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Chapter 11: Brook Farm.

A chapter on Brook Farm would be hardly needed, in a life of Margaret Fuller, but for one single cause,--the magic wielded by a man of genius. Zenobia in Hawthorne's “Blithedale romance” has scarcely a trait in common with Margaret Fuller; yet will be identified with her while the literature of the English language is read. Margaret Fuller had neither the superb beauty of Zenobia, nor her physical amplitude, nor her large fortune, nor her mysterious husband, nor her inclination to suicide; nor, in fine, was she a member of the Brook Farm community at all. These points of difference would seem to be enough, but were these ten times as many they would all be unavailing, and the power of the romancer would outweigh them all. It is impossible to make the readers of fiction understand that a novelist creates his characters as spiders their web, attaching the thread at some convenient point and letting it float off into free air; perhaps to link itself at last to something very far away. George Sand has well said that to copy any character precisely from nature would be to [174] make it unnatural; since you cannot also transfer to your book all the surroundings that have made that character what it is. The author gets his first hint from some real person,--perhaps from several,--and all the rest is his own; or it might almost be said the character's own, so astounding is the way in which these visionary people take their fates into their own hands and perhaps do the precise things which their creator intended to prevent. If all this is true of the most commonplace novelist, it is especially true of the most ideal of all writers of fiction, Hawthorne. Even his real people, when he writes what he means for sober history, become almost ideal in the atmosphere he paints; how much more with those in his romances. That there was a certain queenliness about Margaret Fuller, that she sometimes came to Brook Farm, and that a cow which was named after her lorded it over the other cows; this was all that she really contributed to Hawthorne's Zenobia ; and much less than this would have been sufficient for his purpose.

Nevertheless Brook Farm was for a few years a fact so large among the circle to which she belonged that it is well to have some good reason for introducing it here. It was one of the bestprobably the best — incarnation of the ardent and wide-reaching reformatory spirit of that day. It was a day when it certainly was very pleasant to live, although it is doubtful whether living would have remained as pleasant, had one half the projects [175] of the period become fulfilled. The eighty-two pestilent heresies that were already reckoned up in Massachusetts before 1638, or the “generation of odd names and natures” which the Earl of Strafford found among the English Roundheads, could hardly surpass those of which Boston was the centre during the interval between the year 1835 and the absorbing political upheaval of 1848. The best single picture of the period is in Emerson's lecture on “New England reformers,” delivered in March, 1844; but it tells only a part of the story, for one very-marked trait of the period was that the agitation reached all circles. German theology, as interpreted by Brownson, Parker, and Ripley, influenced the more educated class, and the Second Advent excitement equally prepared the way among the more ignorant. The anti-slavery movement was the profoundest moral element, on the whole, but a multitude of special enterprises also played their parts. People habitually spoke, in those days, of “the sisterhood of reforms,” and it was in as bad taste for a poor man to have but one hobby in his head as for a rich man to keep but one horse in his stable. Mesmerism was studied; gifted persons gave private sittings for the reading of character through handwriting; phrenology and physiology were ranked together; Alcott preached what Carlyle called a “potato gospel;” Graham denounced bolted flour; Edward Palmer wrote tracts against money. In a paper published in the “Dial” for July, 1842, on [176] the “Convention of friends of universal reform” in Boston, Emerson says of that gathering:--

If the assembly was disorderly, it was picturesque. Madmen, madwomen, men with beards, Dunkers, Muggletonians, Come-outers, Groaners, Agrarians, Seventh-Day Baptists, Quakers, Abolitionists, Calvinists, Unitarians, and Philosophers — all came successively to the top.

