the Concord Magazine March/April 2001
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A. Bronson Alcott's School of Philosophy

From George B. Bartlett's, Concord: Historic, Literary and Picturesque.

Note: This story below about the School of Philosophy was written in 1885, and published before the structure we now know by that name (pictured in the two photos below) was built on the grounds of Orchard House.
This is the newest institution of Concord, and is now in short session from year to year. It was opened in 1879 , at the Orchard House of Mr. [Amos Bronson] Alcott, where the sessions were held in Mr. Alcott's library, and in the room adjoining, which had been the studio of May Alcott, before she went abroad in 1877, on that pilgrimage of art from which she was never to return.

In the coming summer, and in future years, the sessions will be held in the new hall, standing on the hillside west of the Orchard House, under the pine trees that crown the slope. It is a plain little structure, called "The Chapel," arranged for the convenience of the school, but without luxury or ornament. Over its porch is trained Mr. Alcott's largest grape vine, and on either side of its shady paths lead by arbors to the hill-top.

The history of the Concord School of Philosophy, though brief, is interesting, and dates back further than the year of its opening. So long ago as 1842, when Mr. Alcott, (then living at the Hosmer Cottage, where his daughter May was born), visited England, he began to collect books for the library of a school of the First Philosophy, to be established in some part of New England. For this purpose, Mr. James Pierrpont Greaves, the English friend and disciple of Pestalozzi, who died in March, 1842, bequeathed a collection of curious volumes, which Mr. Alcott and an English friend, Charles Lane, brought over from London and deposited in Concord. For many years, they have stood on the shelves in the Orchard House, and they are now destined to form a part of the library of the Concord School.

In pursuance of his long cherished plan, Mr. Alcott in 1878 arranged with his neighbor, Mr. F.B. Sanborn, to make a beginning, and early in the year 1879 a Faculty of Philosophy was organized informally at Concord, with members residing, some in that town, some in the vicinity of Boston, and others at the West. In course of the spring, the Dean of this Faculty, Mr. A. Bronson Alcott, and the Secretary, Mr. Sanborn, issued a circular calling the School together for a session for five weeks in July and August.

...[T]he persons named below gave Lectures or Conversations on the following topics -- occupying for each exercise a period of above two hours on the average: --

Mr. Alcott...The Powers of the Person in the descending scale...The same in the ascending scale...Incarnation...The Powers of Personality in detail...The Origin of Evil...the Lapse into Evil...The Return from the Lapse...Eternal Life...

Prof. W.T. Harris...How Philosophical Knowing differs from all other forms of Knowing...The Five Intentions of the mind....The Discovery of the First Principle and its relation to the Universe...Fate and Freedom...The conscious and unconscious First Principal in relation to human life...The Personality of God...the Immortality of the Soul...Physiological Psychology...

Mrs. E.D. Cheney...The general subject of Art...Greek Art...Early Italian Art...Italian Art...Michael Angelo...Spanish Art...German Art...Contemporaneous Art...

Dr. H .K. Jones...General content of the Platonic Philosphy...The Apology of Socrates...The Platonic idea of Church and State...the Immortality of the Soul...Reminiscence as related to the Pre-existence of the Soul...The Human Body...The Republic...Education.

Mr. D.A. Wasson...Social Genesis and Texture...The Nation...Individualism as a Political Principle...Public Obligation...Absolutism crowned and uncrowned...The Making of Freedom...The Political Spirit of '76.

Prof. Benjamin Peirce...Ideality in Science...Cosmogony.

Mr. T.W. Higgenson...The Birth of American Literature...Literature in a Republic...

Mr. Emerson...Memory.

Mr. Sanborn...Social Science...Philanthropy and Public Charities.

Rev. Dr. C.A. Bartol...Education.

Mr. H.G.O. Blake...Selections from Thoreau's Manuscripts.

....The courses of lectures...were distinctly philosophical, while the single lectures and pairs were either literary or general in their character. The conversations accompanying or following the lectures took a wide range, and were carried on by the students, the Faculty, and by invited guests....The whole number of persons, (students, invited guests and visitors,) who attended one or more sessions of the School, was nearly four hundred, of whom about one-fourth were residents of Concord. Others came from [22 states are named]. The average attendance of students was about 40; of the students and Faculty about 45; but at Mr. Emerson's lecture 160 were present and at several of the others sessions more than 70. The receipts from fees and single tickets paid all the expenses of the School, without leaving a surplus; thus showing that the scale of tuition and expense adopted was a reasonable one. This will therefore be continued in the coming years.

...This School is the last enterprise of a general character in which Mr. Emerson engaged, and derived a portion of its interest from his connection with it. This connection was not very close, however, since its opening was delayed until those later years of his life when he withdrew from an active part even in conversation; but he was fully cognizant of its aims, and in the most friendly relation to its founders, the chief of whom was Mr. Alcott.....


Photos: Top - Modern view of the School of Philosphy; ©Dave Chase.
Bottom - Photo of the School of Philosophy circa 1900-1911; unknown photographer.
Backgrounds: Classic themes.


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