Charles Fourier (1772-1837)

Related links:

BY AND ABOUT CHARLES FOURIER:


Links in the Libertarian Labyrinth

Misc. documents:

CHARLES FOURIER.

The zeal and ability with which Albert Brisbane has for several years devoted himself to the propagation of Fourier’s doctrines of association, begin to be appreciated as they deserve. And whatever conclusive judgment his countrymen may pass upon this peculiar system, all must admit, that this earnest advocate of social reorganization has hastened and widened the great reform movement of our day. Few who have paid Fourier the respect he merits, of deep study, will deny that he has cast light, much needed and timely, upon the darkest problems, whether they adopt his social science without modification or not. And the Present will endeavor candidly to describe this system of “passional harmonies” and “attractive industry,” with the hope that every such discussion may add new impulse to the flood-tide which is now sweeping Christendom and civilization to a more active recognition of the law of love. Space and time permit, in this number, only a few preparatory remarks.

The biographical sketches which we have of Fourier, are fitted to engage our interests for the man. Such brave and lonely consecration to a great aim, for such a series of years, claiming no sympathy, buoyed up alone by a sublime hope, communing in stillness with truth, is deeply gratifying. One feels as if such a patient miner must have treasured rich ingots. He claims, and has fairly won, a right to the patient heed of his fellow.men. When we add to this fact of his resolute pursuit of a settled object, the quality of his impelling motive, his indignation at the mean artifices of trade, his confidence that heaven has made possible a state of consummate well-being and beauty for the human race, and his bold self-trust that, though seeking to the death, he would find the clue out of this labyrinth of inhumanity; when, finally, we are told by his friends of the grand style of character to which he was moulded, the justice, clear penetration, inflexibleness, and tender pity, the profound enthusiasm for men, as they certainly one day should be, the utter scorn for men as they were, we place a confidence in the sincerity of the teacher, that goes far to forestall our approval of his doctrine. And yet there is this abatement to our sympathy. The study for some forty years of ” harmony,” should have made his eye of love so clear as to see through wrong and meanness to the vital good; and the consciousness of a generous purpose should have disarmed petty opposition and criticism of their sting. One is pained at the sardonic sneer with which this keenest of observers cuts through disguises, and plucks away from shivering, naked folly the last rag that covers its shame. His denunciation is the condensed essence of bitter contempt. He should have been patient, too, with the dullards who misapprehended, and distorted in their show-boxes the truth he tried to teach. But let his papal arrogance pass. There is this comfort in listening to him—that you have before you a man who, with unblenching eyes and clear, steady voice, tells you truly and exactly what he thinks. One knows the ground on which both parties stand. There is no blowing first hot, then cold. He gives no quarter. He asserts without compromises, without ifs or buts, what he believes he knows. In the same spirit should he be met. Concessions, apologies, etiquettes, may be dropped. Here is earnest work. There is the asserted fact, there the announced law, there the argument and evidence. Test it. Is the coin sterling? For this number these few words must suffice.

But before closing, let the fact be noted, that the interest now awakening in this subject of association is all but universal in this country. Every’ day brings tidings of some new movement of those who are roused by a great hope to leave accustomed spheres of business, wonted social circles, the old mill rounds where for years they have been grinding saw dust for bread, and to enlist in these raw militia of social reformers. Such drilling and countermarching and sounding of drums and trumpets betokens that Providence is gathering the hosts of the faithful for some hew battle with wrong. Doubtless, as in all recruiting, the idle and shiftless and weak, whose sandy foothold has slipped away and left them stationless in life, are occasionally drafted for these armies of industry. Doubtless brigands in heart, selfish and eager for gain, will also join. But the soul of this soldiery of peaceful conquest over injustice, are men and women sick at heart of the inevitable insincerities, unkindnesses, and numberless degradations of our present social state. In the various communities which within two years have been founded or are now in the process of formation, may be found some of the choicest spirits of our land. I wish here to give to all such a hearty invitation to communicate their hopes, ‘ prospects, and the results of their experience through the pages of the Present. As every grain of gold dust, and leaf of new trees and plants, and root and berry of the New World were precious and curious to Europe after the first voyages of Columbus, so every specimen of actual life from these Eldorados and Utopias is valuable to those who stand gathering their tools and clothing to follow. Send us news, brethren, from your little oases in the deserts, your coral islands in the sea.