Dial, III. 101

Having myself attended similar meetings soon after, I can certify that this is not an exaggeration, but, on the contrary, a plain, unvarnished tale. It is to be remembered, too, that all this stir came upon a society whose previous habit of life was decidedly soberer and better ordered than that of to-day; stricter in observance, more conventional in costume. There could hardly be a better illustration of this fact than when Emerson includes in his enumeration of eccentricities “men witli beards;” for I can well remember when Charles Burleigh was charged with blasphemy, because his flowing locks and handsome untrimmed beard was thought to resemble — as very likely he intended — the pictures of Jesus Christ ; and when Lowell was thought to have formally announced a daring impulse of radicalism, after he, too, had eschewed the razor. The only memorial we retain unchanged from that picturesque period is in some stray member of the “Hutchinson family” who still comes before the public with now whitening locks and vast collar that needs no [177] whitening; and continues to sing with unchanged sweetness the plaintive melodies that hushed the stormiest meeting when he and his four or five long-haired brothers stood grouped round their one rose-bud of a sister like a band of Puritan Bohemians.

Amid all these wild gospellers came and went the calm figure of Emerson, peaceful and undisturbed. I can remember that, after certain of his lectures in Boston, his chosen hearers habitually gathered to meet him at the rooms of one young man, an ardent Fourierite, though not actually a Brook-Farmer. Outside the door was painted in flaming colors a yellow sun, at the centre of whose blazing rays was the motto “Universal Unity,” while beneath it hung another inscription in black and white letters, “Please wipe your feet.” This emblazonment and this caution symbolized the whole movement. The gateway of Brook Farm might have been similarly inscribed. There was a singular moral purity about it which observers from the point of view of Paris or even London have since found a little contemptible. With the utmost freedom in all things, and a comprehensiveness to which that of “the latitude-men about Cambridge” in England was timid conservatism, Brook Farm, like all other haunts of the “come-outers” of the period, was as chaste as a Shaker household.

But it will readily be seen that amid this impulse of universal reform some such enterprise as [178] Brook Farm was inevitable. Already at New Harmony, Zoar, and elsewhere in the Western States, there had been socialistic experiments. But all the others were more or less imported; this was indigenous, except that, like all other profoundly sincere movements, it borrowed some examples and incentives from the plains of Galilee. The very name given to the first proclamation of the enterprise in the “Dial,” “A glimpse at Christ's idea of society,” Dial, II. 214 (October, 1841). written by Miss E. P. Peabody, shows that this clear element of religious impulse came first; the Fourierite gospel arrived later, and rather marked the decline. To those who like myself visited “the Community” only as observant and rather incredulous boys, under guidance of some enlightened cousin, it all seemed a very pleasant picnic, where youths and maidens did pretty much what they wished, and sang duets over their labors. The very costume was by no means that monotony of old clothes which Hawthorne depicts in the “Blithedale romance,” for some of the youths looked handsome as Raphael in flowing blouses of various colors and picturesque little vizor-less caps, exquisitely unfitted for horny-handed tillers of the soil. Nowhere was there such good company; young men went from the farm to the neighboring towns to teach German classes; there were masquerades and gypsy parties, such as would thrive on no other soil; whatever might be said of the actual glebe of [179] Brook Farm, the social culture was of the richest. Those who ever lived there usually account it to this day as the happiest period of their lives. Even the shy Hawthorne does some justice to this aspect of the society, and there is no reason why any one should object to his making Margaret Fuller a leading figure in its short-lived circle, except the fact — justly trivial to a romancer — that she was not there.

She doubtless, like Emerson, joined occasionally in its merry-makings. In his “American note-books,” Hawthorne once describes them as appearing together at a festival. But to her, from the beginning, it was simply an experiment which had enlisted some of her dearest friends; and, later, she found at Brook Farm a sort of cloister for occasional withdrawal from her classes and her conversations. This was all; she was not a stockholder, nor a member, nor an advocate of the enterprise; and even “Miss Fuller's cow” which Hawthorne tried so hard to milk1 was a being as wholly imaginary as Zenobia; although old Brook-Farmers report that Mr. Ripley was fond of naming his cattle after his friends, and may, very likely, have found among them a Margaret Fuller.

Her general attitude toward the associative movement, at the outset, may be seen in these sentences, written to the Rev. W. H. Channing, after a public meeting of the faithful:-- [180]

I will not write to you of these conventions and communities unless they bear better fruit than yet. This convention was a total failure, as might be expected from a movement so forced. ... O Christopher Columbus! how art thou admired when we see how other men go to work with their lesser enterprises.

Ms. (W. H. C.)

