Ralph Waldo Emerson
Amos Bronson Alcott
AMOS BRONSON ALCOTT, a philosopher devoted to the science of education, was born at Wolcott, Conn., Nov. 29, 1799. Like many farmers' sons in Connecticut, whilst still a boy, he was intrusted by a local trader with a trunk of merchandise, with which he sailed for Norfolk, Va., and which he afterward carried about among the plantations; and his early readings were in the planters' houses, who gave hospitality to the young salesman, and, observing his turn for study, talked with him, and opened their bookcases to him in a stormy day. On his return to Connecticut he began to teach, and attracted attention by his success with an infant-school.
He removed to Boston in 1828, and showed singular skill and sympathy in his methods of teaching young children of five, six and seven years of age at the Mason Temple. (See a printed account, "Record of a School," E. P. Peabody, 12mo, Boston, 1834; also, a transcript of the colloquies of these children with their teacher, in "Conversations on the Gospels," 2 volumes, 12mo, Boston, 1836.) But the school was in advance of public opinion, and, on the publication of this book, was denounced by the newspapers of the day. After closing his school, Mr. Alcott removed to Concord, Mass., where he betook himself to his studies, interesting himself chiefly in natural theology, and the various questions of reform, in educaiton, in diet, civil and social institutions.
On the invitation of James P. Greaves, of London, the friend and fellow-laborer of Pestalozzi in Switzerland, Mr. Alcott went to England in 1842. Mr. Greaves died before his arrival, but Mr. Alcott was cordially received by his friends who had given his name to their school at "Alcott House," Ham, near London, and spent some months in making acquaintance with various classes of reformers. On his return to America, he brought with him two of his English friends, Charles Lane and H. G. Wright; and Mr. Lane having bought a farm which he called "Fruitlands," at Harvard, Mass., they all went there to found a new community. Messrs. Lane and Wright soon returned to England, and the farm was sold. Mr. Alcott removed to Boston, and has led the life of a Peripatetic philosopher, conversing in cities and in villages, wherever invited, on divinity, on human nature, on ethics, on dietetics, and a wide range of practical questions. These conversations, which were at first casual, gradually assumed a more formal character, the topics being often printed on cards, and the company emeting at a fixed time and place.
Mr. Alcott attaches great importance to diet and government of the body; still more to race and complexion. He is an idealist, and we hsould say Platonist, if it were not doing injustice to give any name implying secondariness to the highly original habit of his salient and intuitive mind. He has singular gifts for awakening contemplation and aspiration in simple and in cultivated persons. Though not learned, he is a rare master of the English language; and, though no technical logician, he has a subtle and deep science of that which actually passes in thought, and thought is ever seen by him in its relations to life and morals. Those persons who are best prepared by their own habit of thought, set the highest value on his subtle perception and facile generalization.
Published in New American Cyclopedia, 1858.