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Chapter 2: education

  • Rank at college
  • -- teaches school -- eyes break down -- leaves college -- correspondence with friends -- Joins Brook Farm

On a bright morning in June, 1839, Charles Dana, then about two months over twenty years of age, left Buffalo for Cambridge, for the purpose of entering Harvard College. Travel in those days was by stage-coach, canal, and steamboat, and was far more difficult and tiresome than now.

The annual university catalogues and the faculty records show that Charles Anderson Dana, of Buffalo, matriculated as a freshman without conditions in September, 1839, and that his standing at the end of his first term was seventh in a class of seventy-four, with an aggregate mark of 2246. The maximum is not given, but the highest attained by any member of the class is given as 2421. In view of the fact that Dana had not attended school since he was twelve years of age, and that he had prepared himself for college during such leisure as he had after doing his daily work as a clerk, this result must be counted as quite unusual if not extraordinary.

After his first term, Dana was not ranked again, doubtless for the reason “that his work was apparently never quite complete at the end of any other term.”

The records show, August 31, 1840, that he was “readmitted to the sophomore class on probation,” and that on September 1st, he (with other sophomores) was permitted [13] to drop the study of mathematics, taking some prescribed course of study instead thereof. On November 23d of the same year it was voted that Dana (with other sophomores) have permission to be absent during the winter for the purpose of “keeping school.” On January 13, 1841, it was “voted that Dana (with four other sophomores) be admitted to the university in full standing as a matriculated student.” On May 31st following, it was “voted that Dana, sophomore, be matriculated,” and finally, on June 2, 1841, it was “voted that Dana, sophomore, have leave of absence for the rest of the term on account of ill-health.”

While the faculty records fail to make any further explanation, it is suggested by the president's secretary that the meaning of the several matriculations mentioned above is probably, that at each of the given dates Dana had made up his back work, although it never happened to be complete at the end of any term after the end of the first of his freshman year. It is clear, however, that he completed two years of college work, resumed his connection with the college on September 6, 1841, was entered in the annual catalogue for 1841-42 as a junior, and that the honorary degree of bachelor of arts was conferred on him by the university in 1861, as of the class of 1843. So far as the records go, this is the whole story, but the gaps will be filled in with sufficient detail from other sources.

The fact is that the supply of money Dana had brought with him to college soon became exhausted, and having no one to whom he could turn for help, he was forced to find employment, and, as was the fashion, naturally took to school-teaching. His first and only engagement seems to have been at Scituate, where he boarded with the family of Captain Seth Webb. His salary was twenty-five dollars a month, including board, as was the custom of the times. [14]

It appears that early in May of that year the student had begun to feel the necessity for help, for on the 12th, C. C. Felton, professor of Greek, wrote him a letter which he kept all his life. It runs as follows:

I hasten to answer your letter which reached me last evening. Upon receiving it, I immediately conversed with the president on the subject, and ascertained what I supposed was the fact, that there is a fund which is loaned on easy terms to young men desirous of availing themselves of it. I do not know precisely how large it is, but I presume you would find no difficulty in meeting your college expenses with what you might thus obtain, added to what you might earn by teaching school during the winter.

I advise you by all means to return to college, for with your abilities and honorable purposes it is impossible you should fail of success, and this I should have said to you before had I known that you were about to leave the college. It was some time after the beginning of the present term when I was first informed that you had left your class, and I received the intelligence with much regret. Had you consulted me I should have strongly dissuaded you from the step.

You need have no gloomy forebodings for the future. Industry, talent, and elevated principles, all of which I doubt not you possess, are sure of accomplishing their aims sooner or later. Relying upon these as your best supporters, I earnestly counsel you to resume your studies at the earliest possible moment.

