Transcendental Wild Oats

From In Defense of Idleness

Transcendental Wild Oats by Louisa May Alcott

The new-comers were welcomed by one of the elect precious,–a regenerate farmer, whose idea of reform consisted chiefly in wearing white cotton raiment and shoes of untanned leather. This costume, with a snowy beard, gave him a venerable, and at the same time a somewhat bridal appearance.

The goods and chattels of the Society not having arrived, the weary family reposed before the fire on blocks of wood, while Brother Moses White regaled them with roasted potatoes, brown bread and water, in two plates, a tin pan, and one mug; his table service being limited. But, having cast the forms and vanities of a depraved world behind them, the elders welcomed hardship with the enthusiasm of new pioneers, and the children heartily enjoyed this foretaste of what they believed was to be a sort of perpetual picnic.

During the progress of this frugal meal, two more brothers appeared. One a dark, melancholy man, clad in homespun, whose peculiar mission was to turn his name hind part before and use as few words as possible. The other was a bland, bearded Englishman, who expected to be saved by eating uncooked food and going without clothes. He had not yet adopted the primitive costume, however; but contented himself with meditatively chewing dry beans out of a basket.

“Every meal should be a sacrament, and the vessels used should be beautiful and symbolical,” observed Brother Lamb, mildly, righting the tin pan slipping about on his knees. “I priced a silver service when in town, but it was too costly; so I got some graceful cups and vases of Britannia ware.”

“Hardest things in the world to keep bright. Will whiting be allowed in the community?” inquired Sister Hope, with a housewife’s interest in labor-saving institutions.

“Such trivial questions will be discussed at a more fitting time,” answered Brother Timon, sharply, as he burnt his fingers with a very hot potato. “Neither sugar, molasses, milk, butter, cheese, nor flesh are to be used among us, for nothing is to be admitted which has caused wrong or death to man or beast.”

“Our garments are to be linen till we learn to raise our own cotton or some substitute for woollen fabrics,” added Brother Abel, blissfully basking in an imaginary future as warm and brilliant as the generous fire before him.

“Haou abaout shoes?” asked Brother Moses, surveying his own with interest.

“We must yield that point till we can manufacture an innocent substitute for leather. Bark, wood, or some durable fabric will be invented in time. Meanwhile, those who desire to carry out our idea to the fullest extent can go barefooted,” said Lion, who liked extreme measures.

“I never will, nor let my girls,” murmured rebellious Sister Hope, under her breath.

“Haou do you cattle’ate to treat the ten-acre lot? Ef things ain’t ‘tended to right smart, we shan’t hev no crops,” observed the practical patriarch in cotton.

“We shall spade it,” replied Abel, in such perfect good faith that Moses said no more, though he indulged in a shake of the head as he glanced at hands that had held nothing heavier than a pen for years. He was a paternal old soul and regarded the younger men as promising boys on a new sort of lark.

“What shall we do for lamps, if we cannot use any animal substance? I do hope light of some sort is to be thrown upon the enterprise,” said Mrs. Lamb, with anxiety, for in those days kerosene and camphene were not, and gas unknown in the wilderness.

“We shall go without till we have discovered some vegetable oil or wax to serve us,” replied Brother Timon, in a decided tone, which caused Sister Hope to resolve that her private lamp should be always trimmed, if not burning.

“Each member is to perform the work for which experience, strength, and taste best fit him,” continued Dictator Lion. “Thus drudgery and disorder will be avoided and harmony prevail. We shall rise at dawn, begin the day by bathing, followed by music, and then a chaste repast of fruit and bread. Each one finds congenial occupation till the meridian meal; when some deep-searching conversation gives rest to the body and development to the mind. Healthful labor again engages us till the last meal, when we assemble in social communion, prolonged till sunset, when we retire to sweet repose, ready for the next day’s activity.”

“What part of the work do you incline to yourself?” asked Sister Hope, with a humorous glimmer in her keen eyes.

“I shall wait till it is made clear to me. Being in preference to doing is the great aim, and this comes to us rather by a resigned willingness than a wilful activity, which is a check to all divine growth,” responded Brother Timon.

“I thought so.” And Mrs. Lamb sighed audibly, for during the year he had spent in her family Brother Timon had so faithfully carried out his idea of “being, not doing,” that she had found his “divine growth” both an expensive and unsatisfactory process.

Here her husband struck into the conversation, his face shining with the light and joy of the splendid dreams and high ideals hovering before him.

“In these steps of reform, we do not rely so much on scientific reasoning or physiological skill as on the spirit’s dictates. The greater part of man’s duty consists in leaving alone much that he now does. Shall I stimulate with tea, coffee, or wine? No. Shall I consume flesh? Not if I value health. Shall I subjugate cattle? Shall I claim property in any created thing? Shall I trade? Shall I adopt a form of religion? Shall I interest myself in politics? To how many of these questions–could we ask them deeply enough and could they be heard as having relation to our eternal welfare–would the response be ‘Abstain’?”

A mild snore seemed to echo the last word of Abel’s rhapsody, for Brother Moses had succumbed to mundane slumber and sat nodding like a massive ghost. Forest Absalom, the silent man, and John Pease, the English member, now departed to the barn; and Mrs. Lamb led her flock to a temporary fold, leaving the founders of the “Consociate Family” to build castles in the air till the fire went out and the symposium ended in smoke.

The complete text of Transcendental Wild Oats on Wikisource

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