Death of Margaret Fuller.

From: At Home and Abroad, or Things and Thoughts in Europe (1856)
Author: Margaret Fuller Ossoli
Published: and Company 1856 Boston


  A GREAT soul has passed from this mortal stage of being by the death of MARGARET FULLER, by marriage Marchioness Ossoli, who, with her husband and child, Mr. Horace Sumner of Boston,* and others, was drowned in the wreck of the brig Elizabeth from Leghorn for this port, on the south shore of Long Island, near Fire Island, on Friday afternoon last. No passenger survives to tell the story of the night of horrors, whose fury appalled many of our snugly sheltered citizens reposing securely in their beds. We can adequately realize what it must have been to voyagers approaching our coast from the Old World, on vessels helplessly exposed to the rage of that wild southwestern gale, and seeing in the long and anxiously expected land of their youth and their love only an aggravation of their perils, a death-blow to their hopes an assurance of their temporal doom!

  Margaret Fuller was the daughter of Hon. Timothy Fuller, a lawyer of Boston, but nearly all his life a resident of Cambridge, and a Representative of the Middlesex District in Congress from l817 to 1825. Mr. Fuller, upon his retirement from Congress, purchased a farm of some distance from Boston, and abandoned law for agriculture, soon after which he died. His widow and six children still survive.

  Margaret, if we mistake not, was the first-born, and from a very early age evinced the possession of remarkable intellectual powers. Her father regarded her with a proud admiration, and was from childhood her chief instructor, guide, companion, and friend. He committed the too common error of stimulating her intellect to an assiduity and persistency of effort which severely taxed and ultimately injured her physical powers. At eight years of age he was accustomed to require of her the composition of a number of Latin verses per day, while her studies in philosophy, history, general science, and current literature were in after years extensive and profound. After her father’s death, she applied herself to teaching as a vocation, first in Boston, then in Providence, and afterward in Boston again, where her “Conversations” were for several seasons attended by classes of women, some of them married, and including many from the best families of the “American Athens.

  In the autumn of 1844, she accepted an invitation to take part in the conduct of the Tribune with especial reference to the department of Reviews and Criticism on current Literature, Art, Music, &c.; a position which she filled for nearly two years,—how eminently, our readers well know. Her reviews of Longfellow’s Poems, Wesley’s Memoirs, Poe’s Poems, Bailey’s “Festus,” Douglas’s Life, &c. must yet be remembered by many. She had previously found “fit audience, though few” for a series of remarkable papers on “The Great Musicians,” “Lord Herbert of Cherbury,” “Woman,” &c., &c., in “The Dial,” a quarterly of remarkable breadth and vigor, of which she was at first co-editor with Ralph Waldo Emerson, but which was afterward edited by him only, though she continued a contributor to its pages. In 1843, she accompanied some friends on a tour via Niagara, Detroit, and Mackinac to Chicago, and across the prairies of Illinois, and her resulting volume, entitled “Summer on the Lakes,” is one of the best works in this department ever issued from the American press. It was too good to be widely and instantly popular. Her “Woman in the Nineteenth Century”—an extension of her essay in the Dial—was published by us early in 1845, and a moderate edition sold. The next year, a selection from her “Papers on Literature and Art” was issued by Wiley and Putnam in two fair volumes of their “Library of American Books.” We believe the original edition was nearly or quire exhausted, but a second has not been called for, while books nowise comparable to it for strength or worth have run through a half dozen editions. These “Papers” embody some of her best contributions to the Dial, the Tribune, and perhaps one or two which had not appeared in either.

  In the summer of 1845, Miss Fuller accompanied the family of a devoted friend to Europe, visiting England, Scotland, France, and passing through Italy to Rome, where they spent the ensuing winter. She accompanied her friends next spring to the North of Italy, and there stopped, spending most of the summer at Florence, and returning at the approach of winter to Rome, where she was soon after married to Giovanni, Marquis Ossoli, who had made her acquaintance during her first winter in the Eternal City. They have since resided in the Roman States until the last summer, after the surrender of Rome to the French army of assassins of liberty, when they deemed it expedient to migrate to Florence, both having taken an active part in the Republican movement which resulted so disastrously,—nay, of which the ultimate result is yet to be witnessed. Thence in June they departed and set sail at Leghorn for this port, in the Philadelphia brig Elizabeth, which was doomed to encounter a succession of disasters. They had not been many days at sea when the captain was prostrated by a disease which ultimately exhibited itself as confluent small-pox of the most malignant type, and terminated his life soon after they touched at Gibraltar, after a sickness of intense agony and loathsome horror. The vessel was detained some days in quarantine by reason of this affliction, but finally set sail again on the 8th ultimo, just in season to bring her on our coast on the fearful night between Thursday and Friday last, when darkness, rain, and a terrific gale from the southwest (the most dangerous quarter possible) conspired to hurl her into the very jaws of destruction. It is said, but we know not how truly, that the mate in command since the captain’s death mistook the Fire Island light for that on the Highlands of Neversink, and so fatally miscalculated his course; but it is hardly probable that any other than a first-class, fully manned ship could have worked off that coast under such a gale, blowing him directly toward the roaring breakers. She struck during the night, and before the next evening the Elizabeth was a mass of drifting sticks and planks, while her passengers and part of her crew were buried in the boiling surges. Alas that our gifted friend, and those nearest to and most loved by her should have been among them!

  We trust a new, compact, and cheap edition or selection of Margaret Fuller’s writings will soon be given to the public, prefaced by a Memoir. It were a shame to us if one so radiantly lofty in intellect, so devoted to human liberty and well-being so ready to dare and to endure for the upraising of her sex and her race, should perish from among us, and leave no memento less imperfect and casual than those we now have. We trust the more immediate relatives of our departed friend will lose no time in selecting the fittest person to prepare a Memoir, with a selection from her writings for the press.§ America has produced no woman who in mental endowments and acquirements has surpassed Margaret Fuller and it will be a public misfortune if her thoughts are not promptly and acceptably embodied.

* Horace Sumner, one of the victims of the lamentable wreck of the Elizabeth, was the youngest son of the late Hon. Charles P. Sumner, of Boston, for many years Sheriff of Suffolk County, and the brother of George Sumner, Esq., the distinguished American writer, now resident at Paris, and of Hon. Charles Sumner of Boston, who is well known for his legal and literary eminence throughout the country. He was about twenty-four years of age, and had been abroad for nearly a year, travelling in the South of Europe for the benefit of his health. The past winter was spent by him chiefly in Florence, where he was on terms of familiar intimacy with the Marquis and Marchioness Ossoli, and was induced to take passage in the same vessel with them for his return to his native land. He was a young man of singular modesty of deportment, of an original turn of mind, and greatly endeared to his friends by the sweetness of his disposition and the purity of his character.
† I think this opinion somewhat erroneous, for reasons which I have already given in the edition recently published of Woman in the Nineteenth Century. The reader is referred to page 352 of that work, and also to page 38, where I believe my sister personified herself under the name of Miranda, and stated clearly and justly the relation which existed between her father and herself.—ED.
‡ A second edition has since been published.—ED.
§ The reader is aware that such a Memoir has since been published, and that several of her works have been republished likewise. I trust soon to publish a volume of Madame Ossoli’s Miscellaneous Writings.—ED.

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