This letter sheds a flood of light upon the condition and character of Dana, as well as upon the consideration in which he was held by his professors. Coming as it did from one of the most learned and influential members of the faculty, afterwards for two years its honored president, it makes it clear that Charles Dana was even at that early day no ordinary person, but one who arrested the attention [15] and excited the sympathetic interest of those in authority over him. He always cherished these words of regret, encouragement, and counsel, as well he might, for the confidence and strength they must have given him in the struggles which beset his career from first to last. At all events, he did return from time to time to his college work, until he had completed his second year, when he was forced to give it up entirely by the failure of his eyes, which will be more fully referred to hereafter.

As it appears from the records of the faculty, he early gave up mathematics and the sciences, and concentrated his mind upon the classics, literature, and philosophy, for which he then had a decided predilection. It is worthy of note, that while in later life he was by no means indifferent to the sciences, all of which made such tremendous strides during the last half of the nineteenth century, he always held that a thorough knowledge of both ancient and modern languages was a useful equipment for the profession of journalism.

The time spent at Scituate seems to have been both profitable and happy. He became fast friends with the family in which he boarded, and especially with the sons of Captain Webb, one of whom afterwards named his eldest son after him. School-teaching, though useful, was wearisome. It not only compelled him to study the ordinary branches in order to keep ahead of his pupils, but gave him an opportunity of evenings to continue the study of his college course. But it had another influence which was not so favorable. It necessarily took him out of the college much of the time, and thus deprived him of college society, and of association with his classmates, with few of whom he ever came to be intimate. He was an industrious and omnivorous reader, and whether in or out of college wasted but little time in the diversions and pleasures of college life. [16]

He did all he could, without reference to hours, to master the studies laid down in the curriculum; but not content with that, he burned midnight oil in lighter and doubtless more agreeable reading. In those days gas was always bad and but little used. At best the main dependence was on candles and whale-oil lamps. Coal-oil and camphene were unknown, and consequently many a pair of good eyes were ruined. Dana's, which from his studious habits must have always been overtaxed, if not naturally weak, gave out while he was reading Oliver Twist by candle-light, and thus compelled to find relief, he retired from college and sought a less exacting occupation.

While at Buffalo he kept up a somewhat desultory correspondence with his family, and especially with his father, who cautioned him to write only “as often by mail as really necessary,” adding, “I live a few rods from the post-office and can in some way pay the postage even if Mr. Kendall (the Postmaster-General) pleases to require specie.” The subjoined letter from his father presents another obstacle than the need of money to his entering college:

At any rate, the information [your aunt gave me] about you is far, very far from being agreeable. She tells me that you have been for a long time in the habit of attending the Unitarian meeting. Is it possible that the smooth sophistry of its supporters and advocates, and the convenient latitude of its doctrines have so beguiled you that you have lost sight of the odious and abominable courses and unfaith to which they unavoidably lead? If so I do not suppose anything your father could say would produce any alteration, still I would raise a warning voice and say ponder well the paths of thy feet lest they lead down to ... the very gates of Hell!

My fears are greatly increased by the suggestion that you expect shortly to go to the Cambridge University. When [17] there, if you should finally take that course, hope must be at an end. I know that it ranks high as a literary institution, but the influence it exerts in a religious way is most horrible --worse even than Universalism-and in fact, in my opinion, worse than deism. Can you not give up going there and turn your attention to Hudson?

I have quoted the foregoing extracts to show that the family belonged to the Orthodox Congregational Church of New England, and naturally viewed any departure from that faith as sure to lead downward. There seems to be no doubt that Charles early began to draw away from the religion of his father, and while at Cambridge, if not before, became attracted by the greater freedom of the Unitarian faith. The Cannings and the Ripleys, who were not only eloquent but liberal men of great learning, had already impressed themselves on the New England mind, and it would have been a curious circumstance if their “sweetness and light” had not won its way into the heart of the young and open-souled student. I find no evidence that he ever formally united with the Unitarian or any other church, but he made it clear in his correspondence with his friends at Buffalo that he at one time thought seriously of studying theology and becoming a minister of the gospel. If he had had sufficient means to continue at college in comfort and without interruption, in spite of his father's remonstrance and the weight of family tradition, he might possibly have taken that course.

