Search >> Brisbane, Albert (1809-1890)
Editor, Essayist, Journalist, Lecturer, Reformer.
Albert Brisbane was born into a moderately wealthy landowning family in Batavia, New York. He received most of his education from his mother until, at the age of fifteen, he was sent to a boarding school in Long Island, New York. Brisbane stayed at the school for a short period of time before moving to New York City and studying with tutors, the most influential of whom was John Monesca: "Before leaving Batavia, Brisbane tells us, he had begun to consider seriously the social destiny of man, and his contact with Monesca furthered his interest in the subject and inclined him to study the problem under the great thinkers of contemporary Europe" (Waterman).
In his travels through Europe, Brisbane studied with Cousin and Guizot in Paris and Hegel in Berlin. Brisbane was dissatisfied with each of these philosophers, and he continued to travel in search of greater understanding. He journeyed as far as Constantinople before returning to Paris in 1830. It was here that he finally found a philosophy that meshed with his own: Charles Fourier's Traité de l'Association Domestique-Agricole (1821-22).
Brisbane spent two years studying exclusively with Fourier and returned to the United States in 1834. After an extended period of illness he began to lecture in New York City and Philadelphia. He published Social Destiny of Man; or, Association and Reorganization of Industry in 1840 and Association; or, A Concise Exposition of the Practical Part of Fourier's Social Science in 1843. After reading Social Destiny Horace Greeley became an avid supporter of Brisbane's work. He "not only offered Brisbane the use of the New York Tribune but even got out with him a paper devoted wholly to Associationism, the Future, which ran for two months until it was dropped for a column in the Tribune" (Waterman). During this time Brisbane also worked as the editor of the Chronicle, co-edited the Phalanx, and wrote columns for the Plebeian and the Dial. An early examination of Brisbane's life and work in the United States Democratic Review reveals that, even as a young man of thirty-two, he was "a well and highly educated man, of active and vigorous mind, with a keen analytical vision, and a large power of generalization. With a great deal of candor, good temper, and kindliness, he exhibits a certain innocent simplicity of character and a fervor of faith in abstract convictions, which can rarely fail to awaken in a high degree the confidence, interest, and esteem of those who are brought into any intimacy of intercourse with him" ("Albert Brisbane" 302). Brisbane's zeal for spreading the word about Fourierism waned along with public attention after several practical applications of the philosophy were unsuccessful--including a commune in Strawberry Farms, NJ with which George Arnold was associated (Rawson 96-105). However, he maintained his belief in the philosophy. In 1876 he published a General Introduction to Social Sciences, which explained the basics of Fourierism.
Brisbane's interaction with the bohemians goes beyond his work with Horace Greeley. Henry Clapp, Jr. worked as Brisbane's secretary starting in 1855-1856. While with Brisbane, Clapp translated Fourier's The Social Destiny of Man, or Theory of the Four Movements (1857) from French to English. Brisbane is also thought to have been a friend of Ada Clare.
Toward the end of his life, Brisbane traveled extensively and worked as an inventor. His better known creations are "his system of transportation by means of hollow spheres in pneumatic tubes and a new system of burial" (Waterman). While attempting to classify Brisbane's work, Waterman suggests that "[i]ntellectually, as well as historically, Albert Brisbane belongs among those Utopian socialists of his generation who sought in some new order of society a universal panacea for the evils they saw in the society about them."
References & Biographical Resources
- "Albert Brisbane." The United States Democratic Review. Sep. 1842: 302-304. [more about this work]
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- "Albert Brisbane." United States Democratic Review. Sep. 1842: 302-305. [more about this work]
- Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. New York: MacMillan, 1955. [more about this work]
- Allen writes that while Whitman was not particularly influenced by Fourierism, his "democratic idealism" would significantly resemble Brisbane's "social optimism" both in language and ideas (130). Brisbane and Whitman met one winter in Washington at the O'Connors'; the two seem to have spoken often, but Elridge wrote that "Walt never yielded an inch of ground to him" (370).
Clapp worked closely with both Brisbane and Greeley to "popularize the doctrines of Fourier and socialism" before editing the Saturday Press (229). [pages: 130,229,370]
- Brisbane, Redelia. Albert Brisbane: A Mental Biography. Boston: Arena, 1893. [more about this work]
- Referring to his discovery of Fourierism, Brisane explains that "Now for the first time I had come across an idea which I had never met before--the idea of dignifying and rendering attractive the manual labors of mankind" (172). [pages: FP(ill.), 46(ill.), 172]
- Guarneri, Carl J. The Utopian Alternative: Fourierism in Nineteenth-Century America. Cornell, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994. [more about this work]
- "In 1832 a young American student named Albert Brisbane met the Frenchman, by then a frustrated and bitter old prophet, and was promptly converted. When Brisbane returned to America, his energetic and persistent propogandizing--boosted immeasurably by Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune--created a burst of Fourierist activity in the nothern states almost overnight" (2).
