I have been struck with the late superiority Alcott showed. His interlocutors were all better than he: he seemed childish and helpless, not apprehending or answering their remarks aright, and they masters of their  weapons. But by and by, when he got upon a thought, like an Indian seizing by the mane and mounting a wild horse of the desert, he overrode them all, and showed such mastery, and took up Time and Nature like a boy's marble in his hand, as to vindicate himself. Sanborn and Harris's Alcott, i, 262.A severe test of a man's depth of observation lies always in the analysis he gives of his neighbor's temperament; even granting this appreciation to be, as is sometimes fairly claimed, a woman's especial gift. It is a quality which certainly marked Alcott, who once said, for instance, of Emerson's combination of a clear voice with a slender chest, that “some of his organs were free, some fated.” Indeed, his power in the graphic personal delineations of those about him was almost always visible, as where he called Garrison “a phrenological head illuminated,” or said of Wendell Phillips, “Many are the friends of his golden tongue.” This quality I never felt more, perhaps, than when he once said, when dining with me at the house of James T. Fields, in 1862, and speaking of a writer whom I thought I had reason to know pretty well: “He has a love of wholeness; in this respect far surpassing Emerson.” It is scarcely possible, for any one who recalls from his youth the antagonism and satire called  forth by Alcott's “sayings” in the early “Dial,” to avoid astonishment at their more than contemptuous reception. Take, for example, in the very first number the fine saying on “Enthusiasm,” thus:--
Believe, youth, that your heart is an oracle; trust her instinctive auguries; obey her divine leadings; nor listen too fondly to the uncertain echoes of your head. The heart is the prophet of your soul, and ever fulfils her prophecies; reason is her historian; but for the prophecy, the history would not be. ... Enthusiasm is the glory and hope of the world. It is the life of sanctity and genius; it has wrought all miracles since the beginning of time.Or turn to the following (entitled: “IV. Immortality” ) :--
The grander my conception of being, the nobler my future. There can be no sublimity of life without faith in the soul's eternity. Let me live superior to sense and custom, vigilant alway, and I shall experience my divinity; my hope will be infinite, nor shall the universe contain, or content me.Or read this ( “XII. Temptation” ):--
Greater is he who is above temptation, than he who, being tempted, overcomes. The latter but regains the state from which the former has not fallen. He who is tempted has sinned. Temptation is impossible to the holy. Or this ( “LXXXVIII. Renunciation” ) :--
Renounce the world, yourself; and you shall possess the world, yourself, and God.These are but fragments, here and there. For myself, I would gladly see these “Orphic sayings” reprinted to-morrow, and watch the astonishment of men and women who vaguely recall the derision with which they were first greeted more than sixty years ago. When it came to putting into action these high qualities, the stories relating to Mr. Alcott which seem most improbable are those which are unquestionably true, as is that of his way of dealing with a man in distress who came to beg of him the loan of five dollars. To this Alcott replied, after searching his pockets, that he had no such bank-note about him, but could lend him ten dollars. This offer was accepted, and Alcott did not even ask the borrower's name, and could merely endure the reproach or ridicule of his friends for six months; after which the same man appeared and paid back the money, offering interest, which was refused. The-debtor turned out to be a well-known swindler, to whom this trusting generosity had made a novel and manly appeal. Truth and honesty are apt to be classed in men's minds together, but the power of making money, or even of returning it when loaned, is  sometimes developed imperfectly among those who are in other respects wise and good. A curious illustration of this may be found in the published memoirs of Mr. Alcott (1.349), but it is quite surpassed by the following narrative, hitherto unpublished, of a subsequent interview, even more picturesque, and apparently with the self-same creditor. I take it from his Ms. Diary, where it appears with the formality of arrangement and beauty of handwriting which mark that extraordinary work.
