The Consociate Family Life by Charles Lane


The accounts from our friends Lane and Alcott continue to be satisfactory, as it respects their health and usefulness. A farmer of a progressive order, at Leominster, has proposed a junction at that place. At the time Mr. Lane last wrote, it was not finally arranged whether it should be carried into execution or not. Messrs. L. and A. had been on an excursion to Providence, Hopedale, New York, New Haven, Hertford, &c., in all of which places they held intercourse with the progressive few. From the account of their experience, it appears to us, that America offers, in respect to numbers of advanced souls, no better conditions than England, although in respect to cheap extensive land, and comparative freedom from taxation, a decided preference may be declared of that country.

We subjoin the following letter from our friend Charles Lane, which we extract from the New York Weekly Tribune, September 2, 1843: —


Harvard, Mass., August, 1843.

After many years passed in admiration of a better order in human society, with a constant expectation that some beginning would shortly be made, and a continued reliance that some party would make it, the idea has gradually gained possession of my mind, that it is not right thus to linger for the leadings of other men, hut that each should at once proceed to live out the proposed life to the utmost possible extent. Assured that the most potent hinderance to goodness abides in the soul itself; next in the body; thirdly in the house and family; and, in the fourth degree only in our neighbours, or in society at large, I have daily found less and less reason to complain of public institutions, or of the dilatoriness of reformers and genetic minds.

Animated by pure reform principles, or rather by pure creative spirit, I have not hesitated to withdraw, as far and as fast as hopeful prudence dictated, from the practices and principles of the old world.

A. Bronson Alcott’s visit to England last year, opened to me some of the superior conditions for a pure life which this country offers compared to the land of my nativity. My love for purity and goodness was sufficiently strong, it seems, to loosen me from a position as regards pecuniary income, affectionate friends, and mental liberty, which millions there and thousands here might envy.

All our preliminary transactions may not have been so clear and clean as we desire; but we have not paralyzed future good by excuses of place or time. By never doing any act below our intentions of principle at the moment, we are aided to clearer insight and loftier inspiration for the next step. Our removal to this estate in humble confidence, has drawn to us several practical coadjutors, and opened many inquiries by letter for a statement of our principles and modes of life.

You must be aware, however, that written words cannot do much toward the elucidation of principles comprehending all human relationships, and claiming an origin profound as man’s inmost consciousness of the ever-present Living Spirit. A dwelling together, a concert in soul, and a consorting in body, is a position needful to entire understanding, which we hope at no distant day to attain. We have not yet drawn out any pre-ordained plan of daily operations, as we are impressed with the conviction, that by a faithful reliance on the Spirit which actuates us, we are sure of attaining to clear revelations of daily practical duties as they are to be daily done by us. Where the Spirit of Love and Wisdom abounds, literal forms are needless, irksome, or hinderative: where the Spirit is lacking, no pre-conceived rules can compensate.

To us, it appears not so much that improved circumstances are to meliorate mankind, as that improved men will originate the superior conditions for themselves and others. Upon the union of the Divine and Human Will, and not upon circumstances, as some philosophers assert, rest the function, power, and duty of generating a better social state. The human beings in whom the Eternal Spirit has ascended from low animal delights or mere humane affections, to a state of spiritual chastity and intuition, are in themselves a divine atmosphere, they are superior circumstances, and are constant in endeavouring to create, as well as to modify, all other conditions, so that these also shall more and more conduce to the like consciousness in others.

Hence our perseverance in efforts to attain simplicity in diet, plain garments, pure bathing, unsullied dwellings, open conduct, gentle behaviour, kindly sympathies, serene minds. These and the several other particulars needful to the true end of man’s residence on earth, may be designated the Family Life. Happiness, though not the direct object in human energy, may be accepted as the confirmation of rectitude, and this is no otherwise attainable than in the Holy Family. The Family, in its highest, divinest sense, is therefore our true position, our sacred earthly destiny. It comprehends every divine, every humane relation consistent with universal good, and all others it rejects, as it disdains all animal sensualities.

Let it be admitted as the embosoming of the most vital, and only creative of all human acts, and we are convinced of the absorbing importance of Family Life. The next age depends much for its character, its modification, its happiness, on parents in this generation, as they have depended on their parents, by the relative opposition or concurrence of their wills with the Divine Will, in a deep sense, all human conduct may be said to centre in this act.

The evils of life are not so much social or political as personal; and a personal reform only can eradicate them.

Let the family, furthermore, be viewed as the home of pure social affections, the school of expanding intelligence, the sphere of unbought art, the scene of joyous employment, and we feel in that single sentiment a fulness of action, of life, of being, which no scientific social contrivance can insure, no selfish accident supply.

