The Communistic Societies of the United States
Part 5 out of 8
sarcastically congratulated me on my prospects for the night, that 'if
the corporeal influence of incarnate devils could be kept from the room,
I would combat without aid all other influences and answer for my own
safety.' I accordingly locked myself into my room, and enjoyed,
unmolested for the night, except by occasional raps upon the door by my
passing comrades, some of whom were up all night by reason of the
excitement, a sound and pleasant sleep. One or two instances occurred in
which a superhuman agency was indubitably obvious. One of the abnormal
males lay in a building at some distance from the infirmary where the
female instruments were confined. Suddenly one of the last, who had been
for some time in a quiescent state and rational, was seized by one of
these paroxysms, which were always accompanied by dreadful contortions
and sudden twitchings of the body, and, speaking for the spirit, said
that 'Old S---- had bound him with a surcingle, and he had left E----,'
one of the male instruments. The physician instantly repaired to the
building where E---- lay, and he was perfectly rational. S----, the
watch, informed the physician that E---- raved so violently a moment
before that he bound his arms to his body by passing a surcingle around
both, and he quickly became himself. At another time one of the females
took a handful of living coals in her bare hands, and thus carried them
about the room without even injuring the cuticle of the skin.
"The phenomena and excitement soon dwindled away by the tremendous
opposition directed against them; and when afterward spoken about, were
designated by the sinister phrase--'The Devil's Visitation.'
"Other ministrations and gifts, original and perfectly illustrative of
the inspirations of crude and uncivilized spirits, continued as usual to
exist. They were truly ludicrous. I have seen female instruments in
uncouth habits, and in imitation of squaws, and a few males acting as
suneps, glide in groups on a stiffly frozen snow, shouting, dancing,
yelling, and whooping, and others acting precisely the peculiar traits
of a Negro, an Arab, a Chinese, an Italian, or even the polite gayety of
a Frenchman. And, what is still more astounding, speaking the vernacular
dialects of each race. Their confabulation, aided by inspired
interpreters, was truly amusing and interesting. On one occasion I saw a
sister, inspired by a squaw, her head mounted with an old hat of felt,
cocked, jammed, and indented in no geometrical form, rush to a pan
containing a collection of the amputated legs of hens, seize a handful
of the raw delicacy, and devour them with as much alacrity as a Yankee
woman would an omelet or a doughnut."
In general, Elkins relates:
"I have myself seen males, but more frequently females, in a
superinduced condition, apparently unconscious of earthly things, and
declaring in the name of departed spirits important and convincing
revelations. Speaking in foreign tongues and prophesying were the most
common gifts. In February, 1848, a medium became abstracted from earthly
scenes, and announced the presence of an angel of God. The angel
declared, through her, that he was sent on a mission to France, and that
before many days we should hear of his doings in that nation. This
announcement was in presence of the whole family, and it was then and
there noted down. France at that time was, for aught we knew, resting
upon a permanent political basis; or as nearly in that condition as she
ever was. In a few days the revolution of the 24th of February
precipitated the monarchy into an interregnum, which philanthropists
hoped was bottomless.
"Turning rapidly upon the toes, bowing, bending, twisting, and reeling
like one a victim to the fumes of intoxication; swooning and lying
prostrate with limbs stiff and unyielding, like a corpse, and to all
outward appearance the vital spark extinct; then suddenly
resuscitating--the mind still abstracted from scenes below--and rising to
join in the jubilancy of the dance, in company with and in imitation of
the angels around the throne of God, singing extemporaneous anthems and
songs, or those learned direct of seraphs in the regions of bliss--such
are the many exercises, effusions of devotion, and supernatural elapses
of which I was for fifteen years at intervals an eye and ear witness.
Also the exposure of sin, designating in some cases the transgressor,
the act, and the place of perpetration, of which the accused was most
generally found culpable.
"More than a score of new dances were performed, with an attitude of
grace and with the precision of a machine, by about twenty female
clairvoyants. They _said_ they learned them of seraphs before the
throne of God.
"I was doubtful of their assertions, for such things were to me novel. I
however determined not to overstep the bounds of prudence, and declare
the work an illusion, for fear that I might blaspheme a higher power, I
communicated my doubts to a few of my companions, and one, less cautious
than myself, immediately broke forth in imprecations against it. I never
was secretly opposed, but a turbulent disposition or a love for dramatic
scenes, prompted by the hope of detecting either the validity or
deception of such phenomena, impelled me to wink opposition to my
reckless companion. In the devotional exercises, which served as a
preliminary to the entrance of the mind into a superior condition, such
as whirling, twisting, and reeling, we all took a part. Henry, for that
was the name of the youth who was so zealous in his aspersions, united
awkwardly and derisively in these exercises. Amid so many arms, legs,
and bodies, revolving, oscillating, staggering, and tripping, it is not
remarkable that a few should be thrown prostrate (not violently,
however) upon the floor. One evening, in a boy's meeting at a time of
great excitement, when the spirits of some of our companions were
reported to be in spiritual spheres, and other departed spirits were
careering their mortal ladies in the graceful undulations of a celestial
dance, Henry and many others, among whom I was seen, were whirling,
staggering, and rolling, striving in vain, by all the humility we could
assume, to be also admitted into the regions of spiritual recognition,
Henry suddenly tripped and fell. One of his visionary companions
instantly sprang, passed his hands with great rapidity over him, as
though binding him with invisible cords, and then returned to his
graceful employment. The clairvoyant's eyes were closed, as indeed were
the eyes of all while in that condition. In vain Henry struggled to
rise, to turn, or hardly to move. He was fettered, bound fast by
invisible manacles. The brethren were summoned to witness the sight. In
the space of perhaps half an hour the clairvoyant returned, loosened his
fetters, and he arose mortified and confounded. Singularly disposed, he
ever after treated these gifts with virulent ridicule, and never was
heard to utter any serious remarks concerning this transaction. The
clairvoyant after this event was the butt of his satire and jests, and
received them without revenge so long as Henry remained, which was about
five years--a reckless, abandoned, evil-minded person, eventually
severed by that same power which he strove incessantly to ridicule. All
these strange operations and gifts are attributed by the Shakers to the
influence of superhuman power like that manifested in the Primitive
Some of the hymns which date from this period have fragments of the
"strange tongues" in which the "mediums" spoke. Here is one, dated at
New Lebanon, and printed in the collection called "Millennial Hymns:"
"Lo all ye, hark ye, dear children, and listen to me,
For I am that holy Se lone' se ka' ra an ve';
My work upon earth is holy, holy and pure,
That work which will ever, forever endure.
"Yea, my heavenly Father hath se-ve'-ned to you
That power which is holy and that faith which is true;
O then, my beloved, why will ye delay?
O la ho' le en se' ren, now while it is day.
"The holy angels in heaven their trumpets do raise,
And with saints upon earth sound endless praise.
Blessed, most blessed, your day, and holy your call,
O ven se' ne ven se' ne, yea every soul.
"All holy se ka' ren are the free blessings given
And bestowed on you from the fountain of heaven;
Yea, guardian spirits from the holy Selan',
Bring you heavenly love, vi' ne see', Lin' se van'.
"Press ye on, my dear children, the holy Van' la hoo'
Is your heavenly guide, and will safely bear you through
All vo'len tribulation you meet here below;
Then be humble, dear children, be faithful and true.
"For God, your holy, holy HEAVENLY FATHER, will never,
Never forsake his holy house of Israel on e.a.r.t.h.,
But the blessings of heaven will continue to flow
On you, my beloved Ar' se le be low. (_n-o-t-e-s_.)"
The most curious relics of those days are two considerable volumes,
which have since fallen into discredit among the Shakers themselves, but
were at the time of their issue regarded as highly important. One of
these is entitled "_A Holy, Sacred, and Divine Soil and Book, from the
Lord God of Heaven to the Inhabitants of Earth:_ Revealed in the
United Society at New Lebanon, County of Columbia, State of New York,
United States of America. Received by the Church of this Communion, and
published in union with the same." It is dated Canterbury, N. H., 1843;
contains 405 pages; and is in two parts. The first part contains the
revelation proper; the second, various "testimonies" to its accuracy and
divine origin. Of these evidences, some purport to be by the prophets
Elisha, Ezekiel, Malachi, Isaiah, and others; from Noah, St. Peter, St.
John; by "Holy and Eternal Mother Wisdom," and a "holy and mighty angel
of God," whose name was _Ma'ne Me'rah Vak'na Si'na Jah_; but the
greater number are by living Shakers. As a part of the revelation, the
Shakers were commanded to print, "in their own society, five hundred
copies" of this book, to be "given to the children of men," and "it is my
requirement that they be printed before the 22d of next September. To be
bound in yellow paper, with red backs; edges yellow also." Moreover,
missionary societies were commanded to translate the book into foreign
tongues, and I have heard that a copy was sent to every ruler or
government which could be reached by mail.
The body of the book is a mixture of Scripture texts and "revelations of
spirits;" and the absurdity of it appears to have struck even the
so-called "holy angel" who was supposed to have superintended the
writing, as appears from the following passage:
"We are four of the holy and mighty angels of God, sent from before
his throne, to pass and repass through the four quarters of the
earth; and many are the holy angels that bear us company. And thus
we shall visit the earth in partial silence, as this Roll goes
forth, until we have marked the door-posts of all, as our God hath
commanded, who shall humble themselves and repent at his word, by
proclaiming a solemn fast, and cease from their awful crimes of
wickedness, and turn to him in righteousness.
"My name, says the angel whose quarter is eastward, and stands as
first, is HOLY ASSAN' DE LA JAH'. The second, whose part is second,
and quarter westward, is MI'CHAEL VAN' CE VA' NE. The third, whose
part is third, and quarter northward, is GA' BRY VEN' DO VAS' TER
REEN'. The fourth, whose part is fourth, and quarter southward, is
VEN DEN' DE PA' ROL JEW' LE JAH'.
"These are our names in our own tongues, and we are sent on earth to
prepare the way for the Most High; and the whole human family will be
convinced of this before the final event of our mission shall arrive.
"And although we know that the words of this book will be considered by
many as being produced in the wildest of enthusiasm, madness, blasphemy,
and fanaticism, and by others as solemn, sacred, and awful truths; yet
do we declare unto all flesh that this Roll and Book contains the word
of the God of heaven, your Almighty Creator, sent forth direct from his
eternal throne now in this your day.
"And by this word shall every soul on earth be judged, in mercy or in
judgment, whether they believe or disbelieve. We are not sent forth by
our God to argue with mortals, but to declare his word and his work. And
we furthermore declare unto all the inhabitants of earth that they have
no time to lose in preparing for their God.
"If there be any who cannot understand to their souls' satisfaction
(though the requirements are plain), yet they may apply wheresoever they
believe they can be correctly informed."
