EARLY LETTERS OF GEORGE WM. CURTIS
JOHN S. DWIGHT: Brook Farm and Concord
Edited by George Willis Cooke
EARLY LIFE AT BROOK FARM AND CONCORD EARLY LETTERS TO JOHN S. DWIGHT LETTERS OF LATER DATE
EARLY LIFE AT BROOK FARM AND CONCORD
George William Curtis was born in Providence, February 24, 1824. From the age of six to eleven he was in the school of C.W. Greene at Jamaica Plain, and then, until he was fifteen, attended school in Providence. His brother Burrill, two years older, was his inseparable companion, and they were strongly attached to each other. About 1835 Curtis came under the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was heard by him in Providence, and who commanded his boyish admiration. Burrill Curtis has said of this interest of himself and his brother that it proved to be the cardinal event of their youth; and what this experience was he has described.
"I still recall," he says, "the impressions produced by Emerson's delivery of his address on 'The Over-Soul' in Mr. Hartshorn's school-room in Providence. He seemed to speak as an inhabitant of heaven, and with the inspiration and authority of a prophet. Although a large part of the matter of that discourse, when reduced to its lowest terms, does not greatly differ from the commonplaces of piety and religion, yet its form and its tone were so fresh and vivid that they made the matter also seem to be uttered for the first time, and to be a direct outcome from the inmost source of the highest truth. We heard Emerson lecture frequently, and made his personal acquaintance. My enthusiastic admiration of him and his writings soon mounted to a high and intense hero-worship, which, when it subsided, seems to have left me ever since incapable of attaching myself as a follower to any other man. How far George shared such feelings, if at all, I cannot precisely say; but he so far shared my enthusiastic admiration as to be led a willing captive to Emerson's attractions, and to the incidental attractions of the movement of which he was the head; and Emerson always continued to command from us both the sincerest reverence and homage."
Burrill went so far as to discontinue the use of money and animal food; both the brothers discarded the conventional costumes in matters of dress, and their interest was enlisted in the reforms of the day. The family removed to New York in 1839, George studied at home with tutors, and was an attendant at the church of Dr. Orville Dewey.
The warm and active interest of the brothers in the Transcendental movement, in all its phases, led them to propose to their father that he permit them to attend the school connected with the Brook Farm Association. Permission having been granted, they became boarders there in the spring or summer of 1842. At no time were they members of the association, and they paid for their board and tuition as they would have done at any seminary or college.
At this time the Brook Farm Association had two sources of income—the farm of about two hundred acres, and the school which was carried on in connection therewith. In fact, the school was more largely profitable than the farm, and was for a time well patronized by those who were in general sympathy with the leaders of the association. George Ripley was the teacher in philosophy and mathematics, George P. Bradford in literature, John S. Dwight in Latin and music, Charles A. Dana in Greek and German, and John S. Brown in theoretical and practical agriculture. A six years' course was arranged in preparation for college, and three years were given to acquiring a knowledge of farming. The pupils were required to work one hour each day, the idea being that this was conducive to sound intellectual training.
It would seem, however, that Curtis gave only a part of his time to study, as is indicated in a letter written to his father in June, 1843, and published in the admirable biography by Mr. Edward Gary. "My life is summery enough here," he writes. "We breakfast at six, and from seven to twelve I am at work. After dinner, these fair days permit no homage but to their beauty, and I am fain to woo their smiles in the shades and sunlights of the woods. A festal life for one before whom the great stretches which must be sailed; yet this summer air teaches sea life-navigation, and I listen to the flowing streams, and to the cool rush of the winds among the trees, with an increase of that hope which is the only pole-star of life."
At Brook Farm, Curtis studied Greek, German, music, and agriculture. The teaching was of the best, as good as could have been had in any college of the country at that time, and was thorough and efficient. Much more of freedom was allowed the students than was usual elsewhere, both as to conditions of study and recitation, and as to the relations of the pupils to the instructors. The young people in the school were treated as friends and companions by their teachers; but this familiarity did not breed contempt for the instructors or indifference to the work of the school. On the other hand, it secured an unusual degree of enthusiasm both for the teachers and for the subjects pursued. The work of the school went on with somewhat less of system than is thought desirable in most places of instruction; but in this instance the results justified the methods pursued. The teachers were such as could command success by their personal qualities and by their enthusiastic devotion to their work.
The two years spent at Brook Farm formed an important episode in the life of George William Curtis. It is evident that he did not surrender himself to the associationist idea, even when he was a boarder at Brook Farm and a member of its school. He loved the men and women who were at the head of the community; he found the life attractive and genial, the atmosphere was conducive to his intellectual and spiritual development; but he did not surrender himself to the idea that the world can be reformed in that manner. In a degree he was a curious looker-on; and in a still larger way he was a sympathetic, but not convinced, friend and well-wisher. If not a member, he retained throughout life his interest in this experiment, and remembered with delight the years he spent there. He more than once spoke in enthusiastic terms of Brook Farm, and gave its theories and its practice a sympathetic interpretation. In one of his "Easy Chair" essays of 1869 he described the best side of its life:
"There is always a certain amount of oddity latent in society which rushes to such an enterprise as a natural vent; and in youth itself there is a similar latent and boundless protest against the friction and apparent unreason of the existing order. At the time of the Brook Farm enterprise this was everywhere observable. The freedom of the antislavery reform and its discussions had developed the 'come-outers,' who bore testimony in all times and places against church and state. Mr. Emerson mentions an apostle of the gospel of love and no money who preached zealously but never gathered a large church of believers. Then there were the protestants against the sin of flesh-eating, refining into curious metaphysics upon milk, eggs, and oysters. To purloin milk from the udder was to injure the maternal affections of the cow; to eat eggs was Feejee cannibalism and the destruction of the tender germ of life, to swallow an oyster was to mask murder. A still selecter circle denounced the chains that shackled the tongue and the false delicacy that clothed the body. Profanity, they said, is not the use of forcible and picturesque words; it is the abuse of such to express base passions and emotions. So indecency cannot be affirmed of the model of all grace, the human body....
"These were harmless freaks and individual fantasies. But the time was like the time of witchcraft. The air magnified and multiplied every appearance, and exceptions and idiosyncrasies and ludicrous follies were regarded as the rule, and as the logical masquerade of this foul fiend Transcendentalism, which was evidently unappeasable, and was about to devour manners, morals, religion, and common-sense. If Father Lamson or Abby Folsom were borne by main force from an antislavery meeting, and the non-resistants pleaded that these protestants had as good right to speak as anybody, and that what was called their senseless babble was probably inspired wisdom, if people were only heavenly minded enough to understand it, it was but another sign of the impending anarchy. And what was to be said—for you could not call them old dotards—when the younger protestants of the time came walking through the sober streets of Boston and seated themselves in concert-halls and lecture-rooms with hair parted in the middle and falling upon their shoulders, and clad in garments such as no known human being ever wore before—garments which seemed to be a compromise between the blouse of the Paris workman and the peignoir of a possible sister? For tailoring underwent the same revision to which the whole philosophy of life was subjected, and one ardent youth, asserting that the human form itself suggested the proper shape of its garments, caused trowsers to be constructed that closely fitted the leg, and bore his testimony to the truth in coarse crash breeches.
"These were the ludicrous aspects of the intellectual and moral fermentation or agitation that was called Transcendentalism. And these were foolishly accepted by many as its chief and only signs. It was supposed that the folly was complete at Brook Farm, and it was indescribably ludicrous to observe reverend Doctors and other Dons coming out to gaze upon the extraordinary spectacle, and going about as dainty ladies hold their skirts and daintily step from stone to stone in a muddy street, lest they be soiled. The Dons seemed to doubt whether the mere contact had not smirched them. But droll in itself, it was a thousandfold droller when Theodore Parker came through the woods and described it. With his head set low upon his gladiatorial shoulders, and his nasal voice in subtle and exquisite mimicry reproducing what was truly laughable, yet all with infinite bonhomie and with a genuine superiority to small malice, he was as humorous as he was learned, and as excellent a mime as he was noble and fervent and humane a preacher. On Sundays a party always went from the Farm to Mr. Parker's little country church. He was there exactly what he was afterwards when he preached to thousands of eager people in the Boston Musichall; the same plain, simple, rustic, racy man. His congregation were his personal friends. They loved him and admired him and were proud of him; and his geniality and tender sympathy, his ample knowledge of things as well as of books, drew to him all ages and sexes and conditions.
"The society at Brook Farm was composed of every kind of person. There were the ripest scholars, men and women of the most aesthetic culture and accomplishment, young farmers, seamstresses, mechanics, preachers—the industrious, the lazy, the conceited, the sentimental. But they were associated in such a spirit and under such conditions that, with some extravagance, the best of everybody appeared, and there was a kind of high esprit de corps—at least, in the earlier or golden age of the colony. There was plenty of steady, essential, hard work, for the founding of an earthly paradise upon a rough New England farm is no pastime. But with the best intention, and much practical knowledge and industry and devotion, there was in the nature of the case an inevitable lack of method, and the economical failure was almost a foregone conclusion. But there was never such witty potato-patches and such sparkling cornfields before or since. The weeds were scratched out of the ground to the music of Tennyson or Browning, and the nooning was an hour as gay and bright as any brilliant midnight at Ambrose's. But in the midst of all was one figure, the practical farmer, an honest neighbor who was not drawn to the enterprise by any spiritual attraction, but was hired at good wages to superintend the work, and who always seemed to be regarding the whole affair with the most good-natured wonder as a prodigious masquerade....
