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Title: Little Women Letters from the House of Alcott
Author: Alcott, Louisa May, 1832-1888
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                          LITTLE WOMEN LETTERS
                                FROM THE
                            HOUSE OF ALCOTT



                     [Illustration: _Frontispiece._


                              LITTLE WOMEN
                                LETTERS
                                FROM THE
                            HOUSE OF ALCOTT


                              SELECTED BY
                            JESSIE BONSTELLE
                                  AND
                            MARIAN DEFOREST


                             [Illustration]


                                 BOSTON
                       LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
                                  1914



                           _Copyright, 1914_,
                         BY JOHN S. P. ALCOTT.


                         _All rights reserved_


                       Published, September, 1914


  Set up and electrotyped by J. S. Cushing Co., Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
        Presswork by S. J. Parkhill & Co., Boston, Mass., U.S.A.



                                FOREWORD

NEXT to the joy of giving to the Alcott-loving public "Little Women" as
a play, is the privilege and pleasure of offering this book of letters,
revealing the childhood and home life of the beloved Little Women.

May they bring help and happiness to many mothers and inspiration and
love to many children.



                                CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                                                     PAGE

       I. THE "REALLY, TRULY" TRUE                                 1

      II. THE ALCOTT BOY; THE ALCOTT MAN                          10

     III. THE ALCOTT CHILDREN                                     28

      IV. THE ALCOTT BABY BOOK                                    39

       V. LETTERS AND CONVERSATIONS WITH CHILDREN                 59

      VI. THE MOTHER'S INFLUENCE                                  98

     VII. CHILDREN'S DIARIES                                     122

    VIII. GIRLHOOD AND WOMANHOOD                                 140

      IX. FRIENDSHIPS AND BELIEFS                                162

          CHRONOLOGY                                             195



                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


    Orchard House, the Alcott Homestead               _Frontispiece_

                                                                PAGE

    A. Bronson Alcott at the age of 53, from
        the portrait by Mrs. Hildreth                             54

    Facsimile of Mr. Alcott's Letter to
        Louisa, Nov. 29, 1839                                     82

    Facsimile of Mr. Alcott's Letter to Louisa, June 21, 1840     86

    Facsimile of Mr. Alcott's Letter to Elizabeth, 1840           92

    Abigail May, Mrs. A. Bronson Alcott, from a
        Daguerreotype                                            106

    Anna Bronson Alcott, from a Daguerreotype                    122

    Abba May Alcott, from a Photograph                           142

    Louisa May Alcott, from a Daguerreotype                      160



                              LITTLE WOMEN
                         LETTERS FROM THE HOUSE
                               OF ALCOTT


                               CHAPTER I

                        THE "REALLY, TRULY" TRUE


WHEN "Little Women," the play, reopened to many readers the pages of
"Little Women," the book, that delightful chronicle of family life,
dramatist and producer learned from many unconscious sources the depth
of Louisa M. Alcott's human appeal. Standing one night at the back of
the theater as the audience was dispersing, they listened to its
comments on the play.

"A wonderful picture of home life, only we don't have such homes," said
a big, prosperous-looking man to his wife, with a touch of regret in his
voice.

"Yes," agreed his young daughter, a tall, slender, graceful girl, as she
snuggled down cosily into her fur coat and tucked a bunch of violets
away from the touch of the frosty night, "it is beautiful; but, daddy,
it isn't real. There never was such a family."

But it is real; there was such a family, and in letters, journals, and
illustration this little book gives the history of the four Little
Women, the Alcott girls, whom Louisa immortalized in her greatest story:
Anna, who is Meg in "Little Women"; Louisa, the irrepressible and
ambitious Jo; Elizabeth, the little Beth of the book; and Abba May, the
graceful and statuesque Amy.

Rare influences were at work in this ideal American home, where the
intellectual and brilliant father was gifted in all ways except those
that led to material success, and the wise and gentle mother combined
with her loyalty and devotion to her husband a stanch, practical common
sense, which more than once served to guide the frail Alcott bark
through troubled seas.

Following her remarkable success as a writer of short stories, Louisa M.
Alcott was asked for a book. She said at first it was impossible, but
repeated requests from her publishers brought from her the announcement
that the only long story she could write would be about her own family.
"Little Women" resulted, and, in erecting this House of Delight for
young and old, Louisa Alcott builded better than she knew. Her Jo has
been the inspiration of countless girls, and the many-sidedness of her
character is indicated by the widely diverging lines of endeavor which
Jo's example has suggested to the girl readers of the story.

In the case of the two editors, both from early childhood found their
inspiration in Jo. One, patterning after her idol, sought success in a
stage career, beginning to "act" before a mirror, with a kitchen apron
for a train and a buttonhook for a dagger. The other, always with a
pencil in hand, first copied Jo by writing "lurid tales" for the weekly
sensation papers, and later emerged into Newspaper Row.

It was more than a year after the success of "Little Women" as a play
had become a part of theatrical history that they visited the scenes
hallowed by the memories of the Little Women. They wished to see Concord
together, so they made a Sentimental Journey to the House of Alcott.

The sun was shining, and the air was crisp--just such a day as Miss
Alcott described in the Plumfield harvest home, the last chapter in
"Little Women." They spent hours in Orchard House, touching reverently
the small personal effects of Louisa M. Alcott, seeing the shelf
between the windows in that little upper room, where she wrote and
dreamed. They even climbed to the garret and wondered which window was
her favorite scribbling seat, with a tin kitchen for her manuscripts, a
pile of apples for her refreshment, and Scrabble, the bewhiskered rat,
for her playfellow.

Through the woods back of Orchard House they followed the winding
pathway to the Hall of Philosophy, half hidden among the trees, where
Bronson Alcott had his Conversations, where Emerson and Thoreau were
often heard, and the most intellectual debates of the century took
place.

At sunset they visited Sleepy Hollow, the resting place of the Alcotts,
with Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne close by--a goodly company,
neighbors still as they were for so many years when they made Concord
America's literary shrine.

Evening came, and the two pilgrims read together the Alcott journals and
letters. The ink was faded, the quaint, old-fashioned writing was hard
to decipher, but, beginning with a letter to Louisa written by Bronson
Alcott when his daughter was seven years old, they read on until the
dawn.

Only one result could be expected from such an experience. They asked
permission to publish the letters and such portions of the journals as
would most completely reveal the rare spiritual companionship existing
between the Alcott parents and children. And, asking, they were refused,
because of a feeling that the letters and journals were intimate family
records, to be read, not by the many, but by the few. This same
sentiment withheld the dramatization of "Little Women" for many years.

"You forget," they argued, holding fast to the dimly written pages,
"that Bronson Alcott and Louisa Alcott are a part of America's literary
heritage. They belong to the nation, to the world, not alone to you."

This course of reasoning finally prevailed, but not without many months
of waiting. And thus, with the consent of the Alcott heirs, the book of
"Little Women Letters from the House of Alcott" came to be.



                               CHAPTER II

                                   I

                             THE ALCOTT BOY


ONCE upon a time in the little town of Wolcott, Connecticut, was born a
boy destined to offer to the world new and beautiful thoughts. He was
laughed at and misunderstood; but the thoughts were truth, and they have
lived, although the boy grew weary and old and passed on.

The boy was Amos Bronson Alcott. He was a country lad, used from infancy
to the rugged life of the farm, with its self-denial and makeshifts. The
seeming disadvantage, however, proved quite the opposite. His close
communion with Nature brought him nearer to the truths of life. For him
God ceased to be a mythical object to be studied and read about on
Sunday; but, as he roamed the fields and climbed the hills, the lad
found Him in the rocks and the woodlands, and in the sparkling streams.
He became a reality. The boy and God were friends.

Of schooling he had little. When work at the farm permitted, he attended
the country school near his father's house. "Our copies," he told his
little daughters, "were set by the schoolmaster in books made of a few
sheets of foolscap, stitched together and ruled with a leather plummet.
We used ink made of maple and oak bark, which we manufactured ourselves.
With this I began keeping a diary of my doings."

This was when the boy was twelve. His hours at school were few, but as
he went about his daily tasks on the farm, his thoughts grew and grew
until his mental stature far exceeded his physical. He read as he guided
the plow along the furrow, sometimes unmindful of his work until a
sudden punch from a neglected handle, as the plow struck a stone, would
bring him back to earth with a thump. He sowed seeds in the moist, sweet
earth, but his face was turned to the skies, and he knew the clouds and
the stars. When he gathered firewood, his eyes were keen for the soft,
dainty mosses, the clinging lichens. As he picked berries for the home
table, he never missed the whirr of a bird wing or passed unnoticed the
modest flowers half hidden in the soil. Nature was his library, and she
spread out her choicest treasures to this growing boy.

A love for all of God's creations characterized him. He was fond, not
only of the growing things in the wood, but of all life. His love for
animals amounted almost to a passion, one reason for his being a strict
vegetarian and insisting upon bringing up his little family on a
vegetable diet. But in boyhood it was not always clear whether humanity
or the craving for knowledge made him so considerate of the plodding
team in the field. Never was team more carefully tended. Many were its
hours of grazing, when the noonday sun rode high in the heavens, and the
Alcott boy, book in hand, curled up under the shade of a gigantic elm
and read until the shadows began to lengthen. But these lapses were only
occasional, for the lad was faithful to his tasks, except when he
yielded to the lure of the printed page.

When scarcely more than a child he began to keep a record of his books
and his reading, showing the first traces of the reflective,
introspective quality of mind which later led him to set down in letters
and unpublished manuscripts his inmost thoughts. He cultivated the same
habits of thought in his children, one reason, doubtless, for Louisa's
accurate and realistic descriptions of the lives of the four Little
Women of the Alcott family.

His favorite books in boyhood, and, for that matter, in manhood, were
the Bible and Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," which he read and reread
and commented upon. Years later he mentions in his journal that he made
it a practice to read "Pilgrim's Progress" every year, which is a
remarkable record to the modern boy and girl who find it difficult to
struggle through that wonderful allegory even once.

Bronson Alcott took his chance and made a stepping-stone of every
difficulty. Each obstacle he encountered in getting an education created
in him an even stronger determination to gain one. The modern boy has
the world of books opened wide to him through the library and the free
school. The treasures of art are spread out before him in the museums.
He is surrounded by helps. The boy of to-day is studied as an entity.
The boy of the last century could tell quite a different story.

So the Alcott boy, passing long hours in the woods, reading, thinking,
getting close to Nature and to God, walked as one apart, seeing the
invisible. While still a boy, he began casting off the garment of a
conventional creed and to think for himself of God, the creation, of
life, unconsciously putting from him the trammeling, cumbersome
conventions with which man has often hidden truth.

Out of this the man Alcott emerged--a great soul.


                                   II

                             THE ALCOTT MAN


With Bronson Alcott the craving for knowledge was scarcely stronger than
the craving for adventure, so it is not surprising that in the first
flush of young manhood he did not settle down to life on the farm. He
longed for the great world lying beyond the hills and valleys of
peaceful New England. He wanted experience, and experience he had.

He went South, hoping to teach school, as he had original ideas on the
training of children. Unsuccessful in this, he decided to be a peddler,
naïvely remarking that "honesty of purpose could dignify any
profession."

Think of the courage of this boy, for he was scarcely more than a boy, a
philosopher at heart, living in a world of dreams and books, his
ambitions all for intellectual rather than material achievement,
tramping the southern countryside, undauntedly peddling buttons,
elastic, pins and needles, and supplying all the small wants of the
country housewife! Often he encountered rebuffs, sometimes he had a
hearty welcome, for the visit of the country peddler was eagerly awaited
by the children. At times, when night came and he was far from the
shelter of an inn, he had to beg a lodging from some planter. On one
such occasion, as he entered the grounds, he saw a huge sign, "Beware
the dog." A shout from the house also warned him, and he saw dashing
toward him a savage-looking dog, powerful enough to have torn to pieces
the slender young peddler-student. But his love for animals triumphed.
Alcott stretched out his hand. The huge creature stopped short; then,
recognizing a friend and a fearless one, he bounded on, tail wagging,
barking joyously, snuggling his nose into the young man's palm, which he
licked as he escorted his new-found friend to the house. Animals always
recognized in Alcott an understanding comrade.

From most of these trips Alcott brought back money to add to the scanty
funds at home, but on one memorable occasion the love of finery proved
stronger than the necessity for saving, and he returned to the farm
penniless, but dressed in the latest fashion, having used his savings
for a wardrobe that was the wonder of the countryside. That one debauch
of clothes satisfied him for life; after that his tastes were markedly
simple. With him the "dandy period" was short-lived indeed. That he
repented bitterly of this one excess of folly is shown in his journals,
where he sets down minutely what to him was a mistake that amounted
almost to a sin. As a rule, he was singularly free from folly. His
thoughts were too high, his ideals too lofty, for him to be long
concerned with trifles such as clothes, and the next expenditure
mentioned in his journal is for the "Vicar of Wakefield" and Johnson's
"Rasselas." Ever impractical, one likes him the better for the little
human moment when the vanities of the world overcame him.

At last he secured a school, and then began the realization of his
ideals regarding the teaching of children. His methods were original and
highly successful, especially with the very young. He established a
mental kindergarten, and the fame of his teaching spread abroad. Through
his work as a teacher he achieved his greatest happiness, for it led to
his meeting with the woman who was destined to become his wife.

As the result of correspondence between himself and Mr. May of
Brooklyn, Connecticut, whose attention had been attracted to the work
of the young teacher, Alcott, then twenty-eight years old, drove from
the Wolcott home to Brooklyn, where he met Abigail May of Boston, who
was visiting her brother. With both it was love at first sight, a love
that grew into a perfect spiritual union.

