PASSAGES FROM THE AMERICAN NOTEBOOKS - VOLUME 2.
PASSAGES FROM THE AMERICAN NOTEBOOKS - VOLUME 2.
[EXTRACTS FROM HIS PRIVATE LETTERS.]
Brook Farm Oak Hill April 13th 1841.--. . . . Here I am in a polar
Paradise! I know not how to interpret this aspect of nature--whether it
be of good or evil omen to our enterprise. But I reflect that the
Plymouth pilgrims arrived in the midst of storm and stepped ashore upon
mountain snowdrifts; and nevertheless they prospered and became a
great people--and doubtless it will be the same with us. I laud my
stars however that you will not have your first impressions of
(perhaps) our future home from such a day as this. . . . . Through faith
I persist in believing that Spring and Summer will come in their due
season; but the unregenerated man shivers within me and suggests a doubt
whether I may not have wandered within the precincts of the Arctic
Circle and chosen my heritage among everlasting snows. . . . . Provide
yourself with a good stock of furs and if you can obtain the skin of a
polar bear you will find it a very suitable summer dress for this
region. . . . .
I have not yet taken my first lesson in agriculture except that I went
to see our cows foddered yesterday afternoon. We have eight of our own;
and the number is now increased by a transcendental heifer belonging to
Miss Margaret Fuller. She is very fractious I believe and apt to kick
over the milk-pail. . . . . I intend to convert myself into a milkmaid
this evening but I pray Heaven that Mr. Ripley may be moved to assign me
the kindliest cow in the herd otherwise I shall perform my duty with
fear and trembling. . . . .
I like my brethren in affliction very well; and could you see us sitting
round our table at meal-times before the great kitchen fire you would
call it a cheerful sight. Mrs. B------ is a most comfortable woman to
behold. She looks as if her ample person were stuffed full of
tenderness--indeed as if she were all one great kind heart.
* * * * * *
April 14th 10 A. M.--. . . . I did not milk the cows last night because
Mr. Ripley was afraid to trust them to my hands or me to their horns I
know not which. But this morning I have done wonders. Before breakfast
I went out to the barn and began to chop hay for the cattle and with
such "righteous vehemence" as Mr. Ripley says did I labor that in the
space of ten minutes I broke the machine. Then I brought wood and
replenished the fires; and finally went down to breakfast and ate up a
huge mound of buckwheat cakes. After breakfast Mr. Ripley put a
four-pronged instrument into my hands which he gave me to understand was
called a pitchfork; and he and Mr. Farley being armed with similar
weapons we all three commenced a gallant attack upon a heap of manure.
This office being concluded and I having purified myself I sit down to
finish this letter. . . . .
Miss Fuller's cow hooks the other cows and has made herself ruler of the
herd and behaves in a very tyrannical manner. . . . . I shall make an
excellent husbandman--I feel the original Adam reviving within me.
April 16th.--. . . . Since I last wrote there has been an addition to
our community of four gentlemen in sables who promise to be among our
most useful and respectable members. They arrived yesterday about noon.
Mr. Ripley had proposed to them to join us no longer ago than that very
morning. I had some conversation with them in the afternoon and was
glad to hear them express much satisfaction with their new abode and all
the arrangements. They do not appear to be very communicative however
--or perhaps it may be merely an external reserve like my own to shield
their delicacy. Several of their prominent characteristics as well as
their black attire lead me to believe that they are members of the
clerical profession; but I have not yet ascertained from their own lips
what has been the nature of their past lives. I trust to have much
pleasure in their society and sooner or later that we shall all of us
derive great strength from our intercourse with them. I cannot too
highly applaud the readiness with which these four gentlemen in black
have thrown aside all the fopperies and flummeries which have their
origin in a false state of society. When I last saw them they looked as
heroically regardless of the stains and soils incident to our profession
as I did when I emerged from the gold-mine. . . . .