"But beneath all the glancing colors, the lights and shadows of its surface, it was a simple, honest, practical effort for wiser forms of life than those in which we find ourselves. The criticism of science, the sneer of literature, the complaint of experience is that man is a miserably half-developed being, the proof of which is the condition of human society, in which the few enjoy and the many toil. But the enjoyment cloys and disappoints, and the very want of labor poisons the enjoyment. Man is made, body and soul. The health of each requires reasonable exercise. If every man did his share of the muscular work of the world, no other man would be overwhelmed by it. The man who does not work imposes the necessity of harder toil upon him who does. Thereby the first steals from the last the opportunity of mental culture—and at last we reach a world of pariahs and patricians, with all the inconceivable sorrow and suffering that surround us. Bound fast by the brazen age, we can see that the way back to the age of gold lies through justice, which will substitute co-operation for competition.
"That some such generous and noble thought inspired this effort at practical Christianity is most probable. The Brook Farmers did not interpret the words,'the poor ye have always with ye,' to mean,'ye must always keep some of you poor.' They found the practical Christian in him who said to his neighbor, 'Friend, come up higher.' But, apart from any precise and defined intention, it was certainly a very alluring prospect—that of life in a pleasant country, taking exercise in useful toil, and surrounded with the most interesting and accomplished people. Compared with other efforts upon which time and money and industry are lavished, measured by Colorado and Nevada speculations, by California gold-washing, by oil-boring, and by the stock exchange, Brook Farm was certainly a very reasonable and practical enterprise, worthy of the hope and aid of generous men and women. The friendships that were formed there were enduring. The devotion to noble endeavor, the sympathy with all that is most useful to men, the kind patience and constant charity that were fostered there, have been no more lost than grain dropped upon the field. It is to the Transcendentalism that seemed to so many good souls both wicked and absurd that some of the best influences of American life to-day are due. The spirit that was concentrated at Brook Farm is diffused, but it is not lost. As an organized effort, after many downward changes, it failed; but those who remember the Hive, the Eyrie, the Cottage; when Margaret Fuller came and talked, radiant with bright humor; when Emerson and Parker and Hedge joined the circle for a night or a day; when those who may not be publicly named brought beauty and wit and social sympathy to the feast; when the practical possibilities of life seemed fairer, and life and character were touched ineffaceably with good influence, cherish a pleasant vision which no fate can harm, and remember with ceaseless gratitude the blithe days of Brook Farm."
Curtis returned to the same subject in 1874, in discussing Frothingham's biography of George Ripley. Some of the errors into which writers about Brook Farm had fallen he undertook to correct, to point out the real character of the association, and its effort at the improvement of society.
"The Easy Chair describes Brook Farm as an Arcadia, for such in effect was the intention, and such is the retrospect to those who recall the hope from which it sprang.... The curious visitors who came to see poetry in practice saw with dismay hard work on every side, plain houses and simple fare, and a routine with little aesthetic aspect. Individual whims in dress and conduct, however, were exceptional in the golden age or early days at Brook Farm, and those are wholly in error who suppose it to have been a grotesque colony of idealogues. It was originally a company of highly educated and refined persons, who felt that the immense disparity of condition and opportunity in the world was a practical injustice, full of peril for society, and that the vital and fundamental principle of Christianity was universally rejected by Christendom as impracticable. Every person, they held, is entitled to mental and moral culture, but it is impossible that he should enjoy his rights as long as all the hard physical work of the world is done by a part only of its inhabitants. Were that work limited to what is absolutely necessary, and shared by all, all would find an equal opportunity for higher cultivation and development, and the evil of an unnatural and cruelly artificial system of society would disappear. It was a thought and a hope as old as humanity, and as generous as old. No common mind would have cherished such a purpose, no mean nature have attempted to make the dream real. The practical effort failed in its immediate object, but, in the high purposes it confirmed and strengthened, it had remote and happy effects which are much more than personal.
"It is an error to suppose that many of the more famous 'Transcendentalists' were of the Brook Farm company. Mr. Emerson, for instance, was never there except as a visitor. Margaret Fuller was often a visitor, and passed many days together as a guest, but she was never, except in sympathy, one of the Brook Farmers. Theodore Parker was a neighbor, and had friendly relations with many of the fraternity, but he seldom came to the farm. Meanwhile the enterprise was considered an unspeakable folly, or worse, by the conservative circle of Boston. In Boston, where a very large part of the 'leaders' of society in every way were Unitarians, Unitarian conservatism was peremptory and austere. The entire circle of which Mr. Ticknor was the centre or representative, the world of Everett and Prescott and their friends, regarded Transcendentalism and Brook Farm, its fruit, with good-humored wonder as with Prescott, or with severe reprobation as with Mr. Ticknor. The general feeling in regard to Mr. Emerson, who was accounted the head of the school, is well expressed by John Quincy Adams in 1840. The old gentleman, whose glory is that he was a moral and political gladiator and controversialist, deplores the doom of the Christian Church to be always racked with differences and debates, and after speaking of 'other wanderings of mind' that 'let the wolf into the fold,' proceeds to say: 'A young man named Ralph Waldo Emerson, a son of my once-loved friend William Emerson, and a classmate of my lamented son George, after failing in the every-day avocations of a Unitarian preacher and school-master, starts a new doctrine of Transcendentalism, declares all the old revelations superannuated and worn out, and announces the approach of new revelations.' Mr. Adams was just on the eve of his antislavery career, but he continues: 'Garrison and the non-resistant Abolitionists, Brownson and the Marat Democrats, phrenology and animal magnetism, all come in, furnished each with some plausible rascality as an ingredient for the bubbling caldron of religion and politics.' C.P. Cranch, the poet and painter, was a relative of Mr. Adams, and then a clergyman; and the astonished ex-President says: 'Pearse Cranch, ex ephebis, preached here last week, and gave out quite a stream of Transcendentalism most unexpectedly.'
"This was the general view of Transcendentalism and its teachers and disciples held by the social, political, and religious establishment. The separation and specialty of the 'movement' soon passed. The leaders and followers were absorbed in the great world of America; but that world has been deeply affected and moulded by this seemingly slight and transitory impulse. How much of the wise and universal liberalizing of all views and methods is due to it! How much of the moral training that revealed itself in the war was part of its influence! The transcendental or spiritual philosophy has been strenuously questioned and assailed. But the life and character it fostered are its sufficient vindication."
The school at Brook Farm brought together there a large number of bright young people, and they formed one of the chief characteristics of the place. The result was that the life was one of much amusement and healthy pleasure, as George P. Bradford has said:
"We were floated away by the tide of young life around us. There was always a large number of young people in our company, as scholars, boarders, etc., and this led to a considerable mingling of amusement in our life; and, moreover, some of our company had a special taste and skill in arranging and directing this element. So we had very varied amusements suited to the different seasons—tableaux, charades, dancing, masquerades, and rural fetes out-of-doors, and in winter, skating, coasting, etc."
In her "Years of Experience," Mrs. Georgiana Bruce Kirby, who was at Brook Farm for very nearly the same period as Curtis, has not only given an interesting account of the social life there, but she has especially described the entertainments mentioned by Mr. Bradford. Two of these occasions, when Curtis was a leading participant, she mentions with something of detail.
"At long intervals in what most would call our drudgery," she says, "there came a day devoted to amusement. Once we had a masquerade picnic in the woods, where we were thrown into convulsions of laughter at the sight of George W. Curtis dressed as Fanny Ellsler, in a low-necked, short-sleeved, book-muslin dress and a tiny ruffled apron, making courtesies and pirouetting down the path. It was much out of character that I, a St. Francis squaw, in striped shirt, gold beads, and moccasins, should be guilty of such wild hilarity. Ora's movements were free and graceful in white Turkish trousers, a rich Oriental head-dress, and Charles Dana's best tunic, which reached just below her knee. She was the observed of all observers.
"In the midwinter we had a fancy-dress ball in the parlors of the Pilgrim House, when the Shaws and Russells, generous friends of the association, came attired as priests and dervishes. The beautiful Anna Shaw was superb as a portly Turk in quilted robe, turban, mustache, and cimeter, and bore herself with grave dignity.
"George W. Curtis, as Hamlet, led the quadrille with Carrie Shaw as a Greek girl. His sad and solemn 'reverence' contrasted charmingly with her sunny ease. He acted the Dane to the life, his bearing, the melancholy light in his eyes, his black-plumed head-cover, and his rapier glittering under his short black cloak, which fell apart in the dance, were all perfect. It was a picture long to be remembered, and as long as I could watch these two I had no desire to take part in the dance myself."
Another phase of Curtis's life at Brook Farm she also mentions, and it gives a new insight into his character. The occasion described was a social Sunday evening spent in the parlor of the Eyrie:
"At supper it was whispered that George W. Curtis would sing at the Eyrie, upon which several young men volunteered to assist with the dishes. My services were also cordially accepted.... And now we ascended the winding, moonlit path to the Eyrie, where Curtis was already singing. We went up the steps of the building cautiously, lest a note of the melody which floated through the open French windows should be lost to us. Entering the large parlor, we found not only the chairs and sofas occupied, but the floor well covered with seated listeners.
