Holmes of the Breakfast-Table

Holmes of the Breakfast-Table

Holmes of the Breakfast-Table

Holmes of the Breakfast-Table

Excerpt

When Holmes returned to America at the end of 1835, the Boston in which he had made his beginnings as a writer and a student of medicine had entered an exciting period of its history. The sun of reform had begun to shine with dazzling brightness. A sense of liberation was in the air. The Unitarian revolt against the established order of Calvinism in the Congregational churches had blazed an inviting path for exploration. Garrison's Liberator was marshalling the forces opposed to slavery. The whole company of 'come-outers'--pacifists (then known as non-resistants), woman-suffragists, teetotalitarians, spiritualists, anti-sabbatarians, to suggest but a few of the causes that stirred the community--was indeed in process of coming out. It was especially the churches from which they came out, and by so doing they won their ultraprotestant name. 'Not a reading man,' wrote Emerson to Carlyle in 1840, 'but has a draft of a new community in his waistcoat pocket. I am gently mad myself, and am resolved to live cleanly.' Lowell's essay on Thoreau contains these lively sentences, now quoted by no means for the first time: 'Everybody had a mission (with a capital M) to attend to everybody else's business. No brain but had its private maggot, which must have found pitiably short commons sometimes. Not a few impecunious zealots abjured the use of money (unless earned by other people), professing to live on the internal revenues of the spirit. Some had an assurance of instant millennium so soon as hooks and eyes could be substituted for buttons. Communities were established where everything was to be common but common-sense.' Brook Farm and Fruitlands were about to become symbols of a struggle towards the perfection of men and women. It was a time of many conventions with many purposes. A Chardon Street meeting in 1840 had no less ambitious an aim than 'Universal Reform.'

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