As a sample of the book, here is an account by one of the mediums of her
"interview with a holy angel:"
"It was in the evening of the twenty-second of January, eighteen hundred
and forty-two, while I was busily employed putting all things in
readiness for the close of the week, that I distinctly heard my name
called very loudly, and with much earnestness. I could not go so well at
that moment, and I answered, 'I will come soon,' for I supposed it to be
some one in the adjoining room that wished to see me; but the word was
repeated three times, and I hastened to the place from whence the sound
seemed to come, but there was no one present.
"I soon saw in the middle of the room four very large and bright lights,
or balls of fire, as they appeared to be; they moved slowly each way,
and after a little time joined together in one exceedingly large light,
or pillar of fire. At this moment I heard a loud voice, which uttered
many words with such mighty force that I feared to stay in the room, and
attempted to go out; but found that I had not power to move my feet.
"For some time I could not understand one word that was sounded forth;
but the first that I did understand were as follows: 'Hark! Hark!
hearken, oh thou child of mortality, unto the word that is and shall be
sounded aloud in thine ears, again and again, even until it is obeyed.
"'And lo, I say a time, and a time, and a half-time shall not pass by
before my voice shall be heard, and my word sounded forth to the nations
abroad. But in the Zion of my likeness and true righteousness shall it
be received first, and from thence shall it go forth; for thus and thus
hath the God of heaven and earth declared and purposed that it should
"'Then why will you, O why will you, yet fear to obey? What would you
that your God would do in your presence, that you might fear his power
rather than that of mortal man?'
"From this moment I was not sensible where I was; and after a little
time of silence the body of light, or pillar of fire, dispersed, and I
saw a mighty angel coming from the east, and I heard these words:
"'Woe, woe, and many woes shall be upon the mortal that shall see and
will not stop to behold.'"
And so on, for a good many pages.
The second work is called _"The Divine Book of Holy and Eternal Wisdom,
revealing the Word of God, out of whose mouth goeth a sharp Sword._
Written by Paulina Bates, at Watervliet, N. Y., United States of
America; arranged and prepared for the Press at New Lebanon, N. Y.
Published by the United Society called Shakers. Printed at Canterbury,
N.H., 1849." This book contains 718 pages; and pretends also to be a
series of revelations by angels and deceased persons of note. In the
Preface by the editors its origin is thus described:
"During a number of years past many remarkable displays of divine power
and heavenly gifts have been manifested among the children of Zion in
all the branches of the United Society of Believers in the second
appearing of Christ. Much increasing light has been revealed on many
subjects which have heretofore remained as mysteries; and many prophetic
revelations have been brought forth, from time to time, through
messengers chosen and inspired by heavenly power and wisdom.
"Among these it has pleased God to select a female of the United Society
at Wisdom's Valley (Watervliet), and indue her with the heavenly light
of revelation as an instrument of divine Wisdom, to write by divine
inspiration those solemn warnings, prophetic revelations, and heavenly
instructions which will be found extensively diffused through the sacred
pages of this book.
"These were written in a series of communications at various times
during the year 1841, '42, '43, and '44, with few exceptions, which will
be seen by their several dates. But the inspired writer had no knowledge
that they were designed by the Divine Spirit to be published to the
world until a large portion of the work was written; therefore, whenever
she was called upon by the angel of God, she wrote whatever the angel
dictated at the time, without any reference to the connective order and
regular arrangement of a book; for she was not directed so to do, for
reasons which were afterwards revealed to her and other witnesses then
unknown to her.
"Hence it was made known to be the design of the Divine Spirit that
these communications should be transmitted to the Holy Mount (New
Lebanon), there to be prepared for publication by agents appointed for
that purpose, in union with the leading authority of the Church.
Accordingly they were conveyed to New Lebanon, and the subscribers were
appointed as editors, to examine and arrange them in regular and
convenient order for the press, and divine instructions were given for
"Having therefore faithfully examined the manuscripts containing these
communications, we have compiled them into one book, in two general
divisions or volumes, agreeably to the instructions given. We have also,
for convenient arrangement, divided the whole into seven parts,
according to the relative connection which appeared in the different
subjects. And for the convenience of the reader we have divided each
part into chapters, prefixing an appropriate title to each.
"Some passages and annotations have been added by _The Angel of
Prophetic Light,_ who by inspiration has frequently assisted in the
preparation and arrangement of the work, for the purpose of illustrating
and confirming some of the original subjects by further explanations. A
few notes have also been added by the editors for the information of the
reader. These are all distinguished in their proper places from the
"But although it was found necessary to transcribe the whole, in order
to prepare it properly and intelligibly for the press, yet we have used
great care to preserve the sense of the original in its purity; and we
can testify that the substance and spirit of the work have been
conscientiously preserved in full throughout the whole.
"This work is called 'Holy Wisdom's Book,' because Holy and Eternal
Wisdom is the Mother, or Bearing Spirit, of all the works of God; and
because it was especially revealed through the line of the female, being
WISDOM'S _Likeness; and she lays special claim to this work_, and
places her seal upon it.
"An _Appendix_ is added, containing the testimonies of various
divine and heavenly witnesses to the sacred truth and reality of the
declarations and revelations contained in the work. The most of these
were given before the inspired writers who received them had any earthly
knowledge concerning the book or its contents. A _testimony_ is also
affixed to the work by the elders of the family in which the inspired
writer resides, bearing witness to the honesty and uprightness of her
character, and her faithfulness in the work of God."
The main object of the book is to warn sinners of all kinds from the
"wrath to come." Especial woes, by the way, are denounced against
slaveholders and slave traders: "Whether they be clothed in tenements of
clay, or whether they be stripped of their earthly tabernacles, the same
hand of Justice shall meet them whithersoever they flee." It must be
remembered to the honor of the Shakers that they have always and every
where consistently opposed human slavery.
The "Divine Book of Holy Wisdom" contains the "testimonies" of the
"first man, Adam," of the "first woman, Eve," of Noah and all the
patriarchs, and of a great many other ancient worthies; but, alas! what
they have to say is not new, and of no interest to the unregenerate
These two volumes are not now, as formerly, held in honor by the
Shakers. One of their elders declared to me that I ought never to have
seen them, and that their best use was to burn them. But I found them on
the table of the visitors' room in one or two of the Western societies,
and I suppose they are still believed in by some of the people.
At this day most (but not all) of the Shaker people are sincere
believers in what is commonly called Spiritualism. At a Shaker funeral I
have heard what purported to be a message from the spirit whose body was
lying in the coffin in the adjoining hall. In one of the societies it is
believed that a magnificent spiritual city, densely inhabited, and
filled with palaces and fine residences, lies upon their domain, and at
but a little distance from the terrestrial buildings of the Church
family; and frequent communications come from this spirit city to their
neighbors. "When I was a little girl, I desired very much to have a hymn
sent through me to the family from the spirit-land; and after waiting
and wishing for a long time, one day when I was little expecting it, as
I was walking about, a hymn came to me thus, to my inexpressible
delight"--so said a Shaker eldress to me in all seriousness. "We have
frequently been visited by a tribe of Indians (spirits of Indians), who
used to live in this country, and whose spirits still come back here
occasionally," said another Shaker sister to me.
On the other hand, when I asked one of the elders how far he believed
that their hymns are inspired, he asked me whether it did not happen
that I wrote with greater facility at one time than at another; and when
I replied in the affirmative, he said, "In that case I should say you
were inspired when your words come readily, and to that degree I suppose
our hymn-writers are inspired. They have thought about the subject, and
the words at last come to them."
I think I have before said that the Shakers do not attempt to suppress
discussion of the relations of the sexes; they do not pretend that their
celibate life is without hardships or difficulties; but they boldly
assert that they have chosen the better life, and defend their position
with not a little skill against all attacks. A good many years ago Miss
Charlotte Cushman, after a visit to Watervliet, wrote the following
lines, which were published in the _Knickerbocker Magazine_:
Are you indeed the things you seem to be,
Of earth--yet of its iron influence free--From all that stirs
Our being's pulse, and gives to fleeting life
What well the Hun has termed 'the rapture of the strife.'
"Are the gay visions gone,
Those day-dreams of the mind, by fate there flung,
And the fair hopes to which the soul once clung, And battled on;
Have ye outlived them? All that must have sprung,
And quicken'd into life, when ye were young?
"Does memory never roam
To ties that, grown with years, ye idly sever,
To the old haunts that ye have left forever--Your early homes?
Your ancient creed, once faith's sustaining lever,
The loved who erst prayed with you--now may never?
"Has not ambition's paean
Some power within your hearts to wake anew
To deeds of higher emprise--worthier you, Ye monkish men,
Than may be reaped from fields? Do ye not rue
The drone-like course of life ye now pursue?
"The camp--the council--all
That woos the soldier to the field of fame--
That gives the sage his meed--the bard his name And coronal--
Bidding a people's voice their praise proclaim;
Can ye forego the strife, nor own your shame?
"Have ye forgot your youth,
When expectation soared on pinions high,
And hope shone out on boyhood's cloudless sky, Seeming all truth--
When all looked fair to fancy's ardent eye,
And pleasure wore an air of sorcery?
"You, too! What early blight
Has withered your fond hopes, that ye thus stand,
A group of sisters, 'mong this monkish band? Ye creatures bright!
Has sorrow scored your brows with demon hand,
Or o'er your hopes passed treachery's burning brand?
"Ye would have graced right well
The bridal scene, the banquet, or the bowers
Where mirth and revelry usurp the hours--Where, like a spell,
Beauty is sovereign--where man owns its powers,
And woman's tread is o'er a path of flowers.
"Yet seem ye not as those
Within whose bosoms memories vigils keep:
Beneath your drooping lids no passions sleep; And your pale brows
Bear not the tracery of emotion deep--
Ye seem too cold and passionless to weep!"
A "Shaker Girl," in one of the Kentucky societies, published soon
afterward the following "Answer to Charlotte Cushman," which is
certainly not without spirit:
"We are, indeed, the things we seem to be,
Of earth, and from its iron influence free:
For we are they, or halt, or lame, or dumb,
'On whom the ends of this vain world are come.'
"We have outlived those day-dreams of the mind--
Those flattering phantoms which so many bind;
All man-made creeds (your 'faith's sustaining lever')
We have forsaken, and have left forever!
"To plainly tell the truth, we do not rue
The sober, godly course that we pursue;
But 'tis not we who live the dronish lives,
But those who have their husbands or their wives!
But if by drones you mean they're lazy men,
Then, Charlotte Cushman, take it back again;
For one, with half an eye, or half a mind,
Can there see industry and wealth combined.
"If camps and councils--soldiers' 'fields of fame'--
Or yet a people's praise or people's blame,
Is all that gives the sage or bard his name,
We can 'forego the strife, nor own our shame'
What great temptations you hold up to view
For men of sense or reason to pursue!
The praise of mortals!--what can it avail,
When all their boasted language has to fail?
