The Letters of Margaret Fuller Vol. 1: 18171838 Vol. 2: 18391841 Vol. 3: 18421844
Woman in the Nineteenth Century
The Woman and the Myth: Margaret Fuller’s Life and Writings
The Roman Years of Margaret Fuller
Margaret Fuller, American Romantic: A Selection From Her Writings and Correspondence
The American Transcendentalists: Their Prose and Poetry
Margaret Fuller Ossoli
Love-Letters of Margaret Fuller
Italian Nationalism and English Letters
So passed away the loftiest, bravest soul that has yet irradiated the form of an American woman: thus wrote the editor, Horace Greeley. Yet before this noble soul, Margaret Fuller, passed away, many would have foregone irradiated in preference to irritated. She was brave and lofty and she did irradiate and also irritate, irritate herself especially with strained nerves, fantastical exertions, discomforts large and small.
Margaret Fuller, a New England creation, commemorated in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge in impressive blocks of stone, was born in the wrong place, the place thought to be the only right one for an American intellectual in the nineteenth century. That is, she was born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, around Harvard, Boston, Concord, and all the rest. She sprang out of the head of all the Zeuses about: her father Timothy Fuller, Emerson, Goethe. The head being the protesting organ it is, she suffered lifelong from migraine headaches, and even as a young girl, left on the scene more than a bit of the fatigue and sense of pounding insistence thought to be the dispensation of a learned woman. There were many enlightened and cultivated women about, but she was the only seriously learned one in her circle, perhaps in the country.
As a life, a biography, hers is the most dramatic, the most adventuring of all the “flowerings.” Her life was most strikingly split into two parts by experience and a good thing it was, even if ending in tragedy. Staying at home in Concord and Boston she might have ended as a comedy.
Into an incestuous air she was born, this world that provided as a wife the sister of one’s best friend, as a husband, the son of a family connection. Hawthorne married Sophia Peabody; Emerson married Ellen Tucker; Henry Adams married Marian Hooper, the daughter of Dr. Hooper and a Sturgis on the maternal side. This sexual handiness, as it were, the prudent over-the-fence alliances, narrowed experience in Margaret Fuller’s circle, but seemed to produce around Boston and Concord a domestic placidity that encouraged the high notes of Transcendentalism, a local philosophical blending, an indefinable Idealism of the divinity within man, union with nature, the “eternal One”; in practice the passion for Genius and the hope for the smaller genius of all, for the enlargement of the spiritual life of the nation. Henry Adams, thinking of Emerson and pondering his own non-Boston experience of the nation as a whole, thought all this naif.
(It is almost elevating to learn from a discreet footnote here and there that Clarence King, the distinguished geologist and Adams’s great friend in the Education, was the common-law husband of a New York black woman and the father of a son by her. King himself was from Newport, Rhode Island, and a graduate of Yale rather than Harvard; perhaps this climate slightly to the south had an effect upon this far-flinging, if that is what it was. Allowing for the condescension of “common-law,” King …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.