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Chapter 3: community life

  • Reasons for joining Brook Farm
  • -- Secretary and trustee -- anecdote of Carl Schurz -- condition and progress of the association

In the absence of any more positive statement than that given to his sister, the exact reasons which caused Dana to join the Brook Farm Association must remain more or less a matter of speculation. He had, of course, been absorbing the “supersublimated transcendentalism” of New England from the day of his admission into Harvard College, but it has been shown from his own letters that while he was much impressed by the “boldness, freedom, and philanthropy” of Emerson and Alcott, and greatly admired the independence and unselfishness of Channing, Ripley, and the new school of thinkers, he was by no means carried away with the hope that the movement would completely revolutionize the mass of society. He was willing to do the part which fell to his lot, and did it with all his heart to the entire satisfaction of his associates, but it will not be forgotten that he was entirely without means to pay his way elsewhere, and that besides finishing his education, he was to get at Brook Farm the physical training he required, for a minimum of cost, combined with a maximum of pleasure, if not of profit. He was just beginning his twenty-third year, an age at which most young men of the day were getting through college and starting the active work of life. His ambition was for the highest education then offered by [34] either Europe or America, and yet he was only half-way through his college course. In short, he was seeking for truth and light, but under disadvantages which were almost insuperable. If he had any predilection at that time it was for theology, with a strong tendency to Unitarianism. He had implied a preference for Episcopacy, but finally took up Swedenborgianism, with the intimation that he might end in Goethean indifference to dogmatism of every kind. Curiously enough, as will be shown hereafter, this foreshadowed the real line of his spiritual evolution, as completely as if he had said it at the close rather than at the beginning of his career.

Although I have read all the accounts I could find of the Brook Farm experiment, I have failed to discover any word from Dana indicating complete confidence in its success. He speaks frequently and earnestly in favor of co-operation, and in praise of the able and unselfish management of Dr. Ripley. He lent his name and such credit as he had to the association, and stood by it till it was overwhelmed by disaster. He wrote much for the Harbinger, which was its organ, but his writings of this period indicate his aspirations rather than his settled convictions. They show that he had a practical turn of mind, and at the same time was looking to the great ends of life, rather than to the means by which they were to be reached. In view of all the circumstances of the case, which I have set forth whenever possible in his own words, I am forced to the conclusion that he connected himself with Brook Farm because it offered the best solution of his own difficulties then within reach, rather than from mature conviction that the experiment there to be tried was founded in true philosophy, political economy, and the requirements of modern society. Anxious as he was for spiritual and intellectual growth, and persistent as he had been in seeking for the truth, his opinions were by no means [35] settled. He was still growing and expanding, still striving to solve the riddles of life, testing all things and holding only to those he found satisfactory to his own ideals and to his own judgment. Hitherto he had been a faithful student and an omnivorous reader, to the neglect of bodily exercise, but now that his eyes had failed him, he was forced to reverse his mode of life and to give the preference to out-door work. This was perhaps the best thing for him, so long as his vision was impaired. He remained at Brook Farm altogether about five years, or from 1841 till 1846, and in order that his life there may be more fully understood, I subjoin a condensed account of the interesting experiment which was tried out at that place.

The movement which culminated in the Brook Farm Association grew primarily out of the Transcendental Club, which first attracted serious attention at Boston about the year 1840. It was sometimes called the “Symposium,” but whether it ever had a regular organization or title remains uncertain even to this day. Transcendentalism has been defined as an efflorescence of Aristotelian and German philosophy. It “was a reaction against the essential conservatism of both the Unitarian and the Trinitarian forms of Puritanism, neither of which cherished any belief in the self-sufficiency of the human mind outside of revelation.” Brook Farm, etc., by Lindsay Swift. The Macmillan Company, New York, 1900. This is the best account of Brook Farm extant.

The leading men in the movement were undoubtedly Emerson, Alcott, Channing, Hedge, and last, but not least, the Rev. George Ripley. Many other people of like temper and character, especially in New England, doubtless gave support to the cult, if it can be properly so designated. The subject of this memoir was undoubtedly in sympathy with the movement from the time he first began to understand its tendencies, and in order to inform [36] himself at the fountain-head of its doctrines as set forth in the speculations of Kant, Spinoza, and Schelling, he early began the study of German; and by the time he left college had sufficiently mastered that language to regard himself as competent to teach it. Many years afterwards, during the war between the States, as Major-General Carl Schurz, Mr. Dana, and I were riding from Knoxville to Chattanooga, those two distinguished dialecticians beguiled the weary hours in conversation carried on indifferently in both German and English. In one of the pauses Dana remarked:

General Schurz, you speak English with greater purity and precision than any man I have ever known.

Whereupon General Schurz rejoined:

Well, Herr Dana

(which he pronounced with the broad a), “you speak German better than any man I ever heard speak it who was not born and educated in Germany.”

The compliment in each case seems to have been fully justified.