As it turned out, however, his fortunes were too uncertain, his life too unsettled, to admit of his settling down to the rigid requirements of an orthodox faith. Evidence even at this early day is not wanting that he was essentially a freethinker, or at least a fearless seeker after truth from the start, no matter in what direction it might lead him. [18]

While living at Buffalo, he chose his special friends from the doctors, lawyers, teachers, and law students, a dozen or so of whom united with him in forming the Coffee Club, the object of which was mutual improvement in literature. It met weekly at the houses of such members as had houses, and at such other places as might be rented by those who had none. Original and selected essays were read, discussed, and referred to the scribe. How long this society was in existence is not known, but that it held together for several years is evident from Dana's correspondence with James Barrett, who was at that time a law student in the office of Deacon James Crocker, a rising lawyer of Buffalo. The Rev. Mr. Hosmer, Dr. Austin Flint, and John S. Brown, head of the principal school of the city, were also members, and all became intimate with Dana, but Flint and Barrett were his special friends, and to them we are indebted for correspondence which casts a light upon Dana's plans and mental development.

On April 1, 1839, Dana wrote from Buffalo to Barrett about the delights and the pranks of the day, and also the occupations and plans of several of their friends, and added:

As for myself, I labor daily at my studies, almost like a wanderer in a desert land, without guide save here and there a defaced and time-worn finger-post wherefrom he may gather somewhat of information, but no certain intelligence of his locality, or accurate knowledge of the path lying before him. And yet do I advance with a stout heart and unwavering determination, fearing not but that I shall at last arrive at the end of my toilsome journey. Some fears of pecuniary difficulties, with which at your departure I was oppressed, have vanished; an arrangement is about to be concluded by which I shall have at my command four hundred dollars per year, so that I shall be above want.... I commence this morning at the biographical part of the Greek Reader.


This letter was promptly answered, and followed by another, and still another, both of which show a growing friendship, a playful fancy, and a clearing prospect. On May 24th he wrote to Barrett:

... Now for myself. I am reviewing my Latin and Greek together daily, or rather nightly, which is the only sort of instruction I have had since your absence began. Mr. Hosmer wrote to Professor Felton, of Cambridge, who replied that I need have no fears on the score of admission, as, under the circumstances, I might be allowed to make up deficiencies while going on with the class.

On January 16, 1840, after he had been at Cambridge nearly a half-year, Dana wrote to Dr. Flint:

... For my part, I am in the focus of what Professor Felton calls “supersublimated transcendentalism,” and to tell the truth, I take to it rather kindly though I stumble sadly at some notions. But there is certainly a movement going on in philosophy which must produce a revolution in politics, morals, and religion, sooner or later. The tendency of the age is spiritual, and though the immediate reaction of the mind may be somewhat ultra, it is cheering to know that a genuine earnest action of some sort is in progress. Even old Harvard is feeling it. Locke is already laid aside, or the same thing as laid aside. Paley is about to suffer the same fate, and what is better perhaps than the inculcation of any positive doctrine, a course of study in the History of Philosophy is to be introduced and carried on with the study of Locke and Cousin, Paley and Jouffroy. Though it may be vain to expect a university as far advanced as the age, still I hope to see old Harvard not very far behind.

I attend Mr. Emerson's lectures only; they are without dispute very fine, though perhaps they might be better without some of his peculiarities. Their great merit appears to me to be their suggestive character; they make me think. [20]

Thinking you would like to know something certain about Spinoza, I send you Mr. Ripley's last pamphlet which is devoted to the examination of his system. I think you will be convinced that the common charges against him are false, and that instead of having been an infidel, or pantheist in the ordinary sense of the term, he was in the highest sense a theist.

