A consistent influence on the life and ideas of Alcott was his reading. Alcott read voraciously. One of the very first books he ever read, and one which continued to exercise its influence on him throughout his life, was John Bunyan's classic Puritan allegory, Pilgrim's Progress. Reading this work for the first time in 1811, Alcott cared much more for its piety than for its theology. He was attracted mostly to the emotional intensity of the relationship with God portrayed by the pilgrim Christian (Frederick C. Dahlstrand, Amos Bronson Alcott: An Intellectual Biography [East Brunswick, New Jersey: Associated University Presses, Inc., 1982], p. 22).
Alcott's educational philosophy also looked to Socrates
, whom he read in the translations by Thomas Taylor
. Alcott subscribed to Plato's doctrine of the preexistence of human souls in a spiritual realm before birth and held that human beings emanated from Universal Spirit. Consequently, young children, who had emanated most recently, were closer to divinity than adults, their minds were less clouded by the imperfections of the mundane world, and their ability to grasp spiritual truth--through intuition--was more acute than that of most older people. Because of this, Alcott was convinced that education should be directed toward the very young, and should be centered on drawing out of them the moral and spiritual truths already latent in the intuitive Reason they all possessed. Alcott believed that, using Socratic methods, it would be possible to elicit all the ideas of Plato from a group of twenty properly chosen youngsters.
Accordingly, William Wordsworth
's "Ode on Immortality" became Alcott's poetic statement of the inherent spiritual purity of children at birth. Wordsworth had been able to phrase ideas Alcott already had but could not articulate by himself. In connection with this concept of spirituality, Alcott looked to Pythagoras
, the Neoplatonists, and the Christian mystics, among them Emanuel Swedenborg
, and especially Jakob Böhme
as expressed by John Pordage
. Alcott was deeply engaged with other forms of mysticism as well, such as the Sufism of Sa'di of Schiraz
In addition, Alcott was greatly influenced by the ideas he found in the prose of Samuel Taylor Coleridge
. In particular, like most of the New England Transcendentalists, he drew philosophical sustenance from Coleridge's Aids to Reflection
, which he first read in September 1832. Alcott claimed this book formed "a new era in my mental and psychological life." With the aid of Coleridge, he was able to counter the emphasis of John Locke and the sensationalists upon materialistic laws through the idealism of the German philosophers