- HOW LIKE AN ANGEL CAME I
- Conversations with
Children on the Gospels
- by A. Bronson
- edited by Alice O.
- Foreword by Stephen
- There are many things to admire in
this fascinating book, and I am grateful to Mrs. Howell for
rescuing it from oblivion. Who would have thought that we already
had, as part of our American heritage, such a practical
demonstration of Jesus' advice to become like little children? The
book might be sub-subtitled News from the Kingdom of Heaven.
- Bronson Alcott was obviously a fine
teacher. At first that seems improbable, given his extreme
Platonism. He is the classic Luftmensch, walking with his head in
the stratosphere and constantly tumbling into the ditches of what
he called the material world. But in these conversations we can
feel his authority. The students recognize him as one of those
rare adults, perhaps the only one, who speaks to them with
complete sincerity and respect, not as mere children, but as
- The most fascinating element in the
book, though, isn't Alcott's teaching, it is the children's
responses. "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou
ordained strength." I don't want to comment on them, just to
point. Here are my favorite passages:
- MR. ALCOTT. Now, does your spirit
differ in any sense from God's spirit? Each may answer.
- CHARLES. (10-12 years old). God
made our spirits.
- MR. ALC0TT. They differ from His
then in being derived?
- GEORGE K (7-10). They are not so
- WILLIAM B. (10- 12). They have not
so much power.
- AUGUSTINE (7-10). 1 don't think our
spirit does differ much.
- CHARLES. God is spirit, we are
spirit and body.
- JOSIAH (5 years old). He differs
from us, as a king's body differs from ours. A king's body is
arrayed with more goodness than ours.
- EDWARD B. (10- 12). God's spirit is
a million times larger than ours, and we come out of him as the
drops of the ocean.
- MR. ALCOTT. Jesus said he was the
son - the child of God. Are we also God's sons?
- WILLIAM B. Oh! before I was born -
I think I was a part of God himself.
- MANY OTHERS. So do I.
- MR. ALCOTT. Who thinks his own
spirit is the child of God? (All held up hands). Now, is God your
Father in the same sense that he is the Father of Jesus? (Most
held up hands).
- MR. ALCOTT. Does Father and Son
mean God and Jesus? cHARLEs. No; it means God and any man.
- MR. ALCOTT. Do you think that were
you to use all that is in your spirit, you might also be prophets?
- SEVERAL. If we had faith enough.
- WILLIAM B. If we had love enough.
- CHARLES. A prophet first has a
little love, and that gives the impulse to more, and so on, until
he becomes so full of love, he knows everything.
- MR. ALCOTT Why did the angel say to
Mary, "The Lord is with thee"?
- GEORGE K I don't know. The Lord is
always with us.
- ARNOLD (?). The Lord is with us
when we are good.
- AUGUSTINE. The Lord is with us when
we are bad, or we could not live.
- ELLEN (10-12). [mentions
- MR. ALCOTT What do you mean by
- ELLEN. The last day, the day when
the world is to be destroyed.
- CHARLES. The day ofJudgment is not
any more at the end of the world than now. It is the Judgment of
conscience at every Moment.
- MR. ALCOTT. Where did Jesus get his
- MARTHA (7-10). He went into his own
- AUGUSTINE. Heaven is in our spirits
- in God. It is in no particular place. It is not above the sky.
It is not material. It is wherever people are good.
- CHARLES. Heaven is everywhere -
Eternity. It stops when there is anything bad. It means peace and
love. High and white are emblems of it.
- ANDREW (7-10). Heaven is like a
cloud, and God and Jesus and the angels sit on it.
- MR. ALCOTT. Where is it?
- ANDREW. Everywhere. Every person
that is good, God looks at and takes care of.
- FREDERIC (10-12). Wherever there is
- SAMUEL R. (10- 12) But in no place.
- FRANKLIN (10-12). Heaven is the
spirit's truth and goodness. It is in everybody; but mostly in the
- MR. ALCOTT, Can you say to
yourself, I can remove this mountain?
- [Now comes an astonishing
rhapsody by the five-year-old Josiah Quincy.]
- JOSIAH (burst out). Yes, Mr.