Again, she writes of an interview with Mr.Ripley and Mrs. Ripley, when Brook Farm was being organized (October 28, 1840):--

In town I saw the Ripleys. Mr. R. more and more wrapt in his new project. He is too sanguine, and does not take time to let things ripen in his mind; yet his aim is worthy, and with his courage and clear mind his experiment will not, I think, to him at least, be a failure. I will not throw any cold water, yet I would wish him the aid of some equal and faithful friend in the beginning, the rather that his own mind, though that of a captain, is not that of a conqueror. I feel more hopeful as he builds less wide, but cannot feel that I have anything to do at present, except to look on and see the coral insects at work.

Ballou was with him to-night; he seems a downright person, clear as to his own purposes, and not unwilling to permit others the pursuit of theirs.


It appears from Mr. Alcott's Ms. diary that in October, 1840, while the whole matter was taking form, he met George Ripley and Miss Fuller at Mr. Emerson's in Concord, for the purpose [181] of discussing the new theme. Neither Alcott nor Emerson accepted the project in its completeness.3 During the following month Alcott enumerates these persons as being likely to join the proposed community,--Ripley, Emerson, Parker, S. D. Robbins, and Miss Fuller.4 But I know no reason to suppose that any of these, except Mr. Ripley himself, had any such serious intention; though Mr. Emerson himself was so far influenced by the prevailing tendency as to offer to share his house with Mr. Alcott and his family, while suggesting that other like-minded. persons should settle near them in Concord. Mr. Alcott himself speaks of Brook Farm as “our community;” but perhaps uses the words in a very general sense.

At any rate, Brook Farm established itself without them, and though Margaret Fuller often visited it, this letter to Mr. Emerson shows the motives, quite remote from Zenobia's, with which she did so,--that she might be gentle, dull, and silent!

Cambridge, 10th May, 1841.
Your letter, my dear friend, was received just as I was on the wing to pass a few days with the fledglings of Community; and I have only this evening returned to answer it. I will come on Saturday afternoon next if no cross accident mar the horizon of my hopes, and the visible heavens drop not down Niagaras. All that I have to say may best be reserved till I come; it is necessary that I should be economical, for I have of late [182] been as gentle, as dull, and as silent as the most fussy old bachelor could desire his housekeeper to be. You said, however, I could come and live there, if I had not a mind to talk, so I am not afraid, but will come, hoping there may be a flow after this ebb, which has almost restored the health of your affectionate


Again, this extract from a letter to Mr. Emerson (August 10, 1842) illustrates the same point. It seems that Professor Farrar and his wife were to have taken a journey, in which case Margaret Fuller would have remained in their house at Cambridge, a plan that would have “insured several weeks of stillness and solitude” for her; she being “tired to death of dissipation.” This failing, she expresses willingness to go to Concord, but, should that be inconvenient, she can go to Brook Farm, as the next best medicine:--

They will give me a room at Brook Farm, if I wish, let me do as I please, and I think if I went there to stay I could keep by myself, and employ myself, if there is any force in my mind. Beside, I will not give up seeing you. If you do not want me to stay in this unlimited fashion I will come for two or three days, on a visit technically speaking. But I want to know beforehand which it shall be, for, if I come to stay, I shall bring my paper, etc., but if not I shall leave them here, write to Brook Farm to engage my room, and go there so soon as I have seen you satisfactorily.6

However she might dream of solitude, she could [183] not wholly maintain it, even in these “retreats” at Brook Farm. She seems to have been in the habit of going there on New Year's Eve; and there are among her papers successive meditations or descriptions at that time, usually introducing some poem of her own. One of these narratives is as follows:--

Night preceding New Year's Day, 1844.
The moon was nearly full, and shone in an unclouded, sky over wild fields of snow. The day was Sunday, a happy Sunday. I had enjoyed being with William equally when we were alone or with these many of different ages, tempers, and relationships with us, for all seemed bound in one thought this happy day.

