History of Utopian Founder George Ripley Part 2

About utopian founder George Ripley, history and biography of the creator of the utopia Brook Farm.


GEORGE RIPLEY (1802-1880)

His life as a clergyman disillusioned him. "Anything," he said, "would promote the spirit of Christ better than a church does--perhaps even meeting in an upper room or in a fisher's boat by the side of a lake." He suggested to Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson that they "gather and show the world how to live." In 1841 he resigned his ministry and organized Brook Farm, where he and others tried to apply transcendentalism to everyday life. Brook Farm lasted six years, but it never was financially successful. Trying to save it, Ripley sold his books, hiding the empty shelves with draperies, but it did no good.

After the farm was finished, he and his wife moved to New York, where he became a literary critic for Horace Greeley's New York Tribune, helped start Harper's New Monthly Magazine, and, with Charles A. Dana, edited the New American Cyclopaedia. He died in his chair in his library at the age of 78.

His Utopia: BROOK FARM

One of the most famous utopian experiments of the 19th century, Brook Farm was a transcendentalist colony located on 200 acres of land near West Roxbury, Mass. The group believed in the here and now and the perfectibility of human beings.

In the first year of its existence, Brook Farm attracted 4,000 visitors, among them Henry James (father of the novelist), Horace Greeley, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau, not favorably impressed, said, "I'd rather keep bachelor's hall in hell than go to board in heaven if that place is heaven."

Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of the original members, wrote to his girl friend about his life at Brook Farm--playing "chambermaid to a group of cows," milking the "transcendental heifer," and tending the "gold mine" (manure pile).

The atmosphere was so volatile that the rate of divorce and broken hearts was high. Charles Dana joked about starting a club with the initials R.L.S.G. (Rejected Lovers' Sympathizing Group).

In December, 1843, Dana and Ripley attended a Fourierist convention in Boston and began thinking about turning Brook Farm into a Fourierist phalanx. Horace Greeley encouraged them; however, Emerson said, "'But fools rush in where angels fear to tread.' So say I of Brook Farm."

His warning went unheeded. The following year, Brook Farm became a phalanx, with departments of labor; people were assigned to series--festal series, cattle series, amusement series. Many of the more individualistic members left, and the colony was ridiculed by the newspapers. In 1847 the phalanstery the group had built burned down, and soon after Brook Farm was disbanded.

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