And 'sorrow hath not scored with demon hand,'
Nor 'o'er our hopes pass'd treachery's burning brand;'
But where the sorrows and the treachery are,
I think may easily be made appear.
In 'bridal scenes,' in 'banquets and in bowers!'
'Mid revelry and variegated flowers,
Is where your mother Eve first felt their powers.
The 'bridal scenes,' you say, 'we'd grace right well!'
'Lang syne' there our first parents blindly fell!--
The bridal scene! Is this your end and aim?
And can you this pursue, 'nor own your shame?'
If so--weak, pithy, superficial thing--
Drink, silent drink the sick hymeneal spring.
'The bridal scene! the banquet or the bowers,
Or woman's [bed of thorns, or] path of flowers,'
Can't all persuade our souls to turn aside
To live in filthy lust or cruel pride.
Alas! your path of flowers will disappear;
E'en now a thousand thorns are pointed near;
Ah! here you find 'base treachery's burning brand,'
And sorrows score the heart, nor spare the hand;
But here 'Beauty's sovereign'--so say you--
A thing that in one hour may lose its hue--
It lies upon the surface of the skin--
Aye, Beauty's self was never worth a pin;
But still it suits the superficial mind--
The slight observer of the human kind;
The airy, fleety, vain, and hollow thing,
That only feeds on wily flattering.
'Man owns its powers?' And what will not man own
To gain his end--to captivate--dethrone?
The truth is this, whatever he may feign,
You'll find your greatest loss his greatest gain;
For like the bee, he will improve the hour,
And all day long he'll hunt from flower to flower,
And when he sips the sweetness all away,
For aught he cares, the flowers may all decay.
But here, each other's virtues we partake,
Where men and women all their ills forsake:
True virtue spreads her bright angelic wing,
While saints and seraphs praise the Almighty King.
And when the matter's rightly understood,
You'll find we labor for each other's good;
This, Charlotte Cushman, truly is our aim--
Can you forego this strife, 'nor own your shame?'
Now if you would receive a modest hint,
You'd surely keep your name at least from print,
Nor have it hoisted, handled round and round,
And echoed o'er the earth from mound to mound,
As the great advocate of ------ (Oh, the name!).
Now can you think of this, 'nor own your shame?'
But, Charlotte, learn to take a deeper view
Of what your neighbors say or neighbors do;
And when some flattering knaves around you tread,
Just think of what a SHAKER GIRL has said."
The _Shaker and Shakeress_, a monthly journal, edited by Elder
Frederick Evans and Eldress Antoinette Doolittle, is the organ of the
society; and in its pages their views are set forth with much shrewdness
and ability. It is not so generally interesting a journal as the
_Oneida Circular_, the organ of the Perfectionists, because the
Shakers concern themselves almost exclusively with religious matters, and
give in their paper but few details of their daily and practical life.
POPULATION RETURNS OF THE SHAKER SOCIETIES.
I give here, in a convenient tabular form, figures showing the present
and past numbers of the different Shaker Societies--males, females, and
children--the amount of land each society owns, and the number of
laborers, not members, it employs:
| |No. of Families| Adults. |Youth Under 11.|
| Society. | or Separate |______|________|_______|_______|
| | Communities. | Male.| Female.| Male. |Female.|
| Alfred, Me.........| 2 | 20 | 30 | 8 | 12 |
| New Gloucester, Me.| 2 | 20 | 36 | 4 | 10 |
| Canterbury, N.H....| 3 | 35 | 70 | 14 | 26 |
| Enfield, N.H.......| 3 | 29 | 76 | 8 | 27 |
| Enfield, Conn......| 4 | 24 | 48 | 18 | 25 |
| Harvard, Mass......| 4 | 17 | 57 | 4 | 12 |
| Shirley, Mass......| 2 | 6 | 30 | 4 | 8 |
| Hancock, Mass......| 3 | 23 | 42 | 13 | 20 |
| Tyringham, Mass....| 1 | 6 | 11 | 0 | 0 |
| Mount Lebanon, N.Y.| 7 | 115 | 221 | 21 | 26 |
| Watervliet, N.Y....| 4 | 75 | 100 | 20 | 40 |
| Groveland, N.Y.....| 2 | 18 | 30 | 3 | 6 |
| North Union, O.....| 3 | 41 | 44 | 6 | 11 |
| Union Village, O...| 4 | 75 | 92 | 20 | 28 |
| Watervliet, O......| 2 | 16 | 32 | 3 | 4 |
| White Water, O.....| 3 | 34 | 51 | 6 | 9 |
| Pleasant Hill, Ky..| 5 | 56 | 114 | 25 | 50 |
| South Union, Ky....| 4 | 85 | 105 | 15 | 25 |
| | | | | |
| Eighteen Societies.| 58 | 695 | 1189 | 192 | 339 |
| | | | Acres | |
| Society. |Total Population,| Greatest | of | Hired |
| |1874.| 1823. |Population.| Land. |Laborers.|
| | | | | | |
| Alfred, Me.........| 70 | 200 | 200 | 1100 | 15-20 |
| New Gloucester, Me.| 70 | 150 | 150 | 2000 | 15-20 |
| Canterbury, N.H....| 145 | 200 | 300 | 3000 | 6 |
| Enfield, N.H.......| 140 | 200 | 330 | 3000 | 20-35 |
| Enfield, Conn......| 115 | 200 | 200 | 3300 | 15 |
| Harvard, Mass......| 90 | 200 | 200 | 1800 | 16 |
| Shirley, Mass......| 48 | 150 | 150 | 2000 | 10 |
| Hancock, Mass......| 98 | -- | 300 | 3500 | 25 |
| Tyringham, Mass....| 17 | -- | -- | 1000 | 6 |
| Mount Lebanon, N.Y.| 383 | 500-600 | 600 | 3000 | -- |
| Watervliet, N.Y....| 235 | 200 | 350 | 4500 | 75 |
| Groveland, N.Y.....| 57 | 150 in | 200 | 2280 | 8 |
| | | 1836. | | | |
| North Union, O.....| 102 | -- | 200 | 1335 | 9 |
| Union Village, O...| 215 | 600 | 600 | 4500 | 70 |
| Watervliet, O......| 55 | 100 | 100 | 1300 | 10 |
| White Water, O.....| 100 | 150 | 150 | 1500 | 10 |
| Pleasant Hill, Ky..| 245 | 450 | 490 | 4200 | 20 |
| South Union, Ky....| 230 | 349 | 349 | 6000 | 15 |
| | | | | | |
| Eighteen Societies.|2415 | -- | -- | 49,335 | -- |
The returns of land include, for the most part, only the home farms; and
several of the societies own considerable quantities of real estate in
distant states, of which I could get no precise returns.
THE PERFECTIONISTS OF ONEIDA AND WALLINGFORD.
THE PERFECTIONISTS OF ONEIDA AND WALLINGFORD
The Oneida and Wallingford Communists are of American origin, and their
membership is almost entirely American.
Their founder, who is still their head, John Humphrey Noyes, was born in
Brattleboro, Vermont, in 1811, of respectable parentage. He graduated
from Dartmouth College, began the study of the law, but turned shortly
to theology; and studied first at Andover, with the intention of fitting
himself to become a foreign missionary, and later in the Yale
theological school. At New Haven he came under the influence of a
zealous revival preacher, and during his residence there he "landed in a
new experience and new views of the way of salvation, which took the
name of Perfectionism."
This was in 1834. He soon returned to Putney, in Vermont, where his
father's family then lived, and where his father was a banker. There he
preached and printed; and in 1838 married Harriet A. Holton, the
granddaughter of a member of Congress, and a convert to his doctrines.
He slowly gathered about him a small company of believers, drawn from
different parts of the country, and with their help made known his new
faith in various publications, with such effect that though in 1847 he
had only about forty persons in his own congregation, there appear to
have been small gatherings of "Perfectionists" in other states, in
correspondence with Noyes, and inclined to take him as their leader.
Originally Noyes was not a Communist, but when his thoughts turned in
that direction he began to prepare his followers for communal life; in
1845 he made known to them his peculiar views of the relations of the
sexes, and in 1846 the society at Putney began cautiously an experiment
in communal living.
Their views, which they never concealed, excited the hostility of the
people to such a degree that they were mobbed and driven out of the
place; and in the spring of 1848 they joined some persons of like faith
and practice at Oneida, in Madison County, New York. Here they began
community life anew, on forty acres of land, on which stood an unpainted
frame dwelling-house, an abandoned Indian hut, and an old Indian
saw-mill. They owed for this property two thousand dollars. The place
was neglected, without cultivation, and the people were so poor that for
some time they had to sleep on the floor in the garret which was their
The gathering at Oneida appears to have been the signal for several
attempts by followers of Noyes to establish themselves in communes. In
1849 a small society was formed in Brooklyn, N.Y., to which later the
printing for all the societies was entrusted. In 1850 another community
was begun at Wallingford, in Connecticut. There were others, of which I
find no account; but all regarded Oneida as their centre and leader; and
in the course of time, and after various struggles, all were drawn into
the common centre, except that at Wallingford, which still exists in a
flourishing condition, having its property and other interests in common
[Illustration: J H NOYES, FOUNDER OF THE PERFECTIONISTS]
The early followers of Noyes were chiefly New England farmers, the
greater part of whom brought with them some means, though not in any
single case a large amount. Noyes himself and several other members
contributed several thousand dollars each, and a "Property Register"
kept from the beginning of the community experiment showed that up to
the first of January, 1857, the members of all the associated communes
had brought in the considerable amount of one hundred and seven thousand
seven hundred and six dollars. I understand, however, that this sum was
not at any one time in hand, and that much of it came in several years
after the settlement at Oneida in 1848; and it is certain that in the
early days, while they were still seeking for some business which should
be at the same time agreeable to them and profitable, they had sometimes
short commons. They showed great courage and perseverance, for through
all their early difficulties they maintained a printing-office and
circulated a free paper.
At first they looked toward agriculture and horticulture as their
main-stays for income; but they began soon to unite other trades with
these. Their saw-mill sawed lumber for the neighboring farmers; they set
up a blacksmith shop, and here, besides other work, they began to make
traps by hand, having at first no means to buy machinery, and indeed
having to invent most of that which they now use in their extensive trap
Like the Shakers with their garden seeds, and all other successful
communities with their products, the Perfectionists got their start by
the excellence of their workmanship. Their traps attracted attention
because they were more uniformly well made than others; and thus they
built up a trade which has become very large. They raised small fruits,
made rustic furniture, raised farm crops, sold cattle, had at one time a
sloop on the Hudson; and Noyes himself labored as a blacksmith, farmer,
and in many other employments.