Family is not dependent upon numbers, nor upon skill, nor riches, but upon union in and with that Spirit which alone can bless any enterprise whatever. While, therefore, we feel a sympathy towards every endeavour to amend men’s social position, and would promote them as far as we deem them progressive, we are bound to declare their short-coming, and that we have no hope for permanent human happiness from any act, thing, or person not originating in immediate inspiration. All else is but an attraction, which allures to destroy. Rather is self-denial the straight and narrow way to eternal life, than the enticements of increased indulgence, which almost all associative endeavours have in view.

On this topic of family association, it will not involve an entire agreement with the Shakers to say they are at least entitled to deeper consideration than they yet appear to have secured. There are many important facts in their career worthy of observation. It is, perhaps, most striking, that the only really successful extensive community of interest, spiritual and secular, in modern times, was established by A Woman. Again, we witness in this people the bringing together of the two sexes in a new relation, or rather with a new idea of the old relation. This has led to results more harmonic than anyone seriously believes attainable for the human race, either in isolation or association, so long as divided, conflicting family arrangements are permitted. It is not absurd to suppose that all future good hinges upon this very subject of Marriage. In fact, nothing but absolute ignorance of the law of human generation can doubt it. The great secular success of the Shakers, their order, cleanliness, intelligence, and serenity, are so eminent, that it is worthy of inquiry how far these are attributable to an adherence to their particular doctrine.

As to Property, we discover not is just disposal either in individual or social tenures, but in its entire absorption into the New Spirit, which ever gives and never grasps. The notion of Property is the prolific seed of so many evils, that there seems little hope for humanity so long as it is made a leading consideration, or is harboured in the human bosom. It is even possible, that if the projects now before the public were in actual operation, the evils of life would become more fixed, by reason of the greater refinement of this demon Property, which would be more difficult to cast out of an orderly arrangement than from the present chaos of mankind, where its evils are less glossed. From the midst of this sin and is consequences it is difficult to emerge without committing more sin. The demonstration of our example, in proceeding actually to the greatest possible extent in the pure direction, has, however, attracted toward us other needful assistance. While we write, negotiations are entertained for our removal to a place of less inconvenience, but friends who have long waited  for some proof of a determination to act up to the Idea they have cherished. Many, no doubt, are yet unprepared “to give up all and follow him,” (the Spirit,) who can importantly aid in the New Advent, and conscientiously accomplish the legal processes needful under the present circumstances. We do not recognize the purchase of land; but its redemption from the debasing state of proprium, or property, to divine uses, we clearly understand; where those whom the world esteems as owners are found yielding their individual rights to the Supreme Owner. Looking at this subject practically in relation to a climate in which a costly shelter is necessary, and where a family with many children has to be provided for, the possibility of at once stepping boldly out of the toils into which the errors of our predecessors have cast us, is not so evident as it is desirable.

Trade we hope entirely to avoid at an early day. As a nursery for many evil propensities, it is almost universally felt to be a most undesirable course. Such needful articles as we cannot yet raise by our own hand-labour from the soil, thus redeemed from human ownership, we shall endeavour to obtain by friendly exchanges, and, as nearly as possible, without the intervention of money.

Of all the traffic in which civilized society is involved, that of human labour is perhaps the most detrimental. From the state of serfdom to the  receipt of wages, may be a step in human progress; but it is certainly full time for taking a new step out of the hiring system.

Our outward exertions are in the first instance directed to the soil; and as our ultimate aim is to furnish an instance of self-sustaining cultivation without the subjugation of either men or cattle, or the use of foul animal manures, we have at the outset to encounter struggles and oppositions somewhat formidable. Until the land is restored to its pristine fertility by the annual return of its own green crops, as sweet and animating manures, the human hand and simple implement cannot wholly supersede the employment of machinery and cattle. So long as cattle are used in agriculture, it is very evident that man will remain a slave, whether he be a proprietor or hireling. The driving of cattle beyond their natural and pleasurable exertions; the waiting upon them as cook and chambermaid three parts of the year; the excessive labour of mowing, curing, and housing hay, and of collecting other fodder, and the large extra quantity of land needful to keep up this system, form a combination of unfavourable circumstances which must depress the human affections, so long as it continues, and overlay them by the injurious and extravagant development of the animal and bestial natures in man. No one can fail to perceive, that if cattle were no longer bred and fed for slaughter, milking, or draught, the human family might be drawn much closer together all over the country. It is calculated that if no animal food were consumed, one-fourth of the land now used would suffice for human sustenance. And the extensive tracts of country now appropriated to grazing, mowing, and other modes of animal provision, could be cultivated by and for intelligent and affectionate human neighbors. The sty and stable too often secure more of the farmer’s regard than he bestows on the garden and the children. No hope is there for humanity while woman is withdrawn from the tender assiduities which adorn her and her household, to the servitude of the dairy and the flesh-pots. Omitting also to discuss the question of the debasing influences upon the children by the intrusion of animals into the daily thoughts and conduct, it may yet be observed, that if the beasts were wholly absent from man’s neighborhood, the human population might be at least four times as dense as it now is without raising the price of land. This would give to the country all the advantages of concentration, without the vices which always spring up in the dense city.

