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Alcott, Louisa May, her copy) Proctor, Richard.

Our Place Among the Infinities.


Louisa May Alcott's Astrology And Kabbala
(Alcott, Louisa May). Proctor, Richard. A. Our Place Among Infinities...To Which Are Added Essays on the Jewish Sabbath and Astrology... New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1876.
8vo.; green cloth, stamped in gilt and blind; tips lightly worn, covers lightly rubbed. In a specially made cloth slipcase.
First edition of Proctor's collection, printing twelve essays including "Past and Future of the Earth" (1-34); "Seeming Wastes in Nature" (35-44) and "Saturn and the Sabbath of the Jews" (290-313). Alcott's copy, signed, "Louisa May Alcott 1880" on the front pastedown.
An intriguing item from the library of Louisa May Alcott, demonstrating the author's little-documented interest in Judaic affairs. Recent scholarship has attested to the breadth of Alcott's vision and talents. Besides the legendary Little Women, Alcott wrote countless other novels, short stories, and mysteries; she also was a prolific author of non-fiction essays on women's rights, abolitionism, educational reform, and other major social issues of her era.
The scant information available suggests that Alcott's curiosity about the Jewish religion and people was first sparked during meetings of the Boston Radical Club, which she attended faithfully from 1868 through 1880. The Radical Club, founded by John T. Sargent and his wife Mary Fiske Sargent, brought together leading intellectuals for regular discussions of literature and religion. Alcott-who as a schoolteacher instructed the Sargent's daughter, Kitty-was an enthusiastic participant in Radical Club activities, joining other members (including Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Octavious Brooks Frothingham, Kate Field, and Celia Thaxter) at the Sargent's 18 Chestnut Street home for tea and animated debates on such topics as "Individuality of Character," "Courage," "The Woman Suffrage Question," and "The Historical View of Jesus" (Myerson & Shealy, eds. The Journals of Louisa May Alcott, Boston: Little Brown, 1989, 14). Numerous entries in Alcott's journal record her impressions of Radical Club meetings, in particular those of the non-denominational club's "Free Religion Association Series." Among the talks Alcott attended were Thomas Wentworth Higginson's lecture on "The Character of Buddha"; Octavious Brooks Frothingham's lecture on Borromeo the saint; and Rabbi Max Lilienthal's lecture on "The Religious Idea in History" (Journals, 185).
A letter from Alcott to her mother (April 15, 1872) gives a vivid flavor of the multicultural, multi-religious character of the Radical Club meetings:
Dear Marmee-Had a very transcendental day yesterday, and at night my head was 'swelling wisibly' with the ideas cast into it. The [Radical] Club was a funny mixture of rabbis and weedy old ladies, the 'oversoul' and oysters. Papa and B. [Minister Cyrus A. Bartol] flew out of sight like a pair of Platonic balloons, and we tried to follow, but couldn't. In the P.M. went to R. W. E.'s [Ralph Waldo Emerson's] reading. All the literary birds were out in full feather....Dear B. beamed upon me from the depths of his funny little cloak and said, "We are getting on well, ain't we?" W. bowed his Jewish head, and rolled his fine eye at me... (Myerson & Shealy, The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott, Boston: Little Brown, 1987, 165)
"W"-John Weiss, a biographer and theologian who often addressed the Radical Club on religious and social subjects-was a dazzling and influential speaker. On one particularly memorable evening Louisa sat in the audience as Weiss lectured on woman's suffrage:
...Almost every extreme of liberalism would be represented in the commodious parlors at number 13, and Louisa looked forward to John Weiss's lecture on 'Woman' after her concentrated work of the past two weeks. Mr. Weiss, steady as a drill sergeant at his post, beamed brightly before his audience. In shrill, penetrating tones he wittily characterized the imperfections of the present political machinery, satirizing the attempts that men had made to give a monopoly of the regulations of public affairs to the rougher half of the human family. With the style of a soldier on dress parade he gave a rose-colored picture of the future, when women would work with men in political matters... ( Louisa May Alcott, by Madeline Stern, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1950. p. 185-186).
That Alcott continued to investigate Judaism beyond the lectures at the Club is suggested by the presence of this volume in her library. Her interest in spiritual and philosophical questions of the sort posed by Proctor was heightened by the sudden serious illness of her beloved mother. As "Marmee's" health declined (she died in 1877), Louisa delved further into a self-directed course of theological study.
Survivals of this nature from Alcott's library are uncommon; no book with her ownership signature has appeared on the open market for more than a decade.  

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