Alcott! I do not mean that with my body I can lift up a mountain -
with my hand; but I can feel; and I know that my conscience is
greater than the mountain, for it can feel and do; and the
mountain cannot. There is the mountain, there! It was made, and
that is all. But my conscience can grow. It is the same kind of
spirit as made the mountain be, in the first place. I do not know
what it may be and do. The body is a mountain, and the spirit
says, be moved, and it is moved into another place. Mr. Alcott, we
think too much about clay. We should think of spirit. I think we
should love spirit, not clay. I should think a mother now would
love her baby's spirit; and suppose it should die, that is only
the spirit bursting away out of the body. It is alive; it is
perfectly happy; I really do not know why people mourn when their
friends die. I should think it would be a matter of rejoicing. For
instance, now, if we should go into the street and find a box, an
old dusty box, and should put into it some very fine pearls, and
bye and bye the box should grow old and break, why, we should not
even think about the box; but if the pearls were safe, we should
think of them and nothing else. So it is with the soul and body. I
cannot see why people mourn for bodies.
- MR. ALCOTT. Yes, Josiah; that is
all true, and we are glad to hear it. Shall someone eke now speak
- [But Josiah's eloquence is like
a mighty river; its momentum is such that he can barely restrain
himself, and he is quiet only on condition.]
- JOSIAH. Oh, Mr. Alcott! then I will
stay in at recess and talk.
- How interesting it would have been
to stay in during that recess and listen to this five-year-old.
(The great ninth-century Zen Master Chao-chou said, "If I meet a
hundred-year-old man and I have something to teach him, I will
teach; if I meet an eight-year-old boy and he has something to
teach me, I will team. ")
- It comes as no surprise when, at
the end of one class, a student says to Alcott, "Every lesson is
more interesting than the last!" Nor are we surprised at the
following short exchange, which could serve as the epigraph for
- MR. ALCOTT. Do you think these
conversations are of any use to you?
- CHARLES. Yes; they teach us a great
- MR. ALCOTT. What do they teach you?
- GEORGE K. To know ourselves.
- IMITATION OF
- MR. ALCOTT. Have any of you ever
thought that Faith alone, without any means of a material kind,
would cure diseases?
- MOST. No; but that it would help.
- (Lucia, Ellen, Susan, George B.
held up hands, as thinking that faith alone cured.)
- MR. ALCOTT. Did you think so?
- ELLEN. No; but I thought you did.
- MR. ALCOTT. Do you remember what
was said about the little infant?
- THE CALLING OF
- And after these things he went
forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto
him, and he taught them. And as he passed by from thence, he saw a
man, a publican, named Levi, named Matthew, the son of Alpheus,
sitting at the receipt of custom. And he said unto him, follow me.
And he left all, rose up, and followed him. (Matt. 9:9, Mark
2:13-14, Luke 5:27-28.)
- (He asked who expected to be
interested, and to talk?)
- EMMA. I shall be interested; but I
do not like to talk, because I never seem to have said anything
when I do speak - I cannot get words for my thoughts.
- MR. ALCOTT. Who prefer to hear
others talk to talking themselves?
- (All held up hands, except Josiah.
- JOSIAH. I prefer to talk myself
- MR. ALCOTT. Why?
- JOSIAH. Because I do not think the
others always say what is true.
- MR. ALCOTT But when they do say
what is true, how is it?
- JOSIAH. Oh! Then I like to hear
- GEORGE K. and MARTHA. Others think
more interesting things than I do.
- GEORGE B. I never have any thing to
- JOSIAH. Mr. Alcott, I do not know
why Jesus went upon the seaside, unless it was very pleasant
there, and it was hot, and he wanted to cool himself
- FRANKLIN. I think he went there
because he liked to see the waves and Nature.
- MR. ALCOTT. Why did he wish to see
- FRANKLIN. I cannot express it.
- GEORGE K. Because he liked to have
room enough, and perhaps there might be boats there, and if the
multitude pressed upon him, he could get in and teach.
- ANDREW I think he went there to see
the little fishes.
