Page images

thoughts. But this growth of the symbolic has become ranker and ranker, until, in this last book, the very trees in full foliage are fringed with mosses. It seems as if the axis of his mind had shifted, and the regions of fancy had been brought from the temperate zone beneath the tropics, and hidden germs were bursting prodigally into life. With this teeming fruitfulness and gorgeous wealth we associate the thought of miasm and disease. One feature of this style though we do like much, it is its freedom, its conversational directness, its point and spirit, its infinite variety. How far preferable to the dandy precision of so called elegant styles, and to the solemn dryness of so called clear styles. Is it a delusion however that something of that old bewitching melody of his earlier speech has been sacrificed? There is less to our ear of that rhythm which used to charm us, of that sound and sweep like the bursting of long swelling billows on the broad beach. But we have no notion meanwhile that there is any degeneracy in the artist. We believe that there has been a progress even. We think this present style a transition one. It is a struggling for some adequate utterance, for some word of power which should open the deaf ear; for we must remember his countrymen have been deaf comparatively, and perhaps for the want of some free, hearty speech, less prim than suited the scholar's garb. Will not this Apollo find one day the murmuring shell ? Some, wiser than we pretend to be, settle this matter of style summarily. They will have it that Mr. Carlyle is affected.We commend to all such for candid consideration these few sentences of his own. “ Affectation is a cheap word and of sovereign potency, and should not be rashly applied. Its essence is that it is assumed: the character is, as it were, forcibly crushed into some foreign mould, in the hope of being thereby reshaped and beautified : the unhappy man persuades himself that he is in truth a new and wonderfully engaging creature, and so he moves about with a conscious air, though every movement betrays not symmetry, but dislocation. This it is to be affected, to walk in a vain show. But the strangeness alone is no proof of the vanity. Many men who move smoothly in the old established railways of custom will be found to have their affectation; and perhaps here and there some divergent genius be accused of it unjustly. The show, though common, may not cease to be vain ; nor become so for being uncommon. Before we censure man for seeming what he is not, we should be sure that we know what he is.


Art. III. — Conversations with Children on the Gos

pels ; conducted and edited by A. BRONSON Alcott. Boston: James Munroe and Co. 1836. 2 vols. 12mo.

This is a difficult book for Reviewers. It is not easy to say what it is, or what it is not. It is hardly safe to assume it as an index to the views and opinions of its editor, or to the character and worth of the school in which these Conversations were held. The Conversations published are incomplete ; they comprise only one year of what was intended to be a four years' course. The very nature of such conversations precludes the possibility of recording them with perfect accuracy, though these were recorded with great fidelity; and then, they constituted the exercise of the scholars for only a part of one halfday in a week, the rest of the time being taken up with the studies common in other schools. As it regards Mr. Alcott, these Conversations very imperfectly reveal him, or his system of instruction. One is in constant danger of misapprehending him, and of ascribing to him views and opinions which belong solely to the children. Even his own questions, if we are not on our guard, may mislead us ; for they were frequently suggested by the remarks of the scholars, and designed merely to induce them to carry out their own thought.

Mr. Alcott has received much reproach, and we fear been made to suffer in the prosperity of his school on account of this book. He has been treated with great illiberality, and made to undergo as severe a persecution as the times allow. As a man he is singularly evangelical, pure minded, in love with all that is beautiful and good, and devoted soul and body to what he deems truth, and the regeneration of mankind. He is conscious of being sent into this world on a high and important mission, and his great study is to discharge that mission to the acceptance of him that sent him. Yet no man among us has been spoken of in severer tones, or been more seriously injured, for the moment, by the misapprehension and illnature, the misrepresentation and abuse, he has had to endure from those who affect to lead public opinion. It is painful to record this fact. For there is no man in our country who so well understands the art of education, and who is capable or desirous of doing more for establishing a system of Human Culture, in consonance with our faith as Christians and as republicans. And there is no fault, nor even shadow of a fault to be found with him ; save that he will be true to the deepest and holiest convictions of his own mind; and will never sacrifice what he holds as truth, virtue, manhood, independence, to popular opinion, to a sickly taste, or a heartless conventionalism. It is not much to our credit, that we condemn him for this.

Mr. Alcott may not be sound in his philosophy, he may not be correct in all his views, and he may carry, and we believe he does carry, some of his favorite notions to extremes ; but he deserves profound reverence for his determination to be a Man; to be true to Human Nature; for his fearless assertion of his own convictions, and for his deep and living faith

in God and Humanity. He aims to be himself and not another; to think his own thoughts and not another's; and having done this, he will not lock up his thoughts in his own bosom, and seem to acquiesce in reigning dogmas; but he will utter them, regardless of the reproach or injury he may sustain by so doing. Such a man in these times, when there are so few who feel that they are Men and have a part of their own to act, is not to be cast aside, to be trampled on, without great detriment to our social and moral progress. Did we know what is for our good, we should seek out such men, and honor them as prophets sent from God to foretell and to usher in a more glorious future.

Still we are not at all surprised that Mr. Alcott and his publications are so little appreciated, and so greatly misapprehended. Mr. Alcott is a reformer. He does not believe that the Past has realized the highest worth man may aspire to; he does not believe that the methods of teaching usually adopted, or the systems of education contended for by our teachers and professors generally, are at all adapted to the purpose of rearing up Men, and of making them walk as becomes moral and intellectual beings, made in the image of God and possessing a Divine Nature; he thinks that the aim of our systems of education, whether private, public, domestic, or social, is too low, and that the methods adopted are destitute of science, above all of vitality, that they are too mechanical, and make of our schools only commendable “treadmills.” Now to think and say all this is to reflect no great credit on our thousands of school-teachers and learned professors and their friends, nor upon those who boast the efforts we have made and are making in the cause of Education. This is as much as to tell his disciples, that unless their righteousness, in this respect, exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, the Chief Priests and Elders in the teaching Art, they shall in no wise be qualified for undertaking to rear up men and women, fit to be the citizens of a free and Christian Republic. Can the Chief Priests and Elders, the Scribes and Pharisees, be made to believe this; or to regard him who utters it in any other light than that of a reviler, a blasphemer? Reformers are never understood and appreciated, till the reforms for which they contend are to a good degree realized.

Then again, Mr. Alcott is a peculiar man. He has observed more than he has read, and reflected more than he has observed. He is a man, though eminently social in his feelings and tastes, who has lived mostly in communion with himself, with children, and with Nature. His system is one which he has thought out for himself and by himself. It has therefore almost necessarily taken the hues of his own mind, and become somewhat difficult to communicate to minds not constructed like his own. The terms he has made use of in his solitary reflections to express his thoughts to himself have a special meaning, a special value in his use of them, of which those with whom he converses are ignorant, and of which it is often extremely difficult for them to conceive. In consequence of his solitary reflections, of his little intercourse with the world at large, and his limited acquaintance with books, he has framed to himself a peculiar language, which, though formed of the choicest English, is almost, if not quite wholly unintelligible to all who have not become extensively acquainted with his mode of thinking. He very easily translates the thoughts of others into his language, but it is with great difficulty that he translates his thoughts into their language. People generally in hearing him converse form no conception of his real meaning; and if they attach any meaning to what he says, it will in nine cases out of ten be a false one. This, however, though it accounts for the misapprehension of people, in regard to him, is not altogether his fault. People may misapprehend him, because they do not understand themselves. There are not many men who have thoroughly analyzed their own minds,

« PreviousContinue »