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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 Traitéde 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 . 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. Listed among the other known Pfaffians, Brisbane is also to have been a friend of Ada Clare (Rawson 103).

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."