Imagine yourself repeatedly moving from place to place in and around the Boston, New England area in the years following 1832. Times were rugged. In winter, houses were cold except for drafty fireplaces. Medicine was just beginning to be understood. Disease was often thought best cured by bed rest, home remedies, wishful thinking, and prayer. Often, the ill were advised to travel to warmer climates where the air was fresh and clean compared to the frosty, smoky air inside homes, and the sooty air outside.
Only the well-to-do could afford to move. Louisa May Alcott was thrust into a poverty stricken New England family that moved from place to place dozens of times in her lifetime — four different addresses by the age of eighteen months. The basic cause for the Alcott’s poverty was their father Bronson’s somewhat unrealistic belief in his own abilities.Bronson considered himself a scholar, a philosopher, a transcendentalist, who would not waste his labors like any ordinary man. He would support his family by lecturing, authoring poetry, writing treatises, teaching about the nature of the human spirit and the realm of the material world.
His many attempts to start schools popularizing his beliefs were never successful. Oft advertised and talked about as ideal places for self-discovery through nature, parents withdrew their children from Bronson's tutelage when they discovered how frugal were food and living quarters where Bronson boarded their offspring. Mostly, students slept in his small home after his own children had crowded into tiny sleeping quarters.
In spite of attempts to offer the world his transcendent philosophical thought on paper, Bronson briefly remained successful at times as a lecturer, obscure most of the time as a writer. A critic would say:
While he talks he is great but goes out like a taperIf you shut him up closely with pen, ink, and paper.
Thus, he literally had no constant income and the Alcott’s truly lived a day to day subsistence.
Because Bronson was a personal friend of Emerson and at times kept company with other philosophers and writers like Thoreau and Hawthorne and Margaret Fuller, these renowned people kept Bronson accepted in higher society circles even though the man was virtually penniless. Many times, Emerson simply paid Bronson’s debts.