1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Brook Farm

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BROOK FARM, the name applied to a tract of land in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, on which in 1841-1847 a communistic experiment was unsuccessfully tried. The experiment was one of the practical manifestations of the spirit of "Transcendentalism," in New England, though many of the more prominent transcendentalists took no direct part in it. The project was originated by George Ripley, who also virtually directed it throughout. In his words it was intended "to insure a more natural union between intellectual and manual labour than now exists; to combine the thinker and the worker, as far as possible, in the same individual; to guarantee the highest mental freedom by providing all with labour adapted to their tastes and talents, and securing to them the fruits of their industry; to do away with the necessity of menial services by opening the benefits of education and the profits of labour to all; and thus to prepare a society of liberal, intelligent and cultivated persons whose relations with each other would permit a more simple and wholesome life than can be led amidst the pressure of our competitive institutions." In short, its aim was to bring about the best conditions for an ideal civilization, reducing to a minimum the labour necessary for mere existence, and by this and by the simplicity of its social machinery saving the maximum of time for mental and spiritual education and development. At a time when Ralph Waldo Emerson could write to Thomas Carlyle, "We are all a little wild here with numberless projects of social reform; not a reading man but has a draft of a new community in his waistcoat pocket,"—the Brook Farm project certainly did not appear as impossible a scheme as many others that were in the air. At all events it enlisted the co-operation of men whose subsequent careers show them to have been something more than visionaries. The association bought a tract of land about 10 m. from Boston, and in the summer of 1841 began its enterprise with about twenty members. In September the "Brook Farm Institute of Agriculture and Education" was formally organized, the members signing the Articles of Association and forming an unincorporated joint-stock company. The farm was assiduously, if not very skilfully, cultivated, and other industries were established—most of the members paying by labour for their board—but nearly all of the income, and sometimes all of it, was derived from the school, which deservedly took high rank and attracted many pupils. Among these were included George William Curtis and his brother James Burrill Curtis, Father Isaac Thomas Hecker (1819-1888), General Francis C. Barlow (1834-1896), who as attorney-general of New York in 1871-1873 took a leading part in the prosecution of the "Tweed Ring." For three years the undertaking went on quietly and simply, subject to few outward troubles other than financial, the number of associates increasing to seventy or eighty. It was during this period that Nathaniel Hawthorne had his short experience of Brook Farm, of which so many suggestions appear in the Blithedale Romance, though his preface to later editions effectually disposed of the idea—which gave him great pain—that he had either drawn his characters from persons there, or had meant to give any actual description of the colony. Emerson refused, in a kind and characteristic letter, to join the undertaking, and though he afterwards wrote of Brook Farm with not uncharitable humour as "a perpetual picnic, a French Revolution in small, an age of reason in a patty-pan," among its founders were many of his near friends. In 1844 the growing need of a more scientific organization, and the influence which F.M.C. Fourier's doctrines, as modified by Albert Brisbane (1809-1890), had gained in the minds of Ripley and many of his associates, combined to change the whole plan of the community. It was transformed, with the strong approval of all its chief members and the consent of the rest, into a Fourierist "phalanx" in 1845. There was an accession of new members, a momentary increase of prosperity, a brilliant new undertaking in the publication of a weekly journal, the Harbinger, in which Ripley, Charles A. Dana, Francis G. Shaw and John S. Dwight were the chief writers, and to which James Russell Lowell, J.G. Whittier, George William Curtis, Parke Godwin, T.W. Higginson, Horace Greeley and many more now and then contributed. But the individuality of the old Brook Farm was gone. The association was not rescued even from financial troubles by the change. With increasing difficulty it kept on till the spring of 1846, when a fire which destroyed its nearly completed "phalanstery" brought losses which caused, or certainly gave the final ostensible reason for, its dissolution. The experiment was abandoned in the autumn of 1847. Besides Ripley and Hawthorne, the principal members of the community were Charles A. Dana, John S. Dwight, Minot Pratt (c. 1805-1878), the head farmer, who, like George Partridge Bradford (1808-1890), left in 1845, and Warren Burton (1810-1866) a preacher and, later, a writer on educational subjects. Indirectly connected with the experiment, also, as visitors for longer or shorter periods but never as regular members, were Emerson, Amos Bronson Alcott, Orestes A. Brownson, Theodore Parker and William Henry Channing, Margaret Fuller and Elizabeth Palmer Peabody. The estate itself, after passing through various hands, came in 1870 into the possession of the "Association of the Evangelical Lutheran Church for Works of Mercy," which established here an orphanage, known as the "Martin Luther Orphan Home."

The best account of Brook Farm is Lindsay Swift's Brook Farm, Its Members, Scholars and Visitors (New York, 1900). Brook Farm: Historic and Personal Memoirs (Boston, 1894), is by Dr J.T. Codman, one of the pupils in the school. See also Morris Hillquit's History of Socialism in the United States (New York, 1903).

(E. L. B.)