Curtis and Hawthorne at the Brook Farm

by Edwin Watts Chubb

The social experiment known as the Brook Farm enterprise is one of the most interesting episodes in American literature. Mrs. Ora G. Sedgwick is one of the many writers who have written about the place and its inhabitants. She went there in June, 1841, and lived for some time at the Hive, the principal community edifice. She was then but a girl of sixteen, but the impressions on her youthful mind were strong enough to enable her recently to describe her life there. As to Curtis she has this to say:

"The arrival of George William Curtis, then a youth of eighteen, and his brother Burrill, two years his senior, was a noteworthy event in the annals of Brook Farm, at least in the estimation of the younger members. I shall never forget the flutter of excitement caused by Mr. Ripley's announcing their expected coming in these words: 'Now we're going to have two young Greek gods among us.' ... On a bright morning in May, 1842, soon after Mr. Ripley's announcement, as I was coming down from the Eyrie to the Hive, I saw Charles A. Dana with two strange young men approaching my 'magic gate' from the direction of the Hive. Arriving at the gate before me, Mr. Dana threw it open with the flourish peculiar to his manner, and stood holding it back. His companions stood beside him, and all three waited for me to pass through. I saw at a glance that these must be 'the two young Greek gods.' They stood disclosed, not like Virgil's Venus, by their step, but by their beauty and bearing. Burrill Curtis was at that time the more beautiful. He had a Greek face, of great purity of expression, and curling hair. George too was very handsome—not so remarkably as in later life, but already with a man's virile expression.

"About George William Curtis there was a peculiar personal elegance and an air of great deference in listening to one whom he admired or looked up to. There was a certain remoteness (at times almost amounting to indifference) about him, but he was always courteous. His friends were all older than himself, and he appeared much older in manners and conversation than he was in years; more like a man of twenty-five than a youth of eighteen."

Mrs. Sedgwick also gives us a charming glimpse at the great American novelist, Hawthorne:

"I do not recollect Hawthorne's talking much at the table. Indeed, he was a very taciturn man. One day, tired of seeing him sitting immovable on the sofa in the hall, as I was learning some verses to recite at the evening class for recitation formed by Charles A. Dana, I daringly took my book, pushed it into his hands, and said, 'Will you hear my poetry, Mr. Hawthorne?' He gave me a sidelong glance from his very shy eyes, took the book, and most kindly heard me. After that he was on the sofa every week to hear me recite.

"One evening he was alone in the hall, sitting on a chair at the farther end, when my room mate, Ellen Slade, and myself were going upstairs. She whispered to me, 'Let's throw the sofa pillows at Mr. Hawthorne.' Reaching over the bannisters, we each took a cushion and threw it. Quick as a flash he put out his hand, seized a broom that was hanging near him, warded off our cushions, and threw them back with sure aim. As fast as we could throw them at him he returned them with effect, hitting us every time, while we could hit only the broom. He must have been very quick in his movements. Through it all not a word was spoken. We laughed and laughed, and his eyes shone and twinkled like stars. Wonderful eyes they were, and when anything witty was said I always looked quickly at Mr. Hawthorne; for his dark eyes lighted up as if flames were suddenly kindled behind them, and then the smile came down to his lips and over his grave face.

"My memories of Mr. Hawthorne are among the pleasantest of my Brook Farm recollections. His manners to children were charming and kind. I saw him one day walking, as was his custom, with his hands behind his back, head bent forward, the two little Bancrofts and other children following him with pleased faces, and stooping every now and then with broad smiles, after which they would rise and run on again behind him. Puzzled at these maneuvers, I watched closely, and found that although he hardly moved a muscle except to walk, yet from time to time he dropped a penny, for which the children scrambled."