W. H. C.

  • William Henry Channing, “Charles Fourier,” The Present 1, no. 1 (September 1843): 28-29.

CHARLES FOURIER.

A PSYCHOMETRIC OBSERVATION. [1]

I.—First Trial.

I don’t believe this was a very gay person, though he gives me the inclination to laugh. Is there not deep sadness in the character? He seems one who sported with misery,—brings the laugh of the insane to my mind. Is there not great resolution—firmness? I am almost afraid of this person, there seem such contradictory elements in him. Unless you know him intimately you will not think what I say true. There is a lightness, suavity of manner, very different from the depths of his character. He has great power—power of putting aside what torments and troubles him, and of being at ease for the time. Great activity of intellect. One who hates oppression. lam not certain that he would not be likely to oppress. He might wish to impose his views.

I feel like having an agreeable conversation—like making many quotations and not particularly apt ones. I never could talk so fast as his moods would change. Great flippancy and great depth. One you would always find just what you did not expect. If I laugh it makes me sad, if I’m sad it makes me laugh. Very noble and generous. Would he not do things perfectly incompatible, and almost satanic?—(laughing.) The image that comes to my mind is of a little condensed devil squeezed into the corner of his heart, oozing out occasionally. А very difficult character to read. I am afraid to go into the depths; the fearful struggles and trials would exhaust me. What variety! Something of the chameleon nature. Great self-will—great imagination.

Give me another letter of opposite character—this is so French. (Taking the letter of another person) Good deal of concentration in this person notwithstanding the versatility. As I hold this I like the other better; more heart in it. This man’s heart would be a square—that would be heart shaped. I feel as if going in angles all over. I like the first now very much. Great deal of real genuine worth. Has struggled much with his own nature. I respect him too. He lives up to his conviction more than most of us.

These persons would come to conclusions very differently. The first would jump to them. If the truth were presented to his mind he would receive it at once. They make me think of hare and tortoise.

(Resuming the first letter after long thought.) This is a very earnest man. Man of warm zeal, great lover of the race, hearty. “Humanity” sounds in my ears continually, since I’ve resumed his letter. He interests me very much indeed. Sometimes should incline to laugh at him, sometimes to laugh with him. In my heart should have deep reverence and love for him. Did you ever see him when possessed with a new idea? Think I should get up and dance round the room. He is so delighted when he has fixed it all just right, so pleased, so happy; seems a joyous old man. Does not he love children? Seems like a child himself sometimes—and then like a man in full vigor of life. Seems like a dear old soul; should forget all my reverence for his learning, wisdom, talent, should take him to my heart and love him, so firm, conscientious—perfectly true to his convictions. Great power, great energy, great impulse, great self-control, great versatility, great concentrativeness.

“Is he fickle?”

There are a great many ways of coming to the same end. Should you call the bee fickle, that went from flower to flower after honey? A man of very large nature. A great deal of caution, notwithstanding his apparent want of it—a very singular, unusual compound.

More universally developed than most persons, yet not a whole. The various elements do not seem to me to be perfectly harmonized. Does not seem to have had time for it. The work wasn’t done when this letter was written, at any rate.

Calls to mind the “fountain in the palace” [2] the five, four, three outer rooms in order, but the central not so—the unitary stream from it not flowing into all the others. Well, he will have time enough to do it. He was too busy, too active.

Do you think this concern for the race came through the reason or the heart? The reason I think.

Through ignorance this person injured himself physically and morally. That seems a thing of the past, yet its effects are still felt.

“Was he confiding?”

Both confiding and suspicious; confiding by nature, became suspicious by circumstances He is not living.