On March 4, 1840, Dana wrote from Lancaster, New Hampshire, to James Barrett as follows:

... I have been at Cambridge one term, half a year, and have never passed time so pleasantly and profitably to myself. I entered without any difficulty, and was fortunate enough to be put into the highest of the three sections into which the class is divided, which division is made with regard to proficiency in Latin and Greek. Without working so hard or so constantly as formerly, I have been able to maintain a respectable standing in my class and devote considerable time to philosophy and general literature. My class is a pretty large one for Cambridge, and I believe pretty good in point of talent. It is almost needless to say that I have become attached to it and the university.

When I wrote you last, I thought myself rich enough to get through college with ease, but since then my prospects have changed considerably. Instead of doing as I wish, I shall have to do as I can. I was not so confident in the fulfilment of my expectations as to feel that disappointment very seriously. To save money, I have concluded to leave college for the present term, and with my books I am located here among my relatives and the mountains.

Though I should much prefer returning to Cambridge, my present situation is not without its advantages, besides the cheapness of living, and I do not think I shall have any difficulty in being contented.

I regret that Wakefield is to leave us, as he is almost the only man I have found here by whom I could expect to be helped through difficulties in Thucydides, which I am going [21] at as soon as I receive the rest of my books. At present I am at work on Xenophon's Memorabilia. ... He is withal one of the pleasantest fellows I have met with in a long time.

I heard from John Brown [of the Coffee Club] some two months since. He is good-natured as ever, happy in his wife and baby, and overflowing with love for all men. His heart is a continual fountain of gladness, and once in a while he comes out with a thought so beautiful and poetical that it makes you wonder how such a soul ever got into such a body. . . .

On April 12, 1840, he wrote again to Barrett, but this time from Guildhall, Vermont, whither he had gone to save money and continue his studies:

... I am glad to see, in your account of miscellaneous reading, authors of such inoppugnable orthodoxy as Coleridge and Carlyle. To Coleridge, though I have read but a moiety of his writings, I look up as to a spiritual father; to me he is a teacher of wisdom. Apropos of Carlyle, in a recent letter to Mr. Emerson he says, that in preparing a second edition of the History of the French Revolution for the press, he was himself disgusted with the style, so that we may hope for his return to the pure and beautiful English of his earlier works.

As for myself, I am living at my uncle's in true otium cum dignitate, no bells calling me to prayers or recitations, no college official coming to my door with “the president wishes to see you, Mr. Dana,” and not one of those cursed bores “seeking whom he may devour” ever disturbs my meditations. In one corner of my room stands my bed, next a window looking towards the sunrise is my desk, a side-table is covered with books; while your humble servant in dressing-gown and slippers sits near the fire in a great arm-chair, having “pen in hand.” Here I study eight hours daily, having an occasional relaxation with a famous old fowling-piece that hangs in the kitchen, and a little tinkering once in a while in the workshop. I am fed, warmed, lighted, and otherwise cared for, for about nothing — perhaps a dollar a week, and that unwillingly taken.

Besides all this I am with my only sister, who is now about [22] fifteen and whom I had not seen for more than eight years. To her young mind I may be of some assistance. This is the reason, in addition to what you justly call the “causa causarum” that I stay here rather than at Lancaster, where I have relatives and where I might have found agreeable society. From this, however, I am not wholly excluded, as I go thither three times a week to the post-office.

Of true companions like yourself, I have but one--a young orthodox minister whose name is Burke. .. . With him I discuss philosophy, religion, and literature. In his religious dogmas I do not of course agree, and therefore with him I avoid all “vain discussions.” If it were not for him I should dwell in a sort of intellectual solitude. . . . Though I am here to the great advantage of what many care for more than for life — to wit, my purse-and to my great good otherwise, I long to be with you, to live with you, and if possible will do so before I return to Cambridge, which I mean to do in the latter part of August. What will it cost to keep me at Woodstock?

. . . Your eulogy concerning your New England village girls, as I suspect goes a notch or so beyond the reality, but a little extravagance on this subject may be pardoned in any one, certainly in yourself, for saith not the poet:

The heart with its new sympathy with one
Grows bountiful to all.

