminds us that there was a conGerman poets also were just being trans sultation on this subject at the house of lated, though of course in a fragmentary Dr. John C. Warren, then the leading way, in America, especially Goethe, Schil- physician of Boston, which ended " with ler, and even Heine ; and the poetic writ an oyster supper, crowned by excellent ings of Hoffmann, Novalis, Jean Paul wines.” Undoubtedly, on that occasion, Richter, and others lent their influence, George Ripley told his best stories and first under the lead of Carlyle, and after laughed his heartiest laugh. But we may wards through direct American transla- be sure that his jubilant cheeriness was tors, the Rev. Charles T. Brooks and Mrs. no less when he turned his back on all Eliza Buckminster Lee. Many of these this and left the flesh-pots of Egypt for poetic translations appeared in The Dial, a dinner of herbs at Brook Farm. and the prose versions in the series of vol There is something very interesting umes, fourteen in all, entitled Specimens and not wholly accidental in the way in of Foreign Standard Literature, planned which a German influence was thus early and edited by George Ripley. To him making itself felt in this country and especial attention should be given, since contributing, as a matter of course, to if the sunny atmosphere of the period its sunshine. This clearly came from was personally incarnated in any one, it

a double influence, the appearance in was undoubtedly in him.

America of a umber of highly educated George Ripley was the single con Germans, of whom Lieber, Follen, and summate type, during that period, of Beck were types, who were driven from that rarest of combinations, the natural their country by political uproar about scholar and the cheery good fellow. Evi- 1825 ; and, on the other hand, the return dence of the former quality might be of a small number of highly educated found in the catalogue, had it only been Americans, at a period a little earlier, preserved, of his library sold in aid of who had studied at the German universi. the organization of Brook Farm, and uni- ties. The most conspicuous among these versally recognized as the best German men were Edward Everett, George Ticklibrary then to be found in America; nor, George Bancroft, and Joseph Green while the best tribute to the other trait Cogswell, the latter being the organizer was the universal regret said to have of our first great American library, the been felt among his clerical brethren at Astor. Their experience and influence the loss of the gayest companion and best had a value quite inestimable, and the story-teller in their ranks. He it was process of their training is shown unmiswho with Emerson, Hedge, and George takably in a remarkable series of letters Putnam called together the first meet from them to my father, then steward ing of “what was named in derision the of Harvard College, and in some respects Transcendental Club,” as Hedge writes; their sponsor ; letters published by myand he it was who resigned his clerical self in the Harvard Graduates' Magazine charge in 1840, with a view to applying for September, 1897. In one of these to some form of action the newer and letters, the cool and clear-headed Everampler views of life.

ett, going from the Continent to inspect Even Dr. Channing, then the intellec- the universities of Oxford and Camtual leader of Boston, had some confer- bridge, expressed the opinion that Amerence with Ripley as to whether it would ica had at that date (1819) “ nothing to

learn from England [in regard to uni- the New York Tribune under Margaret versity methods], but everything to learn Fuller's influence kept clear of bitter perfrom Germany," and I have been more sonalities in literature, something which than once assured by English scholars, on she had not always quite done in The quoting to them the passage, that the re- Dial. mark was, at the period indicated, abso- It must be remembered that the Tranlutely true. It is, however, also true that scendentalists never, in the early days, Mr. Everett himself practically recog- called themselves by that name. Their nized a subsequent change in conditions, most ambitious title was, as has been said, when he sent his own son, forty years that of Disciples of the Newness. It later, to an English and not to a German must also be remembered that this Newuniversity.

