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
"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."