I have milked a cow!!! . . . . The herd has rebelled against the
usurpation of Miss Fuller's heifer; and whenever they are turned out of
the barn she is compelled to take refuge under our protection. So much
did she impede my labors by keeping close to me that I found it
necessary to give her two or three gentle pats with a shovel; but still
she preferred to trust herself to my tender mercies rather than venture
among the horns of the herd. She is not an amiable cow; but she has a
very intelligent face and seems to be of a reflective cast of character.
I doubt not that she will soon perceive the expediency of being on good
terms with the rest of the sisterhood.
I have not yet been twenty yards from our house and barn; but I begin to
perceive that this is a beautiful place. The scenery is of a mild and
placid character with nothing bold in its aspect; but I think its
beauties will grow upon us and make us love it the more the longer we
live here. There is a brook so near the house that we shall be able to
hear its ripple in the summer evenings . . . . but for agricultural
purposes it has been made to flow in a straight and rectangular fashion
which does it infinite damage as a picturesque object. . . . .
It was a moment or two before I could think whom you meant by Mr. Dismal
View. Why he is one of the best of the brotherhood so far as
cheerfulness goes; for if he do not laugh himself he makes the rest of
us laugh continually. He is the quaintest and queerest personage you
ever saw--full of dry jokes the humor of which is so incorporated with
the strange twistifications of his physiognomy that his sayings ought to
be written down accompanied with illustrations by Cruikshank. Then he
keeps quoting innumerable scraps of Latin and makes classical allusions
while we are turning over the goldmine; and the contrast between the
nature of his employment and the character of his thoughts is
I have written this epistle in the parlor while Farmer Ripley and
Farmer Farley and Farmer Dismal View were talking about their
agricultural concerns. So you will not wonder if it is not a classical
piece of composition either in point of thought or expression.
* * * * * *
Mr. Ripley has bought four black pigs.
April 22d.--. . . . What an abominable hand do I scribble! but I have
been chopping wood and turning a grindstone all the forenoon; and such
occupations are apt to disturb the equilibrium of the muscles and sinews.
It is an endless surprise to me how much work there is to be done in the
world; but thank God I am able to do my share of it--and my ability
increases daily. What a great broad-shouldered elephantine personage I
shall become by and by!
I milked two cows this morning and would send you some of the milk only
that it is mingled with that which was drawn forth by Mr. Dismal View and
the rest of the brethren.
April 28th.--. . . . I was caught by a cold during my visit to Boston.
It has not affected my whole frame but took entire possession of my
head as being the weakest and most vulnerable part. Never did anybody
sneeze with such vehemence and frequency; and my poor brain has been in a
thick fog; or rather it seemed as if my head were stuffed with coarse
wool. . . . . Sometimes I wanted to wrench it off and give it a great
kick like a football.
This annoyance has made me endure the bad weather with even less than
ordinary patience; and my faith was so far exhausted that when they told
me yesterday that the sun was setting clear I would not even turn my
eyes towards the west. But this morning I am made all over anew and
have no greater remnant of my cold than will serve as an excuse for doing
no work to-day.
The family has been dismal and dolorous throughout the storm. The night
before last William Allen was stung by a wasp on the eyelid; whereupon
the whole side of his face swelled to an enormous magnitude so that at
the breakfast-table one half of him looked like a blind giant (the eye
being closed) and the other half had such a sorrowful and ludicrous
aspect that I was constrained to laugh out of sheer pity. The same day
a colony of wasps was discovered in my chamber where they had remained
throughout the winter and were now just bestirring themselves doubtless
with the intention of stinging me from head to foot A similar discovery
was made in Mr. Farley's room. In short we seem to have taken up our
abode in a wasps' nest. Thus you see a rural life is not one of unbroken
quiet and serenity.
If the middle of the day prove warm and pleasant I promise myself to
take a walk. . . . . I have taken one walk with Mr. Farley; and I could
not have believed that there was such seclusion at so short a distance
from a great city. Many spots seem hardly to have been visited for
ages--not since John Eliot preached to the Indians here. If we were to
travel a thousand miles we could not escape the world more completely
than we can here.