Working thus under difficulties, they had sunk, by January, 1857, over
forty thousand dollars of their capital, but had gained valuable
experience in the mean time. They had concentrated all their people at
Oneida and Wallingford; and had set up some machinery at the former
place. In January, 1857, they took their first annual inventory, and
found themselves worth a little over sixty-seven thousand dollars. Their
perseverance had conquered fortune, for in the next ten years the net
profit of the two societies amounted to one hundred and eighty thousand
five hundred and eighty dollars, according to this statement:
Net earnings in 1857.....$5,470.11
" " 1858..... 1,763.60
" " 1859.....10,278.38
" " 1860.....15,611.03
" " 1861..... 5,877.89
Net earnings in 1862....$9,859 78
" " 1863....44,755.30
" " 1864....61,382.62
" " 1865....12,382.81
" " 1866....13,198.74
During this time they made traps, traveling-bags and satchels,
mop-holders, and various other small articles, and put up preserved
fruits in glass and tin. They began at Wallingford, in 1851, making
match-boxes, and the manufacture of traveling-bags was begun in
Brooklyn, and later transferred to Oneida. Trap-making was begun at
Oneida in 1855; fruit-preserving in 1858, and in 1866 the silk
manufacture was established.
Meantime they bought land, until they have in 1874, near Oneida, six
hundred and fifty-four acres, laid out in orchards, vineyards, meadows,
pasture and wood land, and including several valuable water-powers; and
at Wallingford two hundred and forty acres, mainly devoted to grazing
and the production of small fruits. They have erected in both places
commodious and substantial dwellings and shops, and carry on at this
time a number of industries, of which some account will be found further
The two communities, whose members are interchangeable at will and
whenever necessity arises, must be counted as one. At Oneida they have
founded a third, on a part of their land, called Willow Place, but this
too is but an offshoot of the central family. In February, 1874, they
numbered two hundred and eighty-three persons, of whom two hundred and
thirty-eight were at Oneida and Willow Place, and forty-five at
Wallingford. Of these one hundred and thirty-one were males, and one
hundred and fifty-two females. Of the whole number, sixty-four were
children and youth under twenty-one--thirty-three males and thirty-one
females. Of the two hundred and nineteen adults, one hundred and five
were over forty-five years of age--forty-four men and sixty-one women.
They employ in both places from twenty to thirty-five farm laborers,
according to the season, and a number of fruit-pickers in the time of
small fruits. Besides, at Oneida they employ constantly two hundred and
one hired laborers, of whom one hundred and three are women,
seventy-five of whom work in the silk factory; sixty-seven of the men
being engaged in the trap works, foundry, and machine shops. At
Wallingford the silk works give employment to thirty-five hired women
Originally, and for many years, these Communists employed no outside
labor in their houses; but with increasing prosperity they have begun to
hire servants and helpers in many branches. Thus at Oneida there are in
the laundry two men and five women; in the kitchen three men and seven
women; in the heating or furnace room two men; in the shoemaker's shop
two; and in the tailor's shop two--all hired people. At Wallingford they
hire three women and one man for their laundry.
These hired people are the country neighbors of the commune; and, as
with the Shakers and the Harmonists, they like their employers. These
pay good wages, and treat their servants kindly; looking after their
physical and intellectual well-being, building houses for such of them
as have families and need to be near at hand, and in many ways showing
interest in their welfare.
The members of the two societies are for the most part Americans, though
there are a few English and Canadians. There are among them lawyers,
clergymen, merchants, physicians, teachers; but the greater part were
New England farmers and mechanics. Former Congregationalists and
Presbyterians Episcopalians, Methodists, and Baptists are among
them--but no Catholics.
They have a great number of applications from persons desirous to become
members. During 1873 they received over one hundred such by letter,
besides a nearly equal number made in person. They are not willing now
to accept new members; but I believe they are looking about for a place
suitable for a new settlement, and would not be unwilling, if a number
of persons with sufficient means for another colony should present
themselves, to help them with teachers and guides.
In the year 1873 the Oneida Community produced and sold preserved fruits
to the value of $27,417; machine and sewing silk and woven goods worth
$203,784; hardware, including traps, chucks, silk-measuring machines and
silk-strength testers (the last two of their own invention), gate-hinges
and foundry castings, $90,447. They raised twenty-five acres of sweet
corn, six acres of tomatoes, two acres of strawberries, two of
raspberries; half an acre of currants, half an acre of grapes,
twenty-two acres of apples, and three and a half acres of pears.
Silk-weaving has been abandoned, as not suitable to them.
At the beginning of 1874 they were worth over half a million of dollars.
From the beginning, Noyes and his followers have made great use of the
press. Up to the time of their settlement at Oneida they had published
"Paul not Carnal;" two series of _Perfectionist; The Way of
Holiness_, the _Berean_, and _The Witness_. From Oneida they
began at once to issue the _Spiritual Magazine_, and, later, the
_Free Church Circular_, which was the beginning of their present
journal, the _Oneida Circular_. "Bible Communism" also was published
at Oneida during the first year of their settlement there. They did not
aim to make money by their publications, and the _Circular_ was from
the first published on terms probably unlike those of any other newspaper
in the world. I take from an old number, of the year 1853, the following
announcement, standing at the head of the first column:
"The _Circular_ is published by Communists, and for Communists. Its
main object is to help the education of several confederated
associations, who are practically devoted to the Pentecost principle of
community of property. Nearly all of its readers outside of those
associations are Communists in principle. It is supported almost entirely
by the free contributions of this Communist constituency. A paper with
such objects and such resources cannot properly be offered for sale.
Freely we receive, and we freely give. Whoever wishes to read the
_Circular_ can have it WITHOUT PAYING, OR PROMISING TO PAY, by
applying through the mail, or at 43 Willow Place, Brooklyn. If any one
chooses to pay, he may send TWO DOLLARS for the yearly volume; but he
must not require us to keep his accounts. We rely on the free gifts of
the family circle for which we labor."
This paper was published on these terms, at one time semi-weekly, and at
another three times a week. For some years past it has appeared weekly,
printed on extremely good paper, and an admirable specimen of
typography; and it has now at the head of its columns the following
"The Circular is sent to all applicants, whether they pay or not. It
costs and is worth at least two dollars per volume. Those who want it
and ought to have it are divisible into three classes, viz.: 1, those
who can not afford to pay two dollars; 2, those who can afford to pay
_only_ two dollars; and, 3, those who can afford to pay _more_
than two dollars. The first ought to have it free; the second ought to
pay the cost of it; and the third ought to pay enough more than the cost
to make up the deficiencies of the first. This is the law of Communism.
We have no means of enforcing it, and no wish to do so, except by stating
it and leaving it to the good sense of those concerned. We take the risk
of offering the _Circular_ to all without price; but free
subscriptions will be received only from persons making application for
themselves, either directly or by giving express authority to those who
apply for them.
"Foreign subscribers, except those residing in Canada, must remit with
their subscriptions money to prepay the postage."
They print now about two thousand copies per week, and lost last year
six hundred dollars in the enterprise, without reckoning what would have
had to be paid in any other work of the kind for literary labor.
A list of the works they have issued will be found, with the titles of
works issued by other communistic societies, at the end of the volume.
Aside from its religious and communistic teachings, the _Circular_
has a general interest, by reason of articles it often contains relating
to natural history and natural scenery, which, from different pens, show
that there are in the society some close observers of nature, who have
also the ability to relate their observations and experiences in
excellent English. In general, the style of the paper is uncommonly
good, and shows that there is a degree of culture among the Oneida
people which preserves them from the too common newspaper vice of fine
Their publications deal with the utmost frankness with their own
religious and social theories and practices, and I suppose it may be
said that they aim to keep themselves and their doctrines before the
public. In this respect they differ from all the other Communistic
societies now existing in this country. That they are not without a
sense of humor in these efforts, the following, printed as
advertisements in the _Circular,_ will show:
GRAND FIRE ANNIHILATOR!--AN INVENTION for overcoming Evil with Good
MEEK & LOWLY.
* * * * *
TO JEWELERS.--A SINGLE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE! This inestimable Jewel may
be obtained by application to Jesus Christ, at the extremely low price
of "all that a man hath!"
* * * * *
WANTED.--Any amount of SHARES OF SECOND-COMING STOCK, bearing date A.D.
70, or thereabouts, will find a ready market and command a high premium
at this office.
* * * * *
SOLDIERS who claim to have "fought the fight of faith" will find it for
their advantage to have their claims investigated. All who can establish
said claim are entitled to a bounty land-warrant in the kingdom of
Heaven, and a pension for eternity.
* * * * *
ROOMS TO LET in the "Many Mansions" that Christ has prepared for those
that love him.
* * * * *
DIRECTIONS for cultivating the fruits of the Spirit may be obtained
_gratis_, at MEEK & LOWLY'S, No. 1 Grace Court.
Practical Reflections on CHRIST'S SERMON ON THE MOUNT may be had also as
* * * * *
LEGAL NOTICE.--Notice is hereby given that all claims issued by the old
firm of Moses and Law were canceled 1800 years ago. Any requirement,
therefore, to observe as a means of righteousness legal enactments
bearing date prior to A.D. 70, is pronounced by us, on the authority of
the New Testament, a fraud and imposition.
* * * * *
THE EYES! THE EYES!!--It is known that many persons with two eyes
habitually "see double." To prevent stumbling and worse liabilities in
such circumstances, an ingenious contrivance has been invented by which
the WHOLE BODY is filled with light. It is called the "SINGLE EYE," and
may be obtained by applying to Jesus Christ.
* * * * *
WATER-CURE ESTABLISHMENT.--I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye
shall be clean: from all your filthiness and from all your idols, will I
cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I
put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh,
and I will give you a heart of flesh.--Ezekiel xxxvi., 25, 26.
* * * * *
PATENT SIEVES.--The series of sieves for CRITICISM having been
thoroughly tested, are now offered to the public for general use. They
are warranted to sift the tares from the wheat, and in all cases to
discriminate between good and evil. A person, after having passed
through this series, comes out free from the encumbrances of egotism,
pride, etc., etc. All persons are invited to test them gratuitously.
* * * * *
MAGNIFICENT RESTAURANT!--In Mount Zion will the Lord of hosts make unto
all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees; of fat
things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will
destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people,
and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death
in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces;
and the rebuke of his people shall be taken away from off all the earth:
for the Lord hath spoken it.--Isaiah xxv., 6-8.
* * * * *
PATENT SALAMANDER SAFES.--Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon
earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through
and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither
moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor
steal.--Matt, vi., 19, 20. This safe, having been submitted for 1800
years to the hottest fire of judgment, and having been through that time
subject to constant attacks from the fiery shafts of the devil, is now
offered to the public, with full confidence that it will meet with
general approbation. Articles enclosed in this safe are warranted free
from danger under any circumstances.
* * * * *
TO THE AFFLICTED!--WINE and MILK for the hungry, REST for the weary and
heavy-laden, CONSOLATION and BALM for the wounded and invalids of every
description--may be had _gratis,_ on application to the storehouse
of the Son of God.
