- Hawthorne and the Suburban Romance
"In short, the romantic suburb was a collective effort to live a private life."Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities (1938)1
Between March 1842 and September 1843, Horace Greeley, publisher of the New York Tribune, allocated a daily front-page column to Fourierist social reformer Albert Brisbane. The Tribune was the most widely read American newspaper of its day, and Brisbane used the medium to outline the benefits of Associationism, a communitarian reform plan that was based on the writings of the French theorist Charles Fourier.2 In the paper's series, "Association; or, Principles of a True Organization of Society," Brisbane expanded on the ideas he had espoused in Social Destiny of Man (1840) by suggesting that America's problems, which included class struggles, labor disputes, gender inequalities, and slavery, could not be remedied politically—rather, they required social action.3 Opposing Transcendentalists like Emerson and other reformers who promoted individual regeneracy in thought and action as the indispensable seed for large-scale change, Brisbane argued that reorganization of society must come first. Specifically, he suggested that men should collectively purchase land outside but within reach of major cities in order to live according to a community system, sharing in the mental and physical labor required to reform the world and bring happiness to all classes and individuals. Collective investment, thought, and action, he claimed, would reward members in ways that individual effort could never match, facilitating increased production that would lead to cheaper and better living. He promised readers that Association would "dignify Industry," which [End Page 155] he identified as all branches of agriculture, manufacturing and mechanics, "and render it Attractive," which would be "the first practical step to be taken to emancipate and elevate the Laboring Classes."4
Brisbane used his columns to educate the Tribune's readership about Fourier's philosophy and to lay out a practical plan for a community based on Associationist principles. He hoped the medium would correct misconceptions about Associationists, clarifying their stance on private property and voicing their appreciation for individual skills and talents. In his March 21, 1842 column, for example, he assured readers that "the privacy of domestic life will be fully maintained, while the advantage and pleasure of wide-spread and friendly social relations will be open to all."5 At the same time, he enumerated the concrete benefits of communal living, such as universal education and health care. Soon he began advertising his books (and writings for other newspapers) and providing notice of Fourierist and Associationist meetings that were open to the public. Most significantly, however, in late March 1842 he began to outline the "Means of Making a Practical Trial" of Fourier's theory in the United States. By October of the same year, he announced the need for money to fund an experimental Associationist community in the United States. Within five months of his first column, Brisbane accomplished in the United States what Fourier could not in France: the establishment of a model community on Associationist principles. By June 1843, the North American Phalanx, in Red Bank, New Jersey, was in the process of organization. It would become one of the largest and longest-lasting utopian reform communities in the nineteenth century, but it was only one of many Associationist communes and unions whose formation was greatly influenced by Brisbane's writings.
The success of Brisbane's vision was attributable in large part to his medium: the Tribune column enabled him to connect with readers from a wide range of classes, professions, and backgrounds, from urban businessmen to rural farmers.6 Secondly, his influence was not restricted to the Tribune; in an age of reprinting, the columns were republished in many other papers. Brisbane understood the power of the newspaper; he explicitly placed his reform scheme in the hands of Horace Greeley in an effort to reach the most people.7 He used the popular press to galvanize readers' hopes for a better life, his descriptions and promises encouraging them to imaginatively inhabit suburban reform communities. The weekly edition of the Tribune, after all, circulated nationally, and Brisbane knew Greeley's paper would be...