In the latter part of his life more confiding, a higher state of confidingness than the first. It is pleasing to think of him as a boy. An honest heartedness about him—something of girlish delicacy and tender conscientiousness. Then there came the dark ages; seems as if he did wrong conscientiously; must have been a terrible period in his life. Don’t think I can convey an impression of that time—my feeling of the actuality and unreality of it. It seems that his heart had no part in it.

“Was it something he did or suffered?”

Seems to have acted viciously—to have gone into it thoroughly., and yet with no reality. It was devilishly cold. It seems as if he put his better nature to sleep for awhile. A gradual transition from his happy boyhood, which is very beautiful to think of; perhaps he had then too much sensibility. A gentle, thoughtful boy—should think be loved rabbits. Great love of justice—might have been thought irritable.

I would rather think of him in his old age. There seems a greater harmony and blending in him now than when this letter was written; he is more softened and pure, yet don’t seem wholly pure. It is frightful to think how f lowly eradicated are the traces of evil. I see a great deal of purity in him now, and yet these dark lines. The purity is far greater than the stains. I’ve no words to tell it as I see it—seems to be a vision of the character.

Have not told you any thing about him yet. He wished to know everything, felt you could not know any thing-truly unless you know all. Don’t feel disposed to think of him by particular trails. More intellectual than spiritual. You talk of the ruling passion strong in death; it is strong after death with him.

He is sadder now than he ever was when living; sees hit errors, sees the consequences of them. One of the strongest feelings in his nature is justice.

He feels that his work was not completed and stays by, longing to see it done; knows he was more intellectual than spiritual, and it is sadness to him now. The good in himself is transparent to him. He yearns for purity, devotedness, self-sacrifice.

I never knew before the danger of errors of judgment.

Have I dwelt more on the errors than the beauties of his character? I have not begun to tell you what I know of him. He never acted from one single motive and yet you might say he always acted from one, Love or Troth. He had a great desire of knowledge, would give up every thing to go where it led. So in his desire to find it, he went where it never could be found, into a bad atmosphere which affected his vision so that he could never see afterward as he might have seen. A great love of completing his plans; grasped at the whole.

When I speak of his love for the race, it was not so much a flowing love, (yet at times I see that flowing, all embracing love) hut rather a love of justice, sense of right. He could weep over the wrongs dune to the race, and next moment laugh as something would strike him ludicrously. He would laugh at the saddest things.

I should say he was warm calculating—it would do him injustice to say cold calculating. Had he not a great love of numbers? He must have had, because if I think of colors they arrange themselves in figures; and so of sounds, of every thing He must have been a critic.

“Had he insight?”

His insight was outsight.

“Were his views right or wrong?”

Not wholly right, yet a great deal more right than wrong. Something clipped his wings, he could not fly as freely as he ought. There were limits set when there should not have been He was a slave to his system. He had not quite faith enough to leave the earth wholly—had great faith—boundless faith, crazy faith almost, yet did not soar as he might. Had faith that what he willed would be done—what he wished would be accomplished. Was not spiritual enough—he felt a want within, A very difficult nature to speak of; in making a single statement you do him injus ic «

“What were his views of God?”

Do you think his own plans stood to him in place of God? I should not like to say so. He was not irreligious; with his reason and intellect he could not be an irreligious man—must see God in all—must know the Divine Being—whether he felt him or not. He is a man that I respect, mourn over, reverence and lore. He is so much I cannot help mourning that he is not All. One must be perfect in all things to be perfect in anything.

What a joyous companion he must have been. I should feel with him that I could move the world—that all things were possible. Think the fiends went pretty much to sleep during the last part of his life. What hatred of injustice! it might have led him to hate almost those who thwarted him.

[Let it be noted that this was a first reading only. On a second trial, the character unfolded more fully. That sketch will appear in the next number.—Еd.]

II.—Second Trial.

I hardly spoke of his intellectuality—as one in speaking of a landscape would probably omit to speak of the sun, whose influence would be felt in every part.

