The Genius of Margaret Fuller

The Letters of Margaret Fuller Vol. 1: 1817–1838 Vol. 2: 1839–1841 Vol. 3: 1842–1844

edited by Robert N. Hudspeth
Cornell University Press (two further volumes in preparation), Vol. 3, 269 pp., $25.00 each volume

Woman in the Nineteenth Century

by Margaret Fuller
Norton, 212 pp., $6.95 (paper)

The Woman and the Myth: Margaret Fuller's Life and Writings

by Bell Gale Chevigny
The Feminist Press, 500 pp., $8.95 (paper)

The Roman Years of Margaret Fuller

by Joseph Jay Deiss
Thomas Y. Crowell (1969, out of print)

Margaret Fuller, American Romantic: A Selection From Her Writings and Correspondence

edited with an introduction and notes by Perry Miller
Anchor (1963, out of print)

The American Transcendentalists: Their Prose and Poetry

edited by Perry Miller
Johns Hopkins University Press, 400 pp., $6.95 (paper)

Margaret Fuller Ossoli

by Thomas Wentworth Higginson
Greenwood Press (originally published by Houghton Mifflin, 1890), 323 pp., $39.95

Love-Letters of Margaret Fuller

with an introduction by Julia Ward Howe
AMS Press (reprint of 1903 edition), 248 pp., $19.45

Italian Nationalism and English Letters

by Harry W. Rudman
AMS Press (originally published by Columbia University Press, 1940), 444 pp., $17.50

Margaret Fuller
Margaret Fuller; drawing by David Levine

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…

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