The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance

By Arthur Versluis | Go to book overview

ten
Alcott

None of the American Transcendentalists was so ridiculed as Amos Bronson Alcott. Throughout his life, Alcott was a thoroughgoing religious radical whose pronouncements often were too much even for Transcendentalists like Emerson, although they themselves had abandoned Unitarian liberalism as too conservative. Although many critics have noted and lampooned Alcott's eccentric modes of “prophetic” expression from his “Orphic Sayings” in The Dial onward—some considering him deluded and even insane—much in Alcott's work becomes far more comprehensible when one considers a central hidden source of his inspiration: German mysticism exemplified in the work of seventeenth-century Protestant mystic Jacob Böhme.

This is not to defend Alcott completely from the charge of unfortunate expression, of course. It is no accident that Alcott, with his often incoherent “Orphic Sayings, ” inspired more derision of the early Transcendentalist peridical The Dial than anyone else. Even Alcott's friend Emerson criticized the “Sayings, ” published in the Wrst issue of The Dial in 1840, as containing Alcott's “inveterate faults:” verbosity, imprecise expression, extreme abstractness, and incoherence. Emerson suspected that his friend would never write so well as he talked, but Emerson still encouraged Margaret Fuller—who shared his assessment of Alcott—to publish “Orphic Sayings” because they would distinguish The Dial from other publications. 1

Distinguish it they did. Newspaper writers ridiculed The Dial as “the ravings of Alcott and his fellow zanies, ” even though Alcott's was the only genuinely eccentric writing in the new magazine. The Knickerbocker, in its issue of November 1840, parodied Alcott's contribution to The Dial with its “Gastric Sayings, ” and such pronouncements as “The popular cookery is dietetical. … Appetite is dual. Satiety is derivative. Simplicity halts in compounds. Masti

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The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance *
  • One - Introduction 3
  • Two - European Esoteric Currents 8
  • Three - Esotericism in Early America 21
  • Four - The Esoteric Ambience of the American Renaissance 53
  • Five - Hitchcock 64
  • Six - Poe 72
  • Seven - Hawthorne 81
  • Eight - Melville 91
  • Nine - Greaves 105
  • Ten - Alcott 115
  • Eleven - Emerson 124
  • Twelve - Fuller 147
  • Thirteen - Whitman 157
  • Fourteen - Dickinson 171
  • Fifteen - The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance 183
  • Notes 193
  • Bibliography 217
  • Index 231
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