* * * * *
The _Circular_ contains each week extracts from journals kept in the
two communities, and "Talks" by Noyes and others, with a variety of other
matter relating to their belief and daily lives.
II.--RELIGIOUS BELIEF AND FAITH-CURES.
They call themselves "Perfectionists."
They hold to the Bible as the "text-book of the Spirit of truth;" to
"Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God;" to "the apostles and Primitive
Church as the exponents of the everlasting Gospel." They believe that
"the second advent of Christ took place at the period of the destruction
of Jerusalem;" that "at that time there was a primary resurrection and
judgment in the spirit world;" and "that the final kingdom of God then
began in the heavens; that the manifestation of that kingdom in the
visible world is now approaching; that its approach is ushering in the
second and final resurrection and judgment; that a Church on earth is
now rising to meet the approaching kingdom in the heavens, and to become
its duplicate and representative; that inspiration, or open
communication with God and the heavens, involving perfect holiness, is
the element of connection between the Church on earth and the Church in
the heavens, and the power by which the kingdom of God is to be
established and reign in the world." [Footnote: Statement in the
They assert, further, that "the Gospel provides for complete salvation
from sin"--hence the name they assume of "Perfectionists." "Salvation
from sin," they say, "is the foundation needed by all other reforms."
"Do you, then, claim to live sinless lives?" I asked; and received this
"We consider the community to be a Church, and our theory of a Christian
Church, as constituted in the apostolic age, is that it is a school,
consisting of many classes, from those who are in the lowest degree of
faith to those who have attained the condition of certain and eternal
salvation from sin. The only direct answer, therefore, that we can give
to your question is that some of us claim to live sinless lives, and
some do not. A sinless life is the _standard_ of the community,
which all believe to be practicable, and to which all are taught to
aspire. Yet we recognize the two general classes, which were
characterized by Paul as the "nepiou" and the "teleioi." Our belief is
that a Christian Church can exist only when the "teleioi" are in the
ascendant and have control."
In compliance with my request, the following definition of
"Perfectionism" was written out for me as authoritative:
"The bare doctrine of Perfectionism might be presented in a single
"As the doctrine of temperance is total abstinence from alcoholic drinks,
and the doctrine of anti-slavery is immediate abolition of human bondage,
so the doctrine of Perfectionism is immediate and total cessation from
"But the analogy thus suggested between Perfectionism and two popular
reforms is by no means to be regarded as defining the character and
methods of Perfectionism. Salvation from sin, as we understand it, is
not a system of duty-doing under a code of dry laws, Scriptural or
natural; but is a special phase of _religious experience_, having
for its basis spiritual intercourse with God. All religionists of the
positive sort believe in a personal God, and assume that he is a
sociable being. This faith leads them to seek intercourse with him, to
approach him by prayer, to give him their hearts, to live in communion
with him. These exercises and the various states and changes of the
_inner_ life connected with them constitute the staple of what is
commonly called _religious experience_. Such experience, of course,
has more or less effect on the character and external conduct. We cannot
live in familiar intercourse with human beings without becoming better
or worse under their influence; and certainly fellowship with God must
affect still more powerfully all the springs of action. Perfectionists
hold that intercourse with God may proceed so far as to destroy
selfishness in the heart, and so make an end of sin. This is the special
phase of religious experience which we profess, and for which we are
Among other matters, they hold that "the Jews are, by God's perpetual
covenant, the royal nation;" that the obligation to observe the Sabbath
passed away with the Jewish dispensation, and is "adverse to the advance
of man into new and true arrangements;" that "the original organization
instituted by Christ [the Primitive Church] is accessible to us, and
that our main business as reformers is to open communication with that
heavenly body;" and they "refer all their experience to the invisible
hosts who are contending over them."
I must add, to explain the last sentence, that they are not
Spiritualists in the sense in which that word is nowadays usually
employed, and in which the Shakers are Spiritualists; but they hold that
they are in a peculiar and direct manner under the guidance of God and
good spirits. "Saving faith, according to the Bible, places man in such
a relation to God that he is authorized to ask favors of him as a child
asks favors of his father. Prayer without expectation of an answer is a
performance not sanctioned by Scripture nor by common-sense. But prayer
with expectation of an answer (that is, the prayer of faith) is
impossible, on the supposition that 'the age of miracles is past,' and
that God no longer interferes with the regular routine of nature." Hence
their belief in what they call "Faith-cures," of which I shall speak
Community of goods and of persons they hold to have been taught and
commanded by Jesus: "Jesus Christ offers to save men from all evil--from
sin and death itself; but he always states it as a necessary condition
of their accepting his help that they shall forsake all other; and
particularly that they shall get rid of their private property."
Communism they hold therefore to be "the social state of the
resurrection." The account on the sides of life and death arranges
The community system, which they thus hold to have been divinely
commanded, they extend beyond property--to persons; and thus they justify
their extraordinary social system, in which there is no marriage; or, as
they put it, "complex marriage takes the place of simple." They surround
this singular and, so far as I know, unprecedented combination of
polygamy and polyandry with certain religious and social restraints; but
affirm that there is "no intrinsic difference between property in persons
and property in things; and that the same spirit which abolished
exclusiveness in regard to money would abolish, if circumstances allowed
full scope to it, exclusiveness in regard to women and children."
[Footnote: "History of American Socialisms," by J. H. Noyes, p. 625.]
It is an extraordinary evidence of the capacity of mankind for various
and extreme religious beliefs, that many men have brought their wives
and young daughters into the Oneida Community.
They have no preaching; do not use Baptism nor the Lord's Supper; do not
observe Sunday, because they hold that with them every day is a Sabbath;
do not pray aloud; and Avoid with considerable care all set forms. They
read the Bible and quote it much.
They believe that the exercise of sufficient faith in prayer to God is
capable of restoring the sick to health; and assert that there have been
in their experience and among their membership a number of such cures.
In a "Free-Church Tract," dated "Oneida Reserve, 1850," there is an
account of such a cure of Mrs. M. A. Hall, ill of consumption, and given
up by her physicians. In this case J. H. Noyes and Mrs. Cragin were
those whose "power of faith" was supposed to have acted; and Mrs. Hall
herself wrote, two years later: "From a helpless, bed-ridden state, in
which I was unable to move, or even to be moved without excruciating
pain, I was _instantly_ raised to a consciousness of perfect health.
I was constrained to declare again and again that I was perfectly well.
My eyes, which before could not bear the light, were opened to the blaze
of day and became strong. My appetite was restored, and all pain
removed." This is said to have taken place in June, 1847. The following
case is reported in the _Circular_ for February 9th of the present
year (1874), and the description of the injury, which immediately
follows, is given by Dr. Cragin--a member of the Oneida Community--whom I
understand to be a regularly educated physician. The sufferer was a
woman, Mrs. M. Her hand was passed between the rubber rollers of a
wringing-machine. The machine was new, and the rollers were screwed down
so that it brought a very heavy pressure on her hand, evidently crowding
the bones all out of place and stretching the ligaments, besides
seriously injuring the nerves of her hand and arm. When she came here
from Wallingford Community, several weeks after the accident, not only
the nerves of her hand were essentially paralyzed, but the trunk nerve of
her arm was paralyzed and caused her a great deal of suffering. It was as
helpless as though completely paralyzed: she had not sufficient control
over her hand to bend her fingers.
"That was her condition up to the time of the cure. I could not see from
the time she came here to the time of the cure that there was any change
for the better. I told her the first time I examined her hand that,
according to the ordinary course of such things, she must not expect to
get the use of it under twelve months, if she did then. At the same time
I told her I would not limit the power of God.
"Her general health improved, but her hand caused her the acutest
suffering. It would awaken her in the night, and oblige her to get up
and spend hours in rubbing it and trying to allay the pain. If any one
has had a jumping toothache, he can imagine something what her suffering
was, only the pain extended over the whole hand and arm, instead of
being confined to one small place like a tooth. I have known of strong
men who had the nervous system of an arm similarly affected, who begged
that their arms might be taken off, and have indeed suffered amputation
rather than endure the pain.
"For some time before her cure there had been considerable talk in the
family about faith-cures, and persons had talked with her on the
subject, and encouraged her to expect to have such a cure as Harriet
Hall did. Finally Mr. Noyes's interest was aroused, and he invoked a
committee for her--not so much to criticize as to comfort her, and bring
to bear on her the concentrated attention and faith of the family. She
was stimulated by this criticism to cheerfulness and hope, and to put
herself into the social current, keeping around as much as she could
where there was the most life and faith. A private criticism soon after
penetrated her spirit, and separated her from a brooding influence of
evil that she had come under in a heart affair.
"Still she suffered with her hand as much as ever, up to the time of her
sudden cure. A few evenings after this private criticism we had a very
interesting meeting, and she was present in the gallery. The subject was
the power of prayer, and there was a good deal of faith experience
related, and she appeared the next morning shaking hands with every body
she met. Now you see her washing dishes and making beds.
"_Mrs. A._--The morning she was cured I was at work in the hall,
when she came running toward me, saying, 'I'm cured! I'm cured!' Then she
shook hands with me, using the hand that had been so bad, and giving a
hearty pressure with it.
"_Dr. C._--To show that the case is not one of imagination, I will
say that the day before the cure she could not have it _touched_
without suffering pain. She had not been dressed for a week, but that
morning she bathed and dressed herself and made her bed, and then went to
"_Mr. N._--She came down to Joppa with her hands all free, and went
out on the ice; I don't know that she caught any fish, but she attended
"_Mrs. C._--She said to me that she had attended to dieting and all
the prescriptions that were given her, and got no help from them; and she
had made up her mind that if there was any thing done for her, the
community must take hold and do it.
"_W. A. H._--Let us be united about this case; and if it be
imagination, let us have more of it; and if it be the power of faith, let
us have more faith.
"_C. W. U._--Was Mrs. M. conscious of any precise moment when the
pain left her in the night?
"_Mrs. M._ [the person who was cured].--After the meeting in which
we talked about faith-cures, I went to my room and prayed to God to take
the pain out of my hand, and told him if he did I would glorify him with
it. The pain left me, and I could stretch out my arm farther than I had
been able to since it was hurt. I went to bed, and slept until four
o'clock without waking; then I awoke and found I was not in pain, and
that I could stretch out my arm and move my fingers. Then I thought--'I
am well.' I got up, took a bath, and dressed myself. After this my arm
ached some, but I said, 'I am well; I am made every whit whole.' I kept
saying that to myself, and the pain left me entirely. My arm has begun
to ache nearly every day since then, but I insist that I am well, and
the pain ceases. That arm is not yet as strong as the other, but is
"_Mrs. C._--I have had considerable of that kind of experience
during the last few years. For two years I raised blood a good deal, and
thought a great many times that I was going to die--could not get that
idea out of my mind. Mrs. M. talked with me about it, and told me I must
not give up to my imaginations. I was put into business two years ago,
and some days my head swam so that I could hardly go about, but I did
what was given me to do; and finally I came to a point in my experience
where I said, 'I don't care if I do raise blood; I am not going to be
frightened by it; I had as soon raise blood as do any thing else.' When
I got there my trouble left me."