ness itself was in some degree a reversion It must not be supposed that the to the old, as in Margaret Fuller's case it “Disciples of the Newness," as they liked came from a learned father who brought to call themselves, were allowed to go on her up in direct inheritance of whatever their way unchecked. Professor Bowen of was ancient. She was, by her own stateHarvard, always pungent and often tart, ment, early “placed in a garden with a followed them up vigorously in the North great pile of books before her.” She beAmerican, as did Professor Felton more gan to read Latin before she read Engmildly. Yet there was always something lish. The Greek and Roman deities were behind the cloud, an influence which re- absolutely real to her, and she prayed, Fived these victims like some cloud-con- "O God, if thou art Jupiter ;” or else to cealed goddess in Homer, and however Bacchus for a bunch of grapes. When severe the attacks may have been they she was old enough to think about Chriswere usually the fruit of narrowness, not tianity, she cried out for her dear old of mere malice. They were rarely mixed Greek and Roman gods. It was a long with merely personal bitterness, as were time, her friend Mrs. Dall tells us,“ before the contests of the same period, under she could see the deeper spirituality of the Poe's influence, among New York men Christian tradition." Hence it is, perof letters; nor were they so much en- haps, that we see rather less of sunshine in tangled with money-quarrels as those, her than in the other Transcendentalists. since money was a thing with which New For the unbelieving world outside, it England students had little to do. No must be remembered, the Transcendental one among them, however, fared so mis- movement at least contributed some such erably, in financial negotiations, as did sunshine through the very sarcasms it poor' Cornelius Mathews in New York, excited; as when Mrs. Russell, Father who, after his Big Abel and the Little Taylor's brilliant daughter, did not flinch Manhattan had been announced as a from defining the Transcendentalists as forthcoming volume of a series, was of- a race who dove into the infinite, soared fered by the repentant publishers $100 into the illimitable, and never paid cash;” to allow them to withdraw the offer and or when Carlyle described Ripley, who leave the book unpublished, but who re- had called on him in England, as “a Sofused the request. The North American cinian minister, who had left the pulpit to Review – then a Boston periodical reform the world by cultivating onions." settled the case of this unfortunate au- Emerson compared Brook Farm to “ a thor tersely by saying, “Mr. Mathews French Revolution in small,” and a cerhas shown a marvelous skill in failing tain meeting of the Transcendental Club each failure being more complete than to "going to heaven in a swing.” All the last.” Horace Greeley hit his mere- the peculiarities of Brook Farm, we may ly political opponents as hard as this, but be sure, were reported without diminution in the gossip of Boston society, even vague and dreamy times might have comthe jokes of the young people made upon municated to those reared in them too themselves being taken seriously in the passive and negative a character but for world outside; as when they asked at the perpetual tonic of the anti - slavery the dinner-table, “Is the butter within movement, which was constantly entanthe sphere of your influence ?” or pro- gling itself with all merely socialistic disposed that a pie should be cut “from the cussion. At every crisis brought on by centre to the periphery." There being this last problem it turned out that mere more young men than young women, moral purpose might impart to these paat first, an unusual share of household cific social reformers a placid courage duties, moreover, fell upon the stronger which rose on occasion to daring. Thus sex. They helped in the laundry, brought it took years to appreciate the most typiwater from the pump, prepared vege- cal of these men, Bronson Alcott. The tables in the barn. The graceful George quality that was, at first, rather exasWilliam Curtis trimmed lamps, and the perating in him became ultimately his manly and eminently practical Charles greatest charm : the manner in which Dana organized a band of “griddle-cake this idealist threw himself on the Uniservitors,” composed of “four of the most versal Powers and left his life to be aselegant youths of the community.” signed by them. That life had seemed