"I did not at first recognize the operatic air, so admirably modified and retarded it was, and its former rapid words replaced by a sad and touching theme, which called for noble endurance in one borne down by suffering. The accompaniment consisted of simple chords and arpeggios, a very plain and sufficient background. Curtis, though not yet twenty—not nineteen, if I remember rightly—had a grave and mature appearance. He was full of poetic sensibility, and his pure, rich voice had that sympathetic quality that penetrates to the heart.... Curtis was not ever guilty of singing a comic song. It would indeed have been most inappropriate to our intensely earnest mood. Often his brother would join him in a duet with his agreeable tenor.
"Low praises and half-spoken thanks were murmured as the grave and gracious young friend, at the expiration of an hour, swung round on the piano-stool and attempted to make his exit."
In his "Cheerful Yesterdays," Colonel T.W. Higginson has described the same life as an onlooker. Although not a member of the community at Brook Farm, he was somewhat in sympathy with it—at least, with the people of whom it was composed. At the time he was living in Brookline and teaching the children of a cousin. "Into this summer life," he writes, "there occasionally came delegations of youths from Brook Farm. Among these were George and Burrill Curtis, and Larned, with Charles Dana—all presentable and agreeable, but the first three peculiarly costumed. It was then very common for young men in college and elsewhere to wear what were called blouses—a kind of hunter's frock, made at first of brown holland, belted at the waist, these being gradually developed into garments of gay-colored chintz, sometimes, it was said, an economical transformation of their sisters' skirts or petticoats. All the young men of this party but Dana wore these gay garments, and bore on their heads little round and visorless caps with tassels."
"I was but twice at Brook Farm," Higginson continues, "once driving over there to a fancy ball at 'the Community,' as it was usually called, where my cousin Barbara Channing was to appear in a pretty Creole dress made of madras handkerchiefs. She was enthusiastic about Brook Farm, where she went often, being a friend of Mrs. Ripley.... Again, I once went for her in summer and stayed for an hour, watching the various interesting figures, including George William Curtis, who was walking about in shirtsleeves, with his boots over his trousers, yet was escorting a young maiden with that elegant grace which never left him. It was a curious fact that he, who was afterwards so eminent, was then held wholly secondary in interest to his handsome brother Burrill, whose Raphaelesque face won all hearts, and who afterwards disappeared from view in England. But if I did not see much of Brook Farm on the spot, I met its members frequently at the series of exciting meetings for Social Reform in Boston."
Other reminiscences of Brook-Farmers tell of the Curtis brothers and their active part in the amusements of the place. They were leaders among the young people, and they had those gifts of social guidance which placed them at the head of whatever entertainment was being organized. Their grace of manner and beauty of face and figure also won consideration for them, so that they were accepted into every circle and found friends on every hand. It seems that Burrill was at this time regarded as the handsomer, but in time George gained the chief place in this regard. Their courtesy led them to help those whose labors were hard, to aid the women in the laundry at their tasks, and to assist them in hanging out the clothes on washing-days. In the evening the clothes-pins which had been thrust into a pocket found their way to the floor of the dancing-room.
One of the members of the community has written that the brothers "looked like young Greek gods. Burrill, the elder, with a typical Greek face and long hair falling to his shoulders in irregular curls," she says, "I remember as most unconscious of himself, interested in all about him, talking of the Greek philosophers as if he had just come from one of Socrates' walks, carrying the high philosophy into his daily life, helping the young people with hard arithmetic lessons, trimming the lamps daily at the Eyrie, where the two brothers came to live (my sister saw George assisting him one day, and occasionally, she says, he turned his face with a disgusted expression, trying to puff away the disagreeable odor), never losing control of himself, with the kindest manner to every person. He and George seemed very companionable and fond of each other.
"George, though only eighteen, seemed much older, like a man of twenty-five, possibly, with a peculiar elegance, if I may so express it; great and admirable attention, as I recollect, when listening to any one; courteous recognition of others' convictions and even prejudices; and never a personal animosity of any kind—a certain remoteness of manner, however, that I think prevented persons from becoming acquainted with him as easily as with Burrill."
In his "Memories of Brook Farm," Dr. John T. Codman mentions the occasional returns of Curtis to the Farm after he had left it, and says he heard him singing the "Erl King," "Kathleen Mavourneen," and "Good-night to Julia" "in his inimitable manner." Everything goes to indicate that he was a favorite, not only with the younger persons, but with those who were older. He had already developed a mature thoughtfulness, and gave indications of his power as a writer and speaker. His fondness for music, and his enthusiastic study of it under Dwight's leadership is an indication of that aesthetic appreciation which he kept through life, and which appeared in his mastership of prose style.
At first each one helped himself to the food placed on the table in the dining-room at the Hive, or those at the table helped each other. In this way more or less confusion was produced, and the results were unsatisfactory. Accordingly, Charles Dana organized a group, including Curtis and other young men of character and good breeding, to act as waiters. Dana took his place at the head of this group of voluntary servants, who performed their duties with grace and alacrity. "It is hardly necessary to observe," says Mrs. Kirby, "that the business was henceforth attended to with such courtly grace and such promptness that the new regime was applauded by every one, although it did appear at first as if we were all engaged in acting a play. The group, with their admired chief, took dinner, which had been kept warm for them, afterwards, and were themselves waited upon with the utmost consideration."
While at Brook Farm, Curtis was on intimate terms with most of the persons there. He greatly admired Mr. and Mrs. Ripley, and he frequently wrote to Mrs. Ripley and made of her a sort of mother-confessor. He also highly appreciated the scholarly qualities of Charles Dana, and his capacity as a leader. In his letters he frequently mentions "the two Charleses," who were Charles Dana and Charles Newcomb. The latter has been described by Dr. Codman as "the mysterious and profound, with his long, dark, straight locks of hair, one of which was continually being brushed away from his forehead as it continually fell; with his gold-bowed eye-glass, his large nose and peculiar blue eyes, his spasmodic expressions of nervous horror, and his cachinnatious laugh." Newcomb was for many years a resident of Providence, afterwards finding a home in England and in Paris. He was early a member of Brook Farm—a solitary, self-involved person, preferring to associate with children rather than with older persons. He read much in the literature of the mystics, and was laughingly said to prefer paganism to Christianity. He had a feminine temperament, was full of sensibility, and of an indolent turn of mind. Emerson was attracted to him, and at one time had great expectations concerning his genius. His paper, published in The Dial, under the title of "The Two Dolons," was much admired by some of the Transcendentalists when it was printed there; and it is referred to by Hawthorne in his "Hall of Phantasy." In June, 1842, Emerson wrote to Margaret Fuller: "I wish you to know that I have 'Dolon' in black and white, and that I account Charles N. a true genius; his writing fills me with joy, so simple, so subtle, and so strong is it. There are sentences in 'Dolon' worth the printing of The Dial that they may go forth." This paper was given him for publication at Emerson's urgent request, and it is not known that Newcomb has published anything else. In 1850 Emerson said he had come to doubt Newcomb's genius, having found that he did not care for an audience.
Another person of whom Curtis speaks is Isaac Hecker, who became a member of the Catholic Church, under the guidance of Orestes Brownson. He was born in New York City, was brought up under Methodist auspices, became a baker, developed a strong taste for philosophy, and went to Brook Farm at the age of twenty-two. He remained for a few months as a student, and then tried Alcott's Fruitlands for a fortnight. He was naturally of an ascetic turn of mind, loved mystic books and philosophy, and found in the Catholic Church his true religious home. He secured at Brook Farm a kind of culture which he much needed, and his abilities were seen by those around him. After his return to New York, Ripley, and Charles Lane, of Fruitlands, wrote him in a way which indicated their faith in him as a man of judgment and liberal aims. He spent some months in Concord, had George P. Bradford for his tutor, and he rented a room of Mrs. Thoreau, the mother of Henry D. Thoreau. There again he met the Curtis brothers; but soon after he went to Holland to prepare for the priesthood, and then entered upon his life-work. A curious phase in the life of this time was the effort of Hecker to convert Curtis to his own way of religious thinking, as Curtis relates in his letters. Even more singular was the attempt of Hecker to persuade Thoreau into the Catholic Church. Mr. Sanborn has read a letter in which he proposed to Thoreau to travel on foot with him in Europe. His real purpose seems to have been to get Thoreau away from Protestants, and among the influences of the Catholic churches and traditions, and thus to make a convert of him. In a letter printed in Father Elliott's biography of Father Hecker, Curtis gave an account of his acquaintance with the founder of the order of the Paulist Fathers.
"WEST NEW BRIGHTON, STATEN ISLAND, February 28, 1890.
Dear Sir,—I fear that my recollections of Father Hecker will be of little service to you, for they are very scant. But the impression of the young man whom I knew at Brook Farm is still vivid. It must have been in the year 1843 that he came to the Farm in West Roxbury, near Boston. He was a youth of twenty-three, of German aspect, and I think his face was somewhat seamed with small-pox. But his sweet and candid expression, his gentle and affectionate manner, were very winning. He had an air of singular refinement and self-reliance combined with a half-eager inquisitiveness, and upon becoming acquainted with him, I told him that he was Ernest the Seeker, which was the title of a story of mental unrest which William Henry Channing was then publishing in The Dial.
Hecker, or, as I always called him and think of him, Isaac, had apparently come to Brook Farm because it was a result of the intellectual agitation of the time which had reached and touched him in New York. He had been bred a baker, he told me, and I remember with what satisfaction he said to me, 'I am sure of my livelihood, because I can make good bread.' His powers in this way were most satisfactorily tested at the Farm, or, as it was generally called, 'the Community,' although it was in no other sense a community than an association of friendly workers in common. He was drawn to Brook Farm by the belief that its life would be at least agreeable to his convictions and tastes, and offer him the society of those who might answer some of his questions, even if they could not satisfy his longings.