It seemed almost providential that Bronson Alcott should have come into
Abigail May's life at just this time, when her heart had been touched by
its first great sorrow--the loss of her mother. Hitherto she had been a
light-hearted girl, fond of dancing and of the material side of life.
The young philosopher, with his dreams and his ideals, brought a new
interest into her now lonely life, and all that was spiritual in her
nature responded as he freely discussed his plans and ambitions with
her. In her he found both sympathy and understanding.

A year of letter-writing, a frank and honest exchange of thought,
brought out the harmony of their natures and developed in both a sense
of oneness, laying a firm foundation for the comradeship which was not
broken through all the years, even when the wife and mother passed into
the Great Beyond.

The Alcott-May courtship was ideal. Retaining the heaven that lay about
him in his infancy, keeping his close companionship with God and God's
great laboratory, Nature, Bronson Alcott demanded something more than
mere physical attraction in choosing his wife. A certain quaint
circumspection characterized their love-making. Abigail May once wrote:
"Mr. Alcott's views on education were very attractive, and I was charmed
by his modesty," and long after their engagement she spoke of her lover
as "her friend." He was, and so he continued to be in the highest sense
of the word.

So satisfying were those friendship-courtship days, that apparently both
were loath to end them, for another twelvemonth passed before the
announcement of their betrothal, and it was nearly three years from the
date of their first meeting before their marriage in King's Chapel,
Boston, where the brother who had been the means of bringing them
together performed the ceremony.

As their marriage day approached, there was little festivity and none of
the rush that usually precedes a modern wedding. Everything was simple,
quiet, and sure.

This is Bronson Alcott's letter, asking a friend to act as best man at
his wedding.

    Dear Sir:

    Permit me to ask the favor of your calling at Col. May's at 4
    o'clock precisely on Sunday afternoon next, to accompany me and
    my friend Miss May to King's Chapel.

                                                With esteem,
                                                    A. B. Alcott

    Thursday, May 20,
        112 Franklin St.                                   1830.

So began the Alcott pilgrimage, their fortune consisting of love and
faith and brains. In these they were rich indeed, and thus closed
another chapter in the life of the gentle philosopher, of whom Ralph
Waldo Emerson once said: "Our Alcott has only just missed being a
seraph."



                              CHAPTER III

                          THE ALCOTT CHILDREN


FOR some months after their marriage the Alcotts lived in Boston, where
the young enthusiast taught a school for infants. Again his fame as a
teacher traveled, and he received an offer from the Quakers of
Philadelphia to start a school there, an offer so tempting that the
Alcotts moved to Germantown, Pennsylvania, where Anna and Louisa were
born.

Eugenics and prenatal influence were not discussed then as they are
to-day, but in the Alcott family nearly a century ago they were being
thought and lived. Bronson Alcott and his wife considered children an
expression, not of themselves, but of divinity, and as such to be
accepted as a trust, rather than as a gratification of their own human
longing for fatherhood and motherhood. They felt it their parental
privilege rather than their duty to aid the human development of the
child and thus further the fulfillment of its destiny. Each little soul
was humbly asked for and reverently prepared for. From the moment they
knew their prayer had been granted, the individuality and rights of that
soul were respected. It was considered as a little guest that must be
made happy and comfortable, carefully cherished, mentally and
physically, while its fleshly garment was being prepared and the little
personality made ready for its earthly appearance. How careful they were
of every thought and influence, for to both parents this period was the
most sacred and wonderful in their lives and in the lives of their
children.

The depth of his joy and the simplicity of his faith are exquisitely
expressed in the lines which Bronson Alcott wrote before the birth of
his first child, Anna:

                         TO AN EXPECTANT MOTHER

    The long advancing hour draws nigh--the hour
    When life's young pulse begins its mystic play,
    And deep affection's dreams of Form or Joy
    Shall be unveiled, a bodily presence
    To thy yearning heart and fond maternal eye,
    The primal Soul, a semblance of thine own,
    Its high abode shall leave and dwell in day,
    Thyself its forming Parent. A miracle, indeed,
    Shall nature work. Thou shalt become
    The bearing mother of an Infant Soul--
    Its guardian spirit to its home above.
    But yet erewhile the lagging moments come
    That layeth the living, conscious, burden down,
    Firm faith may rest in hope. Accordant toils
    Shall leave no time for fear, nor doubt, nor gloom.
    Love, peace, and virtue, are all born of Pain,
    And He who rules o'er these is ever good.
    The joyous promise is to her who trusts,
    Who trusting, gains the vital boon she asks,
    And meekly asking, learns to trust aright.

Louisa, the second child, born on her father's birthday, was the most
intellectual and the most resourceful of the Alcott children, reflecting
in her own buoyant personality the happy conditions existing before and
at the time of her birth, when her father had attained his greatest
material prosperity and was also realizing his mental ambitions in his
little school, and her mother was temporarily relieved from the cares
that so often weighed heavily upon her.

Shortly before the birth of Elizabeth the father makes this entry in his
journal:

                             THE ADVENT COMETH

    Daily am I in expectation of beholding with the eye of sense,
    the spirit that now lingers on the threshold of this terrestrial
    life, and only awaits the bidding of the Reaper within, to usher
    itself into the presence of mortals. It standeth at the door and
    waiteth for admission to the exterior scene of things.... Let
    the time come. Two little ones in advance await its coming; and
    greetings of joy shall herald its approach.

The birth of Elizabeth is followed by this entry in his journal:

    At sunset this day a daughter was born to us.

One of the most trying of the Alcott family's experiences came after the
birth of Elizabeth, when Bronson Alcott, again in Boston, aroused a
storm of protest with his radical teachings and his advanced
interpretations of the Bible. Shocked that the city where he expected to
find sympathy and encouragement should have repudiated him, his school
disrupted and abject poverty his lot, broken mentally and physically, he
met with another cruel disappointment in the death of his infant son.
Yet even then there was no word of bitterness, and no mention is made in
his journal of the father's grief. Indirectly it is expressed in a
subsequent entry announcing the birth of the fourth daughter, Abba May.

She was born under sunny skies. The storm had passed, and the Alcott
family had removed to Concord, where they enjoyed many of their happiest
years. A presage of May Alcott's artistic gifts, her queenly bearing,
elegance, and charm, all familiar to readers of "Little Women," is found
in this entry in the father's journal:

                                                      July, 1840.

    A new life has arrived to us (July 26th). She was born with the
    dawn, and is a proud little Queen, not deigning to give us the
    light of her royal presence, but persists in sleeping all the
    time, without notice of the broad world or ourselves.
    Providence, it seems, decrees that we shall provide selectest
    ministries alone, and so sends us successive daughters of Love
    to quicken the Sons of Life. We joyfully acquiesce in the Divine
    behest and are content to rear women for the future world. As
    yet the ministry is unknown in the culture of the nations, but
    the hour draws near when love shall be felt as a chosen Bride of
    Wisdom, and the celestial pair preside over all the household of
    mankind.

Bronson Alcott did not feel his responsibility as a father alone; he
appreciated his own debt to his children, the mental and spiritual help
that came to him through them, an appreciation that found expression in
this poem, entered in his journal before the birth of Elizabeth:

                                                      June, 1835

                         INVOCATION TO A CHILD

    She comes from Heaven, she dawns upon my sight,
    O'er earth's dark scenes to pour her holy light!
    In sense and blest the Infinite to see
    And feel the heavenly mystery--_To Be._

    She comes--in Nature's tenderest, fondest name--
    Daughter of God--'tis she--the same--the same
    Mine is she too--my own--my latest child,
    Myself, wrapt in Divinity, yet unbeguiled!

    Blest Infant! God's and mine! yet to me given,
    That I might feel anew my Being's Heaven--
    In love and faith to urge my human way,
    Till conscious time be lost in Immortality!

    Love thee I will; for thou didst first love me--
    My faith shall quicken as I dwell on thee,
    Thy Spirit lift me from this "Grave of Things,"
    And bear me homeward, to the King of Kings.



                               CHAPTER IV

                          THE ALCOTT BABY BOOK


BRONSON ALCOTT wrote the first Baby Book, a book which throws new light
on the character of the lovable philosopher, showing one of New
England's intellectual leaders as a very human and lovable man as well
as "a fond and foolish father."

His Baby Book, however, contains no minute record of the first tooth, or
when the baby began to say "Goo" and "Pitty light"; rather it is the
father's earnest effort to learn how early in life the infant mind
begins to awaken, to indicate comprehension, thought, or logic. As
Maeterlinck studied the bee, so Alcott studied his children, and his
findings are a revelation, even to-day, when the study of the child has
become a science.

Mr. Alcott considered vital the development of the child's individuality
and mind; the body seemed to him of secondary importance, for this
disregard of the material care of his family he has been severely
censured; but, not recognizing in his own life the claims of the body,
devoting all his energies to mental growth, it is not surprising that he
found his fatherly duty in the guidance of his children's minds. His
firm faith in the admonition, "Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, and
all these things shall be added unto you," was to him excuse enough for
considering the intellect more than the body.

His practical shortcomings reaped a rich and unexpected reward in the
next generation, for Louisa M. Alcott would probably not have developed
her original and highly entertaining literary gift without the
vicissitudes caused by her father's impractical nature and his sublime
faith that at all times and in all emergencies the Lord would provide.
He did provide; but Louisa was usually the channel, and many of her
stories were written under the whip of stern necessity.

Doing without has its advantages. The Alcott children, never overfed,
overentertained, overburdened to baby boredom with dolls and toys and
games, developed appreciation, observation, and ingenuity. The creative
faculty was aroused. They found resources within themselves. What a
handbook Louisa might have written on How to be Happy though Poor!

Mrs. Alcott's keen sense of humor, a characteristic inherited by Louisa,
often came to her rescue and allowed her to get fun out of a harassing
situation. In a letter to her brother, Colonel May, praising her
husband's intellect, she laughingly comments upon his disregard of
physical necessities: "I am not sure that we shall not blush into
obscurity and contemplate into starvation."

But, to get back to the baby book, or, as Mr. Alcott called it, "the
psychological history," it was started with a high and unselfish motive;
it was developed to an astonishing degree. Its purpose and scope are
best expressed in this extract from Mr. Alcott's journal:

    The history of a human mind during its progressive stages of
    earthly experience has never as yet, I believe, been attempted.
    Faithfully compiled, from verified data, it would be a treasure
    of wisdom to all mankind, replete with light to the
    metaphysical and ethical inquirer. Comparative philosophy
    deduced from an observation of man during all circumstances and
    stages of his existence is a thing yet unthought of among us.
    From such a work the unity of Humanity might be revealed.

When Anna was born, the father began keeping a record of her "physical
and intellectual progress." When she was seven weeks old, her mother
wrote: "It seems as if she were conscious of his observations and
desirous of furnishing him daily with an item for this record."

The following excerpt from the father's diary shows how well Anna
succeeded in her baby attempt:

    I am much interested in the progress of my little girl, now
    five months old, which I have recorded from the day of her
    birth. This record has swollen to a hundred pages. I have
    attempted to discover, as far as this could be done by external
    indication, the successive steps of her physical, mental and
    moral advancement.

Moral advancement of a baby five months old!


                            BIRTH OF LOUISA

On November 29, 1832, his thirty-third birthday and also the natal day
of his friend, Ellery Channing, the poet, Mr. Alcott chronicles an
"interesting event," how interesting the father little dreamed, nor how
important, not alone to the house of Alcott, but to the world. Under the
heading of Circumstances, the father thus records the birth of Louisa
May Alcott:

    A daughter born, on the 29th. ulto., my birthday, being 33
    years of age. This is a most interesting event. Unless those
    ties which connect it with others are formed, the wants of the
    soul become morbid and all its fresh and primal affections
    become dim and perverted.... Few can be happy shut out of the
    nursery of the soul.

While the New England philosopher was studying the development of his
little daughters and deducing therefrom facts for his psychological
history, these same little daughters were developing him, for, as the
child nature unfolded, the father's understanding of childhood expanded.

Thus the baby book grew:

    The influence of children I regard as important to my own
    improvement and happiness. It is also necessary to the
    prosecution of my studies. Dwelling in the primal regions which
    I wish to explore, they are the purest manifestations of its
    phenomena, and the only subjects from which humanity is to be
    interpreted in its purity.

When Anna was three years old and Louisa eighteen months, the father
writes in his journal:

    I passed some time with the children, fitting up their
    playthings, conversing with them and learning as far as I could
    through the subtle meaning of looks, accents and gestures,
    their thoughts and feelings. The avenues to the spirit are all
    open, but how dim are our perceptions, how cold our sympathies,
    to appreciate the pure and bright things which glitter in the
    arena of the young mind! How little of this fairy land do we
    know--we, whose early associations have all been swept from the
    heart--over whose spirits have passed the cold winds, the
    pelting storms, withering and destroying the heart's young
    verdure! What is there to unite us with the spirit of a child?
    What have we in common with its joyous yearning for the
    beautiful, its trust in human sayings, its deep love for those
    on whom it relies for attention and support, its vivid
    picturing of ideal life, its simplicity, its freedom from
    prejudice and false sentiment? Where are these to be seen in
    our dim nature?

He might have answered the question by looking within himself. Child
companionship kept alive the spirit of the Alcott boy, which constantly
shone through the man's philosophy. As the boy saw in every rock and
tree and flower an expression of the Infinite, is it any wonder that the
man should have recognized God's higher manifestation in the child, and
should have written in his journal these lines, which are the very
glorification of fatherhood and reveal the sacredness with which he
looked upon his stewardship?

    He who deals with the child deals--did he know it--with the
    Infinite. Within the young spirit committed to his care are
    infinite capacities to be filled, infinite energies to be
    developed, and on him devolves the amazing responsibility--sacred,
    personal, all his own--of filling these capacities, unfolding
    these energies, from the stores and life of his own spirit. This
    is his office as a parent. But how can he who knows nothing of the
    Infinite within himself call it forth and direct its forces in
    others?