* * * * * *
I read no newspapers and hardly remember who is President and feel as
if I had no more concern with what other people trouble themselves about
than if I dwelt in another planet.
May 1st.--. . . . Every day of my life makes me feel more and more how
seldom a fact is accurately stated; how almost invariably when a story
has passed through the mind of a third person it becomes so far as
regards the impression that it makes in further repetitions little
better than a falsehood and this too though the narrator be the
most truth-seeking person in existence. How marvellous the tendency
is!. . . . Is truth a fantasy which we are to pursue forever and never
* * * * * *
My cold has almost entirely departed. Were it a sunny day I should
consider myself quite fit for labor out of doors; but as the ground is so
damp and the atmosphere so chill and the sky so sullen I intend to
keep myself on the sick-list this one day longer more especially as I
wish to read Carlyle on Heroes.
* * * * * *
There has been but one flower found in this vicinity--and that was an
anemone a poor pale shivering little flower that had crept under a
stone-wall for shelter. Mr. Farley found it while taking a walk with
. . . . This is May-day! Alas what a difference between the ideal and
May 4th.--. . . . My cold no longer troubles me and all the morning I
have been at work under the clear blue sky on a hillside. Sometimes it
almost seemed as if I were at work in the sky itself though the material
in which I wrought was the ore from our gold-mine. Nevertheless there
is nothing so unseemly and disagreeable in this sort of toil as you could
think. It defiles the hands indeed but not the soul. This gold ore is
a pure and wholesome substance else our mother Nature would not devour
it so readily and derive so much nourishment from it and return such a
rich abundance of good grain and roots in requital of it.
The farm is growing very beautiful now--not that we yet see anything of
the peas and potatoes which we have planted; but the grass blushes green
on the slopes and hollows. I wrote that word "blush" almost
unconsciously; so we will let it go as an inspired utterance.
When I go forth afield . . . . I look beneath the stonewalls where the
verdure is richest in hopes that a little company of violets or some
solitary bud prophetic of the summer may be there. . . . . But not a
wildflower have I yet found. One of the boys gathered some yellow
cowslips last Sunday; but I am well content not to have found them for
they are not precisely what I should like to send to you though they
deserve honor and praise because they come to us when no others will.
We have our parlor here dressed in evergreen as at Christmas. That
beautiful little flower-vase . . . . stands on Mr. Ripley's study-table
at which I am now writing. It contains some daffodils and some
willow-blossoms. I brought it here rather than keep it in my chamber
because I never sit there and it gives me many pleasant emotions to look
round and be surprised--for it is often a surprise though I well know
that it is there--by something connected with the idea [of a friend].
* * * * * *
I do not believe that I should be patient here if I were not engaged in a
righteous and heaven-blessed way of life. When I was in the Custom-House
and then at Salem I was not half so patient. . . . .
We had some tableaux last evening the principal characters being
sustained by Mr. Farley and Miss Ellen Slade. They went off very
well. . . . .
I fear it is time for me--sod-compelling as I am--to take the field
May 11th.--. . . . This morning I arose at milking-time in good trim for
work; and we have been employed partly in an Augean labor of clearing out
a wood-shed and partly in carting loads of oak. This afternoon I hope
to have something to do in the field for these jobs about the house are
not at all to my taste.
June 1st.--. . . . I have been too busy to write a long letter by this
opportunity for I think this present life of mine gives me an antipathy
to pen and ink even more than my Custom-House experience did. . . . .
In the midst of toil or after a hard day's work in the goldmine my
soul obstinately refuses to be poured out on paper. That abominable
gold-mine! Thank God we anticipate getting rid of its treasures in the
course of two or three days! Of all hateful places that is the worst
and I shall never comfort myself for having spent so many days of blessed
sunshine there. It is my opinion that a man's soul may be buried and
perish under a dung-heap or in a furrow of the field just as well as
under a pile of money.
