Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Ripley, George

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RIPLEY, George, scholar, b. in Greenfield, Mass., 3 Oct., 1802; d. in New York city, 4 July, 1880. He was the youngest but one of ten children, four boys and six girls, all of whom he survived. His father, Jerome Ripley, was a merchant, a justice of the peace for nearly half a century, a representative in the legislature, and one of the justices of the court of sessions. His mother was a formal, precise, stately, but kind-hearted woman, a connection of Benjamin Franklin. She was orthodox in religion, and her husband was a Unitarian, which accounts for the singular mingling of conservative feeling with radical tendencies in their child. George loved to hear the old tunes at Brook Farm, and always had on his table a copy of Dr. Watts's hymns, even when he was writing philosophical articles for the “Tribune,” and worshipping in New York with an independent society of the most liberal type. He was graduated at Harvard in 1823, the first scholar in a class that included men of some intellectual distinction. His only rival was John P. Robinson, who might have outstripped him, but was suspended for the part he took in a “rebellion,” and so lost his degree. At Cambridge young Ripley was known as an excellent scholar, especially in languages and literature. He was also proficient in mathematics, which he taught for some time at the college while he was studying theology. Three years were spent at the divinity-school, and on 8 Nov., 1826, he was ordained pastor of a new religious society in Boston, President Kirkland, of Harvard, preaching the sermon, Dr. Charles Lowell offering the prayer of ordination, and Dr. Henry Ware, Jr., giving the charge. The corner-stone of the new meeting-house, at the junction of Purchase and Pearl streets, was laid on 7 Sept., 1825, and the dedication took place on 24 Aug., 1826. In the same year Mr. Ripley married Sophia Willard Dana, daughter of Francis Dana, of Cambridge. He was devoted to his work, and it was not his fault that his ministry was unsuccessful in a material point of view. The population moved to other parts of the town, and in less than twenty-five years the building was sold to the Roman Catholics. The fire of 1872 swept it out of existence. Business occupied the spot, and every trace of it was lost. At this time Mr. Ripley was a student of philosophical questions, a disciple of the intuitional school, a theoretical sympathizer with reformers, and a warm friend of advanced opinions. The first meeting of the Transcendental club was at his house, on 19 Sept., 1836. His library was large and fine, especially rich in German and French books. He wrote articles on “Degerando,” “Religion in France,” “Pestalozzi,” “Ethical Philosophy,” and “Martineau's Rationale of Religious Inquiry,” thus going over the whole ground of philosophical speculation. In 1838 Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered his famous address before the alumni of the divinity-school which led to the controversy between the old and the new orders of thought, Andrews Norton speaking for the former, George Ripley for the other. In 1838 appeared the first two volumes of the “Foreign Standard Literature,” a series that extended to fourteen. This publication exerted a large influence on the educated mind of New England, and the opening volumes, entitled “Philosophical Miscellanies,” were republished in 1857 in Edinburgh. In 1840 the “Dial”was established, in conjunction with Mr. Emerson and Margaret Fuller, who conducted it after his short editorship was closed. He wrote but two papers, one on “Orestes A. Brownson” and one a “ Letter to a Theological Student.” The Brook Farm experiment, begun immediately on his leaving the pulpit, in the spring of 1841, was a practical continuation of the ministry, its transferrence from the speculative to the working domain, the literal interpretation of the New Testament, as Mr Ripley understood it, a reduction of his preaching to practice, the fulfilment of a dream that Dr. Channing had long entertained, of “an association in which the members, instead of preying on one another and seeking to put one another down, after the fashion of this world, should live together as brothers, seeking one another's elevation and spiritual growth.” the name of the community was “The Brook Farm Institute of Agriculture and Education,” and its aim was to establish an agricultural, literary, and scientific school or college, “in order to live a religious and moral life worthy the name.” A stock company was formed, and a farm and utensils were purchased. The best minds were attracted, and the plan at first seemed full of promise. The freedom from care, the spontaneousness of labor, the absence of all signs of toil and anxiety, the sense of equality in condition, and the abolition of all class distinctions, made work a delight. There was exhilaration, joy, gayety. The new earth had come. Wealth was nothing, fame was nothing; natural development was all. Mr. Ripley was over, in, and through the whole. He taught intellectual and moral philosophy and mathematics, administered, wrote letters, milked cows, drove oxen, talked, lent a cheerful temper to every part of the arrangement, animated the various groups, and sent his ringing laugh to all corners of the institution. When the Brook Farm undertaking failed, in 1847, from several causes, chief among which were financial embarrassments, infertility of the soil, and want of public interest in the scheme, Mr. Ripley went to Flatbush, L. I., for several months, where his wife taught and he labored at journalism. In 1848 they came to New York. She became an enthusiastic Roman Catholic, and died in 1861, after a painful, lingering illness, arising from an accident that induced cancer. The husband went into retirement, busy in the mean time with various literary enterprises. His ventures were too many to mention. The “New American Cyclopaedia,” of which he was joint editor with Charles A. Dana, begun in 1857, was finished in 1863, and under the same editors it was completely revised in 1873-'6. Late in 1861 he emerged from seclusion in Brooklyn, came again to New York, went into society moderately, read for the press, wrote for the “Tribune” and other papers, spent hours daily in his study, noticed, planned, helped edit books. There was the same earnestness in the cause of humanity, but now his aim was to elevate the intellectual standard, refine the taste, purify the sentiments of the community. In 1865 he married Augusta Schlossberger, a young widow, German by birth, Parisian by education. She married Alphonse Pinede after Mr. Ripley's death, and lives in Agen, France. The union with Mr. Ripley was entirely happy; the new life was bright and prosperous. He travelled abroad, saw many people, lived in the world, did a vast amount of literary labor, was hearty and cheerful, the honored centre of a brilliant intellectual circle. The University of Michigan conferred on him the degree of LL. D. in 1874. He died of angina pectoris. Besides his work as a critic, in which he endeavored to raise the level of literary achievement and encourage talent, George Ripley was the friend of aspiring young men, poets, prose-writers, thinkers, without regard to creed or nationality. He was a cheery companion, a warm-hearted, genial, loyal comrade; modest, unassuming, ready to serve. To strangers he seemed formal, reserved, and cold, but to his intimates he was frank and jovial, fond of jokes and laughter, responsive, and sympathetic. He left no extended work, though he projected a series of critical and biographical sketches. As a promoter of sound learning he will be gratefully remembered. His “Life” has been written for the “American Men of Letters” series, by Octavius B. Frothingham (Boston, 1882).