From the first, Louisa must have shown strong individuality and unusual
tendencies, for Mr. Alcott's notes on Louisa are entitled "Observations
on the Vital Phenomena of My Second Child." A more vital, lovable,
contradictory specimen of childhood cannot be imagined. Blessed with her
father's brilliancy of mind, her mother's quick wit and love of fun,
Louisa furnished a problem for endless study. She was less than two
years old when her individuality had so asserted itself that her father
found himself puzzled and admitted that elements were finding their
way into his observations of whose origin he could give no account. "My
analysis, however accurate and elaborate, was still imperfect, and I was
left in doubt. I had made no provision for the admission of innate
influences from the mind itself."

Here is a quaint little record of the Alcott babies' school days, when
Anna was four years old and Louisa a little more than two:

    At school Anna reads, marks and listens to conversations and
    stories. Louisa works with her in all except the reading and
    marking. They have a playroom, where they enjoy their own
    amusements, uninterrupted by the presence of adults--often a
    bar to the genuine happiness of childhood. Anna reads simple
    sentences from Leffanoch's Primer, writes intelligibly on
    tablets and slates, and is improving in work and manners.

(This of a baby of four.)

A spiritual and moral inventory of the progress of Anna and Louisa is
set down by the father when his daughters had reached the dignified ages
of six and four:

    The children have improved under my training. Anna, who has
    been with me more of the time than Louisa, has been greatly
    benefited. She is happier, more capable of self control, more
    docile and obeys from love and faith. She has fine elements for
    excellence, moral and intellectual. If she does not evince a
    pure and exalted character, it will be our failure, not hers,
    in the improvement of her natural endowments.

    Louisa is yet too young for the formation of just views of her
    character. She manifests uncommon activity and force of mind
    at present, and is much in advance of her sister at the same
    age; example has done much to call forth her nature. She is
    more active and practical than Anna. Anna is ideal, sentimental.
    Louisa is practical, energetic. The first imagines much more than
    she can realize; the second, by force of will and practical talent,
    realizes all that she conceives--but conceives less; understanding,
    rather than imagination--the gift of her sister--seems to be her
    prominent faculty. She finds no difficulty in developing ways and
    means to obtain her purpose; while her sister, aiming at much,
    imagining ideal forms of good, and shaping them out so vividly in
    her mind that they become actual enjoyments, fails, when she
    attempts to realize them in nature--she has been dwelling on the
    higher and more speculative relations of things.

    Both represent interesting forms of character, both have wide
    and useful spheres of action indicated in their conformation and
    will doubtless if continued to us, be real blessings.

That they did prove real blessings the history of the Alcott family has
shown.

           [Illustration: A. BRONSON ALCOTT AT THE AGE OF 53.
                  From the portrait by Mrs. Hildreth.
                              _Page_ 54.]

How many fathers ever acknowledge their spiritual debt to the gift of
fatherhood as has Bronson Alcott:

    I know not how much more spiritual I am from the parental relation
    (he writes), how much I have been indebted to them for the light
    that hath dawned upon my own mind from the radiance of their
    simple spirits. Certain it is that the more I associate with them
    in the simple ways they love, the more do I seem to revere. Verily
    had I not been called to associate with children, had I not devoted
    myself to the study of human nature in its period of infancy and
    childhood, I should never have found the tranquil repose, the steady
    faith, the vivid hope that now sheds a glory and a dignity around
    the humble path of my life. Childhood hath saved me.

Out of his theories, his studies, and meditations came a sublime
ambition, a desire to become a laborer in the "Field of the Soul."

    Infancy I shall invest with a glory--a spirituality which the
    disciples of Jesus, deeply as they entered into His spirit
    and caught the life of His mind, have failed to bring forth in
    their records of His sayings and life. I shall redeem infancy
    and childhood, and, if a Saviour of Adults was given in the
    person of Jesus, let me, without impiety or arrogance, regard
    myself as the Children's Saviour. Divine are both missions.
    Both seek out and endeavor to redeem the Infinite in man,
    which, by reason of the clogs of sense and custom, is in
    perpetual danger of being lost. The chief obstacle in the way
    of human regeneration is the want of a due appreciation of
    human nature, and particularly of the nature of children.

Home and its influence upon children meant much to Mr. Alcott, and in
all his writing the nearest approach to a protest against the poverty
he was called upon to endure was when, for a time, he was obliged to
give up that home. Deep is the pathos that lies between the lines of
this entry in his journal:

                           HOME FOR CHILDREN

    I deem it very important to the well being of my children to
    insure them a home. At least their means of improvement are
    limited, their pleasures are abridged, the domestic relations, so
    vital to virtue--to all that lives in the heart and imagination,
    are robbed of their essential glory, and the effect is felt
    throughout the character in after life. I feel that my duty as a
    father cannot be fully carried out when I am thus restricted.
    Whether we can yet improve this condition remains to be
    determined.

The home was reestablished--and such a home! An influence felt
throughout the world, the inspiration of every book Louisa Alcott
wrote.



                               CHAPTER V

                LETTERS AND CONVERSATIONS WITH CHILDREN


HAPPINESS reigned in the Alcott home, and poverty seldom brought with it
a shadow. The girls had toys and a variety of them,--rag dolls, kittens,
gingerbread men, and barnyard animals (the latter skillfully cut out of
cake dough by the mother, who had a genius for inventing surprises). As
they grew older, they delighted in private theatricals. Some of their
plays, written by Anna and Louisa, have been published under the title
of "Comic Tragedies." They are thrillingly melodramatic, thickly
sprinkled with villains and heroes, witches and ruffians, lovely ladies
in distress, gallant knights to the rescue, evil spirits and good
fairies, gnomes and giants. All are direfully tragic and splendidly
spectacular. Louisa as a child showed the dramatic quality which later
found artistic expression in her stories. On a rainy afternoon the
children were never at a loss for entertainment. They "acted" in the
attic or played dolls in their own playroom, and such dolls! Old Joanna,
of whom Louisa has drawn a lifelike picture in "Little Women," is to-day
in existence, battered, scarred, but none the less precious, one foot
carefully bandaged, after the army-nurse method.

Poverty was made interesting. At Christmas a tree was hung with apples,
nuts, and popped corn, and small trifles made by the children were
fastened to the branches. Father and mother made much of the spirit of
the Christ birthday, which was celebrated in simple, wholesome fashion,
in vivid contrast to the modern Christmas festival.

The Alcott letters and journals show tremendous intellectual activity on
the part of the small atoms of humanity who came to grace the Alcott
home. Anna and her father held moral and intellectual discussions when
Anna was four. Louisa was writing a daily journal before she could more
than print. As soon as a child could read, family reproofs were
administered by notes from father and mother to the erring one, not only
pointing out the fault, but how to correct it.

The father encouraged his daughters to study themselves and to write
down their thoughts. Their journals, in consequence, reflect the
characteristics of each one and are storehouses of information. Louisa,
poor little soul, in her happy, hoydenish childhood, found time one day
in a fit of mentality to set down in black and white her chief faults.
One of her most serious, according to the self-imposed confession, was
"love of cats," a sin which easily beset her all her days, for she
inherited her father's love of animals and of children.

Widely varied in character and temperament were the four Alcott girls.
Anna, the first, reflected the beauty, the happiness, and the romance of
the Alcotts' first year of married life. Louisa, born some eighteen
months later, when father and mother had grown even closer together
through the new bond formed by the love of their little daughter,
embodied a deeper, stronger, surer character. She was decisive, with a
determination and surety of self and brilliancy of mind that reflected
the best in both parents. Elizabeth, the third child, was, in some
respects, the most beautiful character of all. About her, from the hour
of her conception, seemed to hover a spiritual, protecting love.
Seemingly from earliest infancy she stood on the borderland of the
spiritual world, in flesh all too fragile to retain the spirit which
remembered and longed, notwithstanding the love with which she was
surrounded, to return to the mystical beauty from which she had come. A
child of dreams and fancies, loving all that was harmonious, she entered
this life at twilight, she left it at the dawn, a coming and going
typical of this dream child, who was lent for a little time to make the
world more glad.

The birth of Amy is also symbolical, the one sunny-haired, sunny-hearted
girl of the family, who came with the rising of the sun. She seemed made
for love, sunshine, and happiness, and had them all, but she was brave
to face hardships and equally ready to accept comfort and luxury. A
queen, the father called her the morning of her birth, and so they
brought her up, the Little Snow Queen.

The wise, fostering love of the father, the helpful, understanding
watchfulness of the mother, are reflected in their letters to their
children. Time was not considered wasted that was devoted to these
letters of gentle admonition and kindly counsel. There was no discussion
of faults or mistakes in the Alcott household; reproofs remained little
secrets between father and daughter, or mother and daughter, and the
effect of this wise and constant watchfulness grows more apparent as the
children advance from childhood to girlhood and on to womanhood. They
were taught to know themselves. They were taught, too, the relation of
the Christ child with their own childhood, beautifully expressed in some
of the letters from Bronson Alcott to his eldest daughter.

It was the father's habit to write each child on her birthday
anniversary and at Christmas. Anna was six years old when he gave her
this beautiful description of the coming of the Christ:

                                For Anna
                                  1837

    To my Daughter Anna.

    A longer time ago than you can understand, a beautiful Babe was
    born. Angels sang at his birth. And stars shone brightly.
    Shepherds watched their flocks by their light. The Babe was
    laid in his Manger-cradle. And harmless oxen fed by his side.
    There was no room for him nor his mother in the Inn, as she
    journeyed from her own home.

    This Babe was born at this time of the year. His name was Jesus.
    And he is also called Christ. This is his birth night. And we
    call it Christ-mas, after him.

    I write you this little note as a Christmas Gift, and hope my
    little girl will remember the birth night of Jesus. Think how
    beautiful he was, and try to shine in lovely actions as he did.
    God never had a child that pleased him so well. Be like a kind
    sister of his, and so please your Father, who loves you very
    much.

                                    Christmas Eve,
                                        December 24th, 1837.
                                                From your
                                                     Father.

Again on Christmas Eve, two years later, he describes to his little
daughter of eight years her own coming into the world of material
things.

The belief in prenatal influence is strongly indicated, for the father
tells his little girl that they thought just how she would look and
pictures to her the joy and the love with which she was surrounded
before her coming into the land of the material and first seeing with
her baby eyes the light of a world day.

                                For Anna
                                  1839

    You were once pleased, my daughter, with a little note which I
    wrote you on Christmas Eve, concerning the birth of Jesus. I
    am now going to write a few words about your own Birth. Mother
    and I had no child. We wanted one--a little girl just like you;
    and we thought how you would look, and waited a good while for
    you to come, so that we might see you and have you for our own.
    At last you came. We felt so happy that joy stood in our eyes.
    You looked just as we wanted to have you. You were draped in a
    pretty little white frock, and father took you in his arms every
    day, and we loved you very much. Your large bright eyes looked
    lovingly into ours, and you soon learned to love and know us.
    When you were a few weeks old, you smiled on us. We lived then
    in Germantown. It is now more than eight years since this
    happened, but I sometimes see the same look and the same smile
    on your face, and feel that my daughter is yet good and pure. O
    keep it there, my daughter, and never lose it.

                                                   Your Father,
    Christmas Eve,
        Beach Street,
            Dec. 24, 1839.

On her birthday some three months later, he continues the thought in
this exquisite letter:

                                                 March 16, 1840.

    My dear Daughter,

    With this morning's dawn opens a new year of your Life on Earth.
    Nine years ago you were sent, a sweet Babe into this world, a
    joy and hope to your father and mother. After a while, through
    many smiles and some few tears, you learned to lisp the names
    of father and mother, and to make them feel once more how near
    and dear you were to their hearts whenever you named their
    names. Now you are a still dearer object of Love and hope to
    them as your love buds and blossoms under their eye. They watch
    this flower as it grows in the Garden of Life, and scents the
    air with its fragrance, and delights the eye by its colours.
    Soon they will look not for Beauty and fragrance alone, but for
    the ripening and ripe fruit. May it be the Spirit of Goodness;
    may its leaves never wither, its flowers never fade; its
    fragrance never cease; but may it flourish in perpetual youth
    and beauty, and be transplanted in its time, into the Garden of
    God, whose plants are ever green, ever fresh, and bloom alway,
    the amaranth of Heaven, the pride and joy of angels. Thus
    writes your Father to you on this your birth morn.

                    Monday, 16 March, 1840.
                        Beach Street,
                            Boston

    For
       Anna,
         in the Garden of Life.

This letter and his allusion to "your life on earth" show plainly his
belief in life eternal, for Bronson Alcott considered earthly existence
merely a period in the evolution of the soul.

On Christmas Eve, 1840; when Anna was nearly ten, Louisa just past her
eighth birthday, May, the golden-haired baby of the Alcott household,
and Elizabeth the little shadow child of four, he wrote Christmas
letters to his daughters, which show his appreciation of their special
needs, and his respect for their individualities. The letter to
Elizabeth is missing; to Anna he wrote:

                                For Anna
                                  1840

                             BEAUTY or DUTY
                                 which
                            loves Anna best?

                                   a
                                Question
                                from her
                                 FATHER

                             Christmas Eve
                               Dec. 1840
                               Concordia.

For Louisa, the father's message was this:

                               For Louisa
                                  1840

                             Louisa loves--
                                 What?
                             (Softly)
                                  FUN
                            Have some then,
                                 Father
                                 says.

                        Christmas Eve, Dec. 1840
                               Concordia.

For the baby of the household, the father's love message took poetic
form:

                                For Abba
                                  1840

                            For Abba
                            Babe fair,
                            Pretty hair,
                            Bright eye,
                            Deep sigh,
                            Sweet lip,
                            Feet slip,
                            Handsome hand,
                            Stout grand,
                            Happy smile,
                            Time beguile,
                            All I ween,
                          Concordia's Queen.