There was also a Brook Farm legend at first as helpless and unpromising as that one of the younger members or pupils the attitude of the little Italian child who, confessed his passion while helping his having stopped at a certain door near sweetheart to wash dishes ; and Emerson Boston and received breakfast for sweet is the authority for stating that as the men charity's sake, was found sitting placidly danced in the evening, clothespins some- on the doorstep, two hours later, and betimes dropped from their pockets. Haw- ing asked why she had not gone away thorne wrote to his sister, not without sar- replied serenely, “ What for go away? casm, “The whole fraternity eat togeth- Plenty time go away!” The wide unier, and such a delectable way of life has verse was to Alcott a similarly vast and never been seen on earth since the days of tranquil scene. He had, as was said of the early Christians. We get up at half- his English friend Greaves, “a copious past six, dine at half-past twelve, and go peacefulness." It was easy enough to to bed at nine.” An element of moral see this in a humorous light, but when in protest also entered into the actual work later years, after those who had broken of the more serious members. Thus Mr. down the Boston Court House door for Ripley said to Theodore Parker of John the rescue of Anthony Burns had been Dwight, afterwards eminent as a musi- driven out, and the open doorway was left cal critic, “ There is your accomplished bare, it was Alcott who walked unarmed friend ; he would hoe corn all Sunday if up the empty steps, calmly asking, “Why I would let him, but all Massachusetts are we not within ?” and on finding himcould not make him do it on Monday.” self unsupported turned back slowly, then Rumor adds that Parker replied, “It is walked placidly down again, he and his good to know that he wants to hoe corn familiar cane, without visible disturbance any day in the week.” The question is of mind. It has lately come to light, since not how far these details were based on the publication of the memoirs of Daniel fact or were the fruit of fancy, but the Ricketson, that Alcott afterwards offered immediate point is that they materially to be one of a party for the rescue of Capaided in keeping up the spirits of the un- tain John Brown. It was still the same believing world outside.

Alcott, only that he watched the slowly It is possible that those seemingly forming lines of his horoscope, and found

come full

them in Emerson's phrase,

It must be remembered also that, in circle.” In a similar way, Thoreau, after that period of general seething, all other all his seeming theories of self-absorption, reformatory movements alternated with ranged himself on the side of Brown as efforts of the socialists and joined with placidly as if he were going for huckle- them to keep up the spirits of the Comberries.

munity. The anti-slavery meetings, for Yet the effect of Transcendentalism on instance, mingled sorrow with joy and certain characters, a minority of its adher sometimes even with levity. Nowhere in ents, was seemingly disastrous ; though all the modern world could have been the older we grow, the harder it is to seen more strikingly grouped the various be sure that we know all the keys to in- dramatis personæ of a great impending dividual character. The freedom that social change than on the platform of belonged to the period, the sunny at- some large hall, filled with Abolitionists. mosphere of existence, doubtless made There sat Garrison in the centre, his some men indolent, like children of the

very attitude showing the serene imtropics. Some went abroad and lived movableness of his mind, and around him in Europe, and were rarely heard from; usually two or three venerable Quaker others dwelt at home, and achieved no- Vice Presidents, always speechless, while thing; while others, on the contrary, had in themselves constituting an inexorable the most laborious and exacting careers. though unwearied audience. Grouped Others led lives morally wasted, whether among them were devout women, not by the mere letting loose of a surge of a few," as the Scripture has it, and fiery passion ill restrained, or by that terrible orators brought together from different impulse of curiosity which causes more fields of action, where they had been althan half the sins of each growing gen- ternately starved, frozen, or mobbed, aceration, and yet is so hard to distinguish cording to the various methods adopted from the heroic search after knowledge. by unbelieving rural scoffers. Mingled I can think of men among those bred in with these were a few city delegates, the that period, and seemingly under its full most high-bred men and women in apinfluence, who longed to know the worst pearance to be found in Boston, like Wenof life and knew it, and paid dearly for dell Phillips, Edmund Quincy, and Mrs. their knowledge ; and their kindred paid Chapman. Among these, strangest of more dearly still. Others might be named all, were the living texts for all the im

ho, without ever yielding, so far as I pending eloquence of the platform : the know or guess, to a single sensual or fugitive slaves, black or mulatto or someworldly sin, yet developed temperaments times indistinguishably white, perhaps 80 absolutely wayward that it became just landed from their concealment on necessary, in the judgment of all who Southern packet ships, or in covert corknew the facts, for their wives and chil- ners of freight cars. There might be dren to leave them and stay apart, so that Henry Box Brown, so named from the these men died in old age without seeing box in which he had been nailed up

