Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography by Susan Cheever

Louisa May Alcott: a Personal Biography, Susan Cheever’s 2010 bestseller, sheds light on the influences surrounding Sarah Stanley Grimke in Boston. In last week’s blog post I quoted Thomas M. Johnson’s journal The Platonist, mentioning the Concord School of Philosophy as an example of the kind of gathering that would promote the future value of Platonic and neo-Platonic thought. Subsequently I found this article from 1967 (limited view, but a first page filled with useful info) which makes it clear that Johnson was a fervent disciple of Amos Bronson Alcott. A website sponsored by the historic site where the Concord School was located, Orchard House, offers this wonderful introduction to Alcott family history, partly narrated by Louisa herself.

There will be much to report in future about the connections between Johnson and his mentor, as well as on the close ties between the Bartol and Alcott families. All of this is relevant to the question of how Sarah Stanley Grimke got acquainted with the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. But for now I want to highlight Bronson Alcott’s relationship with Mary Baker Eddy as relevant to the milieu in which Sarah Stanley Grimke emerged as a thinker and writer. Both were mentioned as acquaintances in Sarah’s 1879 correspondence. In her final chapter on Louisa’s last years, Cheever describes a tension between father and daughter on the subject of Christian Science and Mind Cure:

In her rejection of the mind cure and the theories of Mary Baker Eddy, Alcott was also rejecting her father, who was a fan and disciple of Mrs. Eddy…In her early years of practice, Mrs. Eddy’s patients were limited to local people, including the millworkers in and around Lynn, Massachusetts where she had moved in 1864. Her first visitor from the world of the intellect, the Boston world, was none other than Bronson Alcott…he was to pay many visits. Bronson was favorably impressed by Mrs. Eddy. He wrote in his journal that he found her one of the “fair saints.”(p. 248)

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