What marvel then that you should attribute beauty and brightness and loveliness' to the whole feminine gender! . . .

... I have just finished the first book of Thucydides, and find some dozen passages, despite all my labor, utterly untranslatable. If I cannot find a translation and you have a copy of the original, I'll send them down for your consideration.

On August 18, 1840, Dana wrote again from Guildhall to his friend Barrett:

After a week of pleasure at Hanover, I find myself once more on the hither side of the North Pole, in safety as I trust [23] of both mind and body. To me withdrawal from my daily studies and occupations is an event that occurs but seldom; but from its rarity it is the more highly enjoyed. To you such withdrawals are doubtless frequent, nay, as I guess, are reckoned among your duties, and done in the spirit wherein every duty should be performed.

Since my return I have been busily engaged in preparing for my examination for readmission to college, whither I go next week — to practise an art of which I am wholly ignorant — to wit, the art of living without means. And yet in some sort I am rich, for are not the kind hearts and kind hopes of friends, “fit though few,” of more value than wealth that begets selfishness?

Last week I had letters from Buffalo. There is nothing new in that beautiful city of agitations, where the mass are restless and excitable as the surface of their own lake. Our friends are well-faring. I look forward with pleasure to the time when I shall breathe again the air of Cambridge and Boston, in which the mind may draw long breaths and be strengthened, so genial it is, and where, but for term-bills and washer-women, one would never guess that there are such things as money and money-getting in the world. And, indeed, I hold it an evidence of human depravity that there are such things, and dream (nay, it is not a dream but a prophecy) of the time when the cycle of humanity shall be completed and it shall not be said “God makes man, and man makes money.”

I shall expect to hear from you at Cambridge. Direct to me at Harvard University, and if I do not get your letters, “why, the de'il is in it.”

Tell me what you think of Jones Very and I'll tell you something about the man.

I had almost forgotten to say how much I owe you for a large share of the pleasure of my visit to Hanover, and to remind you of our bargain, “to live together and write books.” In the meanwhile, I trust no legal or other logicalities may obscure in us the love of the beautiful or the hatred of the Devil. [24]

Give my best remembrances to my namesake and every other who asks or thinks of me.

This letter is signed in Greek characters, Danaos, which was his college nickname. It was followed by one from Cambridge dated October 29, 1840, to Barrett, which tells the story of his work:

... When I tell you what and how much I have to do, you won't think very badly of me. We have four recitations a week in Latin, of an hour each, four in Greek, three in rhetoric, three in German, three in French, and two in history, with a written exercise in Latin or Greek every week and one in German, besides a theme every fortnight. The classical lessons are long enough to satisfy the most desirous of “getting ahead.” Thus you see we are constantly enough occupied. The faculty work us so that we may have no time for mischief --and they seem to have hit on the right plan — the college was never quieter.

I suppose you are busy rejoicing over “Whig victories,” and looking forward confidently to the end of corruption and misrule. I trust you may not be disappointed, but my hope is not altogether without fear. It seems to me that the measures of this election [Harrison's] might make any one fear, though he regards them from a nearer point of view and very much more in the whirlpool than I. Shall we not go from hot to hotter? Will not succeeding elections require still greater ‘excitements’ and more tremendous machinery? I am aware that these things are called “expressions of public opinion,” and “manifestations of indignation” at bad government, but I don't believe it. As the courts say (with a slight alteration), “God send us good deliverance.”

You say truly that this is hallowed ground. Even the outward air of things tell you that. I thought when I first came into the college grounds on my return that I had never before seen their beauty. It was a sunny afternoon, and the trees in the yard had lost none of their summer leaves. I could almost have fancied myself in Academus. To go into [25] the library begets a sort of sadness. Nowhere does one feel so much the force of the old saying: “Time is short: art is long.” As you loiter in the alcoves you cannot help thinking how few of so many books you can ever read. And isn't it the sadder thought, how few of them are worth reading?