Almost without the dates, one could keep track of the development of the
Alcott girls through their father's letters. This one demonstrates his
gift of teaching by the use of suggestion:

                                For Anna

                                  1842

                           _A Father's Gift_
                                 to his
                               _Daughter_
                                 on her
                          _Eleventh Birthday_.

                               Concordia
                               16th March
                                  1842

    My dear daughter,

    This is your eleventh birthday, and as I have heretofore
    addressed a few words to you on these interesting occasions, I
    will not depart from my former custom now.

    And my daughter, what shall I say to you? Shall I say something
    to please or to instruct you--to flatter or benefit you? I know
    you dislike being pleased unless the pleasure make you better,
    and you dislike all flattery. And you know too, that your father
    never gave you a word of flattery in his life. So there remains
    for you the true and purest pleasure of being instructed and
    benefited by words of love and the deepest regard for your
    improvement in all that shall make you more happy in yourself
    and beautiful to others. And so I shall speak plainly to you of
    yourself, and of my desire for your improvement in several
    important things.

    _First--Your Manners._ Try to be more gentle. You like gentle
    people and every one is more agreeable as he cultivates this
    habit. None can be agreeable who are destitute of it and how
    shall you become more gentle? Only by governing your passions,
    and cherishing your love to everyone who is near you. Love is
    gentle: Hate is violent. Love is well-mannered; Selfishness is
    rude, vulgar. Love gives sweet tone to the voice, and makes the
    countenance lovely. Love then, and grow fair and agreeable.

    _Second: Be Patient._ This is one of the most difficult things to
    everyone, old or young. But it is also one of the greatest
    things. And this comes of Love too. Love is Patient: it bears;
    it suffers long; it is kind; it is beautiful; it makes us like
    angels. Patience is, indeed, angelic; it is the Gate that opens
    into the House of Happiness. Open it, my daughter, and enter in
    and take all your sisters in with you.

    _Third: Be Resolute._ Shake off all Sluggishness, and follow your
    Confidence as fast as your feelings, your thoughts, your eye,
    your hand, your foot, will carry you. Hate all excuses: almost
    always, these are lies. Be _quick_ in your obedience: delay is a
    laggard, who never gets up with himself, and loses the company
    of confidence always. Resolution is the ladder to Happiness.
    Resolve and be a wise and happy girl.

    _Fourth: Be Diligent._ Put your heart into all you do: and fix
    your thoughts on your doings. Halfness is almost as bad as
    nothing: be whole then in all you do and say.

    But I am saying a great deal and will stop now with the hope of
    meeting you on the 16th March, 1843 (the good God sparing us
    till then) a gentler, a meeker, more determined and obligent
    girl.

                                                Your friend
                                                    and
                                                        _Father_

    Concordia
        16 March
            _1842_

    For
        _Anna Bronson Alcott._

Such a gift to an eleven-year-old girl on her birthday! One would expect
not kindly counsel, but a toy, a picture book, something pretty for her
body, not much for her mind. The spirituality and the wisdom of the
poet-philosopher are shown in this letter with its "excuses, almost
always lies," and "delay is a laggard."

When Louisa was seven years old, her mother was ill, and the child was
sent away from home for a time. To his little absent daughter the father
sends this letter, printed so that she might read it for herself:

                              For Louisa.
                                  1839

    My dear Little Girl.

    Father hopes you are well and happy. Mother will soon be well
    enough we hope for you to come home. You want to see us all I
    know. And we want to see you very much. Be a good girl and try
    to do as they tell you. You shall see us all in a few days.

    You were never away from home so long before. It has given you
    some new feelings.

    I have printed this note. I hope you can read it all yourself.

                                               Good Bye
                                                    From Father.

    Saturday
    11 o'clock in the School Room.
    1839

On her seventh birthday he writes her one of the most wonderful letters
of the many that have been preserved in the volumes of the Alcott
manuscripts:

                             [Illustration]

                             [Illustration]

                             [Illustration]

                             [Illustration]

                               For Louisa
                                  1839

    My Daughter,

    You are Seven years old to-day and your Father is forty. You
    have learned a great many things, since you have lived in a
    Body, about things going on around you and within you. You know
    how to think, how to resolve, how to love, and how to obey. You
    feel your Conscience, and have no real pleasure unless you obey
    it. You cannot love yourself, or anyone else, when you do not
    mind its commandments. It asks you always to BE GOOD, and bears,
    O how gently! how patiently! with all endeavors to hate, and
    treat it cruelly. How kindly it bears with you all the while.
    How sweetly it whispers Happiness in your HEART when you Obey
    its soft words. How it smiles upon you, and makes you Glad when
    you Resolve to Obey it! How terrible its PUNISHMENTS. It is GOD
    trying in your soul to keep you always Good.

    You begin, my dear daughter, another year this morning. Your
    Father, your Mother, and Sisters, with your little friends, show
    their love on this your Birthday, by giving you this BOX. Open
    it, and take what is in it, and the best wishes of

                                                    Your Father.

    Beach Street,
        Friday morning, Nov. 29, 1839.

His explanation to a seven-year-old girl that conscience is "God in your
soul," and the lines, "since you have lived in a body," are eloquent
manifestations of his belief. It is not surprising that, given such
thoughts at seven, Louisa at ten or eleven wrote that she was sure in
some previous life she must have been a horse,--she loved so to run. A
month before May Alcott was born, little Louisa, then eight, again away
from home, received this letter from her father:

                             [Illustration]

                             [Illustration]

                             [Illustration]

                             [Illustration]

    Cottage, Sunday June 21st,
        1840.

    We all miss the noisy little girl who used to make house and
    garden, barn and field, ring with her footsteps, and even the
    hens and chickens seem to miss her too. Right glad would father
    and mother, Anna and Elizabeth, and all the little mates at
    School, and Miss Russell, the House Playroom, Dolls, Hoop,
    Garden, Flowers, Fields, Woods and Brooks, all be to see and
    answer the voice and footsteps, the eye and hand of their
    little companion. But yet all make themselves happy and
    beautiful without her; all seem to say, "Be Good, little Miss,
    while away from us, and when we meet again we shall love and
    please one another all the more; we find how much we love now we
    are separated."

    I wished you here very much on the morning when the Hen left her
    nest and came proudly down with six little chickens, everyone
    knowing how to walk, fly, eat and drink almost as well as its
    own mother; to-day (Sunday) they all came to see the house and
    took their breakfast from their nice little feeding trough; you
    would have enjoyed the sight very much. But this and many other
    pleasures all wait for you when you return. Be good, kind,
    gentle, while you are away, step lightly, and speak soft about
    the house;

    Grandpa loves quiet, as well as your sober father and other
    grown people.

    Elizabeth says often, "Oh I wish I could see Louisa, when will
    she come home, Mother?" And another feels so too; who is it?

                                                Your
                                                    Father.

    I forgot to write how much _Kit_ missed you.

On her eighth birthday, her father writes:

                               For Louisa
                                  1840

                Two Passions strong divide our Life,
                Meek gentle Love, or boisterous Strife.

                Love--Music                 Anger--Arrow
                  Concord                       Discord
                                            From her Father

    On her eighth birthday Nov. 29th.

At ten, her birthday greeting from her father is this:

                               For Louisa
                                  1842

    My daughter,

    This is your birthday: you are ten years of age to-day. I sought
    amidst my papers for some pretty picture to place at the top of
    this note, but I did not find anything that seemed at all
    expressive of my interest in your well-being, or well-doing, and
    so this note comes to you without any such emblem. Let me say,
    my honest little girl, that I have had you often in my mind
    during my separation from you and your devoted mother, and
    well-meaning sisters, while on the sea or the land, and now that
    I have returned to be with you and them again, meeting you daily
    at fireside, at table, at study, and in your walk, and
    amusements, in conversation and in silence, being daily with
    you, I would have you feel my presence and be the happier, and
    better that I am here. I want, most of all things, to be a
    kindly influence on you, helping you to guide and govern your
    heart, keeping it in a state of sweet and loving peacefulness,
    so that you may feel how good and kind is that Love which lives
    always in our breasts, and which we may always feel, if we will
    keep the passions all in stillness and give up ourselves
    entirely to its soft desires. I live, my dear daughter, to be
    good and to do good to all, and especially to you and your
    mother and sisters. Will you not let me do you all the good that
    I would? And do you not know that I can do you little or none,
    unless you give me your affections, incline your ears, and
    earnestly desire to become daily better and wiser, more kind,
    gentle, loving, diligent, heedful, serene. The good Spirit comes
    into the Breast of the meek and loveful to abide long; anger,
    discontent, impatience, evil appetites, greedy wants,
    complainings, ill-speakings, idlenesses, heedlessness, rude
    behaviour and all such, these drive it away, or grieve it so
    that it leaves the poor misguided soul to live in its own
    obstinate, perverse, proud discomfort, which is the very _Pain of
    Sin_, and is in the _Bible_ called the worm that never dies, the
    gnawing worm, the sting of _CONSCIENCE_: while the pleasures of
    love and goodness are beyond all description--a peacefulness
    that passes all understanding. I pray that my daughter may know
    much of the last, and little of the first of these feelings. I
    shall try every day to help her to the knowledge and love of
    this good _Spirit_. I shall be with her, and as she and her
    sisters come more and more into the presence of this Spirit,
    shall we become a family more closely united in loves that can
    never sunder us from each other.

                        This your
                                Father
                            in Hope and Love
                                on your
                                    Birthday

    Concordia,
        Nov. 29, 1842.

To little Elizabeth the letters were few. The child was so constantly
the companion of father and mother, that by speech rather than written
word, their messages were given. But on her fifth birthday, her father
carefully printed this letter:

                             [Illustration]

                             [Illustration]

                             [Illustration]

                             [Illustration]

                             For Elizabeth
                                  1840

                       I   I    I    I     I   Years
                      one two three four five
                               BIRTH-DAY
                                 in the
                                COTTAGE

    My very dear little girl,

    You make me very happy every time I look at your smiling
    pleasant face--and you make me very sorry every time I see your
    face look cross and unpleasant. You are now five years old. You
    can keep your little face pleasant all the time, if you will
    try, and be happy yourself, and make everybody else happy too.
    Father wants to have his little girl happy all the time. He
    hopes her little friends and her presents and plays will
    make her happy to-day; and this little note too. Last birthday
    you were in Beach Street, in the great City, now you are at your
    little cottage in the country where all is pretty and pleasant,
    and you have fields and woods, and brooks and flowers to please
    my little Queen, and keep her eyes, and ears, and hands and
    tongue and feet, all busy. This little note is from

                                FATHER,

    who loves his little girl very much, and knows that she loves
    him very dearly.

                            Play, play,
                            All the day,
                            Jump and run
                            Every one,
                            Full of fun,
                            All take
                            A piece of cake,
                            For my sake.

His wish to encourage the little girl in her efforts to be good, kind,
gentle, and patient, and his appreciation of her accomplishment, is set
forth in this characteristic little note:

                                        Concord, Cottage,
                                            February 2nd, 1842.

    My dear Elizabeth,

    You give me much pleasure by your still, quiet manners, and your
    desire to do things, without asking impatiently and selfishly
    for others to help you without trying first to help yourself.
    Trying is doing; doing is but trying; try then always and you
    will do; and every one loves to help those who try. I will print
    a little sentence for you in large letters and you who have
    already found it so easy to do things for yourself will, I dare
    say, remember it, and follow it too--This is it--

                        TRY FIRST: AND
                        THEN ASK: AND
                        TRY PATIENTLY TILL
                        YOU HAVE TRIED
                        YOUR BEST: AND
                        YOU WILL NOT NEED
                        TO ASK AT ALL.
                    Trying is the only
                        Schoolmaster
                                 whose
                                Scholars
                                 always
                                Succeed.
                                            Your Father.

    Cottage,
      Feb. 2nd.

Little May, the youngest, was the pet, not only of the Alcott household,
but of all the Alcott kin. This quaint little dolly letter, written to
her by her Uncle Junius, has been framed and hangs to-day in the library
of May Alcott's nephew, John:

                        Gift of Junius S. Alcott
                                   to
                                 Abby.

                                   A
                               Little Face
                              once smiling
                                  woke
                                   to
                           greet, the day,
                        with sport and play,
               Hands) on her Birthday, in shaking (Hands
                            with her sisters,
                            and, her visitors,
                        that, came, to, chime,
                     a, happy, time, with, Lizzy,
                    To, give, you, pleasure, uncle,
                gives, this, treasure, to you, so, sweet,
                  So, keep, it, neat, and please, my,
                 Brother, & your Mother, by always,
                   finding that, by, minding, you
                  are, the kindest, little girl, that,
                     that,               ever
                     stood               d, in,
                     (Shoes)             (Shoes)



                               CHAPTER VI

                         THE MOTHER'S INFLUENCE


UPON the lives of all four of her daughters the mother's influence
rested like a benediction. It is felt in her letters; it is reflected in
the journals of her girls and in the musings of Bronson Alcott, as set
down in his voluminous journals. And the mother spirit hovers over
Orchard House, where "Little Women" was written and lived.

While letters to Anna from her mother are missing, Anna's journal shows
how vital was Mrs. Alcott's power in the upbuilding of her noble
character. Louisa in "Little Women" has said that the girls gave their
hearts into their mother's keeping, their souls into their father's.
Anna's letters bear eloquent testimony to the strong, helpful, cheery
influence of the mother upon the child. Among the first was this letter,
written by Anna when she was five years old and visiting Mr. Alcott's
family at Wolcott:

                        _Letter to Mrs. Alcott._
                            Wolcott Aug. 12th, 1836.
                                    _Friday Morning._

    My dear Mother,

    I have to go away by myself and cry because I want to see you so
    much, and little sister Lizy and Louisa. Doctor Fuller is
    coming to cure Grandmother. i shall see you in a few days. You
    have a splendid husband

                                                  Anna
                                               V years of age--

(On this she had drawn her hand.)

