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American Literature:

 Brook Farm







 The Early American Historians.

 George Bancroft

 Read More Articles About: American Literature

Brook Farm

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

One of the most curious episodes in the history of American intellectual development is the Brook Farm community, which was founded in 1840, and lingered until 1847. It grew out of the Transcendental movement, in which Emerson was a leader. The first meeting of the Transcendentalists was held on September 19, 1836, at the house of Dr. George Ripley (1802-1880), a Harvard graduate and Unitarian preacher. The library in his house in Concord was rich in foreign literature, concerning which he issued a series of books. The organ of the Transcendentalists was "The Dial," a scholarly quarterly. Its teachings, combined with certain notions derived from the French Fourier, led Ripley to propose the experiment of Brook Farm, to be conducted by a semi-socialistic stock company near West Roxbury, Massachusetts. It was to combine agriculture, economical, Unitarian, humanitarian, and educational features. It was hoped that, while life could be supported by honest toil, a high ideal of social and intellectual entertainment might be achieved. Teaching, farming and the milking of cows were to be alter-nate occupations. Among these intellectual farmers were John Sullivan Dwight, the musical critic, and Charles Anderson Dana (1819-1897), afterward the noted editor. George, William Curtis (1824-1896) and a brother, reported by those who knew him to be still more gifted, were pupils in the school. Dana, born in New Hampshire, had been prevented by weakness of sight from completing his course at Harvard, and edited the Brook Farm organó"The Harbinger." He afterward served an apprenticeship under Horace Greeley on the "New York Tribune," became Assistant Secretary of War, and finally editor of the "New York Sun." Curtis, after travels in Egypt and Syria, became a member of the Tribune staff, published the "Howadji in Syria," an excellent travel-book, "Potiphar Papers," a social satire, and "Prue and I," a delicious series of meditations by a humble clerk, who philosophizes on New York life as he sees it in his daily promenades. Later Curtis had a severe experience, somewhat like Scott's, from a partnership in the publishing business, but finally worked his way clear of embarrassment. He gained a special fame by his "Editor's Easy Chair" in "Harper's Monthly." He was prominent in advocacy of Civil Service reform, and lived to witness it in successful operation.

Margaret Fuller 1810-1850 also joined the Brook Farm community, although she never exactly believed in it. She was regarded by all who came in contact with her as the most learned and highly gifted American woman. She was the daughter of a Congressman, and after his death supported herself as a teacher, conducted "The Dial," afterward became a literary critic of the "Tribune," and lived under Horace Greeley's roof. While on a tour in Europe she met and married Giovanni Angelo, Mar-quis D'Ossoli, settled in Rome, and entered zealously into the Italian struggle of 1849 for independence. After the capture of Rome by the French army, she sailed for America with her husband and child. The captain of the vessel died at the start of the voyage, smallpox broke out on the ship at sea, and a gale wrecked it off Fire Island beach. The Marquis and his family perished in the sea. The principal work of this remarkable but unfortunate genius was "Woman in the Nineteenth Century," which first appeared in "The Dial." Emerson, Julia Ward Howe and Thomas W. Higginson have all written biographies of her. She is reflected in the Zenobia of Hawthorne's "Blithedale Romance," which is an idealized and distorted vision of the Brook Farm.

Hawthorne joined the Brook Farm community in 1841 but was not blind to its ridiculous aspects. Emerson, curiously practical as well as sublimely transcendental, stood aloof from it, and humorously called it "a French Revolution in small, an Age of Reason in a patty-pan." With all his idealism and semi-Brahmanism, he had a saving salt of Yankee common sense, that justifies Dr. Holmes' question :

Where in the realm of thought, whose air is song,
Does he, the Buddha of the West, belong?
He seems a winged Franklin, sweetly wise,
Born to unlock the secrets of the skies.

At Concord he was worshiped in Apollo's two-fold character, as poet and seer. Dr. Holmes again refers to him:

"From his mild throng of worshipers released,
Our Concord Delphi sends its chosen priest."

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