Search for a New Eden: James Pierrepont Greaves (1777-1842), the Sacred Socialist and His Followers

Search for a New Eden: James Pierrepont Greaves (1777-1842), the Sacred Socialist and His Followers

Search for a New Eden: James Pierrepont Greaves (1777-1842), the Sacred Socialist and His Followers

Search for a New Eden: James Pierrepont Greaves (1777-1842), the Sacred Socialist and His Followers

Synopsis

This is the first book-length study of James Pierrepont Greaves, the mystic, idealist, and sacred socialist. It explores the effects of his teaching on his very disparate followers and particularly on the community, Alcott House, he established. The book's chapters on Sophia Chichester, the ultraradical supporter of Greaves, will be of particular interest to feminists.

Excerpt

James Pierrepont Greaves, a man whose life was dedicated to creating a better world, was born in 1777, the eldest surviving son of a family of ten children. His father was a linendraper in Cheapside, and James Pierrepont and three of his brothers, all evangelical Christians, followed their father to become merchants in the city of London. The long Napoleonic Wars made overseas trade particularly difficult and led to the bankruptcy of Greaves and two of his brothers. In 1817 Greaves, who had lost everything in paying off his debts, experienced “some strong interior visitations” and was converted to a personal conviction of the “divine in Man” to which he was faithful for the rest of his life. He traveled to Switzerland to work with the educational reformer Pestalozzi and attracted followers abroad and in England with his personal magnetism, spreading his teaching through his writings but more especially through his presence and the spoken word. He was a mystic and a theosopher in the line of prophetic or visited individuals who turned away from dogmatic Christianity in favor of personal enlightenment, like the German peasant Jakob Boehme (1575–1642), the Englishman William Law (1688–1761) and the Swede Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), a tradition of which he was fully conscious. To use a word Greaves would not have known, he was a guru, though in sharp contrast to later nineteenth-century theosophists like Thomas Lake Harris, Madame Blavatsky, and Annie Besant, for whom the exercise of power seems to have been as important as their spiritual mission. Greaves never tried to exploit his followers sexually and never claimed to be in touch with invisible “Masters” to whose arcane teaching he alone had access. He shared his commitment to the experience of God’s love with all who would listen and embodied his beliefs in his personal life: he remained a poor man living abstemiously on the charity of others and was celibate. In our own time we have seen religious cults with members at the mercy of charismatic figures staggering through violence to disaster, all the more notorious under the media’s spotlight, as at Waco with David Koresh. Greaves and his followers did not wholly resist . . .

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