June 14, 2010

Social Reform will be paramount

The Utopian pilgrims at Brook Farm wanted to expand their idealistic (and Transcendentalist) beliefs to others — so they started a newspaper. The first issue of The Harbinger was published on June 14, 1845. George Ripley, the leading founder of Brook Farm, served as editor and announced his intentions in the inaugural issue: "promote the triumph of the high democratic faith" and "the advancement and happiness of the masses" while raging against "all exclusive privilege in legislation, political arrangements, and social customs." As for content:

The interests of Social Reform will be paramount to all others in whatever is admitted into the pages of the Harbinger. We shall suffer no attachment to literature, no taste for abstract discussion, no love of purely intellectual theories, to seduce us from our devotion to the cause of the oppressed, the down trodden, the insulted and injured masses of our fellow men. Every pulsation of our being vibrates in sympathy with the wrongs of the toiling millions; and every wise effort for their speedy enfranchisement will find in us resolute and indomitable advocates.

Brook Farm drew nation-wide interest as an experiment in Utopian communal living. Its founders, including both Ripley and Charles Anderson Dana, studied and promoted the Associationist philosophies of Charles Fourier (and were often away from the farm as they did so). The timing was odd; Albert Brisbane, the leading promoter of Fourierism in the United States, was struggling with his publication The Phalanx. Another journal, The Social Reformer, was also losing steam. The Brook Farmers took up the mantle of both (partly because four members of the community had a background in printing). Thus, The Harbinger was born.

What to name the new publication was a bit of a concern. As journalist and supporter Parke Godwin wrote:

Call it the Pilot, the Harbinger, the Halycon, the Harmonist, The Worker, the Architect, The Zodiac, The Pleiad, the Iris, the Examiner, The Aurora, the Crown, the Imperial, the Independent, the Synthesist, the Light, the Truth, the Hope, the Teacher, the Reconciler, the Wedge, the Pirate, the Seer, the Indicator, the Tailor, the Babe in the Manger, the Universe, the Apocalypse, the Red Dragon, the Plant, Beelzebub—the Devil or anything rather than the meaningless name Phalanx.

The final title is a pun on the French word "fourrier," or "harbinger." The newspaper actually outlived Brook Farm; after Brook Farm's collapse, Ripley and Dana moved to New York, where they continued to publish The Harbinger until its final issue in October 1847.

*The image above is the print-shop, the only building still standing on the site of Brook Farm at West Roxbury, Massachusetts. The other image is the front page of a november 1846 issue of The Harbinger.

**Information for this post comes from Philip F. Gura's American Transcendentalism: A History and Sterling Delano's Brook Farm: The Dark Side of Utopia.

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