Chapter 5





Interest in the bright young spirits that constituted the Brook Farm Phalanx drew me out one May day to the scene of their experiment. After a seven-mile ride by train we were set down at the pretty rural suburb of West Roxbury, somewhat noteworthy as being the first pastoral charge of Theodore Parker. The farm lies on the bank of the Charles River, about a mile north of the station, and is reached by a country road that goes straight forward for the first three quarters of a mile, then winds up and around a small hill, bends down into the valley of the Charles again, crosses a small brook by a rustic bridge, and then turns directly by the main buildings of the farm. One can but be charmed with its location. The larger part of it lies in the sunny interval of a little brook that flows westward into the Charles, but the boundary line also includes a series of knolls and foothills that rise on the brook’s northern border, and crowning these hills is a dense wood of cedar, hemlock, chestnut, and other forest trees. The Charles flows a few yards from its western boundary. In a little brown cottage, just


30   In Olde Massachusetts

across the way, lives George Bradford, an aged Englishman, who was once in charge of the farm, and who readily consented to act as our guide. The present estate is far from being the Blithedale of Hawthorne or the Brook Farm of Ripley and his associates. Probably there is not another farm in New England that has undergone such mutations as this in the brief period of thirty years. The Phalanx had pretty fully dispersed in the summer of 1848. For some time after their departure the estate was used by the city of Roxbury for a poor-farm. Then it was purchased by James Freeman Clarke, with the design, it was said, of building houses upon it and making it a suburb of the city. This design, however, if entertained, was never carried out. When the civil war broke out the farm became a camp for the volunteer soldiers of Massachusetts, and the tramp of armed men was heard in the former abode of dreamers. Later it was purchased by a Mr. Burckhardt, its present owner, for the site and endowment of an orphan asylum. In the course of these mutations all the buildings erected by the Phalanx, except one, have disappeared, and the whole aspect of the farm has been changed.

We entered the grounds by the main, or east entrance. From the gate a carriage way winds west, in and out among the knolls, having the brook and the interval on the south. Just here, on a pretty green plateau, sheltered by an old cottonwood tree, stood the main


Brook Farm in 1881   31

building, known to all familiar with the literature of the farm as the "Beehive." It was an old two-story and rustic structure of wood, with nothing particularly noticeable about its outward appearance. In 1849, when the town Committee on the Poor-Farm visited it, it contained "on the first floor two parlors, one large dining-room, 45 x 14, with closets, a kitchen with a Stimpson range, calculated for from sixty to eighty persons, and containing three large boilers, a washroom, press-room, store-room, and closets; and on the second floor, two large chambers with fireplaces, two bedrooms, and thirteen sleeping-rooms, with several closets." The "hive" was destroyed by fire long ago, and its site is now occupied by Mr. Burckhardt’s orphan asylum. Proceeding west, along the driveway, the sites of the former communal buildings were marked by fire-blackened ruins, and we noticed with what an eye to the picturesque they had been selected. First, a few yards west of the house was the barn, a large building, seventy feet by forty, with an addition for grain-rooms. Directly above it, on the crest of the hill, stood the Phalanstery, or Pilgrim House, whose loss by fire almost before it was completed so seriously crippled the community. The "Eyry," also quite prominent in the literature of the farm, stood still further north, almost in the shadow of the pine forest. Our guide informed us in his gossipy way that when he first came here, in 1849, Charles A. Dana and his wife were its


32   In Olde Massachusetts

occupants. Most interesting of all to us was Margaret Fuller’s cottage, still standing on the crest of a little hill, in the midst of a copse of cedars. It is cruciform in shape, covered with wide wooden clapboards, and is now the dwelling of the superintendent of the estate and his family. Our guide remarked sotto voce that Miss Fuller received $1,600 for it in the distribution of the property. Just beneath the cottage windows, in a grassy little hollow sheltered on every side by woods and hills, were the flower garden and hothouse of the association. Bradford expatiated largely on the beauty and bloom of this garden in its palmy days, and said that until within a year or two the country people were in the habit of resorting hither for slips of the Provence roses that still lived and flourished within its borders. It is only a patch of weed-covered earth now. A few yards west, in the deep gloom of the hemlocks, is a little graveyard where several members of the community found a last resting-place.