Debauchery of both the earthly soil and the human body, is the result of this cattle-keeping. The land is scourge for crops to feeds the animals, whose filthy ordures are used under the erroneous supposition of restoring lost fertility; disease is thus infused into the human body; stimulants and medicines are resorted to for relief, which end in a precipitation of the original evil to a more disastrous depth. These misfortunes, which affect not only the body, but by re-action rise to the sphere of the soul, would be avoided at least in part, by the disuse of animal food. Our diet is therefore strictly of the pure and bloodless kind. No animal substances, neither flesh, butter, cheese, eggs, nor milk, pollute our tables or corrupt our bodies. Neither tea, coffee, molasses, nor rice, tempts us beyond the bounds of indigenous productions. Our sole beverage is pure fountain water. The native grains, fruits, herbs, and roots, dressed with the utmost cleanliness, and regard to their purpose of edifying a healthful body, furnish the pleasantest refections and in the greatest variety, requisite to the supply of the various organs. The field, the orchard, the garden, in the bounteous products of wheat, rye, barley, maize, oats, buckwheat; apples, pears, peaches, plums, cherries, currants, berries; potatoes, peas, beans, beets, carrots, melons, and other vines, yield an ample store for human nutrition, without dependence on foreign climes, or the degradations of shipping and trade. The almost inexhaustible variety which the several stages and sorts of vegetable growth, and the several modes of preparation, afford, are a full answer to the question which is often put by those who have never ventured into the region of a pure and chaste diet: “If you give up flesh meat, upon what then can you live?”

Our other domestic habits are in harmony with those of diet. We rise at early dawn, commence the day with cold bathing, succeeded by a music lesson, and then a chaste repast. Each one finds occupation until the meridian meal, when usually some interesting and deep searching conversation gives rest to the body and development to the mind. Occupation, according to the season and the weather, engages us out of doors or within, until the evening meal, when we again assemble in social communion, prolonged generally until sunset, when we resort to sweet repose for the next day’s activity.

In these steps of reform, we do not rely so much on scientific reasoning or physiological skill, as on the Spirit’s dictates. The pure soul, by the law in its own nature, adopts a pure diet and cleanly customs; nor needs detailed instruction for daily conduct. On a revision of our proceedings it would seem, that if we are in the right course in our particular instance, the greater part of man’s duty consists in leaving alone much that he is in the habit of doing. It is a fasting from much of the present activity, rather than an increased indulgence in it, which, with patient watchfulness, tends to newness of life. — Shall I sip tea or coffee? the inquiry may be. — No. Abstain from all ardent, as from alcohol drinks. Shall I consume pork, beef, or mutton? Not if you value health or life. Shall I stimulate with milk? No. Shall I warm my bathing water? Not if cheerfulness is valuable. Shall I clothe in many garments? Not if purity is aimed at. Shall I prolong my dark hours, consuming animal oil, and losing bright daylight in the morning? Not if a clear mind is an object. Shall I teach my children the dogmas inflicted on myself, under the pretence that I am transmitting truth? Nay, if you love them, intrude not these between them and the Spirit of all Truth. Shall I become a hireling, or hire others? Shall I subjugate cattle? Shall I trade? Shall I claim property in any created things? Shall I adopt a form of religion? Shall I become a parent? Shall I interest myself in politics? To how many of these questions, could we ask them deeply enough, could they be heard as having relation to our eternal welfare, would the response be “Abstain?” “Be not so active to do, as sincere то Be.” Being, in preference to doing, is the great aim, and this comes to us rather by a resigned willingness than a wilful activity; which is indeed a check to all divine growth. Outward abstinence is a sign of inward fulness; and the only source of true progress is inward. We may occupy ourselves actively in human improvements; but these, unless inwardly well-impelled, never attain to, but rather hinder, divine progress in man.

Source: The New Age (November 1, 1843) pp. 116-120