By what influence his mind was first affected by the moral movement known in New England as Transcendentalism, I do not know. Probably he may have heard Mr. Emerson lecture in New York, or he may have read Brownson's 'Charles Elwood,' which dealt with the questions that engaged his mind and conscience. But among the many interesting figures at Brook Farm I recall none more sincerely absorbed than Isaac Hecker in serious questions. The merely aesthetic aspects of its life, its gayety and social pleasures, he regarded good-naturedly, with the air of a spectator who tolerated rather than needed or enjoyed them. There was nothing ascetic or severe in him, but I have often thought since that his feeling was probably what he might have afterwards described as a consciousness that he must be about his Father's business.
I do not remember him as especially studious. Mr. Ripley had classes in German philosophy and metaphysics, in Kant and Spinoza, and Isaac used to look in, as he turned wherever he thought he might find answers to his questions. He went to hear Theodore Parker preach in the Unitarian Church in the neighboring village of West Roxbury. He went to Boston, about ten miles distant, to talk with Brownson, and to Concord to see Emerson. He entered into the working life at the Farm, but always, as it seemed to me, with the same reserve and attitude of observation. He was the dove floating in the air, not yet finding the spot on which his foot might rest.
The impression that I gathered from my intercourse with him, which was boyishly intimate and affectionate, was that of all 'the apostles of the newness,' as they were gayly called, whose counsel he sought, Brownson was the most satisfactory to him. I thought then that this was due to the authority of Brownson's masterful tone, the definiteness of his views, the force of his 'understanding,' as the word was then philosophically used in distinction from the reason. Brownson's mental vigor and positiveness were very agreeable to a candid mind which was speculatively adrift and experimenting, and, as it seemed to me, which was more emotional than logical. Brownson, after his life of varied theological and controversial activity, was drawing towards the Catholic Church, and his virile force fascinated the more delicate and sensitive temper of the young man, and, I have always supposed, was the chief influence which at that time affected Hecker's views, although he did not then enter the Catholic Church.
He was a general favorite at Brook Farm, always equable and playful, wholly simple and frank in manner. He talked readily and easily, but not controversially. His smile was singularly attractive and sympathetic, and the earnestness of which I have spoken gave him an unconscious personal dignity. His temperament was sanguine. The whole air of the youth was that of goodness. I do not think that the impression made by him forecast his career, or, in any degree, the leadership which he afterwards held in his Church. But everybody who knew him at that time must recall his charming amiability.
I think that he did not remain at Brook Farm for a whole year, and when later he went to Belgium to study theology at the seminary of Mons he wrote me many letters, which, I am sorry to say, have disappeared. I remember that he labored with friendly zeal to draw me to his Church, and at his request I read some writing of St. Alphonse of Liguori. Gradually our correspondence declined when I was in Europe, and was never resumed; nor do I remember seeing him again more than once, many years ago. There was still in the clerical figure, which was very strange to me, the old sweetness of smile and address; there was some talk of the idyllic days, some warm words of hearty good-will, but our interests were very different, and, parting, we went our separate ways. For a generation we lived in the same city, yet we never met. But I do not lose the bright recollection of Ernest the Seeker, nor forget the frank, ardent, generous, manly youth, Isaac Hecker.
Very truly yours,
George William Curtis."
One of the teachers at Brook Farm was George P. Bradford, who left there at about the same time Curtis did, and was then a tutor in Concord. When the account of philosophy in Boston was left uncompleted by Ripley, Bradford finished it for the "Memorial History of Boston." While living in the Old Manse in Concord, Hawthorne wrote to Margaret Fuller: "I have thought of receiving a personal friend, and a man of delicacy, into my household, and have taken a step towards that object. But in doing so I was influenced far less by what Mr. Bradford is than by what he is not; or, rather, his negative qualities seem to take away his personality, and leave his excellent characteristics to be fully and fearlessly enjoyed. I doubt whether he be not precisely the rarest man in the world." Mrs. Hawthorne wrote of Bradford, that "his beautiful character makes him perennial in interest." After the death of Bradford, Curtis wrote of him in one of the most appreciative of the biographical papers which the "Easy Chair" gave to the public:
"Whoever had the happiness of knowing the late George P. Bradford, upon reading that he was the son of a stout sea-captain of Duxbury, must have recalled Charles Lamb's description of one of his comrades at the old South Sea House—'like spring, gentle offspring of blustering winter.' A more gentle, truthful, generous, constant, high-minded, accomplished man, or, as Emerson, his friend of many years, said of Charles Sumner, 'a whiter soul,' could not be known. However wide and various and delightful your acquaintance may have been, if you knew George Bradford, you knew a man unlike all others. His individuality was entirely unobtrusive, but it was absolute.
"The candor of his nature refused the least deceit, and rejected every degree of indirectness without consciousness or effort. His admirable mind, the natural loftiness of his aim, his instinctive sympathy with every noble impulse and humane endeavor, his fine intellectual cultivation, all made him the friend of the best men and women of his time and neighborhood, and none among them but acknowledged the singular charm of a companion who asserted his convictions by his character, and with whom controversy was impossible. Mr. Bradford had the temperament, the tastes, and the acquirements of a scholar; a fondness for nature, and a knowledge which made him her interpreter; yet still more obvious were the social sympathy and tenderness of feeling that brought him into intimate personal relations which time could not touch.
"Something in his appearance and manner, a half-shrinking and smiling diffidence, an unworn and childlike ardor and unconsciousness, a freshness of feeling and frankness of address, invested his personality with what we call quaintness. He was always active, even to apparent restlessness, not from nervous excitement, but from fulness of life and sympathy. You might think of a humming-bird darting from flower to flower, of a honey-bee happy in a garden. He graduated at Harvard, meaning to be a clergyman, but the publicity, the magisterial posture, the incessant constraint of the liberty which he valued more than all else, with the lack of oratorical gifts and of the self-asserting disposition, soon closed that career to him; afterwards he was one of the most cheerful and charming figures at Brook Farm in its pleasantest day. All his life he was a teacher, mainly of private classes, and generally of women, now in Plymouth, now in Cambridge, now elsewhere, but, wherever he was, always beloved and welcomed, and bewailed when he departed.
"Mr. Bradford was unmarried, and there was a sentiment of solitude in his life, but it was scarcely more, so affectionate and devoted were his relations to his kindred and his friends. His elder sister, Mrs. Samuel B. Ripley, was one of the most admirably accomplished women in New England, living for some years in the Old Manse in Concord in which Hawthorne had lived. Mr. Ripley was the son of the clergyman who married the widow of his fellow-clergyman who saw from the Manse the battle at Concord Bridge. Mr. Bradford was very fond of the old town, and Mr. Emerson had no friend who was a more welcome or frequent guest than George Bradford, who came to look after the vegetable garden and to trim the trees, and in long walks to Walden Pond or Fairhaven Hill to discuss with his host philosophy and poetry and life. The small gains of a teacher were enough for the simple wants of the scholarly gentleman, and after middle life he went often to Europe, and few Americans have ever gone more admirably equipped. He travelled sometimes with a tried comrade, sometimes alone, and a life already full was enriched and enchanted still more by the happy journeys.
"Indeed, the recollection of George Bradford is that of a long life as serene and happy as it was blameless and delightful to others. It was a life of affection and many interests and friendly devotion; but it was not that of a recluse scholar like Edward Fitzgerald, with the pensive consciousness of something desired but undone. George Bradford was in full sympathy with the best spirit of his time. He had all the distinctive American interest in public affairs. His conscience was as sensitive to public wrongs and perilous tendencies as to private and personal conduct. He voted with strong convictions, and wondered sometimes that the course so plain to him was not equally plain to others.
"It was a life of nothing of what we call achievement, and yet a life beneficent to every other life that it touched, like a summer wind laden with a thousand invisible seeds that, dropping everywhere, spring up into flowers and fruit. It is a name which to most readers of these words is wholly unknown, and which will not be written, like that of so many of the friends of him who bore it, in our literature and upon the memory of his countrymen. But to those who knew him well, and who therefore loved him, it recalls the most essential human worth and purest charm of character, the truest manhood, the most affectionate fidelity. To those who hear of him now, and perhaps never again, these words may suggest that the personal influences which most ennoble and sweeten life may escape fame, but live immortal in the best part of other lives."
Another member of Brook Farm in its earlier period was Minott Pratt, who had been a printer, and the foreman in the office of the Christian Register, the Unitarian paper published in Boston. Dr. Codman says of him that he was "a finely formed, large, graceful-featured, modest man. His voice was low, soft, and calm. His presence inspired confidence and respect. Whatever he touched was well done. He was faithful and dignified, and the serenity of his nature welled up in genial smiles. In farm-work he was Mr. Ripley's right hand. They agreed in practical matters, and Ripley deferred to his judgment. His wife was an earnest, strong, faithful worker. They entered into the scheme with fervor." Another Brook Farmer said of him: "No one can ever forget the entire freedom from fret and fume and worry he evinced, while he never neglected a duty or failed to accomplish his full share of work. No one can fail to recall how peaceful and free from criticism his life was, with what rare fidelity he estimated his fellows, and how little apparent thought or recognition of self there was in all his actions. Indeed, the loveliness of his spirit shone through the bodily vesture, and his smile itself was a blessing which one might seek to win, and be proud to have gained by one's exertions. His presence, in all the various spheres of active life and industry, had a wonderful educational power upon both old and young; and to the influence of several individuals of similar beauty of character I attribute the harmony and beauty, in considerable degree, of our Brook Farm life."