Mr. George Bradford will probably be here to-day so that there will be
no danger of my being under the necessity of laboring more than I like
hereafter. Meantime my health is perfect and my spirits buoyant even
in the gold-mine.
August 12th.--. . . . I am very well and not at all weary for
yesterday's rain gave us a holiday; and moreover the labors of the farm
are not so pressing as they have been. And joyful thought! in a little
more than a fortnight; I shall be free from my bondage--. . . . free to
enjoy Nature--free to think and feel! . . . . Even my Custom-House
experience was not such a thraldom and weariness; my mind and heart were
free. O labor is the curse of the world and nobody can meddle with it
without becoming proportionably brutified! Is it a praiseworthy matter
that I have spent five golden months in providing food for cows and
horses? It is not so.
August 18th.--I am very well only somewhat tired with walking half a
dozen miles immediately after breakfast and raking hay ever since. We
shall quite finish haying this week and then there will be no more very
hard or constant labor during the one other week that I shall remain a
August 22d.--. . . . I had an indispensable engagement in the bean-field
whither indeed I was glad to betake myself in order to escape a
parting scene with ------. He was quite out of his wits the night
before and I sat up with him till long past midnight. The farm is
pleasanter now that he is gone; for his unappeasable wretchedness threw a
gloom over everything. Since I last wrote we have done haying and the
remainder of my bondage will probably be light. It will be a long time
however before I shall know how to make a good use of leisure either as
regards enjoyment or literary occupation. . . . .
It is extremely doubtful whether Mr. Ripley will succeed in locating his
community on this farm. He can bring Mr. E------ to no terms and the
more they talk about the matter the further they appear to be from a
settlement. We must form other plans for ourselves; for I can see few or
no signs that Providence purposes to give us a home here. I am weary
weary thrice weary of waiting so many ages. Whatever may be my gifts
I have not hitherto shown a single one that may avail to gather gold. I
confess that I have strong hopes of good from this arrangement with
M------; but when I look at the scanty avails of my past literary
efforts I do not feel authorized to expect much from the future. Well
we shall see. Other persons have bought large estates and built splendid
mansions with such little books as I mean to write; so that perhaps it is
not unreasonable to hope that mine may enable me to build a little
cottage or at least to buy or hire one. But I am becoming more and
more convinced that we must not lean upon this community. Whatever is to
be done must be done by my own undivided strength. I shall not remain
here through the winter unless with an absolute certainty that there
will be a house ready for us in the spring. Otherwise I shall return to
Boston;--still however considering myself an associate of the
community so that we may take advantage of any more favorable aspect of
affairs. How much depends on these little books! Methinks if anything
could draw out my whole strength it would be the motives that now press
upon me. Yet after all I must keep these considerations out of my
mind because an external pressure always disturbs instead of assisting
Salem September 3d.--. . . . But really I should judge it to be twenty
years since I left Brook Farm; and I take this to be one proof that my
life there was an unnatural and unsuitable and therefore an unreal one.
It already looks like a dream behind me. The real Me was never an
associate of the community; there has been a spectral Appearance there
sounding the horn at daybreak and milking the cows and hoeing potatoes
and raking hay toiling in the sun and doing me the honor to assume my
name. But this spectre was not myself. Nevertheless it is somewhat
remarkable that my hands have during the past summer grown very brown
and rough insomuch that many people persist in believing that I after
all was the aforesaid spectral horn-sounder cow-milker potato-hoer
and hay-raker. But such people do not know a reality from a shadow.
Enough of nonsense. I know not exactly how soon I shall return to the
farm. Perhaps not sooner than a fortnight from to-morrow.
Salem September 14th.--. . . . Master Cheever is a very good subject for
a sketch especially if he be portrayed in the very act of executing
judgment on an evildoer. The little urchin may be laid across his knee
and his arms and legs and whole person indeed should be flying all
abroad in an agony of nervous excitement and corporeal smart. The
Master on the other hand must be calm rigid without anger or pity
the very personification of that immitigable law whereby suffering
follows sin. Meantime the lion's head should have a sort of sly twist on
one side of its mouth and a wink of one eye in order to give the
impression that after all the crime and the punishment are neither of
them the most serious things in the world. I could draw the sketch
myself if I had but the use of ------'s magic fingers.