I have copied this account at some length, because it speaks in detail
of a quite recent occurrence, and shows, in a characteristic way, their
manner of dealing with disease.
They profess also to have wrought cures by what they call "Criticism,"
of which I shall speak further on.
Concerning their management of the intercourse of the sexes, so much has
been written, by themselves and by others, that I think I need here say
1st. They regard their system as part of their religion. Noyes said, in
a "Home Talk," reported in the _Circular_, February 2,1874: "Woe to
him who abolishes the law of the apostasy before he stands in the
holiness of the resurrection. The law of the apostasy is the law of
marriage; and it is true that whoever undertakes to enter into the
liberty of the resurrection without the holiness of the resurrection,
will get woe and not happiness. It is as important for the young now as
it was for their fathers then, that they should know that holiness of
heart is what they must have before they get liberty in love. They must
put the first thing first, as I did and as their parents did; they must
be _Perfectionists_ before they are _Communists_." He seems to
see, too, that "complex marriage," as he calls it, is not without grave
dangers to the community, for he added, in the same "Home Talk:" "We have
got into the position of Communism, where without genuine salvation from
sin our passions will overwhelm us, and nothing but confusion and misery
can be expected. On the other hand, we have got into a position where, if
we do have the grace of God triumphant in our hearts and flowing through
all our nature, there is an opportunity for harmony and happiness beyond
all that imagination has conceived. So it is hell behind us, and heaven
before us, and a necessity that we should _march_!"
2d. "Complex marriage" means, in their practice: that, within the limits
of the community membership, any man and woman may and do freely
cohabit, having first gained each other's consent, not by private
conversation or courtship, but through the intervention of some third
person or persons; that they strongly discourage, as an evidence of
sinful selfishness, what they call "exclusive and idolatrous attachment"
of two persons for each other, and aim to break up by "criticism" and
other means every thing of this kind in the community; that they teach
the advisability of pairing persons of different ages, the young of one
sex with the aged of the other, and as the matter is under the control
and management of the more aged members it is thus arranged; that
"persons are not obliged, under any circumstances, to receive the
attentions of those whom they do not like;" and that the propagation of
children is controlled by the society, which pretends to conduct this
matter on scientific principles: "Previous to about two and a half years
ago we refrained from the usual rate of childbearing, for several
reasons, financial and otherwise. Since that time we have made an
attempt to produce the usual number of offspring to which people in the
middle classes are able to afford judicious moral and spiritual care,
with the advantage of a liberal education. In this attempt twenty-four
men and twenty women have been engaged, selected from among those who
have most thoroughly practiced our social theory." [Footnote: "Essay on
Scientific Propagation," by John Humphrey Noyes.]
Finally, they find in practice a strong tendency toward what they call
"selfish love"--that is to say, the attachment of two persons to each
other, and their desire to be true to each other; and there are here and
there in their publications signs that there has been suffering among
their young people on this account. They rebuke this propensity,
however, as selfish and sinful, and break it down rigorously.
III.--DAILY LIFE AND BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION.
The farm, or domain, as they prefer to call it, of the Oneida Community
forms a part of the old Reservation of the Oneida Indians. It is a
plain, the land naturally good and well watered; and it has been
industriously improved by the communists. It lies four miles from Oneida
on the New York Central Railroad, and the Midland Railroad passes
The dwelling-house, a large brick building with some architectural
pretensions, but no artistic merit, stands on the middle of a pleasant
lawn, near the main road. It has some extensions in the rear, the chief
of which is a large wing containing the kitchen and dining-room. The
interior of the house is well arranged; the whole is warmed by steam;
and there are baths and other conveniences. There is on the second floor
a large hall, used for the evening gatherings of the community, and
furnished with a stage for musical and dramatic performances, and with a
number of round tables, about which they gather in their meetings. On
the ground floor is a parlor for visitors; and a library-room,
containing files of newspapers, and a miscellaneous library of about
four thousand volumes.
There are two large family rooms, one on each story, around which a
considerable number of sleeping-chambers are built; and the upper of
these large rooms has two ranges of such dormitories, one above the
other, the upper range being reached by a gallery. All the rooms are
plainly furnished, there being neither any attempt at costly or elegant
furnishing, nor a striving for Shaker plainness.
Above the dining-room is the printing-office, where the _Circular_
is printed, and some job printing is done.
Opposite the dwelling, and across the road, are offices, a
school-building, a lecture-room with a chemical laboratory, and a room
for the use of the daguerreotypist of the community; farther on to the
right is a large carpenter's shop, and to the left are barns, stables,
the silk-dye house, and a small factory where the children of the
community at odd hours make boxes for the spool silk produced here.
There is also a large and conveniently arranged laundry.
Somewhat over a mile from the home place are the factories of the
community--consisting of trap works, silk works, a forge, and machine
shops. These are thoroughly fitted with labor-saving machinery, and are
extensive enough to produce three hundred thousand traps, and the value
of over two hundred thousand dollars' worth of silk-twist in a year.
Near these workshops is a dwelling inhabited by thirty or forty of the
communists, who are particularly employed in the shops.
The farm has been put in excellent order: there are extensive orchards
of large and small fruits; and plantations of ornamental trees shelter
the lawn about the dwelling. This lawn is in summer a favorite resort
for picnic parties from a distance. As Sunday-school picnics are also
brought hither, I judge that the hostility which once existed in the
neighborhood to the Oneida Communists has disappeared. Indeed, at Oneida
all with whom I had occasion to speak concerning the communists praised
them for honesty, fair dealing, a peaceable disposition, and great
Their system of administration is perfect and thorough. Their
book-keeping--in which women are engaged as well as men, a young woman
being the chief--is so systematized that they are able to know the
profit or loss upon every branch of industry they pursue, as well as the
cost of each part of their living.
They have twenty-one standing committees: on finance; amusements;
patent-rights; location of tenant houses; arbitration; rents; baths,
walks, roads, and lawns; fire; heating; sanitary; education; clothing;
real estate and tenant houses; water-works and their supplies; painting;
forest; water and steam power; photographs; hair-cutting; arcade; and
Joppa--the last being an isolated spot on Oneida Lake, to which they go
to bathe, fish, shoot, and otherwise ruralize.
Besides these, they divide the duties of administration among
forty-eight departments: _Circular;_ publication; silk manufacture;
hardware; fruit-preserving; paper-box; printing; dyeing; carpentry;
business office; shoe shop; library; photographs; educational; science
and art; laundry; furniture; legal; subsistence; Wallingford printing;
agriculture; horticulture; medical; incidentals; dentistry; real estate;
musical; amusements; quarry; housekeeping; repairs; traveling; watches;
clocks; tin shop; porterage; lights; livery; clothing; stationery;
floral; water-works; children's; landscape; forests; heating; bedding;
At first view these many committees and departments may appear cumbrous;
but in practice they work well.
Every Sunday morning a meeting is held of what is called a "Business
Board." This consists of the heads of all the departments, and of
whoever, of the whole community, chooses to attend. At this meeting the
business of the past week is discussed; and a secretary notes down
briefly any action deemed advisable. At the Sunday-evening meeting the
secretary's report is read to all, and thereupon discussed; and whatever
receives general or unanimous approval is carried out.
Once a year, in the spring, there is a special meeting of the Business
Board, at which the work of the year is laid out in some detail. At the
beginning of the year an inventory is taken of all the possessions of
Once a month the heads of the departments send in their accounts to the
book-keepers, and these are then posted in the ledgers.
It is a principle with them to attempt nothing without the general
consent of all the people; and if there is objection made, the matter
proposed is put off for further discussion.
Shortly after New-Year, the Finance Committee sits and receives
estimates. This means that each department sends in an estimate of the
money it will require for the coming year. At the same time any one who
has a project in his head may propose it, with an estimate of its cost.
Thereupon the Finance Committee makes the necessary appropriations,
revising the estimates in accordance with the general total which the
society can afford to spend for the year. At or before this meeting the
returns for the past year have been scrutinized.
All appointments on committees are made for a year; but there is a
committee composed of men and women whose duty it is to appoint
different persons to their work; and these may change the employments at
any time. In practice, the foremen of the manufacturing establishments
are not frequently changed. In appointing the labor of the members,
their tastes as well as abilities are consulted, and the aim is to make
each one contented.
The appointment of so many committees makes some one responsible for
each department, and when any thing is needed, or any fault is to be
found, the requisition can be directed to a particular person. Women,
equally with men, serve on the committees.
They rise in the morning between five and half-past seven; this
depending somewhat upon the business each is engaged in. The children
sleep as long as they like. Breakfast is from eight to nine, and dinner
from three to four; and they retire from half-past eight to half-past
ten. The members do not now work very hard, as will appear from these
hours; but they are steadily industrious; and as most of them
superintend some department, and all of them work cheerfully, the
necessary amount of labor is accomplished. Mere drudgery they nowadays
put upon their hired people.
A square board, placed in a gallery near the library, tells at a glance
where every body is. It contains the names of the men and women at the
side, and the places where they can be found at the head; and a peg,
which each one sticks in opposite his name, tells his whereabouts for
There is no bell or other signal for proceeding to work; but each one is
expected to attend faithfully to that which is given him or her to do;
and here, as in other communities, no difficulty is found about idlers.
Those who have disagreeable tasks are more frequently changed than
others. Thus the women who superintend in the kitchen usually serve but
a month, but sometimes two months at a time.
Children are left to the care of their mothers until they are weaned;
then they are put into a general nursery, under the care of special
nurses or care-takers, who are both men and women. There are two of
these nurseries, one for the smaller children, the other for those above
three or four years of age, and able somewhat to help themselves. These
eat at the same time with the older people, and are seated at tables by
themselves in the general dining-room. The children I saw were plump,
and looked sound; but they seemed to me a little subdued and desolate,
as though they missed the exclusive love and care of a father and
mother. This, however, may have been only fancy; though I should grieve
to see in the eyes of my own little ones an expression which I thought I
saw in the Oneida children, difficult to describe--perhaps I might say a
lack of buoyancy, or confidence and gladness. A man or woman may not
find it disagreeable to be part of a great machine, but I suspect it is
harder for a little child. However, I will not insist on this, for I may
have been mistaken. I have seen, with similar misgivings, a lot of
little chickens raised in an egg-hatching machine, and having a blanket
for shelter instead of the wing of a mother: I thought they missed the
cluck and the vigilant if sometimes severe care of the old hen. But
after all they grew up to be hearty chickens, as zealous and greedy, and
in the end as useful as their more particularly nurtured fellows.