and the faces of their own grandchildren. been borne, occasionally on his head, from Others vanished, and are to this day slavery to freedom; or Harriet Tubman, untraced; and yet all these were but a who after making her own escape from handful compared with that majority the land of slavery had made eight or which remained true to early dreams ten covert visits thither, each time bringwhile the world called them erratic, and ing back by the underground railroad her the church pronounced them unredeemed little band of fugitives ; or William and or, in Shakespeare's phrase, “unhousel'd, Ellen Craft, she going from city to city disappointed, unaneled.”

northward as a white woman, and he as

her attendant slave. These, and such worldly prosperity, and yet feeling that as these, passed across the stage in suc a modified subjugation still socially restcessive years. And no one who early saw ed upon them. The inexhaustible sense Frederick Douglass just rescued from of humor in Frederick Douglass, on the slavery could possibly have foreseen in other hand, kept him clear of this, as was him the princely and commanding aspect never better seen than on the once famous with which he was to tread in later years occasion when the notorious Isaiah Rynthose same boards and prove himself, as ders of New York at the head of a mob the veteran reporter Yerrington used to had interrupted an anti-slavery meeting, say, the only orator on the platform, ex captured the platform, placed himself in cept Wendell Phillips, whose speeches the chair, and bade the meeting proceed. needed absolutely no revision before Douglass was speaking and, nothing printing

loath, made his speech only keener and These gave the tragic, the Shakespear- keener for the interference, weaving ean aspect of the anti-slavery movement, around the would-be chairman's head a to be relieved by another side of the wreath of delicate sarcasm which carried screen when Wendell Phillips and some the audience with it, while the duller wits other hero of the platform led beyond the of the burly despot could hardly follow door the shrieking Abby Folsom, with her him. Knowing only, in a general way, unfailing cry, “ It's the capitalists !” or that he was being dissected, Rynders at Mellen was silenced by more subtle per last exclaimed, " What you Abolitionists suasions, and tempted away to continue want to do is to cut all our throats!” his interminable harangue to some single “Oh, no!" replied Douglass in his most auditor in the side scenes. Once take dulcet tones. “ We would only cut your Garrison himself away from the conven hair ;” and bending over the shaggy and tion and no man better loved his placid frowzy head of the Bowery tyrant he joke. He could go to prison without gave a suggestive inotion as of scissors, to flinching, but could not forego his pun, his thumb and forefinger, with a profeswe may

be

sure, after he got there, and sional politeness that instantly brought would no more have denied himself that down the house, friend and foe, while innocent relaxation in jail than a typical Rynders quitted the chair in wrath, and French nobleman in Revolutionary days the meeting dissolved itself amid general would have laid aside his snuff-box in the laughter. It was a more cheerful conpresence of the guillotine. A similar clusion, perhaps, than that stormier one cheerful and unwavering tone pervaded not unknown in reformatory conventhose leaders generally, and I remem

tions — with which Shakespeare so often ber when Mrs. Chapman established the ends his scenes : “ Exeunt fighting.” first outdoor anti-slavery festival, on the One of the most curious circumstances avowed ground that there was no reason connected with the whole Transcendenwhy the children of this world should tal period, and one tending, whether in enjoy themselves better than the Chil- seriousness or through satire, to bring dren of Light.

out its sunny side, was its connection It is needless to say that the tropical with Horace Greeley. He himself was race in whose interest all this anti-slavery a strange mixture of the dreamy and the work was carried on took their share of practical, and his very appearance and levity, when opportunity came, the in costume, his walk and conversation, comstances of habitual gloom being usually bined these inconsistent attributes. The found, not among those who had escaped one great advertising medium possessed from slavery, but rather in those born by the whole Brook Farm movement was free, bred at the North, having some the New York Tribune, and it is a part

« PreviousContinue »