The Brook Farm Association was undoubtedly a Transcendental movement, inasmuch as it was the outgrowth of pure idealism. The germ of the plan may have sprung from the Neuhof of Pestalozzi, who was a Transcendentalist, but Ripley always insisted that it was an evolution of “pure idealism.” It was organized tentatively in the winter of 1840, at which time Ripley decided to buy the farm from which the organization took its name, and to “make himself responsible for its management and success.” In April of the next year, with his wife and sister and some fifteen others, he took possession of the farm-house and out-buildings already on the estate. The first six months were spent in “getting started,” and in organizing the “Brook Farm Institute of Agriculture and education,” which constituted the special attraction [37] to Dana, who joined late in September and took part in forming the articles of association, getting subscriptions to the stock, and in electing the officers of the institute.

The par value of the shares was fixed at five hundred dollars each, of which Dana took three and Ripley three; the rest, in all twenty-four shares, were taken by various others, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, in lots of one, two, and three shares. The favorite number seems to have been three. Of the entire amount subscribed only one third was actually paid in. The property consisted of about one hundred and ninety-two acres, and was situated in the town of Roxbury, on the road leading from Dedham to Watertown, about nine miles from Boston. The purchase price was ten thousand five hundred dollars, six thousand of which was secured by a mortgage “for three years and twenty-one days.” This was followed at once by a second mortgage for five thousand dollars, from which it will be seen that the place was mortgaged to start with for five hundred dollars more than it cost. Dana, although adolescent and without any capital whatever, was at once elected recording secretary, one of the three trustees, and a member of the committee of finance, and also of the committee on education.

The sole asset of the association was the farm, mortgaged at the start for more than its value, while its only dependence for actual income was the farm produce which might be grown, and the charge for tuition and board which would be furnished to such as might join the institute. I have given these details for the purpose of showing that the association, whatever might have been its merits as a business undertaking, and however unsound or visionary may have been the principles and aims on which it was founded, was fore-doomed to failure, primarily for lack of capital. It was doubtless an honest and unselfish [38] effort at co-operation, but it ought to have been manifest to its supporters from the first day that the association was too limited in membership, ant included too few of the various interdependent vocations of life to justify the slightest hope of success. Although every member of the association was to receive pay for his work, and give pay for what he got, it ought to have been apparent that neither the farm, with its short hours of unskilled labor, nor the school with its limited attendants, could possibly earn enough to sustain the enterprise and keep it out of bankruptcy.

It is worthy of note, however, that notwithstanding its insufficiency of capital and its paucity of production, the association sustained itself and perhaps gained a little on its initial strength for about five years.

The simplicity of life and the insufficiency of the charges at Brook Farm are well indicated by a letter from George W. Curtis and his brother Burrill, belonging to a well-to-do New York family, written in a beautiful hand to Dana in March, 1842. It runs as follows:

We received on Wednesday a letter from Mr. Ripley. He puts the price of board at three dollars, being less than the usual price by one dollar. Can you inform us whether this one dollar is to be considered by us as the compensation for our labor? If not, what is the rate of compensation? And will the difference of age between us (my brother being eighteen and I twenty) make a difference in this rate? If so, what?

The charge for washing is five dollars and fifty cents per quarter. I presume this will not be varied, will it?

Will you also inform us whether we are to carry with us such furniture as we need or not?

Also, the best mode of conveyance out of Boston.

If you are unable to reply personally, will you please drop an answer to the care of George Curtis, Esq., cashier, Bank of Commerce, New York?


This letter must have been preceded by another, which has not been found, from these interesting brothers, for on March 18, 1842, Ripley wrote to Dana, who had evidently gone to New York on business, as follows:

... We have just received an application which we are inclined to think a good deal of from two Transcendental brothers, James Burrill and George William Curtis, natives of Providence, I suppose, but now apparently residents in New York. They are young men, eighteen and twenty, with high ideal aims, and seem to seek our community, as an emblem or an attempt to realize what they yearn for. They wish to board with us, and work some three or four hours daily on such work as city-bred youth can apply themselves to. Their letter is a gem. So, too, I hope are they. I infer from what they say, though not quite distinct, that they want to see how they like us and we shall like them, and then, if all is right, become one, or rather two, of us. It is decided to receive them for three months at three dollars a week, etc. I shall write them to that effect to-morrow or next day. Pray find them out and open to them our Scripture, as you did to Greeley. They ask me to address them care of George Curtis, Bank of Commerce, New York. You can soon see whether they are of us and should be with us.

I am glad you had the talk you did with Mrs. Child; to be sure, we can see no way open just now by which they could join us this month or the next month, or the month after, but I cannot give up the inner faith that all who truly belong with us will find their way here, as surely as the wild duck finds the south in winter, and no want of externals can prevent it. We are in a prosperous state enough now, exteriorly, I fancy; perhaps too much so. I almost dread the effect of being allowed not to struggle with poverty and other hardships: and to meet this danger we must gather in those who are disinterested and magnanimous through and through: those who see and love our idea as we do ourselves, and are willing to live for it, which is no doubt a good deal harder than to die for it, since one is a much longer process than the other. [40]

It is clear, I think, that we are the first to attempt the organization of a society on purely democratic, Christian principles, and though I agree with you that we are not the last hope of Divine Providence, I cannot but believe that our principles are like seed — corn for the nations-and our pea-jackets, blue frocks, and cowhide, if you please, the compost on which they are planted. At any rate, if a blue frock cannot be metamorphosed into a prophet's robe or an angel's wing, why is it any better than the tattered surplice of the priest?