Then the Acadians will do very well for the second sketch. They might be
represented as just landing on the wharf; or as presenting themselves
before Governor Shirley seated in the great chair. Another subject
might be old Cotton Mather venerable in a three-cornered hat and other
antique attire walking the streets of Boston and lifting up his hands
to bless the people while they all revile him. An old dame should be
seen flinging water or emptying some vials of medicine on his head from
the latticed window of an old-fashioned house; and all around must be
tokens of pestilence and mourning--as a coffin borne along--a woman or
children weeping on a doorstep. Can the tolling of the Old South bell be
If not this then the military council holden at Boston by the Earl of
Loudon and other captains and governors might be taken his lordship in
the great chair an old-fashioned military figure with a star on his
breast. Some of Louis XV.'s commanders will give the costume. On the
table and scattered about the room must be symbols of warfare--swords
pistols plumed hats a drum trumpet and rolled-up banner in one leap.
It were not amiss to introduce the armed figure of an Indian chief as
taking part in the council--or standing apart from the English erect
Now for Liberty Tree. There is an engraving of that famous vegetable in
Snow's History of Boston. If represented I see not what scene can be
beneath it save poor Mr. Oliver taking the oath. He must have on a
bag-wig ruffled sleeves embroidered coat and all such ornaments
because he is the representative of aristocracy and an artificial system.
The people may be as rough and wild as the fancy can make them;
nevertheless there must be one or two grave puritanical figures in the
midst. Such an one might sit in the great chair and be an emblem of
that stern considerate spirit which brought about the Revolution. But
this would be a hard subject.
But what a dolt am I to obtrude my counsel. . . . .
September 16th.--. . . . I do not very well recollect Monsieur du Miroir
but as to Mrs. Bullfrog I give her up to the severest reprehension.
The story was written as a mere experiment in that style; it did not come
from any depth within me--neither my heart nor mind had anything to do
with it. I recollect that the Man of Adamant seemed a fine idea to nee
when I looked at it prophetically; but I failed in giving shape and
substance to the vision which I saw. I don't think it can be very
good. . . . .
I cannot believe all these stories about ------ because such a rascal
never could be sustained and countenanced by respectable men. I take him
to be neither better nor worse than the average of his tribe. However I
intend to have all my copyrights taken out in my own name; and if he
cheat me once I will have nothing more to do with him but will
straightway be cheated by some other publisher--that being of course
the only alternative.
Governor Shirley's young French wife might be the subject of one of the
cuts. She should sit in the great chair--perhaps with a dressing-glass
before her--and arrayed in all manner of fantastic finery and with an
outre French air while the old Governor is leaning fondly over her and.
a puritanic councillor or two are manifesting their disgust in the
background. A negro footman and a French waiting-maid might be in
In Liberty Tree might be a vignette representing the chair in a very
shattered battered and forlorn condition after it had been ejected
from Hutchinson's house. This would serve to impress the reader with the
woful vicissitudes of sublunary things. . . . .
Did you ever behold such a vile scribble as I write since I became a
farmer? My chirography always was abominable but now it is outrageous.
Brook Farm September 22d 1841.--. . . . Here I am again slowly
adapting myself to the life of this queer community whence I seem to
have been absent half a lifetime so utterly have I grown apart from the
spirit and manners of the place. . . . . I was most kindly received; and
the fields and woods looked very pleasant in the bright sunshine of the
day before yesterday. I have a friendlier disposition towards the farm
now that I am no longer obliged to toil in its stubborn furrows.
Yesterday and to-day however the weather has been intolerable--cold
chill sullen so that it is impossible to be on kindly terms with Mother
Nature. . . . .
I doubt whether I shall succeed in writing another volume of
Grandfather's Library while I remain here. I have not the sense of