Pratt spent the remainder of his life, after the Brook Farm episode, in Concord, and there he has, even now, the reputation of having been a model farmer. He was an extremely modest man, very little forthputting, gentle in manner, and most neighborly in spirit. He wrote many papers for the Concord Farmers' Club, and some of these were printed in the Boston Commonwealth. In that paper, when Mr. Frank B. Sanborn was the editor, he published a series of articles on country life, which were delightful to read. He was a fine writer, and what he wrote showed the grace and charm of the man. He gave much attention to botany, knew all the plants and flowers in Concord, and knew them both as a scientist and poet.
For several years Pratt was in the habit of gathering on the lawn in front of his house, under a large elm-tree, a picnic of such of his Brook Farm associates as he could bring together. Emerson, Phillips, Thoreau, Curtis, George Bradford, and others of note, often attended. The gathering was a delightful one, and it was made an occasion of happy reminiscences and a renewal of old personal ties and affections.
Some of the reminiscences of Brook Farm mention that Curtis walked in the moonlight with Caroline Sturgis, who, over the signature of "Z," contributed a number of poems to The Dial. She was an intimate friend of Margaret Fuller, and she afterwards published "Rainbows for Children," "The Magician's Show-box," and other children's books. She married William A. Tappan, who rented to Hawthorne the cottage in which he lived at Lenox. Mrs. Lathrop's book about her mother contains many reminiscences of them. She was a daughter of William Sturgis, a wealthy Boston merchant. A sister, Mrs. Ellen H. Hooper, was also a contributor to The Dial, in which appeared her poem beginning with the line:
"I slept and dreamed that life was beauty."
Another well-known poem was written by her:
"She stood outside the gate of heaven and saw them entering in."
Colonel Higginson speaks of her as "a woman of genius," and Margaret Fuller wrote of her from Rome: "I have seen in Europe no woman more gifted by nature than she."
Under date of October 25, 1845, Curtis mentions a religious meeting which had been recently held at Brook Farm. This was a reference to one of the many occasions on which William Henry Channing conducted religious services there, for he was listened to with greater satisfaction than any one else who spoke on religious subjects. When the weather was suitable he preached in the grove near the Margaret Fuller cottage (so called); and on the present occasion he asked those present to join hands and to repeat with him a bond of union or confession of faith, and constitute themselves into a church. Before this time no religious organization had existed at Brook Farm, the utmost liberty of opinion being cultivated there. In fact, the leaders of the movement had been strongly opposed to any religious formalism or organized effort at religious instruction. The freedom of belief was such that Freethinkers on the one side, and devout Catholics on the other, were welcomed with equal cordiality. The majority of the members were undoubtedly of the "liberal" school in theology, and found in the preaching of Theodore Parker the kind of spiritual instruction they desired. At one time there was an enthusiastic interest in the teachings of Swedenborg.
It was the tendency towards what was at once practical and mystical which drew the large majority of the Farmers to the preaching of William Henry Channing, who was one of the most gifted preachers which America has produced. He was imaginative, mystical, and eloquent, liberal in his thinking, progressive in his social ideals, and profoundly religious. He was thoroughly in sympathy with the Associationist movement, and more than any other man he was the spiritual leader and confessor of those who found in that movement a practical realization of their religious convictions.
The organization which began on that Sunday afternoon in October, 1845, continued to exist at Brook Farm until January, 1847, when "The Religious Union of Associationists" was organized in Boston, with Channing as the minister. For a few years it was successful, and it gave union and purpose to the Associationist movement in Boston and the vicinity. A considerable number of the members of Brook Farm were connected with it actively—as officers, members of the choir, or regular attendants.
The organization effected in the pine woods in so informal a manner was quite in harmony with the Brook Farm spirit and methods. Formalism of every kind was dreaded, but yet there was a deeply religious interest pervading the whole life of the community. At all the meetings held by the Farmers, even at little social gatherings, the conversation was likely to run on high themes. While there was present the utmost freedom of opinion and expression, and while there was the greatest effort to avoid cant and conventional phraseology, yet there was in the community a very strong religious feeling; and nearly all the members held serious and earnest convictions, to which they were unusually faithful in their daily living.
The relations of Curtis to his teachers at Brook Farm were cordial and appreciative, but they were especially so with John S. Dwight, with whom he studied music. When he left the farm, an intimate and confidential correspondence began between them, and this continued until Curtis went to Europe. After he returned it was resumed, but the interchange of letters was not so frequent. They continued to write to each other almost to the end of Dwight's life, however, and their friendship was always sympathetic and confidential. The letters of Dwight have not been preserved, with two or three exceptions, but those of Curtis still exist in unbroken succession, and are presented to the public in this volume. In these days, when we complain of the decay of letter-writing, they afford a remarkably good specimen of youthful effort in that kind of literature.
To Dwight there were sent by Curtis several poems, which were printed in the Harbinger, and he also sent two letters from New York on musical topics. Two of his letters to Dwight from Europe were also printed in the Harbinger. After he was settled in New York, Curtis did his part in an effort to get Dwight established in that city. When Dwight began his Journal of Music, Curtis wrote for it frequently over the signature of "Hafiz." It is safe to say that these contributions were not paid for, but were the result of a desire to aid his friend in his musical enterprise. They were of the nature of passing comments on the musical performances of the day, but they were worthy of the pages in which they appeared.
John Sullivan Dwight was born in Court Street, Boston, May 13, 1813, the son of Dr. John Dwight and his wife Mary. He was educated at the Derne Street Grammar School and the Boston Latin School, from which he entered Harvard College. As a boy he was a devoted reader of books, studious in his habits, but little inclined to active or practical pursuits. When about fifteen, he began to take an interest in music, and from his father he received the best instruction in that art.
Young Dwight entered Harvard in 1829, and he carried through the studies of the course with a fair degree of success. He gave much attention to music, joined the Pierian Sodality, and was an earnest reader of the best poetry. He gave the class poem on his graduation, in 1832. During his Senior year he taught at Northborough, and following his graduation he spent a year as a tutor in a family at Meadville, Pennsylvania. In the autumn of 1834 he entered the theological school at Harvard, and graduated therefrom in August, 1836, his dissertation being on "The Proper Character of Poetry and Music for Public Worship," which was published in the Christian Examiner for that year.
Dwight's interest in music led him to take a leading part in bringing together, in 1837, those recent graduates of the college who were of like mind with himself; and a society was organized for the purpose of promoting its study. In 1840 the name was changed to that of the "Harvard Musical Association"; in 1845 it was incorporated, and in 1848 the place of meeting was transferred to Boston.
It was three years and a half after Dwight left the theological school before he had secured a pulpit. He preached nearly every Sunday, but he had become a member of the Transcendental Club, he was in sympathy with Emerson and Parker, and the churches did not find his preaching acceptable. He wrote several papers for the Christian Examiner, and reviewed a number of books in the same periodical. The first review of Tennyson published in this country he gave to the public in that journal. In 1838 he published in the series of translations edited by George Ripley, under the general title of "Specimens of Foreign Standard Literature," a volume of "Select Minor Poems, Translated from the German of Goethe and Schiller, with Notes." Several of Dwight's friends aided him in this translation, especially on the poems of Schiller; but the valuable notes appended were furnished by himself. The volume was dedicated to Carlyle, who wrote a characteristic letter in giving his permission, and a still more interesting one in acknowledging the receipt of the book.
In May, 1840, Dwight became the minister of the little Unitarian parish at Northampton, and the ordination sermon was preached by George Ripley, the address to the minister being given by Dr. W.E. Channing. From the first the people were not fully agreed as to Dwight's preaching, and the objections gradually increased as his strong Transcendental habits of thought began to be more clearly manifest. A few persons of thoughtful and more distinctly spiritual cast of mind were warmly drawn to him, but the majority grew more and more opposed to him, and he withdrew from the parish after a year and a half. During his stay in Northampton he wrote for The Dial, for one or two musical journals, planned several extended literary undertakings, and gave lectures before the American Institute of Instruction and the Harvard Musical Association. In The Dial was published one of his sermons, under the title of "Religion of Beauty," and another called "Ideals of Every-day Life." At the end of that on the religion of beauty was printed a poem of Dwight's, which has been often credited to Goethe, and is usually given the title of
Sweet is the pleasure, Itself cannot spoil! Is not true leisure One with true toil?
Thou that wouldst taste it, Still do thy best; Use it, not waste it, Else 'tis no rest.
Wouldst behold beauty Near thee, all round? Only hath duty Such a sight found.
Rest is not quitting The busy career; Rest is the fitting Of self to its sphere.
'Tis the brook's motion, Clear without strife, Fleeing to ocean After its life.
Deeper devotion Nowhere hath knelt; Fuller emotion Heart never felt.
'Tis loving and serving The Highest and Best! 'Tis onwards! unswerving, And that is true rest."