How do you spend your time in the city of cities? I can hardly fancy you a gay man about town, and I suppose you must be rather homesick by this time.

I almost forgot to mention a very piquant visit we had from a come-outing Shaker the other day, who gave me a great deal of light on the inside of Shakerism. It is a detestable, miserly, barren aristocracy, without a grain of humanity about it. Enormous wealth is made at the expense of all manly pursuits and attainments.

One of the most interesting contemporary letters I have found in reference to this novel experiment in sociology was written by Horace Greeley to Charles A. Dana, from New York, August 29, 1842; and as it is the earliest record of their acquaintance, and besides contains an important statement of some of the dangers which threatened at the time, it is given with no omission except the address and closing paragraph, both of which were purely formal:

I received yours of the 24th on Saturday evening, at Albany, having spent Friday and Saturday there on business. I take the very first opportunity to thank you and the community for your kindness. I shall write to Mrs. Greeley today, and presume you will hear from her directly-probably in the course of the week. I cannot doubt that she will be very happy to accept your obliging offer. She is still at Watertown, very eligibly situated in most respects, but almost [41] isolated from society, which in her state of virtual blindness, so far as reading and study are concerned, is a great privation indeed. With you she will find all she needs, and I hope her recovery to health and vision will be sure and rapid. It will be a great satisfaction to me in every way to know that she is with you, not only on her account, but my own, as I hope sometime to be able to steal two or three days from my distracting, harassing occupation to pay her a visit, and yours is just the place that I should like to find her.

And now a word in answer to the suggestions in your last. I do not deny the advantage of your plan for a community of which every member shall be actuated solely by a true Christianity or a genuine manfulness — a disposition to bear others' burdens, and to count it happiness to do and suffer for the indolent and unthankful. Yet can we hope to bring the world suddenly or speedily to this frame of mind? I fear not. Well, let us suppose that in a community of one hundred persons there shall be two or three who cherish a disposition to enjoy and not earn-to be helped by others and not help others. What then? Will not their example weigh terribly on the spirits and influence the conduct of all? Will not the spirit of self-denial in A be sorely tried by seeing that the only effect of its exercise is to confirm B in selfishness, indolence, and uselessness? Nay, more: Is not the world now filled with people who would think themselves valuable members of a community while doing little or nothing for its welfare and employing the time of two members each in their own personal service? I think I have known such. Hence my fear for your system — that it is adapted only to angelic natures, and that the entrance of one serpent would be as fatal as in Eden of old. I think Fourier's system avoids this danger, by having a rampart of exact justice behind that of philanthropy. With this no one will be tempted to say why shall I labor, when another in wanton idleness consumes the product? Why shall I assume unpleasant functions, when others avoid them and in secret laugh at my easy good-nature?

I know you will pardon my frankness and pertinacity; for you know that my interest in the subject is almost painful. [42] I have encountered much opposition and ridicule on account of what I have published and the little I have written in favor of association, and have shocked the prejudices of many worthy friends, some of whom have stopped my paper on account of this, and all been chilled in their friendship by my unyielding fanaticism. All this is nothing: but the failure of your experiment would be something. My world would have a darker sky than now. Understand, then, my friend, that I would not have you change anything which works well with you (for I am an ingrain conservative as well as radical), but should circumstances of discouragement ever arise, I would have you prepared to meet and overcome them, readily and signally. Do not let anything daunt you, much less destroy. I hear awful predictions of your overthrow, at which I trust you smile, but which to a distant friend may well cause some little anxiety. I hope I shall yet live to see the infidels confounded-no, converted. Do you ever read that quaint, devout old record by Ezra of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem?

I am lecturing you too freely. Enough.

But this wise and pathetic letter, although it points out weaknesses in the association which must have destroyed it ultimately, even if the original insufficiency of capital had not proved to be fatal, it did not, so far as can now be discovered, discourage those who had practical charge of the management. Dana, in whom we are principally interested, went sturdily about his daily task. When scholars began to come to the institute, he taught, and taught well, whether the lessons were in Greek, German, or Spanish. When he had no scholars, he worked on the farm at whatever came handiest, but seems to have preferred feeding and milking the cows and looking after the dairy. When neither of these departments claimed his attention, he wrote for the Dial, and afterwards for the Harbinger, or delivered lectures and talks wherever he had an audience. He was cheery and alert in his tasks. In [43] fact, he was regarded, because of his clerical experience, as a sort of business expert and manager, and as such avoided no duty and shirked no responsibility.