Some of the winter courses of lectures have been announced and make me regret the necessity of my going away to teach school. Mr. Dana the poet begins next week a course of literature. Night before last John Quincy Adams delivered an introductory lecture. He will be followed by several distinguished gentlemen. Professor Walker, a man of truly great mind, is to give twelve lectures on natural theology, and Professor Silliman, I know not how many on geology, besides others almost as attractive.

We now learn for the first time that Dana's ambition was not limited to mastering the course at Harvard. As we have seen, he had been disappointed in his arrangements for money, and had been compelled to take refuge among his relations for the purpose of economizing. But still greater economies were necessary, and in his letter to Barrett he recalls a plan they must have talked over together:

My purpose of going to Germany grows fixed and definite. I am told that I can live there at a university for fifty dollars a year, and can earn something besides by teaching English. If at the end of my junior year, I can get hold of two or three hundred dollars, I shall go, and then, God willing, I shall write you letters from Germany. ....

... After the 27th of November till the beginning of the next term, I shall be at Scituate, Massachusetts, engaged in cultivating the tender young idea.

On November 21, 1840, he wrote to his friend Dr. Flint, at Buffalo, and while this letter covers the subjects alluded to in the letter to Barrett, it not only does so much more fully, but brings in new matter of interest, [26] the social experiment known as Brook Farm. Hence I give it almost in full:

Next to the pleasure of sitting in your office and talking face to face is the pleasure of talking to you, as it were-spiritually and from a distance. And as the former is a pleasure of hope and not of definite anticipation, I may be allowed the most abundant consolation I can derive from the latter.

I shall not attempt to give you any information about Boston or Boston society. Of the city I know little, and of the people nothing, so that I must refer you to Townsend, who can doubtless tell you everything that has happened, is happening, or is likely to happen. Of the literary world, I am little less ignorant, as I am not only kept at home, but kept too busy by college studies to read or hear much besides them. Of the scanty intelligence I have you shall have the benefit. Mr. Dana, the poet, is now delivering a course of lectures on literature, and things in general which, as knowing people who hear them say, are beautiful and profound. Mr. Dana is a disciple of Coleridge in philosophy. Dr. Walker is to deliver a course of twelve lectures on Natural Theology at the Lowell Institute. As introductory to them he will give the discourse he delivered last summer before the alumni of the university in defence of philosophy. Of this, which has had great influence hereabouts, you have perhaps seen notices. Hardly anything makes me regret the necessity for pedagogizing through the winter more than that I shall lose these lectures. Of new books I hear nothing. The next in Mr. Ripley's series of foreign literature are expected to be Neander's Church History, selections from Schiller's prose writing, and a volume of poems from Uhland and Korner.

Apropos of Mr. Ripley, he leaves his church on the 1st of January as I am informed. He is to be one of a society who design to establish themselves at Concord, or somewhere in the vicinity, and introduce, among themselves at least, a new order of things. Their object is social reformation, but of the precise nature of their plans, I am ignorant. Whether the true way to reform this lead mass-society-be to separate from [27] it and commence without it, I am in doubt. The leaders of this movement are Mr. Emerson and Mr. Alcott, and those who are usually called Transcendentalists.

With these men are my sympathies. I honor as much as ever their boldness, freedom, and philanthropy; but I am beginning to regard their philosophy and theology quite differently. The fact is, as I think, their system is nothing more nor less than Pantheism. Though the most esoteric of their doctrines were never communicated to me, I never felt entirely satisfied, even in the time of my belief in those of theirs which I understood. I feel now an inclination to orthodoxy, and am trying to believe the real doctrine of the trinity. Whether I shall settle down in Episcopacy, Swedenborgianism, or Goethean indifference to all religion, I know not. My only prayer is, “God help me.”

After all, doctor, speculative opinions and creeds are of little consequence. The great matter is to get rid of this terrible burden of sin — to bring our thoughts and lives into harmony with the law of God.

