Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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ALCOTT, Amos Bronson educator, born in Wolcott, Connecticut, 29 November 1799. His father was a farmer. While yet a boy he was provided with a trunk of various merchandise, and set out to make his way in the south. He landed at Norfolk, Virginia, and went among the plantations, talking with the people and reading their books. They liked him as a companion, and were glad to hold discussions with him on intellectual subjects. They would keep him under their roofs for weeks, reading and conversing, while he forgot all about his commercial duties. But when he returned to the north his employer discovered he had not sold five dollars' worth of his stock. He relinquished his trade in 1823, and established an infant school, which immediately attracted attention. His method of teaching was by conversation, not by books. In 1828 he went to Boston and established another school, showing singular skill and sympathy in his methods of teaching young children. His success caused him to be widely known, and a sketch of him and his methods, under the title of "A Record of Mr. Alcott's School," by E. P. Peabody, was published in Boston in 1834 (3d ed., revised, 1874). This was followed in 1836 by a transcript of the colloquies of the children with their teacher, in " Conversations with Children on the Gospel." His school was so far in advance of the thought of the day that it was denounced by the press, and as a result he gave it up and removed to Concord, Massachusetts, where he devoted himself to the study of natural theology, reform in education, diet, and civil and social institutions. In order to disseminate his reformatory views more thoroughly, he went upon the lecture platform, where he was an attractive speaker, and his personal worth and originality of thought always secured him a respectful hearing. In 1842 he went to England, on the invitation of James P. Greaves, of London, the friend and fellow-laborer of Pestalozzi in Switzerland. Before his arrival Mr. Greaves died, but Mr. Alcott was cordially received by Mr. Greaves's friends, who had given the name of "Alcott House" to their school at Ham, near London. On his return to America, he brought with him two English friends, Charles Lane and H. G. Wright. Mr. Lane bought an estate near Harvard, in Worcester County, Massachusetts, which he named "Fruitlands," and there all went for the purpose of founding a community, but the enterprise was a failure. Messrs. Lane and Wright soon returned to England, and the property was sold. Mr. Alcott removed to Boston, and afterward returned to Concord. He has since then led the life of a peripatetic philosopher, conversing in cities and villages, wherever,invited, on divinity, human nature, ethics, dietetics, and a wide range of practical questions. These conversations, which were at first casual, gradually assumed a more formal character. The topics were often printed on cards, and the company met at a fixed time and place. Of late years they have attracted ranch attention. Mr. Alcott has all through his life attached great importance to diet and government of the body, and still more to race and complexion. He has been regarded as a leader in the transcendental style of thought, but in later years has been claimed as a convert to orthodox Christianity. He has published "Tablets" (1868); "Concord Days," personal reminiscences of the town (1872); "Table Talk" (1877): and "Sonnets and Canzonets" (1877), besides numerous contributions to periodical literature, including papers entitled "Orphic Sayings" in "The Dial" (Boston, 1839-'42). After taking up his residence in Concord, he allowed the peculiarities of his mind to find expression in quaint and curious arrangement of his grounds. The fence enclosing them, built entirely by himself, is made wholly of pine boughs, knotted, gnarled, and twisted in every conceivable shape, no two pieces being alike. They seem to be the result of many years of fragmentary collection in his walks. The engraving presented on the previous page is a view of Mr. Alcott's home in Concord, Massachusetts.
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