As an intimate friend of George Ripley, Dwight had discussed with him the project of a community at Brook Farm; and it was natural that he should find his place there in November, 1841. Many years later Dwight said of the purposes of Ripley, in this effort to improve upon the usual forms of social life: "His aspiration was to bring about a truer state of society, one in which human beings should stand in frank relations of true equality and fraternity, mutually helpful, respecting each other's occupation, and making one the helper of the other. The prime idea was an organization of industry in such a way that the most refined and educated should show themselves practically on a level with those whose whole education had been hard labor. Therefore, the scholars and the cultivated would take their part also in the manual labor, working on the farm or cultivating nurseries of young trees, or they would even engage in the housework."
In the Brook Farm community, Dwight was one of the leaders, his place being next after Ripley and Dana. In the school he was the instructor in Latin and music. His love for music began to make itself strongly manifest at this time; he brought out all the musical talent which could be developed among the members of the community. Of this phase he said: "The social education was extremely pleasant. For instance, in the matter of music we had extremely limited means or talent, and very little could be done except in a very rudimentary, tentative, and experimental way. We had a singing-class, and we had some who could sing a song gracefully and accompany themselves at the piano. We had some piano music; and, so far as it was possible, care was taken that it should be good—sonatas of Beethoven and Mozart, and music of that order. We sang masses of Haydn and others, and no doubt music of a better quality than prevailed in most society at that date, but that would be counted nothing now. Occasionally we had artists come to visit us. We had delightful readings; and, once in a while, when William Henry Channing was in the neighborhood, he would preach us a sermon."
At this time a musical awakening was taking place in Boston, a genuine taste for and appreciation of Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn was being developed. Dwight was instrumental in promoting a love for these masters, and out of his classes for their study grew what were called "Mass Clubs." He and his pupils often went into Boston to hear the best music, walking both ways. In The Dial, and especially in the Harbinger, Dwight wrote with enthusiasm and poetic charm of the merits of classical music. He wrote afterwards that the treatment of music in these periodicals told the time of day far ahead; and "such discussion did at least contribute much to make music more respected, to lift it in the esteem of thoughtful persons to a level with the rest of the humanities of culture, and especially to turn attention to the nobler compositions, and away from that which is but idle, sensual, and vulgar."
To the Christian Examiner, Boston Miscellany, Lowell's Pioneer, and the Democratic Review, Dwight was an occasional contributor at this period. His chief literary work, however, was in the form of lectures on musical subjects, especially on the great composers already named. He gave a successful course of musical lectures in New York, and he lectured in a number of other cities.
To the Harbinger, which was the organ of Brook Farm after the Fourierite period began, as well as the best advocate of associated life ever published in the country, Dwight was one of the chief contributors. He wrote much in behalf of association, but he also discussed literary topics. His chief contributions were on the subject of music, which was then, as always, so near his heart. He conducted the department devoted to musical criticism and interpretation. During the last year of the publication of the paper at Brook Farm he was associated with Ripley in the editorial management.
In 1847 Brook Farm came to an end. The Harbinger was removed to New York, and Ripley was its editor; but it was discontinued in less than two years. Dwight was the Boston correspondent, and continued his editorial connection with the paper. He removed to Boston, continued his interest in association, was an active member of W.H. Channing's "Religious Union of Associationists," was one of the most zealous workers in the organization for promoting associated life, and began to write for the Daily Chronotype on musical subjects. In 1849 he edited a department in the Chronotype devoted to the interests of association, and he had the assistance of Channing, Brisbane, Dana, and Cranch. This arrangement was continued for only a few months, not proving a success. In 1851 he was for six months the musical editor of the Boston Commonwealth, he wrote for Sartain's Magazine and other periodicals on musical topics, and he continued to lecture. Ripley and Dana made an earnest effort to secure him a place on one of the daily journals in New York. In February, 1851, Dwight and Mary Bullard, who had been a frequent visitor at Brook Farm, and a member of the choir at Channing's church in Boston, of which Dwight was the musical leader, were married. She was a beautiful and attractive woman, of some musical talent, and of a most unselfish and winning character. They went to live in Charles Street, and there had Dr. O.W. Holmes and his wife for near neighbors.
In April, 1852, Dwight issued the first number of Dwight's Journal of Music. He was able to do this with the aid of several of his associationist and musical friends, who generously contributed to a guarantee fund for the purpose. The Harvard Musical Association lent its aid to the project, and made it financially possible. In the first number Dwight said of his purposes and plans:
"Our motive for publishing a musical journal lies in the fact that music has made such rapid progress here within the last fifteen, and even the last ten, years. Boston has been without such a paper, and Boston has thousands of young people who go regularly to hear all the good performances of the best classic models in this art. Its rudiments are taught in all our schools....
"All this requires an organ, a regular bulletin of progress; something to represent the movement, and at the same time help to guide it to the true end. Very confused, crude, heterogeneous is this sudden musical activity in a young, utilitarian people. A thousand specious fashions too successfully dispute the place of true art in the favor of each little public. It needs a faithful, severe, friendly voice to point out steadfastly the models of the true, the ever beautiful, the divine.
"We dare not promise to be all this; but what we promise is, at least, an honest report, week by week, of what we hear and feel and in our poor way understand of this great world of music, together with what we receive through the ears and feeling and understanding of others, whom we trust; with every side-light from the other arts."
What was thus promised was carried out successfully, so far as the spirit and purpose were concerned, for more than thirty years. At first the Journal of Music was an eight-page weekly, of about the size of Harper's Weekly. After a time it was issued fortnightly, and the number of pages was increased. Though small the Journal of Music was varied in contents, and published much that was of great value. The selections from English, French, and German musical publications were well adapted to give music a higher position in American society. Many works of great value were translated for its pages; and whatever new or of importance was taking place or being said in the musical world was faithfully reported. The circulation was small at the best, for the high quality of the paper, and the refusal of the editor to make it an organ of the interests of publishers did not help to bring it widely before the public. Dwight would make no compromises with what was sensational or merely popular.
At the beginning of 1859 the Journal of Music was put into the hands of Oliver Ditson & Co., who undertook its publication, paying Dwight a stated salary for his labors upon it. This arrangement relieved him of much drudgery as publisher, which he had hitherto undertaken. The conduct of the paper did not essentially change, but with each number was added a musical composition; the best works of Mendelssohn, Schubert, Wagner, Gluck, Mozart, and many other composers were thus issued. Dwight also did much translating for Ditson, turning into English the words which accompanied some of the best German music.
In July, 1860, Dwight went to Europe for purposes of travel and study. Shortly after his departure his wife was taken ill, and died in a few weeks. The blow nearly crushed him, and it took many months for him to recover himself. In a most sympathetic letter Dr. Holmes told him of the illness, and the scenes which followed:
"I listened to the sweet music which was sung over her as she lay, covered with flowers, in the pleasant parlor of her house, by the voices of those that loved her—I and my wife with me—and then we followed her to Mount Auburn, and saw her laid in the earth, and the blossoms showered down upon her with such tokens of affection and sorrow that the rough men, whose business makes them callous to common impressions, were moved as none of us ever saw them moved before. Our good James Clarke, as you know, conducted the simple service. It was one which none of us who were present will ever forget; and in every heart there was one feeling over all others, that for the far-distant husband, brother, friend, as yet unconscious of the bereavement he was too soon to learn."
Dwight spent a few days in England, was for a fortnight in Paris, went through Switzerland, and then on to Germany. He went to Frankfort, then to Bonn, where he was for some weeks. In Berlin some months were passed, and visits were made to Leipzig, Dresden, Munich, and other cities. He gave much attention to music, taking every opportunity of making himself better acquainted with its traditions and spirit. He then went to Italy, passed on to France, and reached England in July, 1861. Early in September he sailed on the trial trip of the Great Eastern, which encountered a fearful storm, and was nearly wrecked. Dwight landed on the Irish coast, made his way back to London, thought of remaining another year in Europe, but finally returned home in November.
In Dwight's absence the Journal had been conducted by Henry Ware, a young musical friend. He now established himself in the Studio Building on Tremont Street, and went on with his tasks as usual. He became an active member of the Saturday Club, and was a constant attendant. He helped to organize, in 1863, the Jubilee Concert, at which Emerson read his "Boston Hymn." On the other hand, he severely criticised Gilmore's National Peace Jubilee of 1869.
In 1878 the desire of the Ditson publishing house to make the Journal of Music more popular in its character, and more directly helpful to their business interests, led Dwight to transfer its management to the firm of Houghton, Osgood & Co. It was better printed, the list of contributors was enlarged, and in many ways the paper was improved. A number of Dwight's friends promised to stand behind it for a year or two with definite sums of money, that it might be improved, and an effort made to reach a larger public. From some cause, not easy to understand, the response on the part of the public was not large enough to warrant the additional outlay; the list of paid contributors had to be abandoned, and the paper returned gradually to its old ways. In December, 1880, Dwight's friends joined with the musicians of Boston in giving a testimonial concert for the benefit of the paper, which yielded the sum of $6000. In an editorial Dwight said of this expression of interest in his work: "Greetings and warmest signs of recognition, kindliest notes of sympathy (often from most unexpected quarters), prompt, enthusiastic offers of musical service in any concert that might be arranged, poured in upon the editor, who, all at once, found himself the object of unusual attention. Hand and heart were offered wherever he met an old acquaintance; everybody seemed full of the bright idea that had struck somebody just in the nick of time. We never knew we had so many friends."