It should be remembered that the association was a joint-stock, not an incorporated, company. Every person who held one or more shares was considered a member, and was allowed one vote for each share. The stock was non-assessable. The property was vested in and held by four trustees. The interest on the stock was to be paid in certificates of stock, although any holder, if he preferred, might have the amount of interest due him from any unappropriated cash on hand. But, as might have been expected, mortgages grew faster than cash in the treasury. After three years experience, and much discussion, it was decided to convert the association into a “Phalanx,” in accordance with the system of Fourier, whose writings were at that time attracting a good deal of attention in both Europe and America. But this was a change in name rather than a change in character. Withal, much had been said and written about the Brook Farm community. Its fame had been widely spread. Many interesting and earnest men and women who favored plain living and high thinking had given it their approval and support, and a still larger number were watching it with hopeful attention. Visitors poured in from various parts of the country, and especially from New England. They were received with boundless hospitality and a hearty welcome. Food and entertainment were at first furnished free of charge to all important visitors; but when it is remembered that as many as four thousand visitors were registered in one year, it becomes apparent that this alone would in the end certainly bankrupt the concern no matter how successful it might be otherwise. Hence it was finally decided to make a minimum charge for board and lodging furnished to transient visitors. [44] But neither this economy nor new subscriptions to the stock could save the experiment. Still its expenses increased, the deficit grew, and a fourth mortgage was negotiated and placed upon the property. It should be said in fairness, however, that the community had continued to grow till it had become too numerous for the original accommodations, and hence it was necessary to build a larger, more commodious, and better arranged house, which under the new organization was to be known as the “Phalanstery.” Its estimated cost was about ten thousand dollars, of which about seven thousand dollars had been raised on stock, when, through carelessness of the carpenters, the house, which was approaching completion, took fire and was totally destroyed. This occurred on the night of March 3, 1846, and proved to be a disaster from the effects of which it was impossible to rescue the association. No further stock could be sold, and while Ripley and his associates stood up bravely for a few months longer, during which Ripley completed the sacrifice of his library to pay the final debts, which amounted after all to less than a thousand dollars, the place was closed, and the community was scattered to take up less ideal but more practical pursuits in the greater world about them.

The farm was a beautiful one, admirably adapted to dairy purposes. It had been skillfully and honestly managed by an expert farmer. The old farm-house, romantically designated as “The Hive,” with its subsidiary buildings, “The cottage,” “The Eyrie,” and the stables were prettily situated, and the whole place, with its collection of clever men and charming women, was most attractive. As a consequence, the farm grew in value from the start, and when it was sold, in 1849, it brought, at public auction, nineteen thousand one hundred and fifty dollars, or a sum sufficient to pay off all the mortgages, executions, and [45] accumulated interest, and leave a clear balance of seventeen hundred and four dollars to be applied to other claims against the “Phalanx.” Thus it is seen that in the end the Brook Farm Association, as well as its successor, the Brook Farm Phalanx, went out of business with only a trifling loss. This, as before stated, was assumed and paid by Dr. Ripley, and in this manner the business honor of all concerned was saved from reproach. The farm today belongs to the Association of the Evangelical Lutheran Church for Works of Mercy, and is used as a shelter for homeless children.

The society gathered there under the auspices of Dr. Ripley was a most interesting one. It counted among its most distinguished members Hawthorne, the author of the Blithedale Romance, which has been styled “The Epic of Brook Farm” ;1 George William Curtis and his brother; Margaret Fuller; the Macdaniel family; John S. Dwight; J. T. Codman; Albert Brisbane; and a number of lesser lights who have disappeared from the annals of the times. Although the organization doubtless owed much to the influence of Emerson and W. H. Channing, it is a noteworthy circumstance that while they gave it their countenance and moral support neither ever formally became a member.

Hawthorne, who was one of the earliest subscribers, severed his relations with the association by a letter on October 17, 1842, addressed to Dana as secretary. It runs as follows:

I ought, some time ago, to have tendered my resignation as an associate of the Brook Farm Institute, but I have been unwilling to feel myself entirely disconnected with you. As I can see but little prospect, however, of returning to you, it becomes proper for me now to take the final step. But no [46] longer a brother of your band, I shall always take the warmest interest in your progress, and shall heartily rejoice at your success — of which I can see no reasonable doubt.

It is proper to add that the organization in both of its forms was based strictly on the principles of mutual association, from which it never departed. It believed heartily in co-operation but never became in the slightest degree communistic. It never indulged in the delusion that each member should have an equal profit in the earnings and advantages of the association, but held to the last that these should be divided according to the respective interests of the share-holders. It never opened its doors to the world at large, but selected its members from the best of those asking to be admitted. Its plan was to pay each member fairly for his work, and charge a fair price for what each person got. Manifestly a society of this sort might continue to flourish so long as it chose its members with proper care, sold its stock for a sufficiently high price, and had a membership sufficiently large to include all the necessary human pursuits, with a market of outsiders sufficiently near to buy its surplus products at remunerative prices. Whatever may have been the merits or demerits of the plan on which the association was founded, and however fanciful may have been its ideals, with its “groups and phalanxes,” its “hives and eyries,” its membership included many of the highest and brightest minds of the day. “Their character was approved.” They lived in the ordinary privacy, except that they boarded together and spent their evenings in talk, music, and dancing, upon which there was no bar. They were idealists who hoped to evolve a superior form of society, but there was too little capital and not enough profitable work to insure the success of their interesting experiment. [47]

Such readers as may desire to know more about the detail of this novel but Utopian association, will find an interesting account of it in Lindsay Swift's Brook Farm, from which what I have said in this narrative has been largely drawn.