On the summit of a little knoll at the farthest verge of the farm, we sat down and tried to realize that this was the locality made classic by the presence of Zenobia, Hollingsworth, and Priscilla; that here the bright young prophets of a new social era sawed and planed in the workshops, toiled and moiled in the cornfields, that a new idea might have birth and a chance for its life; but the fire-blackened ruins and bare brown hillsides are too intensely practical for any play of feeling


Brook Farm in 1881   33

or show of sentiment. It is a little singular that none of the ready writers engaged in the enterprise has ever given the world an authentic account of the movement in its inception and results. Ripley and Dana, the two leading spirits, do not even give the name a place in their great cyclopedia. Hawthorne, it will be remembered, refers to this omission in the preface to his "Blithedale Romance," and gives a playful challenge to some of his literary confreres there to step forward and fill up the gap. He himself gives us glimpses in this book of the life at the farm, but one has a suspicion that they are more fictitious than real. The leaders have always evinced a great reluctance to refer to the matter in any way, seemingly regarding it as a freak of youthful folly of which the least said the better. The younger members, however those who grew up from boyhood to manhood on the farm, of whom there are several in this city show no such reluctance, and have very interesting reminiscences of the experiment to relate. One of these gentlemen, a middle-aged business man, recently favored me with some recollections, of which I give a synopsis.

"The Brook Farm experiment," he began, "was neither socialistic nor communistic, but it was utilitarian and humanitarian. A Mutual Aid Society would be a very appropriate name for it. It was a joint-stock corporation, regularly incorporated, known legally as the Brook Farm Phalanx. Some of its members con-


34   In Olde Massachusetts

tributed money, some labor of hand or brain; but these last were required to toil only a certain number of hours each day, and were on a social equality with the capitalists. All had an opportunity for study and social improvement afforded them. There was a division of labor among us. Some ~aught in the schools, some wrought in the workshops, some on the farm. The school of which Mr. and Mrs. Ripley were the directors was the most successful department. It gained quite a wide reputation, and numbered among its pupils young men from Manila, Havana, Florida, and Cambridge. There were classes in Greek, German, Italian, mental and moral philosophy, as well as a b c classes for the little children. Then we published a weekly newspaper called the Harbinger, which attained a higher grade, I think, than any American journal which bad preceded it. Ripley, Dana, and Knight were the working editors, and Channing, Parker, Otis, Clapp, Cranch, Curtis, Duganne, Godwin, Greeley, Higginson, Lowell, Story, and Whittier contributors. It was the legitimate successor of three other publications of like character the Dial, the Present, and the Phalanx and after the failure of the association was published for a time at New York, but finally died of inanition. We paid great attention to social life and development at Brook Farm. The finest minds and most genial hearts were attracted to it. Beautiful and cultured women added their gracious presence, too, and the long


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winter evenings spent around the glowing fireside of the old farmhouse were social symposia of the highest order. We read, we sang, we discussed art, literature, social questions, the topics of the day, and wove glowing visions of the coming of the new order which should cast out the old. Ripley was the prince among us both in intellect and heart, and was the inspiration of the whole movement. Dana was the business manager, the only man of affairs among us. Dwight was the teacher and preacher. Emerson and Parker, the latter then preaching at Roxbury, often looked in on us with words of sympathy and advice. I see you are curious to know why our undertaking failed. Not from any inherent weakness in the principle we younger men have always maintained, but from extraneous causes. Our situation was ill-judged. We were seven miles from Boston, and in the absence of railroads our supplies, coal for the engine and products of farm and workshops, had to be hauled that distance in wagons. Then we were not organized systematically and suffered from inexperience, besides meeting with sad losses by fire. I am quite sure in the hands of practical men the experiment could be tried with a fair measure of success."