William addressed them in the morning on the Destiny of the Earth, and then I read aloud Ellery's poem “The earth.” 7 . . . But in the night the thoughts of these verses kept coming, though they relate more to what had passed at the Fourier convention, and to the talk we had been having in Mrs. R.'s room, than to the deeper occupation of my mind.8

To find how this dream of silence filled her soul, at times, we must turn to another passage in the same letter to the Rev. W. H. Channing which describes her interview with the Ripleys:--

It is by no means useless to preach. In my experience of the divine gifts of solitude, I had forgotten what might be done in this other way. O that crowd [184] of upturned faces with their look of unintelligent complacency! Give me tears and groans, rather, if there be a mixture of physical excitement and bigotry. Mr. Dewey is heard because, though he has not entered into the secret of piety, he wishes to be heard and with a good purpose; can make a forcible statement and kindle himself with his own thought. How many persons must there be who cannot worship alone since they are content with so little. Can we not wake the spark that will weld them, till they take beautiful forms and can assist each alone? Were one to come now who could purge us with fire! . . .

But all my tendency at present is to the deepest privacy.--Where can I hide till I am given to myself? Yet I love the others more and more, and when they are with me must give them the best from my scrip. When I see their infirmities I would fain heal them, forgetful of my own! But am I left one moment alone, then, a poor wandering pilgrim, yet no saint, I would seek the shrine; would therein die to the world and then if from the poor reliques some miracle might be wrought, that is for them!

Yet some of these saints were able to work in their generation, for they had renounced all!

Ms. (W. H. C.)

It may have been on one of these New Year's retreats that she wrote her most thoughtful and most artistic poem; almost the only one of hers to which the last epithet could be applied, if, indeed, it be applicable here. The poem was printed in “Summer on the Lakes,” and is on a theme which suited her love of mystic colors [185] and symbols — the tradition of the Rosicrucians. The modern theory is, however, that this word did not come from the cross and the rose, as she assumes, but from the cross and the dew (ros); this last substance being then considered as the most powerful solvent of gold, and so used in the effort to discover the philosopher's stone.

Sub rosa crux.

In times of old, as we are told,
When men more child-like at the feet
Of Jesus sat, than now,
A chivalry was known more bold
Than ours, and yet of stricter vow,
Of worship more complete.

Knights of the Rosy Cross, they bore
Its weight within the heart, but wore
Without devotion's sign in glistening ruby bright;
The gall and vinegar they drank alone,
But to the world at large would only own
The wine of faith, sparkling with rosy light.

They knew the secret of the sacred oil
Which, poured upon the prophet's head,
Could keep him wise and pure for aye.
Apart from all that might distract or soil,
With this their lamps they fed,
Which burn in their sepulchral shrines unfading night and day.

The pass-word now is lost
To that initiation full and free;
Daily we pay the cost
Of our slow schooling for divine degree.
We know no means to feed an undying lamp;
Our lights go out in every wind or damp.

We wear the cross of ebony and gold,
Upon a dark back-ground a form of light, [186]
A heavenly hoe)c upon a bosom cold,
A starry promise in a frequent night;
The dying lamp must often trim again,
For we are conscious, thoughtful, striving men.

Yet be we faithful to this present trust,
Clasp to a heart resigned the fatal must;
Though deepest dark our efforts should enfold,
Unwearied mine to find the vein of gold;
Forget not oft to lift the hope on high;
The rosy dawn again shall fill the sky.

And by that lovely light, all truth revealed,
The cherished forms which sad distrust concealed,
Transfigured, yet the same, will round us stand,
The kindred angels of a faithful band;
Ruby and ebon cross both cast aside,
No lamp is needed, for the night has died.
Be to the best thou knowest ever true,
Is all the creed;
Then, be thy talisman of rosy hue,
Or fenced with thorns that wearing thou must bleed,
Or gentle pledge of Love's prophetic view,
The faithful steps it will securely lead.

1 American note-books, II. 4.

2 The Rev. Adin Ballou was a well-known leader among the Associationists in that day, yet did not live at Brook Farm, but at Mendon, Mass.

3 Alcott's Ms Diary, XIV. 170.

4 Alcott's Ms Diary, XIV. 199.

5 Ms.

6 Ms.

7 A fine poem by Ellery Channing beginning-

My highway is unfeatured air.

8 Ms.

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