She was six years old when she wrote this:

    Dear Mother,

    I have not had a note from you for a great while. You wanted
    some wafers yesterday will you accept of them from me There is
    not many but it is all that I have got. I am very glad my
    birthday is so near for as I grow older, I hope I shall grow
    better and more useful to you, I hope soon we shall be settled
    down in some comfortable little home of our own and then shall
    be contented and happy I hope. I must go to my sums now, so
    goodbye dearest mother

                                    Your loving Anna

A letter eloquent of the tender relation between mother and child is
this written during the Fruitlands period:

    For

        Dearest mother
              fruitlands.

        Dear mother.

    I wish that you would come to the table again. I enjoy my meals
    much better when you are at the table. Was not "Heraclitus" that
    father read about to-day, a dear good man, it seems as though I
    wanted to hug him up and kiss him. I wish men had understood his
    thoughts better than they did he would have been happier I
    think. I have enjoyed this morning readings and conversations
    better than I have before for a good while, I suppose, because I
    talked and I understood it so well. I do not write to you very
    often dear mother but I love to dearly when I feel like it, and
    I love to have letters from you. I have not been as good as I
    wish I had this week. I send a little bunch of flowers to you
    they are not very pretty but they are beautifully made and I
    thought you would like them. I had a beautiful time walking this
    morning with Louisa. Good bye dearest mother from your loving

                                                        Anna.

Many copies of her mother's letters are found in Louisa's journals,
showing the daughter's intense, almost idolatrous affection. Louisa
admired, respected, and loved her father, but to her mother her
tenderest thought was given. Marmee understood the wayward,
tempestuous, lovable child as no one else did, not even loyal Anna,
or admiring Elizabeth. On her birthday the mother writes to Louisa:

    My dear little girl,

    Will you accept this doll from me on your 7th birthday. She will
    be a quiet play mate for my active Louisa for seven years more.
    Be a kind mamma and love her for my sake.

                                    Your mother.

    Beach St., Boston, 1839.

Louisa was ten when this birthday letter was sent:

                                             Cottage in Concord.

    Dear Daughter,

    Your 10th birthday has arrived, may it be a happy one, & on each
    returning birthday may you feel new strength and resolution to be
    gentle with sisters, obedient to parents, loving to everyone &
    happy in yourself.

    I give you the pencil case I promised, for I have observed that
    you are fond of writing & wish to encourage the habit.

    Go on trying, dear, & each day it will be easier to be & do good.
    You must help yourself, for the cause of your little troubles is
    in yourself, & patience & courage only will make you what mother
    prays to see you her good and happy girl.

During the Fruitlands period, when Louisa was eleven, she found this
little note tucked carefully away in a spot where only she would find
and read it:

                                                     Fruitlands.

    My dear,

    Thank you for your sweet note and sweeter poetry. The second
    verse is very good. Your love of nature is pure and true. It is
    a lovely school in which good lessons may be learned. The happy
    industry of birds, the beautiful lives of flowers, the music of
    brooks all help--

                "The little fountain flows
                 So noiseless thro the wood,
                 The wanderer tastes repose,
                 And from the silent flood
                 Learns meekly to do good."

In the following letter, a pretty little deference to the child's own
personality is shown by the mother, in that way bringing out in the
child respect and deference for others:

    Dear Daughter,

    I hope you will not consider me an intruder for stopping a
    moment in your "poet's corner" to admire the neatness of your
    desk, the sweetness of your poetry, the beauty of the prospect
    from your window. Cherish this love of nature, dear, enjoy all
    it gives you, for God made these helps to charm contemplation,
    and they strengthen the noble desire to be or to do all that is
    sent for our training & our good. Heaven be about you my child,
    is mother's Sunday prayer.

Louisa Alcott filled her diary with letters from her mother,
occasionally adding in later life annotations of her own. This letter
from her mother when Louisa was eleven is an example:

                                       (From Louisa Alcott's Diary.)
                                            Concord, 1843.

    Dear Louy,

    I enclose a picture for you which I always liked very much, for
    I have imagined that you might be just such an industrious
    daughter & I such a feeble but loving mother, looking to your
    labor for my daily bread. Keep it for my sake, & your own, for
    you and I always like to be grouped together.

                                                         Mother.

          [Illustration: ABIGAIL MAY, MRS. A. BRONSON ALCOTT.
                         From a daguerreotype.
                              _Page 106._]

Then follows the picture and the lines written by Louisa in her
journal:

                               To Mother.

    I hope that soon dear mother, you & I may be
    In the quiet room my fancy has so often made for thee,
    The pleasant sunny chamber, the cushioned easy chair,
    The books laid for your reading, the vase of flowers fair.
    The desk beside the window where the sun shines warm and bright,
    And there in ease and quiet, the promised book you write,
    While I sit close beside you, content at last to see,
    That you can rest dear mother, & I can cherish thee.

Louisa lived to see her hope realized and the dream of many years a
beautiful reality.

Like most writers, Louisa was moody, and in her hours of depression and
despondency she looked upon her work as a failure and herself as a
useless drag upon the family. At such times Marmee invariably came to
the rescue and persuaded her discouraged daughter to use the pen she was
ready to lay down. Even in Louisa's childhood, when her only promise of
future literary achievement were her tragedies and melodramas of lurid
style, little gifts show the mother's faith and pride in her daughter's
work. So did her letters, of which this is an example:

    Dear Louisa:

    I sometimes stray about the house and take a peep into the
    journal. Your pages lately are blank. I am sure your life has
    many fine passages well worth recording, and to me they are
    always precious. Anything like intellectual progress in my
    children seems to compensate for much disappointment &
    perplexity in my own life. Do write a little each day, dear, if
    but a line, to show me how bravely you begin the battle, how
    patiently you wait for the rewards sure to come when the victory
    is nobly won.

                                    Ever yrs.
                                            Mother.

On her fourteenth birthday the mother accompanies the gift of a pen with
this little poem:

    Oh, may this pen your muse inspire,
        When wrapt in pure poetic fire,
    To write some sweet, some thrilling verse;
        A song of love or sorrow's lay,
    Or duty's clear but tedious way
        In brighter hope rehearse.
    Oh, let your strain be soft and high,
        Of crosses here, of crowns beyond the sky;
    Truth guide your pen, inspire your theme,
        And from each note joy's music stream.

Louisa Alcott owed much to her mother's example and perhaps even more to
her mother's influence. This letter, carefully preserved in the
daughter's journal, reveals a wealth of mother-love and of God-given
wisdom:

                                                  15th Birthday,
                                                       Hillside.

    Dearest,

    Accept this pen from your mother and for her sake use it freely
    & worthily that each day of this your fifteenth year may
    testify to some good word or thought or work.

    I know there will be born into your spirit new hopes, new gifts,
    for God helps the loving, trusting heart that turns to Him. Lift
    up your soul to meet the highest, for that alone will satisfy
    your yearning, aspiring nature.

    Your temperament is a peculiar one, & there are few who can
    really help you. Set about the formation of character & believe
    me you are capable of obtaining a noble one. Industry, patience,
    love, creates, endures, gives all things, for these are the
    attributes of the Almighty, & they make us mighty in all things.
    May eternal love sustain you, infinite wisdom guide you, & the
    peace which passeth understanding reward you, my daughter.

                                                         Mother.
    Nov. 29th, 1846.

Deeds, not words, characterized Elizabeth Alcott, as readers of "Little
Women" will recall. She was about seven when she sent this letter, one
of the very few she wrote, to her mother:

                                                 May, Friday 29.

    Dear Mother,

    I thank you very much for your note. I will try to write better
    than I have done. I have not always had a good pen. I hope I
    shall improve in all my studies this summer. I hope I can read
    German & French very well, and know a great deal about the
    countries. I must write my journal now so I will bid you good
    bye.

                                            From your loving
                                                      Elizabeth.

Birthdays were always celebrated with much rejoicing in the Alcott
household, the gift made secondary to the spirit of the day. From the
time they were old enough to print, the Alcott children on the mother's
birthday made her some little gift, accompanying it with a note. Abba
May or May, as she was always called, at nine years old, began in prose
but lapsed into poetry:

    Dear Mother,

    I wish you a very happy birthday. I hope you will find my
    present Useful, and when you wear it think of me. I have taken a
    great-deal of Pleasure in making it for you. Please take this
    Present mother on your 49 birthday

    With the dearest Love and wishes of your little daughter A.

With Mrs. Alcott, hardship, poverty, the grief of seeing her husband
misunderstood and often scoffed at, never lessened her love for him, or
her contentment in the marriage relation. The year following her
marriage in a letter to her brother she wrote: "My father has never
married a daughter or son more completely happy than I am. I have cares,
and soon they will be arduous ones, but with the mild, constant, and
affectionate sympathy and aid of my husband, with the increasing health
and loveliness of my quiet and bright little Anna, with good health,
clear head, grateful heart and ready hand,--what can I not do when
surrounded by influences like this?"

Ideals were never shattered; illusions, if so they may be called, were
never lost by Mrs. Alcott through the stormy years that laid between the
first happy months of her married life and the sunset days when all her
burdens were laid down. To her, the husband who was so long denied
material success and intellectual sympathy ever remained the lover and
friend. Her admiration for him was unbounded, her faith in him complete.
So high she held him in heart and mind, that it was difficult even for
those who loved him most to appreciate her estimate of him as Poet,
Philosopher, and Sage.

Concerning the most famous portrait ever made of Bronson Alcott, done in
crayons by Mrs. Richard Hildredth, wife of the historian and aunt of the
portrait painter, George Fuller, which, beautiful as it was, did not
satisfy the wife's ideal, Mrs. Alcott writes:

    A tinge of the incomprehensible lies softly around it, a field
    of atmosphere, as if she had worked with down from an angel's
    wing rather than with a crayon,--as if the moonlight had cast a
    shadow on the lights of her picture, and a divinity had touched
    with a soft shade, the dark portion of the figure. Mrs.
    Hildredth has changed the costume from a dress suit to a mantle
    draped about the shoulders. This, I do not like. The chaste
    simplicity of Mr. Alcott's dress is more in character and
    keeping with the severe simplicity and rectitude of his life.
    Louisa admirably describes her father's appearance as she
    met him at the cars. "His dress was neat and poor. He looked
    cold and thin as an icicle, but serene as God." After such a
    testimony, from such a daughter, he can afford to dress shabbily.

Contentment, whatever her lot, was an attribute of Marmee; she
underestimated herself always. Unquestionably, Louisa inherited her
literary gift quite as much from mother as from father, and flashes of
the quaint humor so delightful in the daughter's books are found in the
mother's letters. To a friend she writes: "My gifts are few. I live,
love and learn, and find myself more content every day of my life with
humble conditions."

Louisa Alcott never laid claim to poetic gift, but on a few occasions
her verses take to themselves true poetic beauty. One of the most
exquisite of these poems was written by her on the death of her mother,
and was first published anonymously in the "Masque of Poets" of 1878:

                            TRANSFIGURATION
                              In Memoriam

    Mysterious death; who in a single hour
        Life's gold can so refine,
        And by thy art divine
    Change mortal weakness to immortal power:

    Bending beneath the weight of eighty years,
        Spent with the noble strife
        Of a victorious life,
    We watched her fading heavenward, through our tears.

    But ere the sense of loss our hearts had wrung,
        A miracle was wrought:
        And swift as happy thought
    She lived again--brave, beautiful and young.

    Age, pain and sorrow dropped the veils they wore,
        And showed the tender eyes
        Of angels in disguise,
    Whose discipline so patiently she bore.

    The past years brought their harvest rich and fair;
        While memory and love,
        Together fondly wove
    A golden garland for the silver hair.



                              CHAPTER VII

                           CHILDREN'S DIARIES


THE Alcott children were brought up to think for themselves, to reflect,
and to give expression to their thoughts. Never laughed at, they were
not afraid to speak or write of what was in their minds. Each kept a
diary, and no incident that concerned the little girls was too trivial
for mention in the record of the day. These incidents, collected, give a
more comprehensive view of the Alcotts as a family than do the father's
voluminous journals.

                  [Illustration: ANNA BRONSON ALCOTT.
                         From a daguerreotype.
                              _Page 122._]

When Anna was ten, she gravely explains under date of April 13, 1841:

    Father was too unwell to come down stairs and mother ironed,
    Louisa and I helped a little while. I wrote my journal and a
    journal for Louisa as she thought she could not write well
    enough. I had no other lessons than that. We watched a little
    spider and gave it some water to drink. In the afternoon mother
    read loud the story of the good aunt or part of it while we
    sewed on the clean clothes I mended up the holes and Louisa and
    Lizzy sewed on a sheet. In the evening we played mother lets us
    play in the evening. We went to bed soon.

This sewing bee recalls the long evenings in the March home, described
in "Little Women," when the four girls and the mother sewed dutifully
on sheets for Aunt March, dividing seams into countries, discussing
Europe, Asia, Africa, and America as they stitched.

When she was twelve, Anna's literary aspirations sought a vent in
attempted poetry. Later she collaborated with Louisa in writing the
"Comic Tragedies." Anna's confidante and comrade, Louisa, was frequently
the victim of these poetic effusions, her reception of which gives quite
a line on her ardent temperament. This entry in Anna's journal for April
23, 1843, is eloquent:

    This morning I rose pretty early--After breakfast I read and
    wrote stories. In the afternoon I wrote some letters and the
    following one to Louisa:

            Louisa dear
            With love sincere
        Accept this little gift from me
            It is with pleasure
            I send this treasure
        And with it send much love to thee.

            Sister dear
            Never fear
        God will help you if you try.
            Do not despair
            But always care
        To be good and love to try.

    In the evening I read in a book called 'Stories on the
    Lord's-prayer.' I talked with Louisa after I went to bed and she
    pinched me on my leg.

