"Even the old Inspector was desirable, as a change of diet, to a man who had known Alcott"

Amos Bronson Alcott (1799-1888), a teacher, philosopher and writer, perhaps went furthest in introducing Transcendentalist ideals into public life. An educational reformer, he established progressive schools that taught then unheard-of subjects such as art, nature studies and music using the Socratic method. His liberal attitudes — he questioned the literality of the Bible and took on an African American pupil during this time of widespread racial intolerance — went down badly with his contemporaries, but his cooperative, holistic approach to learning had a strong influence on subsequent educationalists. In later life, he co-founded Fruitlands, a utopian society which took the ideals of Brook Farm to a more radical level.

Though Alcott and Hawthorne met regularly, they seem to have had a certain ambivalence towards each other. Alcott features in an unfinished manuscript of Hawthorne’s, Doctor Grimshawe’s Secret, as Colcord, an idealistic pedagogue of whom Hawthorne remarks,“gentle and mild regard... was his warmest affection; and the warmest, too, that he was capable of exciting in others” (p. 67). Alcott, for his part, seems to have hoped for a closer relationship only to find himself baffled by Hawthorne’s shy remoteness. This sense of frustration comes through in Concord Days (1872) in which Hawthorne appears as a bashful maiden who can “only be won by some cunning artifice” (p. 194).