In September, 1881, the Journal of Music came to an end. The position taken by Dwight was not that of the self-seeker; he had no gift for turning his love for the art of music into financial results. He would not lower the critical attitude of his journal for the sake of pleasing the publishers of music; and he would not pretend to a love of those popular forms of music which he held to be inferior in their character. It may be he was not a great critic, certainly he had not the technical knowledge of music which is desirable in its scientific expositor; but his whole soul was in the art, and he gave it the devotion of his life. His preference was for the older composers, and he did not yield a ready homage to those of the newer schools. Of this he speaks in the closing number of his journal: "Startling as the new composers are, and novel, curious, brilliant, beautiful at times, they do not inspire us as we have been inspired before, and do not bring us nearer heaven. We feel no inward call to the proclaiming of the new gospel. We have tried to do justice to these works as they have claimed our notice, and have omitted no intelligence of them which came within the limits of our columns, but we lack motive for entering their doubtful service; we are not ordained their prophet."
Dwight frankly admitted that the causes for the limited success of his journal lay in himself, and said, truly, "We have long realized that we were not made for the competitive, sharp enterprise of modern journalism. The turn of mind which looks at the ideal rather than the practical, and the native indolence of temperament which sometimes goes with it, have made our movements slow. To be the first in the field with an announcement, or a criticism, or an idea, was no part of our ambition; how can one recognize competitors, or enter into competition, and at the same time keep his eye on truth?"
The real value of Dwight's work in his Journal of Music was expressed in a letter sent him by Richard Grant White, when the closing number appeared: "I regret very much this close of your valuable editorial labors. You have done great work; and have that consciousness to be sure—some comfort, but it should not be all. There is not a musician of respectability in the country who is not your debtor." In the "Easy Chair" Curtis gave a worthy account of the labors of his friend, and showed how deserving he was of a far greater success than he had reached.
"In the midst of the great musical progress of the country," he wrote, "it is a curious fact that the oldest, ablest, and most independent of musical journals in the United States has just suspended publication, on the eve of the completion of its thirtieth year, for want of adequate support. We mean, of course, Dwight's Journal of Music, which ended with an admirably manly, candid, and sagacious, but inevitably pathetic, valedictory from its editor—veteran editor, we should say, if the atmosphere of good music in which he has lived had not been an enchanted air in which youth is perpetually renewed.... A more delightful valedictory it would not be easy to find in the swan song of any journal....
"Mr. Dwight does not say, what the history of music in this country will show, that to no one more than to him are we indebted for the intelligent taste which enjoys the best music. His lectures upon the works of the great Germans at the time of their performance by the Boston Academy of Music in the old Odeon forty years ago were a kind of manual for the intelligent audience. They showed that an elaborate orchestral musical composition might be as serious a work of art, as full of thought and passion, and, in a word, of genius, as a great poem, and that no form of art was more spiritually elevating. They lifted the performance of such music from the category of mere amusement, and asserted for the authors a dignity like that of the master poets. If to some hearers the exposition seemed sometimes fanciful and remote, it was only as all criticism of works of the imagination often seems so. If the spectator sometimes sees in a picture more than the painter consciously intended, it is because the higher power may work with unconscious hands, and because beauty cannot be hidden from the eye made to see it. Beethoven, for instance, had never a truer lover or a subtler interpreter than Dwight, and Dwight taught the teachers, and largely shaped the intelligent appreciation of the unapproached master.
"Those were memorable evenings at the old Odeon. Francis Beaumont did not more pleasantly recall the things that he and Ben Jonson had seen done at the Mermaid than an old Brook Farmer remembers the long walks, eight good miles in and eight miles out, to see the tall, willowy Schmidt swaying with his violin at the head of the orchestra, to hear the airy ripple of Auber's 'Zanetta,' the swift passionate storm of Beethoven's 'Egmont,' the symphonic murmur of woods and waters and summer fields in the limpid 'Pastorale,' or the solemn grandeur of sustained pathetic human feeling in the 'Fifth Symphony.' The musical revival was all part of the new birth of the Transcendental epoch, although none would have more promptly disclaimed any taint of Transcendentalism than the excellent officers of the Boston Academy of Music. The building itself, the Odeon, was the old Federal Street Theatre, and had its interesting associations.... To all there was now added, in the memory of the happy hearers, the association of the symphony concerts.
"As the last sounds died away, the group of Brook Farmers, who had ventured from the Arcadia of co-operation into the Gehenna of competition, gathered up their unsoiled garments and departed. Out of the city, along the bare Tremont road, through green Roxbury and bowery Jamaica Plain, into the deeper and lonelier country, they trudged on, chatting and laughing and singing, sharing the enthusiasm of Dwight, and unconsciously taught by him that the evening had been greater than they knew. Brook Farm has long since vanished. The bare Tremont road is bare no longer. Green Roxbury and Jamaica Plain are almost city rather than suburbs. From the symphony concerts dates much of the musical taste and cultivation of Boston. The old Odeon is replaced by the stately Music Hall. The Journal of Music, which sprang from the impulse of those days, now, after a generation, is suspended; nor need we speculate why musical Boston, which demands the Passion music of Bach, permits a journal of such character to expire. Amid all these changes and disappearances two things have steadily increased—the higher musical taste of the country, and the good name of the critic whose work has most contributed to direct and elevate it. If, as he says, it is sad that the little bark which the sympathetic encouragement of a few has kept afloat so long goes down before reaching the end of its thirtieth annual voyage, it does not take down with it the name and fame of its editor, which have secured their place in the history of music in America."
From the beginning Dwight was intimately connected with the Harvard Musical Association, which has done so much to promote the interests of music in Boston. He was its first vice-president and chairman of its board of directors. He was active in providing its meetings with attractive musical programmes; about 1844 he secured for it a series of chamber concerts; he took part in procuring the building of Music Hall, and in bringing to it the great organ which was for many years an attraction. From 1855 to 1873 he continuously filled the position of vice-president of the association; and in the latter year was elected president, which place he held until his death. Beginning about 1850 he worked steadily for securing a good musical library, that should be as nearly complete as possible; and his desire was to make this a special feature in the activities of the association. In 1867 a room was secured for it; and in 1869 a suite of rooms was rented for the gatherings, both social and musical, of the members of the association. On his election as president, Dwight went to live in those rooms, cared for the library, and received the members and guests of the association whenever they chose to frequent them. This was in Pemberton Square; but in 1886 there was a removal to Park Square, and another in 1892 to West Cedar Street. Dwight's connection of forty or fifty years with the Harvard Musical Association was most intimate, so that he and the association came to be almost identical in the minds of Boston people. Whatever it accomplished was through his initiative or with his active cooperation.
In 1865 Dwight proposed the organization of a Philharmonic Society among the members of the association, and also that a series of concerts be undertaken. This suggestion was carried out, and the concerts were for many years very successful. In time their place was taken by the concerts of Theodore Thomas, and the Symphony Concerts generously sustained by Mr. H.L. Higginson; but it must be recognized that Dwight and the Harvard Musical Association taught the Boston public to appreciate only those concerts at which the best music was produced.
One special object in the organization of the Harvard Musical Association was the securing of a place for music in the curriculum of Harvard College. That was an object very dear to the heart of Dwight, and one which he brought forward frequently in the pages of his Journal of Music. He maintained that music was not merely for amusement, but that it is the most human and spiritual of all the arts, and must find its place in any systematic effort to secure a full-rounded culture. In a few years Harvard appointed an instructor in music. Mr. John K. Paine was called to that position in 1862, and was made a professor in 1876.
Dwight gave a most generous welcome to all young musicians of promise as they came forward. Such men as John C.D. Parker, John K. Paine, Benjamin J. Lang, George W. Chadwick, Arthur Foote, and William F. Apthorp were generously aided by him; and the Journal of Music never failed to speak an appreciative word for them. However Dwight might differ from some of them, he could recognize their true merits, and did not fail to make them known to the public. When Mr. Paine, who had been watched by Dwight with appreciation and approval from the beginning of his musical career, was made a professor of music in Harvard University, when his important musical compositions were published, and when his works were given fit interpretation in Cambridge and elsewhere, these events were welcomed by him as true indications of the development of music in this country.
For many years John S. Dwight was the musical autocrat of Boston, and what he approved was accepted as the best which could be obtained. His knowledge of music was literary rather than technical, appreciative rather than scientific; but his qualifications were such as to make him an admirable interpreter of music to the cultivated public of Boston. What a musical composition ought to mean to an intelligent person he could make known in language of a fine literary texture, and with a rare spiritual insight he voiced its poetic and aesthetic values. If the better-trained musicians of more recent years look upon his musical judgments with somewhat of disapproval, as not being sufficiently technical, they ought not to forget that he prepared the way for them as no one else could have done it, and that he had a fine skill in bringing educated persons to a just appreciation of what music is as an art. As Mr. William F. Apthorp has well said, "his musical instincts and perceptions were, in a certain high respect, of the finest. He was irresistibly drawn towards what is pure, noble, and beautiful, and felt these things with infinite keenness."
Dwight's last years were spent in furthering the interests of the Harvard Musical Association, in writing about his beloved art, and in the society of his many generous friends. He had a talent for friendship, and during his lifetime he was intimately associated with almost every man and woman of note in Boston. He was of a quiet, gentlemanly habit of life, took the world in the way of one who appreciates it and desires to secure from it the most of good, was warmly attached to the children of his friends and found the keenest delight in their presence, loved all that is graceful and beautiful, and devoted himself with unceasing ardor to the art for which he did so much to secure a just appreciation.
