Lives out of Letters: Essays on American Literary Biography and Documentation in Honor of Robert N. Hudspeth

By Robert D. Habich | Go to book overview

The Inner Life of Fruitlands

Larry Carlson

IN THE JULY 1843 NUMBER OF THE DIAL, ALONG WITH MARGARET FULLER’S feminist tract “The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus Women” and other heady offerings by fellow Transcendentalists, Ralph Waldo Emerson published a two-page announcement for a newly established utopian community. Agrarian-based and undertaken by his close friend Bronson Alcott and coadjutor Charles Lane, an English reformer, Fruitlands promised to be a kind of heaven on earth. The Nashua Valley on the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border, with glorious views of Mount Wachusett and Mount Monadnoc, where the ninety-acre farm was located, fourteen miles from Emerson’s and Alcott’s homes in Concord, Massachusetts, “is esteemed for its fertility and ease of cultivation.” Here in this pastoral haven, by “leaning on the living spirit within the soul” and following a physical and dietary regimen of spartan simplicity and self-discipline, Alcott and Lane would nurture a harmonious “Family” mercifully uncontaminated by “the cares and injuries of a life of gain.” They made a succinct appeal to those readers wishing to take up the challenge of a purer life: “Consecrated to human freedom, the land awaits the sober culture of devout men.”1

In early September, a much more substantial article on Fruitlands appeared simultaneously in the New York Tribune and the Herald of Freedom, a New Hampshire antislavery paper. Both a promotional tract and a philosophical analysis of the ills of the world, “The Consociate Family Life” is wrought with the same Transcendentalist rhetoric as the notice in The Dial to tout the noble ends of the community. The two projectors attacked, among other vices, “selfishness” and property-owning, lauded the virtues of abstinence and “universal love,” expressed their sensitivity to the drudgery that women endured in ordinary society (chained as they were “to the servitudes of the dairy and the fleshpots”), and again held up Fruitlands as a salvific alternative to the fallen world. Lane and Alcott thus justified their “per-

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