I receive him more as a whole, than I did. He seems not so great a genius as I once had supposed, but a person of indefatigable energy, zeal and perseverance, and yet idle and playful at times as if no serious thought had ever occupied him. Did not ho make skill and activity take the place of genius, and quickness, readiness, that of insight? I feel as if he often builded better than he knew; as if his thought overshadowed him, overpowered him, as if he did not grasp it wholly, while what he had seized was held so firmly that it all cohered.

I am certain that he is right in his Fundamental Principles; that he has laid a firm and broad foundation, and framed much of the superstructure; yet I do not think he has perfected the whole building.

But I must tell you how sad is the thought of him in his present state. His indomitable will is not subdued. He was a slave to his system, and is not yet freed from its thraldom. He wishes to see his plain executed “whether or no,” does not seem to be submissive and childlike. I wish I had dwelt more on his religious nature. I fear he is not happy. You can hardly imagine the relation established between us. He is often near me and is not a serene, elevating influence—but ever restless, ever striving to urge me, hurry me on against my will. [3]

You know that often the character or some trait of it, or some event in the life appears to me ns a landscape. I think I did not speak of the bright scene which came to me, when I first held the letter, and which has often gleamed upon mo since. I did not, for I could not, nor can I now adequately.

Through a narrow chasm between high rocks flowed a silvery pellucid, sunlit stream, which seemed to grow deeper and deeper, and was ever sunlit although above the shrubs and trees which fringed the rocks, almost concealing the stream, shone the moon and the stars. It was very beautiful and seemed like a gleam of pure, chaste love, which though but a gleam, was ever refreshing to him in after life, a holy memory, a reposeful spot. It may be all a fancy, but it seems to me this was when he was eighteen. He matured very fast and very early.

Cheery old man! Benevolent, philanthropic, courteous, stern, resolute, vigorous. Requiescat in pace! Resolve so decided that it is perfectly calm! He seems to be solving mathematical problems. Feeling of dignity and reserve, standing on his guard;—and also a hearty laugh inwardly as if at some one’s shallowness. Great perseverance, energy of thought and action, sadness. Justice has not been done him. He seems to have been injured by those he thought friends. Great versatility—sudden changes of feeling—now a scornful laugh. Indifference aroused by sense of injustice.

Am continually thinking of the St. Simonians. They lose sight of vast and important principles, in fact they have no science—they have alighted on many great truths, but their system is not a whole. They mean well but cannot succeed. God is necessary to any complete system, a knowledge of his creations and laws.

One must begin at the very beginning; a complete change is necessary. It is not till the third generation of practical associationists that you can expect much.

A feeling of indignation; a restrained feeling of impatient patience—a choaked firebrand. Great power of words, volubility; one who could express strongly and clearly, be a candle in dark places; patient with the mass, impatient with individuals, yet never weary of explaining; opening lights in all directions for one who receives. Glad to see him in this light, so rich, so genial, such humor, such power of adapting himself to his hearer. Mathematics, mathematics! He attracts and enchains some by the poetry of his mathematics. He convinces others by the solid undeniable prose. There is no escaping from some of his arguments. His position seems very dignified. He demands nothing but that persons should use their reason—should open their eyes, to the light he sheds around them. There seems no thought of self now, but an entire devotion to truth. Great quickness and clearsightedness; the husks fall off and things fall into their right places beneath his eyes. His patience peculiarly strikes me; there is such activity yet such restraining power, such a waiting till all things arc prepared. He would not risk the end through any unwise haste. His heart is very tender, especially toward the young, to all the necessarily weak and dependent, though he despises imbecility.

He loves little animals. He would be very considerate of those beloved. The thought crosses my mind of doing some kind act for a sister. “This would give her pleasure.” It seems to have some connection with a flower. I see a tall plant, with rich, high colored blossoms; the sister seems in the country; ho will carry this to her, it would be so pleasant a surprise.

I contrast him with *; he seems materially broader and braver than *, for he does not so repel. He gives himself more fully to others. It does not require any effort on his part. Experience has made him more cautious, more distant and doubting than he was by nature.

He would have acquired Phonography rapidly, and been much interested in it. He was a keen observer and inference-drawer. This he would do outwardly, mathematically—he would not see the motive in the act, but would deduce it from the act and that most accurately.