Whatever may have been its influence on others, it was undoubtedly of substantial advantage to Charles A. Dana. This is clearly shown not only by his subsequent career, but by the following verbal quotation from Mr. Swift's book, for which I desire to express my acknowledgments to the author and to his publishers, the Macmillan Company:

Dana seems not to have defied worldly custom either in the matter of blouses or unusual hair; in fact, he was not especially responsive to the little caprices of his fellows, and seldom joined in the merriment, but was always on hand for the serious affairs, having been made a trustee soon after his arrival. He not only worked and taught well, but sang well, and was bass in a choir which, according to Arthur Sumner, sang a “Kyrie Eleison” night and day. “It seems to me,” adds Sumner, “that they sang it rather often.” One admirable bit of training for his future profession Dana acquired through his connection with the Harbinger, to which he was a frequent contributor. Many of his articles were youthful and imitative-hardly better than any well-brought — up young fellow might produce. The mannerisms of the sturdy English reviewing of the day sat heavily upon him, and he was constantly dismissing the victims of his disapproval with the familiar conge of the British quarterlies. Short poems and literary notices formed the major part of his work, but it is unnecessary to particularize the amount or quality of what he did. It was all excellent practice. Poe, Cooper, and Anthon were his youthful hatreds.

According to Colonel Higginson, the “Professor” was “the best all-round man at Brook Farm, but was held not to be quite so zealous or unselfish for the faith as were some of the others,” though his speeches in Boston and elsewhere were [48] most effective. Dana was at that time a very young man, with the faults, but with all the splendor and promise, of youth. No one has criticized the fidelity of his work at the school, and no one, not excepting Ripley, spoke more fervidly than Dana in the cause of association. He was wise, if not wholly ingenuous, for he had the sagacity, at the meeting held in December, 1843, to advocate a continuance of associationism for Brook Farm, while the followers of Brisbane, bringer of huge programmes and unnumbered woes, proclaimed the virtues of modified Fourierism. Dana lost the toss, but did not forsake the field. On the contrary, even after the flames of the Phalanstery swelt up vertically the holes of five years, he still valiantly preached the faith delivered to the saints.

As a mature man the great editor found so few causes on which he could lavish his vanishing enthusiasm that it is a pleasure to recall his scrupulous adhesion to the doctrines of association until those doctrines became normally merged into vaster and more immediate problems. His name ranks in importance with Orvis and Allen as a lecturer, although he probably did not, so often as they, address the public. But when he talked he was influential. On the platform Dana had no especial fluency, but he did have the compensating graces of frankness and a natural manner. On one occasion he defended, and most honestly, ambition as “the greatest of the four social passions.” This it was, the speaker argued, which brought the associates together in order to better social conditions. It corresponds to the seventh note of music, requiring for completeness the striking of the eighth note, which belongs also to the octave beyond. To strike these notes is to arrive at a final object, the higher unity. Noble and straightforward sentiments, but born, one would hardly think, of that “mordaunt and luminous spirit,” as Dana was afterwards remembered. In Dana, however, there were memories, some of them tender, for these sincerer days. Dana, who wore no emotions on his sleeve, never forgot, and never in word, however much in conduct, repudiated Brook Farm. No abler or more sympathetic tribute has ever been paid to the association than was spoken by him at the University [49] of Michigan on January 21, 1895. The charm of the life, the causes of failure, his own experiences, are all candidly and gracefully told. Mr. Ripley is mentioned with respect and cordiality. Where the treasure is there will the heart be also. Charles Dana, who laughed at much which some men hold dear, never vilipended his own experience at Brook Farm, though it is a matter of conjecture whether he retained faith in any particular reform, social or political. He took pains in this lecture to deny that there was any communism in the experiment. Nothing in his nature would have responded to that principle. The real trouble at Brook Farm to him was evident: “it didn't pay” ; but he insisted that the breaking up was regretted by all who shared the life there. He severed his own connection soon after the fire, at which he did not chance to be present, and secured work in Boston on the Chronotype at five dollars a week.

But returning to the life at Brook Farm, which had such an important bearing upon the development of Dana's character, let me quote further from his correspondence with Dr. Ripley. This is necessarily occasional because they were separated but seldom. Both stuck closely to the work they had undertaken. Dana was, however, occasionally absent on business, and during the trip to New York, already alluded to, Ripley wrote, April 10, 1842, as follows:

The best news I have heard for some time is that you will be with us next Sunday, for though no one, I suppose, is essential to the life of another, we miss you sadly at every turn, and it hardly seems as if our Brook ran as pleasantly as usual while you are not here. Since Braddy left us, the boys have had “little Latin and less Greek,” that is to say, none at all of either, except regular doses in the grammar. We are going on famously in algebra, however; I like to teach it and the boys take hold of it well: to say nothing of a large class-boys and girls, Minot and all, two evenings in the week. Salisbury [50] came the day we expected him: he is “a sweet youth and tall,” greatly addicted to study and a prime hand with the kine. He takes the place of our worthy Mr. Dunbar, with whom, gracious mercy! we parted friendly two or three weeks ago. Hill has arrived, and is perched up in the new house, which perhaps you know we have christened the “Eyrey” : because I suppose, there are no eagles there, only doves and such poultry. Nobody else, I believe, has come; not even my lover Lamed, from whom I hope not much.