Two or three years later Anna writes:

    Monday.

    Mother went to Boston and Louisa and I cleaned house all day. I
    love order above all things and I take great pleasure in seeing
    all neat about the house.

    Tuesday.

    I worked hard till 2 o'clock when we all met to sew while mother
    read aloud from "Miss Bremers Brothers and Sister's." It is most
    beautiful such a happy family. I think Miss Bremer would make a
    lovely mother the mothers in her books are so sweet and she has
    beautiful idear's about family's. I love to read natural
    stories.

    Wednesday 30th.

    We rose very early and eat breakfast. I think it is a dreadful
    thing to grow old and not be able to fly about, but then I
    suppose I shall not care about flying when I grow older, still
    it is horrid to think about being an old woman all wrinkled and
    blind. I wish I could keep young forever. I should love to live
    among all those I love and be with them all the time.

Reading was a part of the daily routine in the Alcott household, and
Anna's taste for German recalls vividly certain episodes between Meg and
John Brooks in "Little Women."

    Friday 18th.

    I read one of Krummacher's parables in German. I think they are
    very beautiful, the language is so elegant. I love to hear
    beautiful words and these stories are told so simply and are
    full of such sweet thought. I found a great many which have
    never been translated and I intend to try myself to translate
    them. I think it is the pleasantest thing I do to read German.
    It is such a splendid language. I mean Elizabeth shall learn to
    read it, she will enjoy it so much.

    Saturday 19th.

    In the afternoon I sewed and Louisa read me a very silly story
    called 'The Golden Cup.' I think there is a great deal of
    nonsense written now a days, the papers are full of silly
    stories.

    Sunday 20th.

    I have been reading lately a very beautiful book given me by my
    mother. It is "Characteristics of Women" by Mrs. Jameson. I like
    it very much. It is a description of Shakespear's Heroines,
    Portia is my favorite, she was so noble and I liked the Trial
    scene better than any of Shakespears that I ever read. I think
    this part is beautiful.

    'Let music sound while he doth make his choice;
    Then if he love he make a swan like end
    Fading in music.'

    I think this was a beautiful idea.

    I passed a pleasant morning in school, translating one of
    Krummacher's beautiful parables. I find great pleasure in this.
    I like German better than I do French. I want much to study
    Italian. I have tried myself several times but cannot manage it
    without help. I think I should be very happy if I could go to
    school. I think about it most all the time and when I am in bed
    I imagine myself in Boston going to Miss Peabody's school with
    other girls and know that I am learning something. And I think
    I lead rather too solitary a life. I love to see people. Mother
    read in the afternoon from Miss Sedgwick's Letters. It was about
    the Germans. She says they are a very cheerful people and though
    poor yet they always have a happy smile and cheerful face. That
    their manners are beautiful. They are so kind and simple. I know
    I should love them, for I like everything German, except their
    food, which I think must be horrid, greasy cabbage and sour
    bread. That seems bad. I should think they are so fond of
    beautiful things; music, poetry and flowers, that they would not
    like such stuff.

    September, 1845.
    Friday 1st.

    I walked before breakfast, the sun was bright and there was a
    cool wind. The lane was full of beautiful flowers and the grass
    was green and fresh. I had a lovely walk and gathered a bunch of
    goldenrod, spirian and gerandia. Everything was so beautiful
    that all my unhappy thoughts of last night flew away. I
    sometimes have strange feelings, a sort of longing after
    something I don't know what it is. I have a great many wishes. I
    spent the day in the usual manner, sewing and studying. In the
    evening Louisa and I walked through the lane and talked about
    how we should like to live and dress and imagined all kinds of
    beautiful things.

    Sunday 3rd.

    I sewed all day and mother read from "Miss Sedgwick's Letters."
    I will write a piece of poetry, as I have nothing very pleasant
    to write about:

        "Oh when thy heart is full of fears
         And the way is dim to Heaven
         When the sorrow and the sin of years
         Peace from thy soul has driven
         Then through the mist of falling tears
         Look up and be forgiven.

        "And then rise up and sin no more
         And from thy dark ways flee
         Let Virtue o'er thy appetites
         Have full and perfect mastery
         And the kindly ones that hover o'er
         Will ever strengthen thee.

        "And though thou art helpless and forlorn
         Let not thy heart's peace go
         And though the riches of this world are gone
         And thy lot is care and woe
         Faint not, but journey ever on
         True wealth is not below.

        "Oh, falter not but still look up
         Let Patience be thy guide
         Bless the rod and take the cup
         And trustfully abide
         Let not temptation vanquish thee
         And the Father will provide."

    Louisa composed these lines, which I think are beautiful. She is
    a beautiful girl and writes as good poetry as Lucretia Davidson,
    about whom so much has been written. I think she will write
    _something great one of these days_. As for me I am perfect in
    nothing. I have no genius. I know a little of music, a little of
    French, German and Drawing, but none of them well. I have a
    foolish wish to be something _great_ and I shall probably spend my
    life in a kitchen and die in the poor-house. I want to be Jenny
    Lind or Mrs. Seguin and I can't and so I cry. Here is another of
    Louisa's pieces to mother.

        "God comfort thee dear mother,
            For sorrow sad and deep
         Is lying heavy on thy heart
            And this hath made thee weep.

        "There is a Father o'er us, mother,
            Who orders for the best
         And peace shall come ere long, mother,
            And dwell within thy breast.

        "Then let us journey onward, mother,
            And trustfully abide,
         The coming forth of good or ill
            Whatever may betide."

Helpfulness was encouraged in the Alcott household; habits of industry
were carefully fostered. The Alcott children worked when they worked,
played when they played, but wasted hours were unknown. They were taught
to make the most of every day. When Anna was seventeen she wrote in her
diary:

    August, 1848.
    Thursday 17th.

    Lizzy and I are making plans for spending our days usefully.
    Here is mine.

                                 Plan.

    Rise at half past 4, bathe, dress and walk till half past 5.

    Dress and bathe the children.

    Breakfast at 7. Work till 9. School till 12. Work till 2.

    Sew till 4. Practice till 5.

    Hear Lizzy recite German and French till 6. Supper.

    This will keep me pretty busy, but I find I accomplish so much
    more when I have a plan and certain times for certain things. I
    never can do things without order. I like to have something
    planned for every moment of the day, so that when I get up in
    the morning I may know what to do. I wish I could be learned.

An entry in Louisa's diary during the Fruitlands period gives this
insight into one of her average days, when a child of eleven:

    I rose at five, and after breakfast washed the dishes and then
    helped mother work. I took care of May in the afternoon. In the
    evening I made some pretty things for my dolly. Father and Mr.
    Lane had a talk and father asked us if we saw any reason for us
    to separate. Mother wanted to, she is so tired. I like it, but
    not the school part or Mr. L.

Note, too, that when it came to a conference concerning family affairs,
the father asked the advice of his eleven-year-old daughter, instead of
following the more customary method of withholding from her the family
confidence and deferring discussion of plans until the children had gone
to bed.

"Know Thyself," was ever the aim of Bronson Alcott in the training of
his children, and Mr. Lane at Fruitlands followed this same line of
mental development. This is one of his sample lessons which Louisa
Alcott has copied into her journal:

    Sample of our Lessons

    "What virtues do you wish more of," asked Mr. L. I answer:

        Patience            Love                Silence
        Obedience           Generosity          Perseverance
        Industry            Respect             Self-denial

    "What vices less of?"

        Idleness            Wilfulness          Vanity
        Impatience          Impudence           Pride
        Selfishness         Activity            Love of cats

In this same lesson comes the twelve-year-old Louisa's explanation of
the difference between faith and hope:

    Faith can believe without seeing; hope is not sure, but tries
    to have faith when it desires.

Louisa's love of nature, her trained habits of thought, her poetic
imagination, and her keen appreciation of beauty are indicated in this
entry in her journal, written at Fruitlands in 1843 or 1844, when she
was a child of ten or eleven:

    I wrote in my imagination book, and enjoyed it very much. Life
    is pleasanter than it used to be, and I don't care about dying
    any more. Had a splendid run, and got a box of cones to burn.
    Sat and heard the pines sing a long time. Had good dreams, and
    woke now and then to think, and watch the moon. I had a
    pleasant time with my mind, for it was happy.



                              CHAPTER VIII

                         GIRLHOOD AND WOMANHOOD


FAMILIAR to every reader of "Little Women" is the March family's quaint
brown house with its many windows, its old-fashioned garden, its homely,
homelike air, its unfailing hospitality. This home, as described by
Louisa M. Alcott, is a picture of the Alcott home at Concord, the scene
of the girlhood and young womanhood of the Alcott children. Many of
Louisa's books were written there; "Little Women" was lived there. In
Concord, Anna met John Pratt, and the first love story in "Little
Women" is Anna's life romance. There little Beth passed from the
material to the spiritual life, and Amy first developed the artistic
talents which later caused her work to be sought for by art museums and
private collectors.

Anna's marriage was a great trial to Louisa, for from early childhood
the two girls had been inseparable companions, and after Anna's marriage
Louisa learned to look upon John as her brother.

Louisa's diary in the April following the passing of Elizabeth touches
upon the change of homes in Concord, the absence of May, who was
studying art in Boston, of Elizabeth and of Anna:

                                 April.

    Came to occupy one wing of Hawthorne's house (once ours) while the
    new one was being repaired. Father, mother and I kept house
    together, May being in Boston, Anna at Pratt farm, & for the first
    time Lizzy absent. I don't miss her as I expected to do, for she
    seems nearer & dearer than before, & I am glad to know she is safe
    from pain & age in some world where her innocent soul must be happy.

    Death never seemed terrible to me, & now is beautiful, so I cannot
    fear it, but find it friendly and wonderful.

                      [Illustration: ABBA MAY ALCOTT.
                           From a photograph.
                              _Page 142._]

Amy's artistic efforts and her failures in "Little Women" are taken from
May's actual experiences in Concord. Turning the career of the youngest
of the Alcott girls into a romance earlier in "Little Women" than it
actually occurred in life, doubtless prevented Louisa Alcott from
chronicling the artistic success of her youngest sister, a success to
which she largely contributed and in which she took great pride.

May Alcott's pictures are found to-day in art museums and in leading
private collections in this country and abroad. Her copies of Turner are
remarkable. In the Kensington Gallery in London students are given them
to study in preference to the originals. Several fine examples are in
American museums, and a few are owned by members of the Alcott family.

When the Alcotts moved into Orchard House, the girls painted and
papered the interior themselves. May filled the nooks and corners with
panels, on which she painted birds and flowers. Over the fireplaces she
inscribed mottoes in Old English characters.

The study in Orchard House was the real center of the household. For the
chimney piece Ellery Channing wrote an epigram, which May Alcott painted
upon it, and which has been used in the stage reproduction of "Little
Women":

    "The Hills are reared, the Valleys scooped in vain,
     If Learning's Altars vanish from the Plain."

In Orchard House to-day, walls, doors, and window casings are etched
with May Alcott's drawings, many preserved under glass, including a
miniature portrait of a little girl, naïvely and modestly inscribed "The
Artist."

High thoughts and cheerful minds triumphed over poverty in those Concord
days. Shortly after the family's return from Fruitlands, Louisa wrote
for Ellen Emerson the fairy stories, "Flower Fables." She was at the
time only sixteen. This was her earliest published work, and it was many
years before she achieved literary fame, although, as did Jo in "Little
Women," she materially helped in the support of the family by writing
lurid tales.

Literature rather than commerce freed the Alcotts from the burden of
debt. Louisa's fame was the result, neither of accident, nor of a
single achievement, but had for its background the whole generous past
of her family. Her "Hospital Sketches" were her letters home, when she
was serving as hospital nurse during the Civil War. "Little Women" is a
chronicle of her family. Louisa certainly made good use of the
vicissitudes of the Alcotts. She always saw the funny side and was not
afraid to make book material of the home experiences, elevating or
humiliating. Her books number between twenty-five and thirty. Nearly
every one takes its basic idea from some real experience. The books
written by the Alcott family, including some eight or ten published by
Mr. Alcott, Louisa's output, and one or two written by May, fill two
shelves of an alcove devoted to Concord authors in the Alcott town
library.

Anna's little sons, familiarly known in the Alcott household as Freddie
and Johnnie, or Jack, gave to Bronson Alcott in his later days fresh
opportunity for his favorite study--childhood. To both boys came
frequent messages and gifts from Grandpa, Grandma, and Aunt Louisa.

Louisa Alcott sent to Freddie this poem on his third birthday:

    A song for little Freddie
    On his third Birthday.

    Down in the field
    Where the brook goes,
    Lives a white lammie
    With a little black nose.

    He eats the grass so green,
    He drinks the "la la" sweet,
    "Buttertups" and daisies,
    Grow all about his feet.

    The "birdies" they sing to him,
    The big sun in the sky,
    Warms his little "Toe-toes,"
    And peeps into his eye.

    He's a very gentle lammie,
    He never makes a fuss,
    He never "saps his marmar,"
    He never says "I muss."

    He hops and he runs,
    "Wound and wound" all day,
    And when the night comes,
    He goes "bye low" on the hay.

    In a nice little barn,
    Where the "moo-moos" are;
    Freddie says "Good night,"
    But the lammie he says "Baa!"

    To be sung by Marmar with appropriate accompaniment of gesture, etc.

On the outside of the letter appears:

    A little song for Freddie,
    On his third birthday,
    With "lots" of loving kisses,
    From his Wee-wee far away.

On his sixth birthday Grandpa contributes:

                           Concord, Freddie's
                             6th Birthday,
                                  1869.

    Dear Freddy,

    I give you for your Birth Day Present this new Picture Book. It
    has plain words for you to pick out and read. The stories are
    short and about things that you know. Now, my little scholar,
    look among the leaves every day, and see how many words you can
    tell,--Very soon you will find you can read whole pages, spell
    the whole book through, and write the stories, word for word on
    your slate or in your little writing book. Then you will not be
    a little Dunce, and when Grandpa comes to see you, you will be
    glad to show him how well you can read.