His stand is very dignified. He seems manly—should think lie would bear attacks on himself with pride and patience. Perhaps naturally hasty and irritable, but hero all selfish considerations are lost. He is absorbed in a great truth and elevated by it. How devotion to a great cause ennobles one. Great scorn of the low, and feeble and cowardly. Unchangeable patient energy.

Quite in earnest, seems dwelling on something specific—some peculiar branch or division which he aims to set forth in a clear light, adapted to the vision of those about him. Great quickness of thought, great desire for accuracy. Love of allegory and the allegorical. Every thing symbolizes something, and has its signification. Nature teaches us or would in every way, through the eye, the ear, by the smell, texture, flavor. We shall not always eat so incoherently, but musically, harmoniously. No wonder we live so antagonistically; when we make ourselves the receptacles of such antagonistic principles. How refined will this part of life become. The preparation and partaking of food will afford as much enjoyment as painting or music. There will be the same delight in blending harmoniously, in forming new combinations, in making a beautiful whole. Gastronomy will become a divine art. Then shall we sacredly build up these bodies, making them truly temples of God.

And when we understand the sacredness of the body, then will purity prevail on the earth. The savageness of our present life makes me shudder. Life of the senses never seemed to me so attractive before. It elevates life. One grows elegant and refined in the thought, and would have every motion grace, and every tone music, to satisfy. I am surrounded by the most exquisitely harmonious arrangements; the fragrances around nio blend musically. These miserable looking buildings, these deformities, the abodes of bodies capable of such delights.—I wonder that the earth does not reject them. They encumber and disfigure it. I did not believe that the outward arrangements could have such power over one. I expand and would be beautiful and noble and graceful, that I may not be out of place. The perfection of the parts giving the perfect whole, makes one long too to be perfect thoroughly and completely.

Now I am very sad. I look at Paris and groan in spirit. There seems not life enough hereto begin to build upon. Was this all a dream? No. It is God’s truth and it must be realized. That ever it has dawned on the mind of man, is proof that it can be accomplished. It will be; and angels will sing a jubilate.

Even now the thick clouds are dispersing—a line of light is seen in the Western sky, and the East will yet reflect its rays. Light travels swiftly—how beautiful becomes the earth in its beams. And these rainbows twice repeated. They fill the soul with hope, with certainty. Behold a new Heaven and new Earth! now can one labor keeping the end in sight, and cannot be discouraged—let what will come. The dark shades of night are settling around me, I know, but the stars will enlighten it, and the glorious morning will soon dawn. God speed the coming! No—it will come, when the earth is ready. God be with vast the coming, and strengthen and prepare us for it.

He has religious feeling—is enthusiastic—has great depth of feeling, quick sympathies. I like his manner with his opponents—generally he is willing to concede to them all that they can in justice claim. He can well afford to be generous, his views are so incontestably superior—they are founded on a rock. I like St. Simon’s aspirations but his views seem “the baseless fabric of a vision,” as if the solid earth in its revolving would leave floating in the air, whilst this man seems part and parcel of our good old mother. There is a generous freeness in St. Simon, which pleases, though after all Fourier gives us the truest liberty. He seems intensely engaged in study, his back turned to the earth, with a determination not to yield to his inclination to look back upon it.

Translated from the French Journal of Magnetism, by Mrs. L. K. F.

  1. The manuscript held was a letter from Fourier to a St. Simonian.
  2. An allegory of man’s passional nature.
  3. What I say of his clinging to earth is false now (if it were true then 1843). Now he leaves his system to Providence as a child blows a bubble on the air. It seems vast to us—but to him in his rapid progress a mere point. I mean it seems thus to me of him. I shun all intercourse with the spiritual world; and this rather troubles me though I do not yield to it.

“Charles Fourier. A Psychometric Observation,” The Spirit of the Age, 1 no. 17 (October 27, 1849): 258-260; 1 no 18 (November 3, 1849): 275-276.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2295 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.