François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon, 1651 - 1715

François Fénelon was an educator, theologian, and mystic to whom Amos Bronson Alcott's educational philosophy, conception of mysticism, and view of the relationship of God to nature are indebted.  Unlike Alcott, Fénelon was a college and seminary educated aristocrat; but, like Alcott, Fénelon held pure high-minded principles, pioneered in educational theory, devoted himself to lifelong learning, and respected the intelligence and creativity of the young.  His mysticism, however, and especially his relationship with the devout Quietist widow Madame Guyon caused him to eventually lose the favors of both Court and Church.  Alcott's library at Fruitlands contained six titles by Fénelon.
Fénelon was highly esteemed by Ralph Waldo Emerson as well.  In 1836 Emerson classed Fénelon as one of his "wise devout men" who knew "the cyclus of Orphic words"--a resonating spirit with the likes of King David, Saint Paul, Thomas à Kempis, Henry Scougal, George Herbert, Jeremy Taylor, Marcus Aurelius, Robert Leighton, and Confucius.  This Orphic conception of Fénelon was especially present in Alcott.  According to the Greek legend, Orpheus was first among the Thracian bards, having received his lyre directly from Apollo.  Orpheus, given instruction by the Muses, had the power to charm not only humans but animals, trees, and rocks, and was a seer and prophet as well as a musician and musicianly man.  Alcott, for his part, considered his own utterances no less inspired than any Bible or sacred scripture and, indeed, at one time labeled his own diary "Scripture" and wrote "Orphic Sayings."  Alcott became the preeminent Transcendentalist saint and--precisely like Fénelon--eventually found himself ridiculed, disparaged, and dismissed as senseless.  In this manner, the words of Thomas Merton on Fénelon apply equally well to Alcott: astonishment that "one so brilliant should remain so obscure."