On the occasion of his eightieth birthday his friends and admirers were brought together in the rooms of the Harvard Musical Association. It was a red-letter day in his life, and he greatly appreciated it. A few months later, September 5, 1893, his life came to an end—a life that had been in no way great, but that had been spent in the loving and faithful service of his fellow-men. At his funeral, Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, an intimate friend of many years, read this just and appreciative tribute:
"O Presence reverend and rare, Art thou from earth withdrawn? Thou passest as the sunshine flits To light another dawn.
Surely among the symphonies That praise the Ever-blest, Some strophe of surpassing peace Inviteth thee to rest.
Thine was the treasure of a life Heart ripened from within, Whose many lustres perfected What youth did well begin.
The noble champions of thy day Were thy companions meet, In the great harvest of our race, Bound with its priceless wheat.
Thy voice its silver cadence leaves In truth's resistless court, Whereof thy faithful services Her heralds make report.
Here thou, a watchful sentinel, Didst guard the gates of song, That no unworthy note should pass To do her temple wrong.
Dear are the traces of thy days Mixed in these walks of ours; Thy footsteps in our household ways Are garlanded with flowers.
If we surrender, earth to earth, The frame that's born to die, Spirit with spirit doth ascend To live immortally."
The letters contained in this volume give fullest indication of the cordial and intimate relations which existed between Dwight and Curtis. This may be seen more distinctly, perhaps, with the help of a few letters not there given, including two or three written by Dwight to his friend. In a letter to Christopher P. Cranch, the preacher, poet, and artist, written at the time when he was starting his Journal of Music on its way, Dwight said: "If you see the Howadji, can you not enlist his active sympathy a little in my cause? A letter now and then from him on music or on art would be a feather in the cap of my enterprise. It is my last, desperate (not very confident), grand coup d'etat to try to get a living; and I call on all good powers to help me launch the ship, or, rather, little boat."
Curtis seconded his friend's efforts cordially, subscribed for the new journal, persuaded a number of his friends to subscribe, and wrote frequently for it. He wrote Dwight this letter of appreciation and advice:
"Your most welcome letter has been received, and its contents have been submitted to the astute deliberations of the editorial conclave [Tribune]. We are delighted at the prospect—but we do not love the name. 1st. Journal of Music is too indefinite and commonplace. It will not be sufficiently distinguished from the Musical Times and the Musical World, being of the same general character. 2d. 'Side-glances' is suspicious. It 'smells' Transcendentalism, as the French say, and, of all things, any aspect of a clique is to be avoided.
"That is the negative result of our deliberations; the positive is, that you should identify your name with the paper, and call it Dwight's Musical Journal, and you might add, sotto voce, 'a paper of Art and Literature.'
"Prepend: I shall be very glad to send you a sketch of our winter doings in music, especially as I love Steffanone, although she says, 'I smoke, I chew, I snoof, I drink, I am altogether vicious.' You shall have it Sunday morning. Give my kindest regards to your wife. I wish she could sing in your paper."
In a letter written in March, 1882, Dwight expressed to Curtis his appreciation of the most friendly words which the "Easy Chair" had said of him and his work as an editor, in making mention of the fact that the Journal of Music had come to the end of its career:
"My dear George,—With this I send you formal invitation, on the part of the committee of arrangements, for the celebration of the anniversary of the foundation, by Dr. Howe, of the Institution for the Blind.... We wish to have an address—not long, say half an hour—partly historical; and we all (committee, director, teachers, pupils) have set our hearts upon having you perform that service. It would delight us all; and I know that you would find the occasion, the very sight of those sightless children made so happy, most inspiring.... A more responsive audience than the blind themselves cannot be found. Dear George, do think seriously of it, and tell me you will come. Your own wishes in respect to the arrangements and conditions shall in all respects be consulted. But come, if you wish to have a good time, a memorable time, and make a good time for us.
"George, how many times have I been on the point of writing to you since that delightful week we spent at dear old Tweedy's. To me it was a sweet renewal of good old days, and I came away feeling that it must have added some time to my life. Then, too, I wished to thank you for your most friendly, hearty, and delightful talk about me and my Journal in the 'Easy Chair.' It was so like you, like the dear old George. I tell you, it made me feel good, as if life wasn't all a failure. And now I am finding laziness agreeing with me too—too well.... And if I were not so very, very old, if it were not my fate to have been sent into the world so long before my time, I verily believe I should confess myself over head and ears in love! At any rate, I love life. Yet nearly all my old friends seem to be dead or dying. When I write you again, I hope to be able to say that I am well at work again; but how?—on what? Thank God, I am not a 'critic!'"
The winter of 1843-44 was spent by the Curtis brothers at their father's house in New York. George studied somewhat, heard much music, and read extensively. In the spring of 1844 they went to live in Concord for purposes of study and recreation. They wished to know country life, and they regarded it as a desirable part of education that they should become acquainted with practical affairs, and especially with agriculture. That tendency of the time which established Brook Farm and sent Thoreau into the Concord woods, worked itself out in this desire of two young men to find life at first hand. Colonel Higginson has said of the fresh life started by the transcendental movement: "Under these combined motives I find that I carefully made out, at one time, a project of going into the cultivation of peaches, thus securing freedom for study and thought by moderate labor of the hands. This was in 1843, two years before Thoreau tried a similar project with beans at Walden Pond; and also before the time when George and Burrill Curtis undertook to be farmers at Concord. A like course was actually adopted and successfully pursued through life by another Harvard man a few years older than myself, the late Marston Watson, of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Such things were in the air, and even those who were not swerved by 'the Newness' from their intended pursuits were often greatly as to the way in which they were undertaken."
A letter written by Burrill Curtis, and printed in part by Mr. Cary, gives the reasons for this experiment. He says it was "for the better furtherance of our main and original end—the desire to unite in our own persons the freedom of a country life with moderate out-door occupation, and with intellectual cultivation and pursuits. At Concord we first took up our residence in the family of an elderly farmer, recommended by Mr. Emerson. We gave up half the day (except in hay-time, when we gave the whole day) to sharing the farm-work indiscriminately with the farm-laborers. The rest of the day we devoted to other pursuits, or to social intercourse or correspondence; and we had a flat-bottomed rowing-boat built for us, in which we spent very many afternoons on the pretty little river. For our second season we removed to another farm and farmer's house, near Mr. Emerson and Walden Pond, where we occupied only a single room, making our own beds, and living in the very simplest and most primitive style. A small piece of ground, which we hired of the farmer, we cultivated for ourselves, raising vegetables only, and selling the superfluous product, and distributing our time much as before."
It was to the house of Captain Nathan Barrett, one mile north of Concord village, west of the river, and overlooking it and its meadows, that the Curtis brothers went. Barrett was born in October, 1797, and was of the seventh generation of his family in the town. His house on Punkatassett Hill was pleasantly located, and the farm was large and well cultivated. Judge John S. Keyes, in the sketch of Barrett's life printed in the second series of the "Memoirs of Members of the Social Circle in Concord," says of him: "His house was the resort of many of the connections of himself and wife, who had there gay and jolly frolics. He was a captain of the Light Infantry company of the town. He was naturally of an easy, somewhat indolent disposition, so that he did little of the harder work of the farm, but he looked after everything, and he became a thoroughly skilled, practical farmer. His position as the principal man of his section of the town, and his own good sense, made him the leading person in his neighborhood. In person he was tall, nearly six feet, of large frame, and good proportions, weighing two hundred pounds, had a frank, open face, a high forehead, and a large head. He lived plainly but comfortably; drove a poor horse but a good carriage to church and visiting; dressed like his brother farmers about his work, but neatly and in good style when at leisure. He loved good fruit, raised it in large amounts. Neither witty nor humorous, he was slow to appreciate a joke, but he had a hearty laugh when he did comprehend it. He was liberal in his habits, genial in his temperament, and kindly in his disposition. He was very modest, though firm and reliable; honest in every fibre, without guile and cunning; thoroughly simple, and yet clear-headed, cool, and sensible. He was slow in his mental processes, but no one doubted that he believed all that he thought and said and did. His apples were not deaconed, his seeds were sure and reliable, and his milk was never watered. He never made a mistake in his accounts but once, and then it was against himself. Everybody knew him and liked him and praised him, and was sorry when he died."
Captain Barrett had a farm of five hundred acres, the largest in the town. He was a large raiser of sheep and milk. He was a deacon in the First Parish Church, thoroughly honest, most neighborly and accommodating in his ways, a loyal citizen, and a true-hearted man. He died in February, 1868, and was lamented by every resident of the town. A typical farmer was Captain Barrett, thoroughly human, loving life and all there is good in it, hard-headed, practical, of sturdy common-sense, faithful to every obligation as he understands it, of a kindly nature, enjoying the doing of good in a plain, simple way, caring little for the supernatural, and yet having a very sturdy faith in the few convictions of a rational religion, without high spiritual insight, he lived his religion in a very honest fashion.
It was quite in keeping with the character of Captain Barrett that he put the Curtis brothers at the task of getting out manure, as almost the first labor he required of them after their arrival on his farm. His idea was to "test their metal," to find what stuff they were made of, and to what extent they were in earnest in their expressed wish to become acquainted with practical agriculture. He spoke of it with glee to his neighbors, that he had put such refined gentlemen at that kind of work. It is needless to say that they bore the test well. They were not domiciled in the farm-house, but in a small cottage somewhat lower down the hill, yet in the immediate neighborhood.