                            Grandma gives the top to Johnny.
                                                   From Grandpa.

Grandma, not to be outdone, sent this:

    Dear Freddy,

    If worms give us the silk thread--can't we find time enough to
    find out how the Fabric is made which dresses are formed
    of--minutes and days--ours. Days and Years are passing away--let
    us be busy--and I guess we will get to the Vienna Exposition--

        "How doth the little busy Bee"

    Improve each shining hour--Be a Bee--and your hours will be too
    few for the Flowers of Science and the Wheels of Use. Grandma
    will help you with her one dim eye and Grandpa will explain a
    great deal to you with his Shining Light--Mama with your help
    will make you a true, good  man.--

                                 1873.

On his twelfth birthday Aunt Louisa again lapsed into poetry:

                                F. A. P.

    Who likes to read a fairy tale,
    Or stories told of sword and sail,
    Until his little optics fail?
                              Our boy.

    Who loves his father's watch to wear
    And often draw it out with care
    Upon its round white face to stare?
                              Our boy.

    Who rather proud of his small feet
    When wearing slippers new and neat,
    And stockings red as any beet?
                              Our boy.

    Who in his pocket keeps his hands
    As round the house he "mooning" stands
    Or reads the paper like the mans?
                              Our boy.

    Who likes to "boss" it over Jack,
    And sometimes gives a naughty whack,
    But gets it heartily paid back?
                              Our boy.

    Who likes to have a birthday frolic
    And eats until he has a colic,
    That for the time is diabolic?
                              Our boy.

    Who is the dearest little lad,
    That aunt or mother ever had,
    To love when gay and cheer when sad?
                              Our boy.

    May angels guard him with their wings,
    And all brave, good and happy things,
    Make nobler thou than crowned kings.
                              Our boy.

                     March 28th, 1875.

John, the original of Daisy in "Little Women," received in his babyhood
days from Aunt Louisa, some tiny blue stockings with this verse:

    Two pair of blue hose,
    For Johnny's white toes,
    So Jack Frost can't freeze em,
    Nor darned stockings tease em,
    So pretty and neat
    I hope the small feet
    Will never go wrong,
    But walk straight and strong,
    The way father went.
    We shall all be content,
    If the dear little son
    Be a second good John.

On his tenth birthday, both Grandpa and Grandma Alcott sent these
characteristic greetings to their younger grandson:

                       Grandma Alcott to Johnny.

    10th birthday.                                  June 24th. 1875.

            Giving song, all day long,
        Under the elm or willow;
            With sunshine shed
            On the little head
        That rests on Grandma's pillow.
            To and fro,
            Let it go,
        While inside piping cheery,
            As he takes his rest
            In his hang-bird's nest
        Lies Grandma's little deary.

                   *       *       *       *       *

                       Grandpa Alcott to Johnny.
                            June 24th. 1875.

        A fine little sword
            For gallant Capt. Jack,
        As he marches down the hill
            His army at his back.

        No giants will it kill
            Since its only made for show,
        And the best way to fight,
            Is a kiss for a blow.

In these days of private secretaries, labor-saving devices, and
specialization, it is difficult to comprehend the obstacles that Louisa
Alcott encountered in writing. Her day was filled with other tasks,
housework, sewing, teaching, nursing--yet the pen was never idle, the
busy brain was never still. Her power of concentration made it possible
for her to write under harassing conditions. This is her own description
of her methods of work:

    My methods of work are very simple and soon told. My head is my
    study, and there I keep the various plans of stories for years
    sometimes, letting them grow as they will till I am ready to
    put them on paper. Then it is quick work, as chapters go down
    word for word as they stand in my mind, and need no alteration.
    I never copy, since I find by experience that the work I spend
    the least time upon is best liked by critics and speakers.

    Any paper, any pen, any place that is quiet suit me, and I used
    to write from morning till night without fatigue when "the steam
    was up." Now, however, I am paying the penalty of twenty years
    of over work, and can write but two hours a day, doing about
    twenty pages, sometimes more, though my right thumb is useless
    from writer's cramp.

    While a story is under way I live in it, see the people more
    plainly than real ones around me, hear them talk, and am much
    interested, surprised and provoked at their actions, for I seem
    to have no power to rule them, and can simply record their
    experiences and performances.

    Materials for the children's tales I find in the lives of the
    little people about me, for no one can invent anything so droll,
    pretty or pathetic as the sayings and doings of these small
    actors, poets and martyrs. In the older books, the events are
    mostly from real life, the strongest the truest, and I yet hope
    to write a few of the novels which have been simmering in my
    brain while necessity and unexpected success have confined me to
    juvenile literature.

    I gave Mrs. Moulton many facts for her article in "Famous
    Women," and there are many other sketches which will add more if
    they are wanted. The first edition of "Jo's Boys" was twenty
    thousand I believe, and over fifty thousand were soon gone.
    Since January I know little about the sales. People usually ask
    "How much have you made?" I am contented with a hundred
    thousand, and find my best success in the comfort my family
    enjoy; also a naughty satisfaction in proving that it was better
    _not_ to "stick to teaching" as advised, but to write.

                   [Illustration: LOUISA MAY ALCOTT.
                         From a daguerreotype.
                              _Page 160._]

With all her love for her father, irreverent Louisa delighted in making
fun of him. The complacent philosopher, with his voluminous journals,
his several books in manuscript, his liking, despite the brilliancy of
his conversations, for the written rather than the spoken word, was a
wasteful user of paper and a careless dispenser of ink. That her father
enjoyed her good-natured banter is shown by the fact that in his journal
he has entered the following poem, written by Louisa at nineteen:

                    From Louisa on my 52nd birthday.
                                    Nov. 29th, 1851.

                               To Father.

    A cloth on the table where dear Plato sits
    By one of the Graces was spread
    With the single request that he would not design
    New patterns with black ink or red.
    And when he is soaring away in the clouds
    I beg he'll remember and think
    Though the "blackbirds" are fair his cloth will be fairer
    For not being deluged with ink.
    May plenty of paper of pens and of quiet
    To my dear pa forever be given
    Till he has written such piles that when on the top
    He can walk calmly on into Heaven.



                               CHAPTER IX

                         FRIENDSHIPS AND BELIEFS


RARE friendships existed among the great minds of that period, when
Transcendentalism in America was first talked and lived, a close bond of
sympathy uniting Bronson Alcott, Emerson, Thoreau, Ellery Channing,
Margaret Fuller, and Elizabeth Peabody. Such association made its
impress upon the Alcott daughters. Anna's diary is filled with
references to visits with the Emersons. Louisa's deal less with the
family and more with the intellectual life of the great philosopher,
whom she made her idol. Through life he was her stanch and
understanding friend.

"The Apostles of the Newness" was the scoffing term applied to these
literary giants of New England by those who lacked the mental and
spiritual insight to recognize greatness in others.

This attitude of ridicule was largely responsible for the continued
attacks upon the _Dial_, a quarterly issued by the Transcendentalists,
edited from 1840 to 1844 by Emerson, Margaret Fuller, George Ripley, and
Thoreau. Between its modest covers were many of the intellectual
masterpieces of the time: its rare volumes are still treasure-houses of
literature which to-day command any price. Mr. Alcott selected its title
and was to a large extent responsible for its policy. His Orphic
Sayings in the _Dial_, now looked upon as classics, were the butt of the
press at the time, and the derision of Boston society.

In these Orphic Sayings, he gave this remarkable definition of Reform:
"Reforms are the noblest of facts. Extant in time, they work for
eternity: dwelling with men, they are with God."

Conversation among these friends was neither trivial nor useless, and in
the Alcott circle, which included Emerson, Thoreau, Theodore Parker,
William Henry Channing, James Freeman Clarke, Elizabeth Peabody, Mrs.
Cheney, and other of the early Transcendentalists, later on augmented by
James Russell Lowell and Nathaniel Hawthorne, a series of drawing-room
symposiums was established, with Alcott, whom Emerson called "serious
and superior," as a leader. Much of the substance of these conversations
is found in the Alcott journals, and in the unpublished manuscripts of
the poet-philosopher.

In Concord, the Alcotts once more enjoyed the literary companionship
they craved. Emerson was a near neighbor. Thoreau had his cabin at
Walden, where he had established "a community of one." To and from
Boston came others of the Transcendental group, and Concord became the
center of thought for New England.

Thinking, however, was not the only occupation of Bronson Alcott.
Dreamer he was, but he delighted in toil and ever upheld the dignity of
labor, not ashamed nor afraid to work for hire as a laborer in his
neighbor's field, while nightly conducting drawing-room conversations
with a company of peers and students.

When Thoreau built his cabin, Alcott helped him. They cut the trees from
Emerson's grove. While Emerson was abroad, they built a summer-house for
him on his grounds. It stood for many years, a picturesque temple of
friendship. William Henry Channing mentions a morning spent there,
reading Margaret Fuller's Italian letters. May Alcott has made drawings
of it, which were published in a volume of "Concord Sketches" that also
contained her drawing of Hawthorne's house.

Mr. Alcott practically rebuilt Orchard House for his own family. Mrs.
Child, a friend of Mrs. Alcott, thus describes this home, which is now
preserved as a memorial to Louisa M. Alcott and is visited by thousands
every year:

    When they bought the place the house was so very old that it
    was thrown into the bargain, with the supposition that it was
    fit for nothing but firewood. But Mr. Alcott had an
    architectural taste, more intelligible than his Orphic Sayings.
    He let every old rafter and beam stay in its place, changed old
    ovens and ash holes into Saxon arched alcoves, and added a
    washerwoman's old shanty to the rear. The result is a house
    full of queer nooks and corners, with all manner of juttings in
    and out. It seems as if the spirit of some old architect had
    dropped it down in Concord.

Thoreau, master builder himself, has paid to Bronson Alcott this
tribute:

    One of the last of the philosophers, Connecticut gave him to
    the world. He peddled first her wares, afterwards, as he
    declares, his brains. These he peddles still, bearing for
    fruit, only his brain, like the nut its kernel. His words and
    attitude always suppose a better state of things than other men
    are aquainted with, and he will be the last man to be
    disappointed when the ages revolve. He has no venture in the
    present. But though comparatively disregarded now, when his
    day comes, laws unsuspected by most will take effect, and
    rulers will come to him for advice.

Emerson, who saw the boy mind beneath the philosopher's dignity, said
tenderly of Bronson Alcott: "He is certainly the youngest man of his age
we have seen. When I looked at his gray hairs, his conversation sounded
pathetic; but I looked again and they reminded me of the gray dawn."

Even his friends, to say nothing of Louisa, occasionally poked fun at
him for chronicling so minutely all his thoughts. Ellery Channing called
his library, "Encyclopediea de Moi-meme, en cents volumes." Yet these
journals and records are now worth more than the fine library he
collected and in which he delighted.

Emerson has thus described the origin of the Fruitlands community:

    On the invitation of James P. Greaves of London, the friend and
    fellow-laborer of Pestalozzi in Switzerland, Mr. Alcott went to
    England in 1842. Mr. Greaves died before his arrival, but Mr.
    Alcott was received cordially by his friends, who had given his
    name to their school, Alcott House, Ham, near London. He spent
    several months in making acquaintance with various classes of
    reformers. On his return to America, he brought with him two of
    his English friends, Chas. Lane and H. C. Wright; and Mr. Lane
    having bought a farm which he called Fruitlands, at Harvard,
    Mass., they all went there to found a new community.

The Fruitlands experiment and its failure have been immortalized by
Louisa Alcott in her "Transcendental Wild Oats." The detail of it is
thus described by a friend of the Alcott family, who had the story from
Bronson Alcott himself:

    The crop failures necessitated the community living on a barley
    diet, as anything animal was not allowed, not even milk and
    eggs. Now and then they gave a thought as to what they should
    do for shoes when those they had were gone; for depriving the
    cow of her skin was a crime not to be tolerated. The barley
    crop was injured in harvesting, and before long want was
    staring them in the face. The Alcotts remained at Fruitlands
    till mid-winter in dire poverty, all the guests having taken
    their departure as provisions vanished. Friends came to the
    rescue, and, Mr. Alcott concluded with pathos in his voice, "We
    put our little women on an ox-sled and made our way to Concord!
    So faded one of the dreams of my youth. I have given you
    the facts as they were; Louisa has given the comic side in
    'Transcendental Wild Oats'; but Mrs. Alcott could give you the
    tragic side."

Indeed, it was always Mrs. Alcott who could have given the tragic side,
skillfully as she kept her worries hidden. Her own family, indignant
because Bronson Alcott could not better provide the material needs for
his family, on more than one occasion besought the faithful wife to
leave him.

A letter from her brother, urging this step, drew forth from her a
defense of Bronson Alcott which the husband enters in his journal as
follows:

                                November
                                  1840

    Passages of a letter from my wife to one who misapprehends and
    perverts my life and purposes.