- MR. ALCOTT. Why did he want to see
- ANDREW Because he liked to see them
- MR. ALCOTT. Why did he like to look
at them then?
- ANDREW Because they had such pretty
- ELLEN. I think he liked to go by
the sea, because I like to go there.
- CHARLES. He wanted to have the sea
put mightiness into his words.
- MR. ALCOTT. He wanted, you think,
to take advantage of the influences of Nature on the Imagination?
- NATHAN. He wanted to have other
people learn to admire Nature.
- JOSIAH. I thought Jesus looked very
hot, and he went down by the sea; and you could just see the other
side of the sea. And he and his disciples were together; and the
multitude was on the other side of the bank, and his hand was up,
teaching. (He gave the attitude.)
- MR. ALCOTT. And what was his hand
- JOSIAH. Because it looked pretty.
In ancient times they always did so, but they don't do so now; and
they all had white robes on.
- MR. ALCOTT. Why white
- JOSIAH. It was the fashion. And
there was a bridge, not for carriages but for foot passengers,
that went over the lake. Jesus and his disciples were on that at
first; and when he had done teaching,
- he went on till he came to Matthew;
and he called him, and Matthew rose up and followed him.
- LEMUEL. I thought Jesus was in a
boat, very near the shore, preaching; and the people were on the
shore; and when he had done, he called Matthew, who was sitting
there, and he went into the boat; and they sailed across, talking
about spiritual things, such as God, and
- JOSIAH. He went so willingly to see
him perform miracles. MR. ALCOTT. What kind of miracles?
- JOSIAH. Spiritual and
- MR. ALCOTT. What is the
- JOSIAH. To change water into wine
is a material miracle, but to overcome any appetite is a spiritual
- MR. ALCOTT. How was curing the
- JOSIAH. Material,
- MR. ALCOTT. What was material in
- JOSIAH. Why, the touching was
material, and the faith was the spiritual part.
- MR. ALCOTT. How was it with the
- JOSIAH. Wholly spiritual - "thy
sins be forgiven thee" yes, spiritual.
- MR. ALCOTT. If you saw seed as it
sprouted in the ground the acorn out of which the oak was opening
as large as the elm on the Common, should you call that a
- JOSIAH. Yes; partly
- MR. ALCOTT. And suppose you should
see an egg move, then see the shell break, and a little chick come
out - would that be material?
- JOSIAH. Yes; partly.
- MR. ALCOTT. Suppose you saw a baby
- JOSIAH. That would be
- MR. ALCOTT. Suppose you saw a baby
- JOSIAH. That is wholly spiritual -
- MR. ALCOTT. Did you ever see a
- JOSIAH. No; spiritual miracles
cannot be seen, because they are spiritual.
- MR. ALCOTT. Did you ever feel a
- JOSIAH. Oh yes.
- MR. ALCOTT Did you ever see a
- JOSIAH. No; there were none only
when Jesus Christ was on earth.
- MR. ALCOTT. But you said that a
seed opening out into a tree was partly a material miracle.
- JOSIAH. You asked for material
miracles, and that is partly spiritual, and so was the chicken and
the dying baby; but the dead baby is material.
- MR. ALCOTT. Lay your hands on your
hearts. (They did so, and there was silent listening for a
moment.) Is breathing a miracle?
- (Immediately almost all raised
- CHARLES. I think it is miraculous,
because you breathe without knowing it.
- (A few thought breathing was not
miraculous, because they could explain some of the phenomena and
their immediate causes; but all found, on analysis, that they at
last came to a link of the chain which was lost in the
- MR. ALCOTT. Feel your pulses. (They
did so. Mr. Alcott expressed in so many words, that breathing and
birth were among the greatest of miracles. They analyzed growth in
an egg - an acorn - and found that everything led up to the
Supernatural.) Which of your faculties feels the outward miracle,
and which the inward?
- JOSIAH. The eyes see the outward
and the Spirit the inward miracle.
- MR. ALCOTT. What is it to follow
- FRANKLIN. He meant to follow him,
to try to be good like him, and to go with him too. (Many agreed.)
- CHARLES. He meant to follow his
spiritual path, and his material path. (Many.)
