Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Greaves, James Pierrepont

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GREAVES, JAMES PIERREPONT (1777–1842), mystic, born 1 Feb. 1777, was in early life engaged in business in London. According to one account the firm in which he was a partner became bankrupt in 1806 owing to the French war; another authority says that 'after getting rich in commerce he lost his fortune by imprudent speculations.' He surrendered all his property to his creditors, and lived for some time on the income allowed him for winding up the affairs of his establishment. In 1817 he joined Pestalozzi the Swiss educational reformer, then established at Yverdun. Returning to England in 1825 he became secretary of the London Infant School Society. In 1832 he was settled in the village of Randwick, Gloucestershire, and engaged in an industrial scheme for the benefit of agricultural labourers. Resuming his residence in London, he drew around him many friends. A philosophical society founded by him, and known as the Æsthetic Society, met for some time at his house in Burton Crescent. His educational experiences gradually led him to peculiar convictions. 'As Being is before knowing and doing, I affirm that education can never repair the defects of Birth.' Hence the necessity of 'the divine existence being developed and associated with man and woman prior to marriage.' He was a follower of Jacob Boehme and saturated with German transcendentalism. A. F. Barham [q. v.] says that his followers mainly congregated at Ham in Surrey; here also a school was organised to give effect to his educational views. Barham adds that he considered him as essentially a superior man to Coleridge, and with much higher spiritual attainments and experience. 'His numerous acquaintances regarded him as a moral phenomenon, as a unique specimen of human character, as a study, as a curiosity, and an absolute undefinable.' The earning of a livelihood was naturally a subordinate matter with him; 'that he was often in great distress for means,' writes a member of a family in which he was a frequent guest, 'was proved by his once coming to us without socks under his boots.' Latterly he was a vegetarian, a water-drinker, and an advocate of hydropathy. A portrait prefixed to his works gives an impression of thoughtfulness, serenity, and benevolence. He published none of his writings separately, but printed a few of them in obscure periodicals. His last years were spent at Alcott House, Ham, so named after Amos Bronson Alcott, the American transcendentalist, with whom he had a long correspondence. Here he died on 11 March 1842, aged 65. Two volumes were afterwards published from his manuscripts (vol. i. 'Concordium,' Ham Common, Surrey, 1843; vol. ii. Chapman, 1845). Some minor publications, also posthumous, appear in the Brit. Mus. Cat.

[An Odd Medley of Literary Curiosities, by A. F. Barham, pt. ii. 1845; Letters and Extracts from the manuscript writings of J. P. Greaves

(memoir prefixed to); article 'A. B. Alcott' in Appleton's Cyclopædia, 1858; private information.]

J. M. S.