Friday, December 01, 2006

Alcott - Hindu influence

Teacher, Quaker, Rover, Mystic
Apart from Emerson and Thoreau, four other distinguished Americans of the period showed an interest in, or were influenced by, Indian philosophic thought. They are Alcott the Teacher, Whittier the Quaker, Melville the Rover and Whitman the Mystic.
Amos Bronson Alcott (1799-1888) was a visionary, a stimulating and original teacher whom Caryle called "the good Alcott," a kind of venerable Don Quixote whom nobody could even laugh at without loving. He was born poor and as a young man earned his livelihood as a peddler. But he taught himself, read widely in the well-stocked libraries of Philadelphia, and became acquainted with the Quakers and their doctrine of the 'Inner Light." Born in Connecticut, he returned to his native New England and for a time carried out his well-known educational experiment at the Temple School. That did not succeed and for a time he did some writing, but with no demonstrable financial gains. So he went back to manual labor and in the meantime he held public "conversations" in the best Socratic style. He thus transmitted the sum of his own reading to young minds.
Alcott was an enthusiastic vegetarian (as were Emerson and Thoreau) [18] and tried to introduce his ideas in his ill-fated utopian experiment of Fruitlands (1841). He was, in a sense, the father of the Organic Food concept, but, as with his progressive educational experiments, was too far ahead of his time.
Unlike Alcott, John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) was a talented poet who was influenced by Emerson and from whom he borrowed a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. To Emerson he wrote: "I will e'en keep it until I restore it to thee personally in exchange for George Fox (founder of the Society of Friends, the Quakers). It is a wonderful book-and has greatly excited my curiosity to know more of the religious literature of the East." [19]
The results of Whittier's reading are evident in a good number of his poems like "The Oval Heart," "The Cypress Tree of Ceylon," "The Dead Feast of the Kol-Folk," and "The Khan's Devil." A particularly striking example of his use of Indian material is his well-known poem "The Brewing of Soma," which describes the preparation and use of the Vedic sacrificial drink.

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