In the dining-hall I noticed an ingenious contrivance to save trouble to
those who wait on the table. The tables are round, and accommodate ten
or twelve people each. There is a stationary rim, having space for the
plates, cups, and saucers; and within this is a revolving disk, on which
the food is placed, and by turning this about each can help himself.
They do not eat much meat, having it served not more than twice a week.
Fruits and vegetables make up the greater part of their diet. They use
tea, and coffee mixed with malt, which makes an excellent beverage. They
use no tobacco, nor spirituous liquors.
The older people have separate sleeping-chambers; the younger usually
room two together.
The men dress as people in the world do, but plainly, each one following
his own fancy. The women wear a dress consisting of a bodice, loose
trousers, and a short skirt falling to just above the knee. Their hair
is cut just below the ears, and I noticed that the younger women usually
gave it a curl. The dress is no doubt extremely convenient: it admits of
walking in mud or snow, and allows freedom of exercise; and it is
entirely modest. But it was to my unaccustomed eyes totally and fatally
lacking in grace and beauty. The present dress of women, prescribed by
fashion, and particularly the abominable false hair and the
preposterously ugly hats, are sufficiently barbarous; but the Oneida
dress, which is so scant that it forbids any graceful arrangement of
drapery, seemed to me no improvement.
[Illustration: COSTUMES AT ONEIDA.]
As they have no sermons nor public prayers, so they have no peculiar
mode of addressing each other. The men are called Mr., and the women
Miss, except when they were married before they entered the society. It
was somewhat startling to me to hear Miss ---- speak about her baby.
Even the founder is addressed or spoken of simply as Mr. Noyes.
At the end of every year each person gives into the Finance Board a
detailed statement of what clothing he or she requires for the coming
year, and upon the aggregate sum is based the estimate for the next year
for clothing. At the beginning of 1874, the women proposed a different
plan, which was thus described in the _Circular_:
"In our last woman's meeting, Mrs. C ---- had a report to present for
discussion and acceptance. A change of system was proposed. The plan
that had been pursued for several years was to have a certain sum
appropriated for clothing in the beginning of the year--so much for
men, so much for women, and so much for children. Another sum was set
apart for 'incidentals,' a word of very comprehensive scope. A woman of
good judgment and great patience was appointed to the office of keeper
and distributor of goods, and another of like qualifications was
associated with a man of experience in doing the greater part of the
buying. Each woman made out a list of the articles she needed, and
selected them from the goods we had on hand, or sent or went for them to
our neighboring merchants. This plan worked well in many respects, but
it had some disadvantages. The women in charge had to be constantly
adjusting and deciding little matters in order to make the wants
coincide with the appropriated sum. Many unforeseen demands came in, and
at the end of the year they inevitably exceeded their bounds. This year
the Clothing Committee, in consultation with the financiers, proposed to
adopt another plan. It was this: To appropriate a sum in the beginning
of the year large enough to cover all reasonable demands, and then,
after setting aside special funds for children's clothing, traveling
wardrobes, infants' wardrobes and incidentals, to divide the remainder
into as many equal portions as there were women in the family. Each
woman then assumes for herself the responsibility of making the two ends
meet at the close of the year. It was thought it would be a great
advantage to each woman, and particularly to every young girl, to know
what her clothing, from her hat to her shoes, costs. She would learn
economy and foresight, and feel a new interest in the question of cost
and payment. The plan, too, allows of great variations in the way of
making presents and helping one another when there is a surplus, or,
when there is no need, leaving it untouched in the treasury. After due
explanations and discussions, the women voted unanimously to try the new
It may interest some readers to know that the sum thus set aside for
each woman's dress during the year, including shoes and hats, was
thirty-three dollars. A member writes in explanation:
"Minus the superfluities and waste of fashion, we find thirty-three
dollars a year plenty enough to keep us in good dresses, two or three
for each season, summer, winter, fall, and spring (the fabrics are not
velvets and satins, of course--they are flannels and merinos, the
lighter kinds of worsted, various kinds of prints, and Japanese silk);
to fill our drawers with the best of under-linen, to furnish us with
hoods and sun-bonnets, beaver and broadcloth sacks, and a variety of
shawls and shoulder-gear, lighter and pleasanter to wear, if not so
ingrained with the degradation of toil as the costly Cashmere."
When a man needs a suit of clothes, he goes to the tailor and is
measured, choosing at the same time the stuff and the style or cut.
There is a person called familiarly "Incidentals." To him is entrusted a
fund for incidental and unforeseen expenses; and when a young woman
wants a breast-pin--the only ornament worn--she applies to
"Incidentals." When any one needs a watch, he makes his need known to
the committee on watches.
For the children they have a sufficiently good school, in which the
Bible takes a prominent part as a text-book. The young people are
encouraged to continue their studies, and they have two or three classes
in history, one in grammar, and several in French, Latin, geology, etc.
These study and recite at odd times; and it is their policy not to
permit the young men and women to labor too constantly. The Educational
Committee superintends the evening classes.
They also cultivate vocal and instrumental music; and have several times
sent one or two of their young women to New York to receive special
musical instruction. Also for some years they have kept several of their
young men in the Yale scientific school, and in other departments of
that university. Thus they have educated two of their members to be
physicians; two in the law; one in mechanical engineering; one in
architecture; and others in other pursuits. Usually these have been
young men from twenty-two to twenty-five years of age, who had prepared
themselves practically beforehand.
It is their habit to change their young people from one employment to
another, and thus make each master of several trades. The young women
are not excluded from this variety; and they have now several girls
learning the machinists' trade, in a building appropriated to this
purpose; and their instructor told me they were especially valuable for
the finer and more delicate kinds of lathe-work. A young man whom they
sent to the Sheffield scientific school to study mechanical engineering
had been for a year or two in the machine shop before he went to Yale;
he is now at the head of the silk works. Their student in architecture
had in the same way prepared himself in their carpenter's shop.
No one who visits a communistic society which has been for some time in
existence can fail to be struck with the amount of ingenuity, inventive
skill, and business talent developed among men from whom, in the outer
world, one would not expect such qualities. This is true, too, of the
Oneida Communists. They contrived all the machinery they use for making
traps--one very ingenious piece making the links for the chains. They
had no sooner begun to work in silk than they invented a little toy
which measures the silk thread as it is wound on spools, and accurately
gauges the number of yards; and another which tests the strength of
silk; and these have come into such general use that they already make
them for sale.
So, too, when they determined to begin the silk manufacture, they sent
one of their young men and two women to work as hands in a well-managed
factory. In six months these returned, having sufficiently mastered the
business to undertake the employment and instruction of hired operatives.
Of the machinery they use, they bought one set and made all the remainder
upon its pattern, in their own foundry and shops. A young man who had
studied chemistry was sent out to a dye-house, and in a few months made
himself a competent dyer. In all this complicated enterprise they made so
few mistakes that in six months after they began to produce silk-twist
their factory had a secure reputation in the market.
It is their custom to employ their people, where they have responsible
places, in couples. Thus there are two house stewards, two foremen in a
factory, etc.; both having equal knowledge, and one always ready to take
the other's place if he finds the work wearing upon him.
They seemed to me to have an almost fanatical horror of forms. Thus they
change their avocations frequently; they remove from Oneida to Willow
Place, or to Wallingford, on slight excuses; they change the order of
their evening meetings and amusements with much care; and have changed
even their meal hours. One said to me, "We used to eat three meals a
day--now we eat but two; but we may be eating five six months from now."
Very few of their young people have left them; and some who have gone
out have sought to return. They have expelled but one person since the
community was organized. While they received members, they exacted no
probationary period, but used great care before admission. Mr. Noyes
said on this subject:
"There has been a very great amount of discrimination and vigilance
exercised by the Oneida Community from first to last in regard to our
fellowships, and yet it seems to me it is one of the greatest miracles
that this community has succeeded as it has. Notwithstanding our
discrimination and determination to wait on God in regard to those we
receive, we scarcely have been saved."
New members sign a paper containing the creed, and also an agreement to
claim no wages or other reward for their labor while in the community.
IV.--SUNDAY AT THE ONEIDA COMMUNITY, WITH SOME ACCOUNT OF "CRITICISM."
I was permitted to spend several days at the Oneida Community, among
which was a Sunday.
The people are kind, polite to each other and to strangers, cheerful,
and industrious. There is no confusion, and for so large a number very
little noise. Where two hundred people live together in one house,
order, system, and punctuality are necessary; and loud voices would soon
become a nuisance.
I was shown the house, the kitchen and heating arrangements, the barns
with their fine stock, the various manufacturing operations; and in the
evening was taken to their daily gathering, at which instrumental music,
singing, and conversation engage them for an hour, after which they
disperse to the private parlors to amuse themselves with dominoes or
dancing, or to the library to read or write letters. Cards are
prohibited. The questions I asked were freely answered; and all the
people in one way or another came under my eye.
Some of them have the hard features of toil-worn New England farmers;
others look like the average business-men of our country towns or inland
cities; others are students, and there are a number of college-bred men
in the community. A fine collection of birds in a cabinet, skillfully
stuffed and mounted, showed me that there is in the society a lively
love of natural history. The collection is, I should think, almost
complete for the birds of the region about Oneida.
The people seem contented, and pleased with their success, as well they
may be, for it is remarkable. They use good language, and the standard
of education among them is considerably above the average. No doubt the
training they get in their evening discussions, and in the habit of
writing for a paper whose English is pretty carefully watched, has
benefited them. They struck me as matter-of-fact, with no nonsense or
romance about them, by no means overworked, and with a certain, perhaps
for their place in life high average of culture. I should say that the
women are inferior to the men: examining the faces at an evening
meeting, this was the impression I carried away.
If I should add that the predominant impression made upon me was that it
was a common-place company, I might give offense; but, after all, what
else but this could be the expression of people whose lives are removed
from need, and narrowly bounded by their community; whose religious
theory calls for no internal struggles, and, once within the community,
very little self-denial; who are well-fed and sufficiently amused, and
not overworked, and have no future to fear? The greater passions are not
stirred in such a life. If these are once thoroughly awakened, the
individual leaves the community.
On Sunday the first work is to sort and send away to the laundry the
soiled clothing of the week. After this comes the regular weekly meeting
of the Business Board; and thereafter meetings for criticism, conducted
in rooms apart.
The institution of Criticism, a description of which I have reserved for
this place, is a most important and ingenious device, which Noyes and
his followers rightly regard as the corner-stone of their practical
community life. It is in fact their main instrument of government; and
it is useful as a means of eliminating uncongenial elements, and also to
train those who remain into harmony with the general system and order.