I am glad you are seeing all sorts of people, and talking to some of them about our wild notions. Tell me all you know of the Curtises: do they mean to join us by-and-by, or come they merely as spectators? What corner or crevice can we find for Mrs. Greeley: I see not: perhaps, we can make one before the summer is over. At Avery's I am sure, she would be homesick: besides, we should scarcely see her there, or she us. We are very glad to get the Tribune every week, as we do from Mr. Greeley: it is as pleasant an avenue as we could have wherewith to communicate with the Babel world it comes from.

One bad thing alone belongs to your coming back, we sha'n't get any letters from you: we shall miss them so much that you will have to write us now and then, and send your letters from house to house.

Dana's tastes and inclinations during his connection with Brook Farm, while primarily occupied in completing his education according to his preconceived notions, naturally led him to write for such journals as would pay him for his contributions. As the Dial at first, and the Harbinger afterwards, were the official organs of the association, he by preference wrote much for them, but as he covered a multitude of subjects, it would be difficult to summarize what he said. While it was thoughtful, vigorous, and virile, it was like much which goes to make up the sum of our daily lives, of but little permanent value. It broadened and strengthened his mind and cultivated [51] his style, which became steadily more practical and direct and less fanciful and florid. The life of actual labor combined with his intellectual pursuits had strengthened his body, improved his eyesight, and increased his confidence in himself, and this was of the first importance to him at least.

The Harbinger was published for about two years, beginning in June, 1845. It was edited mainly by Dr. Ripley; but in this as in everything else Dana seems to have been his principal assistant and understudy. It was issued both in Boston and New York, and while Curtis, Cranch, Lowell, Dwight, Osborne Macdaniel, and many others, were regular or occasional writers, Dana was evidently the principal one. In the first three volumes his activity is particularly noticeable. He wrote editorials, essays, book reviews, poems, and bright, clever notes on many subjects. To the fourth volume, published mostly after Dana had married and removed to New York, he also appears as a contributor, but his articles were necessarily less numerous. In his earlier contributions he frequently and fully sets forth the principles on which the association was founded, and to those he did not fail to add elaborate statements of his own views on universal association and the regeneration of society.

His first editorial leader for the Harbinger appears to have been published in June, 1845, and was on the subject of “Commerce.” While the limits of this memoir will not permit the quotation of this entire article, its conclusion is so pertinent to existing conditions that I give it as follows:

... From intimate acquaintance of many years with commercial life, and from careful observation of both large and small commercial transactions, we are constrained to believe that in commerce absolute and complete honesty, integral [52] Christian honesty, is impossible. This is a broad and strong assertion, but we appeal to the inmost consciousness of those of our readers who are acquainted with the matter if it be not true. There was truth and justice in the action of the Saviour, when he drove the merchants out of the temple, telling them they had made it a den of thieves. Modern commerce wears a more decent coat, perhaps, but underneath it is but little altered. Whatever exceptions we may find, all will admit that its constant tendency is to destroy individual integrity. Is not this enough to condemn civilized commerce, and incite us to substitute for it a system of guarantees and security, by removing commerce entirely from the grasp of individual selfishness? The method of doing this with security and advantage is known to us; we shall hereafter take occasion to bring it forward.

So far as I am able to ascertain, Dana did not bring forward his method of freeing commerce from the grasp of individual selfishness. Perhaps, after all, he came to the conclusion that it was a subject beyond his powers, though he may have included his treatment of it in his disquisitions upon the scope and advantages of “Universal Association,” as found in various numbers of the Harbinger.

In a review of Downing's Fruit and Fruit Trees of America, he reached a conclusion to which but few people of the present day will object. It runs as follows:

There are many in the list of gentlemen whose aid he (Downing) acknowledges which bring before us golden and purple recollections, visions of fruits which in themselves are arguments enough against the doctrine that the earth is accursed and the mother of no good thing. If any man believe that social harmony is impossible we will agree to silence his most obstinate assertions with some of the pears named in Mr. Downing's catalogue. No one whose soul such flavors had ever approached could refuse to assent to the most glowing anticipations of the Future of Mankind.


In another article he condemned Poe's Tales, then attracting wide attention, as “clumsily contrived, unnatural, and every way in bad taste,” while in still another he commends Martin Farquhar Tupper's “Crock of gold” as a poem which

abounds in beautiful passages, is written in a nervous, straightforward style, is free from sentimentalism, and shows that the author is a man of good sense as the world goes, besides something more.

It is curious to note in passing how the world, and Dana himself for that matter, have reversed both of these opinions, and yet it took many years to do it. As given here they show how completely a man's judgment may be reversed by the lapse of time.

Among other notable articles which Dana contributed to the Harbinger is one on the universality of humbug, another combating the idea that interest on capital is wrong, and a third on “Irish repeal.”

