The Philosopher’s Wife And The Wolf At The Door

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The Alcotts left Walpole for Concord in 1858. Although the way was still dark and rough, Louisa’s writings and Bronson’s “Conversations” were beginning to ease the path. Two revealing passages from Mr. Alcott’s diary are footnotes to these years. One in January, 1864, reads, “My wife over-burthened with household cares, and little to do with. Alas I wish, for her sake and my children’s I could have had a pair of profitable hands and marketable wits.” The other, in the year after Mrs. Alcott’s death in 1878 he wrote with sadness after glancing through her diary: “These papers admit me as daily intimacy hardly did, into the very soul of my companion, and my heart bleeds afresh with the memories of those days, and even long years, of cheerless anxiety and hopeless dependence. Yet here are strokes of joy intermingled, pictures of happy domesticity, and the dear children are always within her maternal embrace. … I copy with tearful admiration these pages, and almost repent my seeming incompetency, my utter inability to relieve the burdens laid upon her and my children during the years of my helplessness. Nor can I, with every mitigating apology for this seeming shiftlessness quite excuse myself for not adventuring upon some impossible feat to extricate us from these straits of circumstance.…”

Strong-minded, courageous, self-reliant, Abba May Alcott was indispensable to her family of rugged individualists whose “beliefs, tastes and aims,” as Edward Emerson has said, differed so widely as seemingly “to make domestic harmony impossible.” It was Abba’s determination coupled with deep-abiding love and respect for each other that kept them united, “if with suffering also with happiness.” She ranks high among the Alcotts. Louisa lives in her books not as the neurotic personality she actually was. Bronson lives because of his friendship with Emerson and Thoreau, not because of the intrinsic merit of his philosophy. But Abba, although now nearly forgotten, lives anew in her diary as a gallant wife and devoted mother and in her reports as a pioneer social worker. As a City Missionary she was able at a critical time to preserve her home. That she succeeded was her reward.