- JOSIAH. Mr. Alcott, what was done
with the table Matthew left?
- MR. ALCOTT. Perhaps he did not
leave it immediately.
- JOSIAH. Why yes; he rose up,
immediately, "and he left all and followed him." I have a picture
of it in my mind. I think Matthew had a table before him, with a
white cloth over it; and he had all his money counted out in
piles, the dollars in one place, and the cents in another, and the
bills in another.
- MR. ALCOTT. It was rather an early
age for dollars and bills.
- JOSIAH. And when Jesus called him
he arose up immediately and left all. He never thought of staying
one moment after Jesus called him.
- MR. ALCOTT. Do the rest of you
think Matthew went as soon as he was called? (All held up their
- JOSIAH. Oh! Mr. Alcott, I have
another thought now. I think that Matthew was expecting to be
called at first, as soon as he saw Jesus coming, and might have
gathered up all his money to go as soon as he spoke.
- MR. ALCOTT. Why did he think Jesus
was going to call him?
- JOSIAH. Why, when they set out,
Peter and the rest of them did not know where Matthew was gone,
and that was the reason he was not among them now, and Matthew
knew that Jesus would call him as soon as he saw him.
- SAMUEL R. I think Matthew was not
already a disciple - this was the first time he was called; but he
had already gathered up his bags and money, and was preparing to
go home when Jesus called him. (Several held up hands in assent.)
- JOSIAH. It is all the same thing,
even if he did not go that minute - he began to prepare to go
perhaps, and did not actually go, till Jesus had passed some time.
- MR. ALCOTT. No; it was of very
little consequence. Now tell me what it is to follow Jesus, how
can you follow him?
- NATHAN. I must be good and mind his
- MR. ALCOTT. But I want a real
action - something that you can live, today.
- CHARLES. To be temperate when I eat
my dinner today.
- ELLEN. To be patient, as Jesus was
with people, when my little sister troubles me.
- MR. ALCOTT. Do you trouble her
- ELLEN. Yes; I know I do; but she
troubles me when I am getting her to steep; sometimes she will not
go to steep, and she often cries when I take care of her. I must
be patient and kind.
- GEORGE K. When my brother plagues
me and strikes me, instead of striking back again, I must forbear.
- LEMUEL. When my mother asks me to
go an errand - to go down to a shop and get some cloth, because
the man is engaged, and I am at play, I must go willingly, I must
obey her cheerfully.
- SUSAN. I must bear with Frank.
- LUCIA. I must bear with my little
brother, when I put him to bed - very often he cries and will not
- MR. ALCOTT. Are you kind to him
when he cries?
- LUCIA. Yes; yet he will cry, and
not do as I want him to; then I must be patient.
- JOSIAH. I think that Jesus meant
that Matthew should follow him and hear him preach; and when he
was crucified, that he should follow his example and preach, and
should tell others about it, so that when he died they should
preach, and then those persons should preach, and so on till now.
- ALFRED. I think like Josiah, and
that Jesus wanted Matthew to follow him till he died, and then be
an apostle till he was himself crucified, or something else, like
- MR. ALCOTT. Josiah, did you ever
follow Christ yourself?
- JOSIAH. Yes; I did today. My little
sister this morning had a withered flower, which she seemed to
think a great deal of, and my mother asked me to put the faded
leaves, that had fallen off, into the fire; and when I did, my
little sister cried excessively, and I went up to her and told her
a story, which seemed to please her very much, so that she forgot
the disappointment about the withered flower and its faded leaves.
- MR. ALCOTT. Have all been
- MANY. Very much interested.
- JOSIAH. I have been interested,
because I have had a chance to talk so much.
- MR. ALCOTT Do you think some others
were not interested, because they had no chance to talk?
- JOSIAH. The next time I will not
speak till recess.
- MR. ALCOTT. We wish to have you
talk, Josiah, and all others, when you have thoughts of your own
to give. We want your own thoughts and feelings. We want you to
tell what goes on in your mind while we are reading, and while you
are conversing one with the other. That is one way by which we can
understand what good the conversations do you. Put your thoughts
into words, and then we know what you are, and what you intend. By
words and actions we judge of all intentions.
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