A section entitled "The Odyssey of Albert Brisbane" describes Brisbane's association with Fourierism (25-36).
Reprinted photograph of Brisbane (219).
[pages: 2, 36, 66, 93,95,116, 139, 219 (ill.), 229, 263, 349, 427]
- Lause, Mark A. The Antebellum Crisis and America's First Bohemians. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2009. [more about this work]
- Brisbane is described as the "long-time leader among the American followers of Charles Fourier," and believed "'the great reforms to be effected in society relate to political economy, that is to credit, the currency, commerce, and banking'" (31).
Brisbane's glass eye is noted to have inspired Henry Clapp to become further interested in Fourierism (120).
Brisbane was a participant in the experimental Unitary Household (66-67). [pages: 28-29, 68, 69, 136-37; and the League, 31, 36-41, 68, 122; leader of American Fourieriests, 26, 72, 120; social activities of, 28-29, 49; 66, 67]
- Miller, Tice L. Bohemians and Critics: American Theatre Criticism in the Nineteenth Century. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1981. [more about this work]
- Bisbane is described as a passionate follower of French socialist Charles Fourier (19). Henry Clapp, Jr. worked as a secretary for Brisbane in 1855-56 (24).
Miller mentions some of Brisbane's publications: Association, or a Concise Exposition of the Practical Part of Fourier's Social Science, "A Treatise on the Functions of the Human Passions," and "An Outline on Fourier's System of Social Science." [pages: 19, 24]
- Parry, Albert. Garrets and Pretenders: A History of Bohemianism in America. New York: Covici, Friede, 1933. [more about this work]
- Clapp helped Brisbane and Greeley "introduce Fourier's social theories in America" and "told funny ghost stories about Brisbane." Parry writes: "It was on the ground of a definite admiration of Fourier's ideas that Clapp met Albert Brisbane. He translated Fourier's works for Brisbane, spending long evenings reading them to him. Once Brisbane fell asleep and snored but the eye visible to Clapp remained and open and vigilant. Even the cynical Henry felt the creeps. Upon investigation, the eye proved to be of glass. In later years, Clapp loved to tell this and other irreverent stories of Brisbane to his cain-raising friends, among them, Fitz-James O'Brien who used Henry's anecdote in "The Wondersmith,' his short story of a magic eye. There was another memorable consequence of the Clapp-Brisbane association: Henry strengthened Albert in his Socialist faith, and thus Arthur Brisbane, Albert's son, was indirectly indebted to Henry Clapp for the heresies of his early editorials for Mr. Hearst" (44-45). [pages: 44-45]
- Rawson, A. L. "A Bygone Bohemia." Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly. 1896. 96-107. [more about this work]
- A member of Clare's coterie of Bohemians. He is identified as "the apostle of Fourierism in America, and later the inventor of the proposed tubular railway, or hollow ball way" (103). He ran a commune in Strawberry Farms, New Jersey, that George Arnold was also a part of (105). [pages: 103, 105]
- Seitz, Don Carlos. Artemus Ward (Charles Farrar Browne): A Biography and Bibliography. NY: Harper & Brothers, 1919. [more about this work]
- Mentions that Henry Clapp worked as Brisbane's secretary for a short time. [pages: 96]
- Stansell, Christine. "Whitman at Pfaff's: Commercial Culture, Literary Life and New York Bohemia at Mid-Century." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review. 10.3 (1993): 107-126. [more about this work]
- Stansell mentions that Clapp worked as his secretary. Brisbane is referred to as the "American Fourierist" (119). [pages: 119]
- Waterman, W. Randall. "Albert Brisbane." Dictionary of American Biography. Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 2006. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC. [more about this work]
- Wilson, Peter Lamborn. "Stephen Pearl Andrews." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 250: Antebellum Writers in New York, Second Series. Ed. Kent P. Ljungquist. Detroit: Gale, 2001. 3-15. [more about this work]
- Albert Brisbane, the leading American Fourierist, is mentioned as one of Andrews' close friends.
- Winter, William. Old Friends; Being Literary Recollections of Other Days. New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1909. 407 p. [more about this work]
- Winter mentions that Clapp was Brisbane's secretary during the time when Fourier's "The Social Destiny of Man" was being translated (60).
Winter claims that Fitz-James O'Brien's story, "The Wondersmith" was inspired by an anecdote that Clapp told about Brisbane in O'Brien and Winter's presence. Clapp's story follows: "'Once, while I was working for Albert Brisbane' (so, in substance, said the Prince of Bohemia), 'I had to read to him, one evening, many pages of a translation I had made, for his use, of Fourier's book on the Social Destiny of Man. He was closely attentive and seemed to be deeply interested; but, after a time, I heard a slight snore, and looking at him, in profile, I saw that he was sound asleep--and yet the eye that I could see was wide open. The and thus I ascertained, somewhat to my surprise, that he had a glass eye'" (69). [pages: 60,69]