There was, however, strangely developed in Alcott's later life an epoch of positively earning money. His first efforts at Western lectures began in the winter of 1853-54, and he returned in February, 1854. He was to give a series of talks on the representative minds of New England, with the circle of followers surrounding each; the subjects of his discourse being Webster, Greeley, Garrison, Margaret Fuller, Theodore Parker, Greenough, and Emerson; the separate themes being thus stated as seven, and the number of conversations as only six. Terms for the course  were three dollars. By his daughter Louisa's testimony he returned late at night with a single dollar in his pocket, this fact being thus explained in his own language : “Many promises were not kept and travelling is costly; but I have opened the way, and another year shall do better.” 4 At any rate, his daughter thus pathetically described his appearance at this interview, as her mother wrote to a friend: “He looked as cold and thin as an icicle; but as serene as God.” 5 There is an almost dramatic interest in transferring our imaginations to the later visit he made westward, when he was eighty-one years old, between October, 1880, and May, 1881. He then traveled more than five thousand miles, lectured or held conversations at the rate of more than one a day, Sundays included, and came back with a thousand dollars, although more than half of his addresses had been gratuitous. For seven years after this he was the nominal dean of the so-called School of Philosophy in Concord, and for four years took an active part in its lectures and discussions. His last written works were most appropriately two sonnets on “Immortality,” this being the only theme remaining inexhaustibly open. Perhaps no two persons in the world were in  their intellectual method more antipodal — to use one of Alcott's favorite phrases — than himself and Parker, though each stood near to Emerson and ostensibly belonged to the same body of thinkers. In debate, the mere presence of Parker made Alcott seem uneasy, as if yielding just cause for Emerson's searching inquiry, “Of what use is genius, if its focus be a little too short or too long?” No doubt, Mr. Alcott might well be one of those to whom such criticism could fitly be applied, just as it has been used to discourage the printing of Thoreau's whole journal. Is it not possible that Alcott's fame may yet be brought up gradually and securely, like Thoreau's, from those ample and beautifully written volumes which Alcott left behind him? Alcott doubtless often erred, at first, in the direction of inflation in language. When the Town and Country Club was organized in Boston, and had been, indeed, established “largely to afford a dignified occupation for Alcott,” as Emerson said, Alcott wished to have it christened either the Olympian Club or the Pan Club. Lowell, always quick at a joke, suggested the substitution of “Club of Hercules” instead of “Olympian” ; or else that, inasmuch as the question of admitting women was yet undecided, “The Patty-Pan” would be a better name. But  if Alcott's words were large, he acted up to them. When the small assaulting party was driven back at the last moment from the Court House doors in Boston, during the Anthony Burns excitement, and the steps were left bare, the crowd standing back, it was Alcott who came forward and placidly said to the ring-leader, “Why are we not within?” On being told that the mob would not follow, he walked calmly up the steps, alone, cane in hand. When a revolver was fired from within, just as he had reached the highest step, and he discovered himself to be still unsupported, he as calmly turned and walked down without hastening a footstep. It was hard to see how Plato or Pythagoras could have done the thing better. Again, at the outbreak of the Civil War, when a project was formed for securing the defense of Washington by a sudden foray into Virginia, it appears from his Diary that he had been at the point of joining it, when it was superseded by the swift progress of events, and so abandoned. The power of early sectarian training is apt to tell upon the later years even of an independent thinker, and so it was with Alcott. In his case a life-long ideal attitude passed back into something hard to distinguish from old-fashioned Calvinism. This was especially noticeable  at the evening receptions of the Rev. Joseph Cook, who flattered Alcott to the highest degree and was met at least halfway by the seer himself. Having been present at one or two of these receptions, I can testify to the disappointment inspired in Alcott's early friends at his seeming willingness to be made a hero in an attitude quite alien to that of his former self. The “New international,” for instance, recognizes that “in later years his manner became more formal and his always nebulous teaching apparently more orthodox.” Be this as it may, the man whom Emerson called “the most extraordinary man and highest genius of the time,” and of whom he says, “As pure intellect I have never seen his equal,” such a man needed only the fact of his unprotected footsteps under fire up the stairs of the Boston Court House to establish him in history as a truly all-round man,--unsurpassed among those of his own generation even in physical pluck.