Action translates death into life; fable into verity; speculation into experience; freeing man from the sorceries of tradition and the torpor of habit. The eternal Scripture is thus expurgated of the falsehoods interpolated into it by the supineness of the ages. Action mediates between conscience and sense: it is the gospel of the understanding.
--Amos Bronson Alcott, "Orphic Sayings," The Dial I:1 (July 1840), p. 90.
The preceding words were penned in 1840 by New England Transcendentalist Amos Bronson Alcott
in his masterpiece "Orphic Sayings
" in the Dial
. As was typical of Alcott's best efforts, these 100 sayings were generally unappreciated and largely misunderstood. Even today, many people are unaware of the life and legacy of this brilliant Transcendentalist. Currently, when one thinks of American Transcendentalism
, the first persons to come to mind are invariably Emerson
. Yet there were numerous Transcendentalists, and, as significant as these two men are, they represent only a part of a rich and varied movement. The roots of transcendentalism run deeper and broader than these two men of Concord alone. Alcott was also from Concord. More importantly, Alcott was the third major figure in the movement, whose significant contribution to the literature, philosophy, and religion of the American Renaissance was as well-recognized in the nineteenth century as it seems to have been lost in the twentieth.
Notably, Alcott acquired many epithets from his admirers. He was dubbed an "American Saint" by one author and "America's Socrates" by another. He was also known as the "American Orpheus." In 1856, the prominent Unitarian leader Henry W. Bellows called Alcott the "father of transcendentalism" and the "Plato of our time." One historian named him a "New England Saint." Alcott's descendent Dorothy Bronson Wicker called him "a Christ with a family." She founded the A. Bronson Alcott Society
in 1979 to reintroduce this remarkable man to his country.
Nevertheless, today, Alcott is remarkably unknown in the United States. According to one point of view, "If Emerson and Thoreau are the stars of 19th-century idealism, Bronson Alcott is the dark matter that exercises enormous, invisible influence. Now, of course, he's 'just' Louisa May's father" (Ron Charles, "War is no place for saints," The Christian Science Monitor, Vol. 97, No. 66 [Boston: Christian Science Publishing Society, March 1, 2005], p. 15).
This website has something to say about that.
These Web pages are intended to provide information and background on Amos Bronson Alcott
, who was not only one of the most renowned individuals of the nineteenth century but among the most original. It is my hope that this website will guide you to a better and fuller understanding of this great man.