Whatever we way conclude as to the correctness of the sentiments quoted above, we must admit that they are expressed in clear and vigorous prose, which it would be difficult to improve. But our aspiring writer did not content himself with prose. Indeed, the family tradition is that, under the guidance of a favorite aunt, he began to write poetry at the early age of eight. Some of his lines are still occasionally quoted by his daughters. After his connection was made with Brook Farm he resumed the practice, and as early as April, 1842, contributed to the Dial a poem of fifteen lines entitled “Herzliebste.” This was followed in July by one of fourteen lines on “Eternity.” The next year he wrote for the same paper “Manfulness” and “Via Sacra.” In 1844 he wrote a touching tribute of sixteen lines to his friend Robert Bartlett, who had been reported as dead, also another to [54] “Edelfrida.” Throughout the year 1845 his muse seems to have been more prolific, for he published in the Harbinger “Auf Wiedlersehen,” which was followed by a hymn, “Les attractions sont Proportionelle aux Destines” after Novalis, “Ad Arma,” “The Secret” (from the German of Seidl), “The beauty of the earth” (from the German of Ruchert), “Mutual longing” (from the German of Heine), “To the Moon” (from the German of Holty). The next year, 1846, he published the “Bankrupt,” “Erotis,” “Patience” (from the German of Spitta), “The question” (from the German of Heine), and “Memnon.” Of these “Erotis” is the longest and “Memnon” the best. Those of the last two years were all published in the Harbinger, from which they obtained some circulation, but I cannot learn that any of them outlived the year of its birth, or passed permanently into the literature of the period. Indeed, there is one good reason to believe that the author finally condemned them himself, for he enshrined none of them in the American Household Book of Poetry, a well-known and widely circulated book of the best short poems in the language, of which he was the compiler. He doubtless gave his own poetic children every consideration to which he thought they were entitled, as they were found among his personal effects clearly transcribed, and done up ready for the printer, but several of them had been carefully crossed out with the blue pencil from the pages on which they were copied at the date of their production. It is proper to say, however, that in 1885 Mr. Dana himself selected three of these early poems to appear in a volume entitled Representative Poems of Living Poets, compiled by Miss Jeannette L. Gilder, and published in 1886. Mr. Dana's selections were “Eternity,” “Herzliebste,” and “Manfulness.” As fair specimens of the whole, I call attention to the three which follow: [55]

Via Sacra

Slowly along the crowded street I go,
Marking with reverent look each passer's face,
Seeking, and not in vain, in each to trace
That primal soul whereof he is the show.
For here still move, by many eyes unseen,
The blessed gods that erst Olympus kept;
Through every guise these lofty forms serene
Declare the all-holding Life hath never slept;
But known each thrill that in man's heart hath been,
And every tear that his sad eyes have wept;
Alas for us! the heavenly visitants-
We greet them still as most unwelcome guests,
Answering their smile with hateful looks askance,
Their sacred speech with foolish, bitter jests:
But oh! what is it to imperial Jove
That this poor world refuses all his love?

To R. B.2
Beloved friend! they say that thou are dead,
Nor shall our asking eyes behold thee more,
Save in the company of the fair and dread,
Along the radiant and immortal shore,
Whither thy face was turned for evermore,
Thou wert a pilgrim towards the True and Real,
Never forgetful of that infinite goal;
Salient, electrical, thy weariless soul,
To every faintest vision always leal,
Ever midst those phantoms made its world ideal.
And so thou hast a most perennial fame,
Though from the earth thy name should perish quite:
When the dear sun sinks golden whence he came,
The gloom, else cheerless, hath not lost his light;
So in our lives impulses born of thine,
Like fireside stars across the night shall shine.



Dear, noble soul, wisely thy lot thou bearest;
For, like a god toiling in earthly slavery,
Fronting thy sad fate with a joyous bravery,
Each darker day a sunnier mien thou wearest.
No grief can touch thy sweet and spiritual smile;
No pain is keen enough that it has power
Over thy childlike love, that all the while
Upon this cold earth builds its heavenly bower;
And thus with thee bright angels make their dwelling,
Bringing thee stores of strength where no man knoweth;
The ocean-stream from God's heart ever swelling,
That forth through each least thing in Nature goeth,
In thee, oh, truest Hero, deeper floweth:--
With joy I bathe, and many souls beside
Feel a new life in the celestial tide.

These poems show that Dana was going through a period of mental activity and development in which every faculty was cultivated to the highest degree by study, reflection, and composition. Surely and steadily the idealist and dreamer was laying down his illusions and taking up the methods of a practical business-man. He was then, and remained throughout his life, devoted to idealism, poetry, and romance, but never after that time did he allow either to lead him away from the practical duties of the hour.

It is worthy of passing notice that Dana for a part of this period also kept a book of quotations which abounds in extracts from Coleridge, Longfellow, Wordsworth, Carlyle, Motherwell, Cousin, Considerant, Fourier, Schiller, Goethe, Spinoza, Heine, Herman, Kepler, Bruno, Novalis, Bohme, Swedenborg, Virgil, Horace, Cicero, Thucydides, Euripides, and Sallust. It is still more worthy of notice that they were made always in the script and language in which they were written, whether it was English, German, [57] French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Danish, Latin, or Greek. These extracts consist of lofty thoughts and sentiments, which necessarily touched responsive chords in his own soul, or else they would not have been gathered. They are of interest not only because of the sentiments and principles they inculcate, but because they show a growing familiarity on the part of the student with both ancient and modern literature.