I have looked into Swedenborg, and am looking forward to study him. My slight reading has been sufficient to show me that to profoundest insight into spiritual things, to the sublimest philosophy, he added an angelic humility and holiness. You may think I speak in superlatives, but superlatives only can be applied to Swedenborg. Besides, there is a great deal that appears to me visionary and mystical in his writings, but all this is received by men for whose intellectual strength and acuteness I have great respect. When I have read I may receive it also.

Have you read Coleridge? If not, let me once more advise you to do so. If you can get hold of The Friend I advise you to read it first. You will not think the time misspent. I am now reading his Aids to Reflection....

I shall be for the next three months at Scituate, unless I should be turned out or suffer some other misfortune incident to school-masters. My intended flock is said to be of the most unruly and savage description, and I expect a pitched battle with them. . ..


So far as the records show, the battle did not come off. The new school-master was received with toleration if not with enthusiastic approval. After the usual struggle with the larger boys he made friends among both parents and children, earned the honor of a namesake, and taught his winter school through to the end.

On January 10, 1841, he wrote from Scituate to his friend Barrett:

... As to my German fancy, it still possesses me. If I hold my present purpose and can by hook or crook get two or three hundred dollars, I shall go in a year or two and you shall have letters from Germany ad contentum. But where am I to get the needful? Would it were as in the days of wise King Solomon, when gold and silver were to be had for the picking up. I do not, however, give myself much trouble about these things. I am fed and clad, and am permitted to learn something, and is not this enough?

Said Erasmus, when a student at Paris, poor and in rags, “I will first buy Greek books and then clothes.”

As for my present situation, it is laborious enough. My school numbers in all nearly eighty, and the average attendance is about sixty-five, most of whom are unruly sailors, who have to be managed with a strong hand. By dint of hard flogging I have got them into tolerable subjection, but still it is wearisome business. I am paid twenty-five dollars a month with my board in one family through the whole term. Of literary intelligence I have not much to tell you, for though not very far from the Emporium, I am not near enough to hear the “on dits” before they are fairly “>on dits”! Dr. Channing has lately published a book on Emancipation, which is fully worthy of him, and a little book of Coleridge's, called Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit, has lately been republished.

As for my own reading, it is principally theological. I have just begun the study of Swedenborg. Next to the longing for moral freedom, for the subjection of the body to the law of the spirit, my most earnest wish is for a revelation of [29] the truth, for the peace and serenity of an undoubting, a truly religious faith. . . .

At the beginning of the second term, in the spring of 1841, Dana was back at college and hard at work, but the struggle was brought to a sudden end by the complete failure of his eyes. Writing to Barrett, June 7th, he says:

... Be aware, however, O sagest of lawyers, that this is to be no lengthy epistle, as my eyes will not serve me for any length of time. About six weeks ago through overmuch study they gave out, since which time I have learned my lessons for the most part by having them read to me. So you see that I can offer you, dear friend, in whom I do claim an interest, the sympathies of a fellow-sufferer. I manage to do tolerably well in the recitation-room, though my favorite studies do not receive such close attention as if I could take the books into my own hand.

As to your invitation, if it had reached me a week ago, I doubt if I could have resisted it. But one afternoon last week, when my eyes were particularly troublesome, it occurred to me that nothing would be so serviceable to them as a visit to Buffalo. Since then nothing else has been in my head. I think continually of “old familiar faces” and friendly greetings, and imagine myself taking long walks and expounding the mysteries of spiritual philosophy to one of the most attentive listeners. I mean, moreover, to have a meeting of the Coffee Club and enjoy one more of those noctes cenaeque deum.1

... One of my good friends, a classmate, is to lend me what funds I want, and so you see I cannot help going .... My next letter shall be longer. I have many things to say to you.

This visit was made to Buffalo as intended, and although his friends while there showed him every attention, and gave him much pleasure by their society, and by the outdoor [30] exercise and diversions they put in his way, he was compelled to write as follows to his friend Barrett on July 17, 1841:

Nevertheless, my eyes improve so slowly that I fear I shall not be able to return to college for a year, in which case I propose to return to Massachusetts and work on a farm. Whatever I do you shall know of my location and of me.

