Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Alcott, Amos Bronson

ALCOTT, Amos Bronson, educator, b. in Wolcott, Conn., 29 Nov., 1799; d. in Boston, 4 March, 1888. His father was a farmer. While yet a boy he was provided with a trunk of various merchandise, and set out to make his way in the south. He landed at Norfolk, Va., and went among the plantations, talking with the people and reading their books. They liked him as a companion, and were glad to hold discussions with him on intellectual subjects. They would keep him under their roofs for weeks, reading and conversing, while he forgot all about his commercial duties. But when he returned to the north his employer discovered he had not sold five dollars' worth of his stock. He relinquished his trade in 1823, and established an infant school, which immediately attracted attention. His method of teaching was by conversation, not by books. In 1828 he went to Boston and established another school, showing singular skill and sympathy in his methods of teaching young children. His success caused him to be widely known, and a sketch of him and his methods, under the title of “A Record of Mr. Alcott's School,” by E. P. Peabody, was published in Boston in 1834 (3d ed., revised, 1874). This was followed in 1836 by a transcript of the colloquies of the children with their teacher, in “Conversations with Children on the Gospel.”

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His school was so far in advance of the thought of the day that it was denounced by the press, and as a result he gave it up and removed to Concord, Mass., where he devoted himself to the study of natural theology, reform in education, diet, and civil and social institutions. In order to disseminate his reformatory views more thoroughly, he went upon the lecture platform, where he was an attractive speaker, and his personal worth and originality of thought always secured him a respectful hearing. In 1842 he went to England, on the invitation of James P. Greaves, of London, the friend and fellow-laborer of Pestalozzi in Switzerland. Before his arrival Mr. Greaves died, but Mr. Alcott was cordially received by Mr. Greaves's friends, who had given the name of “Alcott House” to their school at Ham, near London. On his return to America, he brought with him two English friends, Charles Lane and H. G. Wright. Mr. Lane bought an estate near Harvard, in Worcester co., Mass., which he named “Fruitlands,” and there all went for the purpose of founding a community, but the enterprise was a failure. Messrs. Lane and Wright soon returned to England, and the property was sold. Mr. Alcott removed to Boston, and soon after returned to Concord. He afterward led the life of a peripatetic philosopher, conversing in cities and villages, wherever invited, on divinity, human nature, ethics, dietetics, and a wide range of practical questions. These conversations, which were at first casual, gradually assumed a more formal character. The topics were printed on cards, the company met at a fixed time and place, and for a while they attracted much attention. Mr. Alcott throughout his life attached great importance to diet and government of the body, and still more to race and complexion. He was regarded as a leader in the transcendental style of thought, but in later years was claimed as a convert to orthodox Christianity. He published “Tablets” (1868); “Concord Days,” personal reminiscences of the town (1872); “Table Talk” (1877); and “Sonnets and Canzonets” (1877), besides numerous contributions to periodical literature, including papers entitled “Orphic Sayings” in “The Dial” (Boston, 1839-'42). After taking up his residence in Concord, he allowed the peculiarities of his mind to find expression in quaint and curious arrangement of his grounds. The fence enclosing them, built entirely by himself, is made wholly of pine boughs, knotted, gnarled, and twisted in every conceivable shape, no two pieces being alike. They seem to be the result of many years of fragmentary collection in his walks. The engraving presented on the previous page is a view of Mr. Alcott's home in Concord. His life has been written by Sanborn and Harris (Boston, 1893). —

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His daughter, Louisa May, author, b. in Germantown, Pa., 29 Nov., 1832; d. in Boston, Mass., 6 March, 1888. When she was about two years of age her parents removed to Boston, and in her eighth year to Concord, Mass. At the age of eleven she was brought under the influence of the community that endeavored to establish itself near Harvard, in Worcester co. Thoreau was for a time her teacher; but she was instructed mainly by her father. She began to write for publication at the age of sixteen, but with no marked success for fifteen years. During that time she devoted ten years to teaching. In 1862 she went to Washington as a volunteer nurse, and for many months labored in the military hospitals. At this time she wrote to her mother and sisters letters containing sketches of hospital life and experience, which on her return were revised and published in book form (Boston, 1863), and attracted much attention. In 1866 she went to Europe to recuperate her health, which had been seriously impaired by her hospital work, and on her return in 1867 she wrote “Little Women,” which was published the following year, and made her famous. The sales in less than three years amounted to 87,000 copies. Her characters were drawn from life, and are full of the buoyant, free, hopeful New England spirit which marked her own enthusiastic love for nature, freedom, and life. Her other stories were conceived in the same vein, and have been almost equally popular. They are: “Flower Fables or Fairy Tales ” (Boston, 1855); “Hospital Sketches,” her first book, now out of print, reissued with other stories (1869); “An Old-Fashioned Girl” (1869); “Little Men” (1871); a series called “Aunt Jo's Scrap Bag” (1871-'82), containing “My Boys,” “Shawl Straps,” “Cupid and Chow-Chow,” “My Girls,” “Jimmy's Cruise in the Pinafore,” and “An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving”; “Work, A Story of Experience” (1873); “Eight Cousins” (1874); “Rose in Bloom” (1876); “Silver Pitchers” (1876); “Under the Lilacs” (1878); “Jack and Gill” (1880); “Moods” (1864), reissued in a revised edition (1881); “Proverb Stories” (1882); “Spinning-Wheel Stories” (1884); “Lulu's Library,” the first of a new series (1885). Ednah D. Cheney wrote her life (Boston, 1889). — Another daughter, May, artist (Mrs. Ernest Nieriker), b. in Concord, Mass., in 1840; d. in December, 1879. At the school of design in Boston, and in the studios of Krug, Rimmer, Hunt, Vautier, Johnston, and Müller she received the best attainable instruction, and subsequently divided her time between Boston, London, and Paris. After her marriage she lived mainly in Paris. Her strength was as a copyist and as a painter of still life, either in oils or water-colors. Her success as a copyist of Turner was such as to command the praise of Mr. Ruskin, and secure the adoption of some of her work for the pupils to copy at the South Kensington schools in London. In these branches of work she had few equals. She published “Concord Sketches,” with a preface by her sister (Boston, 1869).