Caution: I Brake For History

A BOLD NEW KIND OF COLLEGE COURSE BRINGS the student directly to the past, nonstop, overnight, in squalor and glory, for weeks on end

 

O Public Road … you express me better than I can express myself. ” I first read Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” in Leaves of Grass , as an Ohio schoolboy. The great democratic chant struck me hard, a lightning bolt of simple, authoritative words proclaiming that only in motion do people have the chance to turn dreams into reality. Even as a fourteen-yearold I already suspected this. Read more »

The Hazards Of American Individualism

A distinguished scholar of American literature discusses why, after a career of study and reflection, he believes that Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman are bad for you

Quentin Anderson, Julian Clarence Levy Professor in the Humanities Emeritus at Columbia University, argues in his best-known book, The Imperial Self: An Essay in American Literary and Cultural History , that the writings of three of our most representatively American authors, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry James, embody a distinctly American grand refusal of history and social roles.Read more »

Thoreau Walks The Cape

In the blustery days of late fall, the traveler still can find the sparseness and solitude that so greatly pleased the Concord naturalist in 1849

One morning in early October 1849, Henry David Thoreau peered through the rainstreaked window of a stagecoach as it rolled along a sandy, rutted road on the north shore of Cape Cod. He found the landscape bleak and almost bare of trees, the houses poor and weather-beaten. Even the women’s faces were cheerless. “They had prominent chins and noses,” he wrote, “having lost all their teeth, and a sharp W would represent their profile.” Read more »

Fruitlands

The idealists who founded this Utopian colony were singularly well versed in mystical philosophy— and singularly ignorant about farming

On the first day of June 1843, Bronson Alcott drove a large wagon up to his house in Concord, Massachusetts. Onto it he loaded his wife, Abby, three of his four little girls, his books, and enough belongings to sustain them in a new home. Ahead of the wagon walked a sour-faced Englishman, Charles Lane, and the oldest Alcott girl, May. Lane’s son, William, aged ten, found a place on the wagon, where he was entrusted with a bust of Socrates. Read more »

A Season In Utopia

At Brook Farm a handful of gentle Bostonians launched a noble but short-lived experiment in communal living.

In the first week of April, 1841, some eight or ten thoughtful, cultivated Bostonians bundled their possessions, their children, and themselves into country-going carriages and drove eight miles to a pleasant, roomy homestead in West Roxbury. Their destination, then known as the Ellis Farm, was later to be called Brook Farm, a name they made famous as the most literary—and, in ways, the least fortunate—of American Utopias. This small band, led by Mr. and Mrs.Read more »