Unfortunately, his fears proved to be well founded, and in the absence of the means with which to secure scientific treatment, or even to give his eyes the rest they absolutely required, he returned to Cambridge after a short visit to his father in Ohio. He seems to have enrolled himself for the next year in the college catalogue as a member of the junior class. Instead, however, of resuming his studies, he decided to join the Brook Farm Association which Dr. Ripley was just getting fairly under way.

Foreseeing that the complete restoration of his eyesight would require more time than he thought at first, and that meanwhile he would be straitened for money, he had addressed a letter of inquiry to Dr. Ripley from Buffalo, in July, asking the terms under which he might be permitted to join. He had previously heard the project discussed in college circles, and doubtless was sufficiently informed as to its general scope and purpose to justify specific inquiries. To this letter Ripley replied from Brook Farm, August 4, 1841, as follows:

I am truly sorry that I cannot give you a decided answer at once in regard to your joining us this winter. At present our limited quarters are completely filled, and with the arrangements that we are now making, we shall have no more room, unless we add to our buildings this season. This we propose to do, and shall probably decide in one or two weeks. In that case, I shall rejoice to have you with us, on the conditions [31] you mention, and perhaps you would find our plans so attractive and feasible that you would be induced to complete your education at our institution, and connect yourself with us permanently. It is from the young, the energetic, the pure-minded, the self-relying, who have given no hostages to society and who expect and ask but little of it, that the life-blood of our enterprise is to proceed. So far God has prospered us. Our faith in our ideas increases with every day's experience. Our present social relations are more truly Christian and democratic than aught I know of elsewhere; and with an unflinching spirit of perseverance, self-sacrifice, and hope, it will not be long before we shall be able to live in accordance with the divinest laws of man's nature.

If you can wait a few weeks before you are obliged to decide upon your movements, I shall be thankful; we all want you should be with us; and the moment I can see the way clear you shall hear from me again.

What precipitated his final action is not definitely known, but from the letter quoted above, it is evident that Dr. Ripley regarded him as a desirable acquisition, and therefore forced the necessary arrangements to receive him.

The only definite explanation of his own made at the time is found in a letter to his sister, dated Brook Farm, West Roxbury, September 17, 1841. It runs as follows:

... I returned from Buffalo four weeks since, but as my eyes are not fully restored, although they are considerably improved, I have not returned to college. I am living with some friends who have associated themselves together for the purpose of living purely and justly and of acting from higher principles than the world recognizes. I study but little-only as much as my eyes will permit. I pay for my board by labor upon the farm and by giving instruction in whatever lies within my capacity. I thought at first of proposing to come and stay with you, but the excellent society [32] into which I should here be thrown, and a warm sympathy with the peculiar views of my friends, decided me to come here. I may possibly visit you in the course of the year, but even that is quite doubtful. I shall if I can afford it.

The life he was now entering upon seemed just what would be best for him. The Brook Farm Association was no charitable or philanthropic Utopia, but an honest and conscientious effort to combine co-operative labor with democratic living and intellectual improvement. There were to be no drones and no privileged members. Everybody was to work, everybody was to receive wages, and everybody was to pay for what he got. Dana was engaged to teach Greek and German, or anything else “within his capacity,” and to work on the farm. With the proceeds of his teaching and of his wages for farm labor he was to pay for his living. Having had eight years experience as clerk in a general store at Buffalo, he was regarded as a competent business man, and as such he was chosen to act as one of the trustees for the property and management of the association. From the first he became one of its most industrious and useful members. Young, ardent, and active, with no infirmity except his over-strained optic nerves, he was fit for any task which might come his way. With an extraordinary facility in languages, he was an excellent teacher, and this is certified by the fact that his pupils gave him at once the title of “Professor,” which he held to the end of his connection with the association.

1 Satires of Horace, VI. 65.

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