From Utopia to Florence: The Story of a Transcendentalist Community in Northampton, Mass.

From Utopia to Florence: The Story of a Transcendentalist Community in Northampton, Mass.

From Utopia to Florence: The Story of a Transcendentalist Community in Northampton, Mass.

From Utopia to Florence: The Story of a Transcendentalist Community in Northampton, Mass.

Excerpt

This record of the development of a New England town is essentially the story of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry. It concerns an experiment in socialistic living which flourished during the decade 1840-1850 which saw men seeking to ward off the chill of materialistic society by turning their backs upon it and avidly warming themselves at the fires of transcendentalism and Fourierism. Three other Communities in Massachusetts found their source in this same movement, and their names have a more familiar ring: Brook Farm which brings to mind George Ripley, Channing, Margaret Fuller, John Dwight, and a score of other Bostonian intellectuals; Fruitlands, the half mad, half pathetic venture of Lane and Bronson Alcott; and Hopedale which, under the guidance of Adin Ballou, sought to spread the gospel of Practical Christianity. They are all gone now. Brook Farm is an orphanage; Fruitlands forms part of a tourists' mecca; and Hopedale is a sleepy crossroads. Their memory has been kept alive primarily through the reflected glory of their satellites. The Northampton Association has achieved a different immortality. For from this middle-class group, with strong convictions but without particular talents or distinction, developed a thriving industrial town where the Association itself is all but forgotten but where its spirit of religious tolerance and racial brotherhood survives.

The original records--personal and documentary--of the other societies have been carefully preserved by those interested in the sociological aspect of the experiments as well as those seeking biographical material about their famous members. Unfortunately this has not been so in the case of the Northampton Association. The Associationists themselves contributed in large part to their own obscurity, leaving behind them regretably few memorials either in writing or in legend, and their immediate descendants have been singularly careless of their fame. The official records of the Community consisted of a Journal, Letter Book, Secretary's Book and Account Book which were preserved until 1895. Then, after having been examined and discussed in part by Olive Rumsey in an article in the New England Magazine for that year, and more fully treated by Charles A. Sheffeld in his privately printed History of Florence, they disappeared. Every effort to rediscover them has proven fruitless and it seems almost certain that they, like so many historical documents before them, were classified as "rubbish cluttering up the attic" by some unthinking housewife, and vanished in the zeal of a New England housecleaning.

The members of the Northampton Association were for the most part industrious and hard working people concerned with the homely day-to-day tasks that had to be done. But in facing the stern realities of making a . . .

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