To A. Bronson Alcott, A Letter by F.B. Sanborn.

From: Sonnets and Canzonets (1882)
Author: A. Bronson Alcott
Published: Roberts Brothers 1882 Boston


  THE period to which the scholar of two and eighty years belongs, is seldom that of his youngest readers: it is more likely to be the epoch of his own golden youth, when his masters were before his eyes, and his companions were the books and the friends of his heart. Thus the aged Landor could not bring his thoughts down from the grand forms of Greek and Roman literature to which they were early accustomed; he had swerved now and then from that loyalty in middle life, impressed and acted upon as he was by the great political events of the Napoleonic era,—but he returned to the epigram and the idyl in the “white winter of his age,” and the voices of the present and of the future appealed to him in vain. In the old Goethe there was something more prophetic and august; he came nearer to his contemporaries, and prepared the way for a recognition of his greatness by the generation which saw the grave close over him. In this, that strange but loyal disciple of his, the Scotch Carlyle, rendered matchless service to his master; yet he, too, in his unhappy old age, could only at intervals, and by gleams of inspiration,—as at the Edinburgh University Festival,—come into communication with the young spirits about him. To you, dear Friend and Master, belongs the rare good fortune (good genius rather) that has brought you in these late days, into closer fellowship than of yore with the active and forth-looking spirit of the time. In youth and middle life you were in advance of your period, which has only now overtaken you when it must, by the ordinance of Nature, so soon bid you farewell, as you go forward to new prospects, in fairer worlds than ours.

  It is this union of youth and age, of the past and the present—yes, and the future also—that I have admired in these artless poems, over which we have spent together so many agreeable hours. Fallen upon an age in literature when the poetic form is everywhere found, but the discerning and inventive spirit of Poesy seems almost lost, I have marked with delight in these octogenarian verses, flowing so naturally from your pen, the very contradiction of this poetic custom of the period. Your want of familiarity with the accustomed movement of verse in our time, brings into more distinct notice the genuine poetical motions of your genius. Having been admitted to the laboratory, and privileged to witness the action and reaction of your thought, as it crystallized into song, I perceived, for the first time, how high sentiment, by which you have from youth been inspired, may become the habitual movement of the mind, at an age when so many, if they live at all in spirit, are but nursing the selfish and distorted fancies of morose singularity. To you the world has been a brotherhood of noble souls,—too few, as we thought, for your companionship,—but which you have enlarged by the admission to one rank of those who have gone, and of us who remain to love you and listen to your oracles. The men and the charming women who recognized your voice when it was that of one crying in the wilderness—”Prepare ye the way of our Lord,” are joined, in your commemorative sonnets, with those who hearken to its later accents, proclaiming the same acceptable year of the Lord.

  It is the privilege of poets—immemorial and native to the clan—that they should share the immortality they confer. This right you may vindicate for your own. The honors you pay, in resounding verse, to Channing, to Emerson, to Margaret Fuller, to Hawthorne, Thoreau, and the rest of the company with whom you trod these groves, and honored these altars of the Spirit unnamed, return in their echoes to yourself. They had their special genius, and you yours no less, though it found not the same expression with theirs. We please our love with the thought that, in these sonnets and canzonets of affection, you have celebrated yourself with them; that the swift insight, the ennobling passion for truth and virtue, the high resolve, the austere self-sacrifice, the gentle submission to a will eternally right, in which these friends, so variously gifted, found a common tie,—all these are yours also,—and may they be ours! The monuments and trophies of genius are perishable, but the soul’s impression abides forever, forma mentis æterna. To that imperishable, ever-beauteous, self-renouncing, loyal, and steadfast Spirit of the Universe which we learned to worship in our youth, and which has never forsaken our age and bereavement, may these offerings, and all that we are, be consecrated now and forever!


  CONCORD, January 1, 1882.

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