From the foregoing statement it is evident that the five years Dana passed at Brook Farm with the friends he loved had gone far to prepare him for the battle of life. They brought him many benefits for which he always remained grateful, but the greatest benefit and blessing which it brought him was his life partner and wife. Among the clever and interesting people gathered there were the Macdaniel family, consisting of a widowed mother with her three children, one son and two daughters. They were from Maryland, where the family was long settled. They brought with them an air of refinement which always characterized them. The youngest member of the family was Eunice, an attractive and spirited girl, with black and sparkling eyes, and a slight but erect and energetic figure. If her mind had dwelt in the form of a man, it must have been regarded as a notable one. It impelled her to do her full part not only as a member of the community, but in the long and beautiful life to which it introduced her as a wife and mother. During her stay at Brook Farm, she is said to have had serious intentions of becoming an actress, but notwithstanding this somewhat romantic purpose, she was not unmindful of the practical affairs of life, and became an efficient member of the housekeepers' group. Whether from the experience she gained in that way, or from her natural aptitudes, she became famous in her married life as one of the most accomplished housewives of her time. She was from the [58] first a self-centred person who knew her own powers, and formed her own opinions. In due time she won the admiration of Charles Dana, who offered her his heart and hand with all his worldly goods. As has been seen, he was far from rich, but this was no bar. Fortunately even in those days money counted for little, while character was regarded as a matter of prime importance. They were married at 39 Walker Street, New York, on March 2, 1846. This, it should be noted, was the day before the Phalanstery was burned, and satisfactorily accounts for the fact that Dana was not at the fire. With their lives linked by the sacred ties of husband and wife, and having as yet no permanent home, they were literally compelled to go forth into the world to meet such fortune as life had in store for them.

Dana is described at that time as “a handsome man, not after the graceful type of the Curtises, but masculine, yet so slender as to seem tall. He had a firm, expressive face, regular and clear-cut, a scholar's forehead, auburn hair, and a full beard. Strong in mind and general physique, he conveyed the impression of force, whether he moved or spoke. In his old age he preserved a look of virility and determination, though hardheadedness clearly predominated over graciousness. He was, at Brook Farm, kindly mannered, and gave a pleasant impression to those who met him, while a natural dignity kept him from many of the extravagances into which some of the others easily fell. He showed a taste for tie farm-work, which later, when success gave opportunity, grew into a fondness for live-stock and all the accompaniments of a country life. An admirable nervous and muscular strength explains much of Dana's capacity for successful work.” 3

The newly wedded couple continued their connection for a few months with Brook Farm, and Dana did all he [59] could to sustain the sinking hearts of his associates, but he could not conceal from himself, at least, that the end had come. Some two years before he had made an arrangement to write for the Boston Daily Chronotype for four dollars per week, and now that Brook Farm had failed him, this small weekly compensation was his main dependence. With the expense of a young wife added to his own it was pitifully inadequate. He doubtless contributed “pot — boilers” to other journals, but withal he was face to face with the necessity for a new departure, and made haste to abandon idealism and associationism for the more practical if less romantic struggle that was before him.

After the failure of Brook Farm had deprived Dana of steady occupation, he sought and obtained closer relations with the Chronotype, and was formally employed by its owner and editor, Elizur Wright, to read the exchanges, edit the news, and make himself generally useful. It was also understood that during Wright's absence Dana should act as editor, but all without additional compensation. The newspaper was an orthodox publication, and was therefore a great favorite with the Congregational ministers of Massachusetts. As an evidence of the young writer's independence of thought, and of his radical departure from the gloomy doctrines of Calvin, as well, perhaps, as an instance of his growing sense of humor, Wright used to relate the following anecdote with evident satisfaction. On the occasion of a temporary absence from the city his paper came out “mighty strong against hell,” t the astonishment of the subscribers as well as of the responsible editor. In referring to this incident years after Dana had come to be a great editor, Mr. Wright said it gave him a great deal of trouble at the time, as it obliged him to write a personal letter to every Congregational minister in Massachusetts, and to many of the deacons [60] besides, explaining that the paper's apparent change of doctrinal attitude was due to no change of faith on his own part, but to the fact that it had been left temporarily in charge of “a young man without journalistic experience.”

It has been seen that Dana had already made the acquaintance of Horace Greeley, who was fast becoming, with his Tribune and his facile pen, one of the most influential men in the country. It has been seen too that Greeley and his wife were sympathetic with Brook Farm, and especially so with its doctrines and plans. This sympathy was doubtless the initial influence which led to Dana's connection with the Tribune, and to the long personal and professional intimacy which grew up between these remarkable men.

As a matter of interest, I have added in an appendix4 the address on Brook Farm already mentioned, which was delivered at the University of Michigan in January, 1895. So far as the comparatively brief compass of this address permits, it is probably the most enlightening exposition of the society, its aims and character.

1 Brook Farm etc., by Lindsay Swift, p. 171. The Macmillan Company, published , New York.

2 Robert Bartlett.

3 Swift, Brook Farm, pp. 151, 152.

4 Page 517.

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