    "If I do not mistake the spirit as well as letter of your remark
    you would have us believe that a righteous retribution has
    overtaken us, (or my husband, and we are one,) and that the
    world is justly punishing him for not having conciliated it, by
    conforming to its wills and ways.--You say that my husband was
    told ten years ago, that the world could not understand him. It
    perhaps fell dead on his ears and ever will. There is no human
    voice can convince him that the path he has chosen to tread,
    thorny, bleak, solitary, as it is, is not the right one for him.
    Just so did that man of Nazareth whom all the world profess to
    admire and adore, but few to imitate; and these few are the
    laughing-stock of the Christian Community. They are branded as
    visionaries and fools. But this little band when alone and
    disencumbered of idle observation, enjoy the recital of their
    privations; they have been reviled, but they revile not again;
    they know sorrow and are acquainted with grief; and yet there is
    joy in that group of sinless men, such as angels might desire
    to partake of. I am not writing poetry, but I have tried to
    place before your mind, in as brief, but clear a manner as I am
    able, our real condition, and Mr. Alcott's merit as a man, who,
    though punished and neglected by a wicked world, has much to
    console and encourage him in the confidence and cooperation of
    some of the wisest and best men living. Ten such, were they
    permitted in their several vocations to act as teachers,
    preachers, and printers, would save our wicked city from the
    ruin that awaits it. But they are turned, like the Nazarene,
    into solitary places to lament the blindness and folly of
    mankind, who are following the vain and fleeting shadow for the
    real and abiding substance. But to return to Mr. Alcott, is he
    to sell his soul, or what is the same thing, his principles, for
    the bread that perisheth? No one will employ him in his way; he
    cannot work in theirs, if he thereby involve his conscience. He
    is so resolved in this matter that I believe he will starve and
    freeze before he will sacrifice principle to comfort. In this, I
    and my children are necessarily implicated: we make and mean to
    make all the sacrifices we can to sustain him, but we have less
    to sustain us in the spirit, and therefore, are more liable to
    be overcome of the flesh. He has, for a long time gone without
    everything which he could not produce by labor, from his own
    place, that no one could in truth reproach him with wantonly
    eating of the fruits of another's labor.

    He was sent for by friends in Hingham to talk with them; which
    he did two evenings; his expenses were paid and $23. put into
    his hands as a slight compensation for the benefit they felt he
    had conferred upon them by his conversations. I should like to
    copy the note accompanying it, but you never care to see how his
    fellow fanatics rave on these holy themes, life, duty, destiny
    of man. Thus he occasionally finds a market for his thoughts and
    experiences, which, though inadequate to our support, is richly
    prized as the honest gains of an innocent and righteous labor.
    You spoke of his "poetical wardrobe" whether in satire or in a
    worthier spirit, I cannot tell. However spiritual he may have
    become, there is still enough of the carnal to feel the chills
    of winter, and the chiller blasts of satire. His tatters are the
    rags of righteousness and keep him warmer than they would anyone
    whose spirit was less cheered and warmed by the fires of eternal
    love and truth.

An appreciative account of Mr. Alcott's famous school in the Masonic
Temple, Boston, is found in the "Record of a School," edited by
Elizabeth Peabody, published in 1835, republished in 1874. The
"Conversations with Children on the Gospels," edited by Mr. Alcott in
two volumes, appearing in 1836-1837, caused such a commotion in Boston
as to result in the downfall of the Temple School. Reading these
conversations to-day, one is impressed with the modern quality of their
thought. They were forerunners of that higher criticism, which with the
Bible student now supplants the old blind acceptance without reflection
of even obscure Biblical passages.

On philosophy and religion Mr. Alcott and Miss Peabody delighted to talk
and write. Their discussion of the existence of evil is startlingly
modern.

"I do not think that evil should be clothed in form by the imagination,"
writes Miss Peabody to Mr. Alcott; "I think every effort should be made
to strip it of all individuality, all shaping and all coloring. And
the reason is, that Evil has in truth no substantial existence, that
it acquires all the existence it has from want of faith and soul
cultivation, and that this is sufficient reason why all cultivation
should be directed to give positiveness, coloring, shaping, to all
kinds of good--Good only being eternal truth."

In reply, the philosopher thus comments in his diary: "Evil has no
positive existence, I agree with Miss Peabody, but it has usurped a
positive place and being in the popular imagination, and by the
imagination must it be made to flee away into its negative life. How
shall this be done? By shadowing forth in vivid colors the absolute
beauty and phenomena of good, by assuming evil not as positive, but as
negative."

"I shall always love you for loving Alcott," writes Emerson to his
schoolmate and lifelong friend, the Reverend W. H. Furness. "He is a
great man, the god with the herdsman of Admetus. His conversation is
sublime; yet when I see how he is underestimated by cultivated people,
I fancy none but I have heard him talk."

In the midst of slander and petty persecutions, Alcott writes in his
diary for April, 1837:

    I have been striving to apprehend the real in the seeming, to
    strip ideas of their adventitious phrases and behold them in
    their order and powers. I have sought to penetrate the showy
    terrestrial to find the heavenly things. I have tried to
    translate into ideas the language and images of spirit, and
    thus to read God in his works. The outward I have seen as the
    visage and type of the inward. Ever doth this same nature
    double its design and stand forth--now before the inner, now
    before the outer sense of man, at once substance and form,
    image and idea, so that God shall never slip wholly from the
    consciousness of the soul.

Emerson, weary of seeing his friend misunderstood, urges him to give up
teaching and become an author, picturing as his golden view for Alcott
that one day he will leave the impracticable world to wag its own way,
sit apart, and write his oracles for its behoof.

"Write! let them hear or let them forbear," he thunders. "The written
word abides until, slowly and unexpectedly, and in widely sundered
places, it has created its own church."

The unreality of evil, as taught and believed by Alcott nearly a century
ago, laughed and scoffed at then, was twenty-five years later
practically the foundation of a belief which gained its first foothold
in New England, and, with headquarters in Boston, has spread, until
to-day its followers and churches circle the civilized globe--a new-old
religion, based on the literal acceptance of the teachings of Christ.
What to-day is called metaphysical teaching was in the Alcott period
scoffed at as Transcendentalism.

Mr. Alcott's strict adherence to a vegetarian diet was also the topic of
ridicule from public and press, although the Alcott children seemed to
thrive on it, and certainly, as four-year-old Louisa once remarked, "Did
pitty well for a wegetable diet."

Louisa, in her journal, gives this sample of the vegetarian wafers they
had at Fruitlands:

        Vegetable         |   Pluck your       |   Without flesh
        diet and          |   body from        |
        sweet repose      |   the orchard;     |   diet there
        Animal food       |   do not snatch    |   could be no
        and nightmare.    |   it from the      |   blood-shedding
                          |   shamble.         |   war.

        Appollo eats no            |       Snuff is no less snuff
        flesh and has no           |       though accepted
        beard; his voice is        |       from a gold box.
        melody itself.             |

Bronson Alcott constantly sought self-improvement, and the shortcomings
of his early education were more than offset by his untiring study.
Realizing at one time his lack of a vocabulary, he comments in his
journal, that to rectify this he has just bought two books, "A
Symposium of Melancholy," and "Hunter on the Blood."

In their memoirs of Bronson Alcott, F. B. Sanborn and W. T. Harris
have thus summed up his character: "He was the most filial son, the
most faithful lover, the most attached friend, the most generous
philanthropist of his time. And when he died, he left fewer enemies
than any man of equal age can have provoked or encountered in so long
a career."

In his study of childhood, Mr. Alcott sought first to reach the mind,
recognizing that as "the God within us." He encouraged individuality in
his children, trying in their earliest years to make them think for
themselves. All through his teaching runs the boy's friendship with God,
and his sense of oneness with his Maker was a part of the divine
heritage he passed on to his daughters.

He records in his diary a conversation with Anna, who was four, and
Louisa, who was two, after reading to them the story of Jesus, which he
made so vital that, given their choice, they asked for it in preference
to a fairy tale. Anna remarked that Jesus did not really die. "They
killed his body, but not his soul." Her father asked: "What is the soul,
Anna?" The little four-year-old replied: "It's this inside of me that
makes me feel and think and love." "And," said the father, "what became
of Jesus' soul?" Anna replied: "It went back to God." Whereat little
two-year-old Louisa asked: "Why, isn't Dod inside of me?"

A note in the father's diary at the birth of Elizabeth records "Anna's
first interview with her sister" (Elizabeth a few hours old), and a day
later comes this record: "Anna and Louisa interview their sister."
Louisa, two years old, wishes to have the baby sister put in her arms,
when four-year-old Anna says warningly: "Treat her very carefully,
Louisa, she comes from God." What a beautiful thought to give a child of
the divine mystery of birth!

Instead of asserting what he intended to make of his children, Alcott
encouraged the child to make itself, beginning when it was a small
baby, treating it as an individual, giving it opportunity to use its
mentality, instilling principles of right and wrong by suggestion.
Alcott never commanded. "You don't wish to do that," was his way, not
exacting blind obedience, but expressing his conviction that the child
wished to do right.

To him, God was love. He had no fear of God, for perfect love had cast
out fear. This same spirit was manifested in all his children. To them
the change called Death was not to be dreaded; it was a stepping forward
and upward.

This thought that death is not the end, but the beginning, is expressed
in one of Louisa's most beautiful poems:

                            THOREAU'S FLUTE

    We sighing said, "Our Pan is dead;
        His pipe hangs mute beside the river.
    Around it wistful sunbeams quiver,
        And Music's airy voice is fled.
    Spring mourns as for untimely frost;
        The bluebird chants a requiem;
    The willow-blossom waits for him;--
        The Genius of the wood is lost."

    Then from the flute, untouched by hands,
        There came a low, harmonious breath;
    "For such as he there is no death--
        His life the eternal life commands;
    Above man's aims his nature rose,
        The wisdom of a just content
    Made one small spot a continent
        And tuned to poetry life's prose.

    "Haunting the hills, the stream, the wild,
        Swallow and aster, lake and pine,
        To him grew human or divine,--
    Fit mates for this large-hearted child.
        Such homage Nature ne'er forgets,
        And yearly on the coverlid
    'Neath which her darling lieth hid
        Will write his name in violets.

    "To him no vain regrets belong,
        Whose soul, that finer instrument,
    Gave to the world no poor lament,
        But wood-notes ever sweet and strong.
    O lonely friend! he still will be
        A potent presence, though unseen;--
    Steadfast, sagacious and serene;
        Seek not for him--he is with thee."

A visit to Sleepy Hollow suggests life, not death. Giant trees stretch
their branches over marble and granite monuments, as if in benediction.
"There is no death, for God is life," they seem to say. For them there
is no death. Emerson lives to-day, the great philosopher; so do Thoreau,
Hawthorne, Bronson Alcott, and others of that mighty company. And who
shall say that Louisa Alcott is dead? She lives in the hearts of
thousands, and will go on living through the love they bear her.

Bronson Alcott was a true disciple of Jesus Christ. He lived the example
set by his Master not alone in words and thoughts, but in deeds. He
lived through and beyond misunderstanding, ridicule, poverty, to see his
teachings respected, his name honored, to see the first glimmer of the
new light which was beginning to break over the world, the sunrise at
his own sunset.

This thought is embodied in the last poem Louisa Alcott ever wrote:

                             To my Father.
                      On his Eighty-Sixth Birthday.

    Dear Pilgrim, waiting patiently,
        The long, long journey nearly done,
    Beside the sacred stream that flows
        Clear shining in the western sun;
    Look backward on the varied road
        Your steadfast feet have trod,
    From youth to age, through weal and woe,
        Climbing forever nearer God.

    Mountain and valley lie behind;
        The slough is crossed, the wicket passed;
    Doubt and despair, sorrow and sin,
        Giant and fiend, conquered at last.
    Neglect is changed to honor now,
        The heavy cross may be laid down;
    The white head wins and wears at length
        The prophet's, not the martyr's crown.

    Greatheart and Faithful gone before,
        Brave Christiana, Mercy sweet,
    Are shining ones who stand and wait
        The weary wanderer to greet.
    Patience and Love his handmaids are,
        And till time brings release,
    Christian may rest in that bright room
        Whose windows open to the east.

    The staff set by, the sandals off,
        Still pondering the precious scroll,
    Serene and strong he waits the call
        That frees and wings a happy soul.
    Then beautiful as when it lured,
        The boy's aspiring eyes,
    Before the pilgrim's longing sight,
        Shall the Celestial City rise.



                               CHRONOLOGY

It has been particularly the aim of the editors to lift these Little
Women Letters out of the biographical and into the narrative class. For
this reason dates have not been used with any degree of liberality, and
chronological facts have been minimized.

However, as this is a story of the Alcott family, and seekers for
definite data will not be lacking, a chronological summary is herewith
furnished:

    Amos Bronson Alcott                                   1799-1888
                                married
    Abby May                                              1800-1877

                             Their Children
    Anna Bronson                                          1831-1893
    Louisa May                                            1832-1888
    Elizabeth                                             1835-1858
    Abby May                                              1840-1879

    Anna Bronson married John Bridge Pratt, 1860.

                             Their Children
    Frederick Alcott                                      1863-1910
    John Sewall                                           1865

    Abby May married Ernst Nieriker, March, 1878.

                                Children
    Louisa May                                            1879

                         Frederick Alcott Pratt
                                married
                              Jessica Cate
                             February, 1888

                             Their Children
    Bronson Alcott                                        1889
    Elizabeth Sewall                                      1891
    Louisa May                                            1900
    Frederick Woolsey                                     1902

                Elizabeth Sewall married Alfred Redfield
                               June, 1913

                         [*]John Sewall Pratt
                                married
                           Eunie May Hunting
                             January, 1909

[*] John Sewall Pratt adopted in 1888 by Louisa May Alcott and
name changed to John Sewall Pratt Alcott.

                                Children
                            Elverton Hunting

                      Louisa May Nieriker     1878
                                married
                              Ernst Rasim

                                Children
                               Ernestine



Transcriber Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by _underscores_.

Small caps have been replaced with ALL CAP text.

Spelling errors, grammatical errors, and typographical errors within
letters were not corrected, in order to preserve the flavor of the
historical record of those letters. After all, some of these letters
were written by girls as young as five.

Some of the illustrations have been moved so that they do not break up
paragraphs, thus the page number of the illustration might not match the
page number in the List of Illustrations.

On page 58, "reëstablished" was replaced with "reestablished".

On page 173, has a quotation mark at the beginning of "If I do not
mistake" but no closing quotation mark, and it is less than clear where
the closing quotation mark should be.





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