I am told that it was first used by Mr. Noyes while he was a divinity
student at Andover, where certain members of his class were accustomed
to meet together to criticize each other. The person to suffer criticism
sits in silence, while the rest of the company, each in turn, tell him
his faults, with, I judge, an astonishing and often exasperating
plainness of speech. Here is the account given by Mr. Noyes himself:
"The measures relied upon for good government in these community
families are, first, _daily evening meetings_, which all are
expected to attend. In these meetings, religious, social, and business
matters are freely discussed, and opportunity given for exhortation and
reproof. Secondly, _the system of mutual criticism_. This system
takes the place of backbiting in ordinary society, and is regarded as one
of the greatest means of improvement and fellowship. All of the members
are accustomed to voluntarily invite the benefit of this ordinance from
time to time. Sometimes persons are criticized by the entire family; at
other times by a committee of six, eight, twelve, or more, selected by
themselves from among those best acquainted with them, and best able to
do justice to their character. In these criticisms the most perfect
sincerity is expected; and in practical experience it is found best for
the subject to receive his criticism without replying. There is little
danger that the general verdict in respect to his character will be
unjust. This ordinance is far from agreeable to those whose egotism and
vanity are stronger than their love of truth. It is an ordeal which
reveals insincerity and selfishness; but it also often takes the form of
commendation, and reveals hidden virtues as well as secret faults. It is
always acceptable to those who wish to see themselves as others see
"These two agencies--daily evening meetings and criticism--are found
quite adequate to the maintenance of good order and government in the
communities. Those who join the communities understanding their
principles, and afterward prove refractory and inharmonic, and also
those who come into the communities in childhood, and afterward develop
characters antagonistic to the general spirit, and refuse to yield to
the governmental agencies mentioned, either voluntarily withdraw or are
expelled. Only one case of expulsion is, however, recorded."
They depend upon criticism to cure whatever they regard as faults in the
character of a member; for instance, idleness, disorderly habits,
impoliteness, selfishness, a love of novel-reading, "selfish love,"
conceit, pride, stubbornness, a grumbling spirit--for every vice, petty
or great, criticism is held to be a remedy. They have even a
"criticism-cure," and hold that this is almost as effective as their
On Sunday afternoon, by the kindness of a young man who had offered
himself for criticism, I was permitted to be present. Fifteen persons
besides myself, about half women, and about half young people under
thirty, were seated in a room, mostly on benches placed against the
wall. Among them was Mr. Noyes himself, who sat in a large
rocking-chair. The young man to be criticized, whom I will call Charles,
sat inconspicuously in the midst of the company. When the doors were
closed, he was asked by the leader (not Mr. Noyes) whether he desired to
say any thing. Retaining his seat, he said that he had suffered for some
time past from certain intellectual difficulties and doubts--a leaning
especially toward positivism, and lack of faith; being drawn away from
God; a tendency to think religion of small moment. But that he was
combating the evil spirit within him, and hoped he had gained somewhat;
and so on.
Hereupon a man being called on to speak, remarked that he thought
Charles had been somewhat hardened by too great good-fortune; that his
success in certain enterprises had somewhat spoiled him; if he had not
succeeded so well, he would have been a better man; that he was somewhat
wise in his own esteem; not given to consult with others, or to seek or
take advice. One or two other men agreed generally with the previous
remarks, had noticed these faults in Charles, and that they made him
disagreeable; and gave examples to show his faults. Another concurred in
the general testimony, but added that he thought Charles had lately made
efforts to correct some of his faults, though there was still much room
A young woman next remarked that Charles was haughty and supercilious,
and thought himself better than others with whom he was brought into
contact; that he was needlessly curt sometimes to those with whom he had
Another young woman added that Charles was a respecter of persons; that
he showed his liking for certain individuals too plainly by calling them
pet names before people; that he seemed to forget that such things were
disagreeable and wrong.
Another woman said that Charles was often careless in his language;
sometimes used slang words, and was apt to give a bad impression to
strangers. Also that he did not always conduct himself at table,
especially before visitors, with careful politeness and good manners.
A man concurred in this, and remarked that he had heard Charles condemn
the beefsteak on a certain occasion as tough; and had made other
unnecessary remarks about the food on the table while he was eating.
A woman remarked that she had on several occasions found Charles a
respecter of persons.
Another said that Charles, though industrious and faithful in all
temporalities, and a very able man, was not religious at all.
A man remarked that Charles was, as others had said, somewhat spoiled by
his own success, but that it was a mistake for him to be so, for he was
certain that Charles's success came mainly from the wisdom and care with
which the society had surrounded him with good advisers, who had guided
him; and that Charles ought therefore to be humble, instead of proud and
haughty, as one who ought to look outside of himself for the real
sources of his success.
Finally, two or three remarked that he had been in a certain transaction
insincere toward another young man, saying one thing to his face and
another to others; and in this one or two women concurred.
Amid all this very plain speaking, which I have considerably condensed,
giving only the general charges, Charles sat speechless, looking before
him; but as the accusations multiplied, his face grew paler, and drops
of perspiration began to stand on his forehead. The remarks I have
reported took up about half an hour; and now, each one in the circle
having spoken, Mr. Noyes summed up.
He said that Charles had some serious faults; that he had watched him
with some care; and that he thought the young man was earnestly trying
to cure himself. He spoke in general praise of his ability, his good
character, and of certain temptations he had resisted in the course of
his life. He thought he saw signs that Charles was making a real and
earnest attempt to conquer his faults; and as one evidence of this he
remarked that Charles had lately come to him to consult him upon a
difficult case in which he had had a severe struggle, but had in the end
succeeded in doing right. "In the course of what we call stirpiculture,"
said Noyes, "Charles, as you know, is in the situation of one who is by
and by to become a father. Under these circumstances, he has fallen
under the too common temptation of selfish love, and a desire to wait
upon and cultivate an exclusive intimacy with the woman who was to bear
a child through him. This is an insidious temptation, very apt to attack
people under such circumstances; but it must nevertheless be struggled
against." Charles, he went on to say, had come to him for advice in this
case, and he (Noyes) had at first refused to tell him any thing, but had
asked him what he thought he ought to do; that after some conversation,
Charles had determined, and he agreed with him, that he ought to isolate
himself entirely from the woman, and let another man take his place at
her side; and this Charles had accordingly done, with a most
praiseworthy spirit of self-sacrifice. Charles had indeed still further
taken up his cross, as he had noticed with pleasure, by going to sleep
with the smaller children, to take charge of them during the night.
Taking all this in view, he thought Charles was in a fair way to become
a better man, and had manifested a sincere desire to improve, and to rid
himself of all selfish faults.
Thereupon the meeting was dismissed.
All that I have recited was said by practiced tongues. The people knew
very well how to express themselves. There was no vagueness, no
uncertainty. Every point was made; every sentence was a hit--a stab I
was going to say, but as the sufferer was a volunteer, I suppose this
would be too strong a word. I could see, however, that while Charles
might be benefited by the "criticism," those who spoke of him would
perhaps also be the better for their speech; for if there had been
bitterness in any of their hearts before, this was likely to be
dissipated by the free utterance. Concerning the closing remarks of
Noyes, which disclose so strange and horrible a view of morals and duty,
I need say nothing.
Here are a few specimens of criticisms which have been printed in the
_Circular_. The first concerns a young woman:
"What God has done for U. is wonderful; her natural gifts and
attractions are uncommon; but she has added very little to them. She is
spoiling them by indolence and vanity. The gifts we have by nature do
not belong to us. We shall have to give account for them to God as his
property. All that we can expect any reward for is what we add to that
which he gives us." The next seems to point at troubles of a kind to
which the community is, I suppose, more or less subject:
"I wish I could entirely change public opinion among us in regard to the
matter of keeping secrets. The fact that a person is of such a character
that others associated with him are afraid that he will finally expose
their wrong-doing is the highest credit to him. I would earnestly exhort
all lovers of every degree, young and old, and especially the young, to
consider the absolute impossibility of permanently keeping secrets. It
is not for us to say whether we will keep other folks' secrets or not.
It is for God to say. We are in his hands, and he will make us tell the
truth even though we say we won't. He has certainly made it his
programme and eternal purpose that every secret thing shall come to
light. What is done in darkness shall be published on the house-top.
This is sure to come, because it is God's policy, and it is vain for us
to seek to evade and thwart it. Two persons get together with shameful
secrets, and promise and protest and pledge themselves never to turn on
each other. What is the use? It is not for them to say what they will
do. They _will_ finally turn on one another. It is a mercy to them
that they must. The best thing to be said of them is that they are likely
to turn on one another and betray their secrets. They will, if there is
any honesty or true purpose in them. This keeping secrets that are
dishonest, profane, and infernal, and regarding them as sacred, is all
wrong. It is the rule of friendship and honor in the world, but to let
the daylight in on every thing is the rule for those who want to please
What follows relates to a man who was cast down because of criticism,
and whose fault Noyes says is excessive sensitiveness:
"Excessive sensitiveness is a great fault. Every one should strive to
get where he can judge himself, look at himself truthfully by the grace
of God, and cultivate what may be called the superior consciousness,
looking at his own fault as he would at another person's, and feeling no
more pain in dissecting his own character than he would that of any one
else. This superior consciousness takes us into fellowship with God and
his judgment; and in that condition it is possible to rejoice in pulling
to pieces our own works. Paul says: 'Other foundation can no man lay
than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this
foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every
man's work shall be made manifest--for the day shall declare it, because
it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work,
of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built
thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned,
he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.'
There is a great amount of poor building upon that good foundation; a
great number of structures that are wood, hay, and stubble, and which in
the day of fire will be burned up. The main point to be gained by those
who have thus built is to get into such sympathy with God that they can
stand by when the day of fire comes, and help on the destruction--poke
the wood, hay, and stubble into the flame, rejoicing that they have a
good foundation, and are to be saved not only from the fire, but by the
Finally, they use criticism as a remedy for diseases. I take this
example from the _Circular_ for June 4, 1853:
"S. P., having a bad cold and symptoms of a run of fever, tried the
criticism-cure, and was immediately relieved. She was on the bed in a
state of pain and restlessness, when a friend mentioned to her the above
remedy as having been successfully applied in similar cases. Having some
faith in it, she arose immediately and made her wishes known to the
family physician, that is, to the _family_, who kindly administered
the remedy without delay. The operation was not particularly
agreeable--there is no method of cure that is; but it was short and
speedily efficacious. One secret of its efficacy is, it stops the flow
of thought toward the seat of difficulty, and so tends directly to
reduce inflammation. At the same time it has a very bracing,
invigorating effect. In the present case, it went right to the cause of
the disease, which was discovered to be a spirit of _fear_, throwing
open the pores and predisposing the subject to the attack. S. P. had
been brought up in a bad habit in this respect, expecting with every
exposure to take cold--and then expecting to have it go on to a serious
cough, and so on--fear realizing itself. Criticism stopped this false
action, and not only made her well in the first instance, but by
breaking up this fear it has given her comparative security against
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