Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/288

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tional; but they are, nevertheless, barbarians: for the degree of barbarism in any community is measured by the impunity with which its members seek their gratification at each other's expense.




LITERARY NOTICES.

George Ripley. By Octavius Brooks Frothingham. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. Pp. 321. Price, $1.50.

Mr. Frothingham's life of Ripley is a very pleasant and entertaining, if not in the highest degree instructive, book upon its subject. As a biographer, in this case he has the advantage of having been long and intimately acquainted with the man whose life he delineates, of having a similar culture and a broad sympathy with his aims. But while these qualifications are favorable to the appreciation of Mr. Ripley's character, they are not so favorable to that criticism of it which is perhaps necessary to extract the highest lesson from its career. Mr. Frothingham has given us a model biography from a literary point of view, but we suspect that in future the work of describing men's lives must more and more pass into the hands of those who have a scientific preparation for the work. We must have something more than the mere narration of a career in a fine literary form; we must have analysis and a critical judgment of character in relation to the circumstances in which it was displayed.

Mr. Ripley's life was divided into several stages. He was a bright, clear-headed boy of unusual capacity, fond of books, and learning from them with great facility. He accepted the customary course of study, and went through college early and with distinction. He was absorbed in classical studies, and paid very little attention to science of any kind. His culture was therefore one-sided, and he was in consequence to no small degree the victim to his university education.

From college he passed into professional life, taking the line of divinity. In preparation for this he had crammed German meta-physics to an inordinate degree, and brought a large theological erudition to his pulpit labors. He worked zealously and most conscientiously in this field for upward of a dozen years, and, being dissatisfied with the result, decided to abandon it. We are of opinion that with his strong common sense, if he had any fair share of scientific cultivation, he would either have kept out of the clerical profession or would have succeeded in it by subordinating theology to truth and making an independent career. He had abundant talent for this purpose. But, as it was, his theology broke down and he left it.

Mr. Ripley then entered upon the third stage of his career, which was both very natural and not a little remarkable. Earnestly desiring to realize a nobler ideal of life than is fulfilled by the present state of society, even under a religious organization which he had faithfully tried, he resolved to embark in a new social project that promised to yield higher satisfactions than are derived from the existing state of society.

He joined the association at Brook Farm, now a curiosity of history, and resolved to devote himself to the practical realization of a more harmonious social life by an experimental trial of what is possible in this direction. He had eminent coadjutors, who were animated by the same high aspirations, but Ripley was the life and soul of the movement. Never, perhaps, was before gathered a more sincere and unselfish band of devotees than those who made the attempt to carry out a reconstructive social reform at Brook Farm. The experiment failed, of course, and Ripley was left saddled with its debts, all of which he afterward most honorably discharged.

We say Brook Farm failed "of course," and this for the very simple reason that ideal states of society implying natures of a high grade can not be suddenly manufactured out of materials long shaped and adapted to a lower social condition. The adventurers of Brook Farm were sentimentalists, enthusiasts, and philanthropists, amiable and earnest, but of the literary type which implies a highly cultivated ignorance of all the natural laws by which terrestrial affairs are governed. If George Ripley had studied natural things when in college for half the time, and got some tolerable idea of the limitations of human nature under inexorable natural ordinances, he would not have