From: Love-Letters of Margaret Fuller, 1845-1846
Published: 1903 New York
Margaret Fuller’s name is now one to conjure with. Few remain at the present day of those who felt her personal attraction, or heard her eloquent discourse. The literary material which she left behind her appears small in dimension, when thought of in comparison with the scope of her intellect and the height of her aspiration. Yet her name, once the subject of sarcasm, is now spoken with reverence, and her figure, carved or cast in enduring marble or bronze, would appropriately guard the entrance of the enlarged domain of womanhood, of which she was the inspired Pythoness.
Among the titles bestowed on women of unusual gifts, that of Sibyl appears to me to suit best with what we know of her. Like her contemporary, George Sand, she felt keenly the wide discrepancy between the moral and intellectual power of women, and the limits assigned them in the division of the world’s work. But Margaret’s Puritan inheritance had bred in her a religious faith in which she far excelled the great Frenchwoman, a faith in the fulfilment of all the glorious promises of humanity. As in a vision she walked, rapt, inspired, little sensitive to praise or blame, with a message to deliver, whose full import she could not know. The decades which have elapsed since her untimely death have made this import clearer to us. The new order has asserted and established itself, and, though time has swept away most of those who held converse with her while in the flesh, the number is greatly multiplied of those who claim fellowship with her in the spirit.
A leading trait in this leader of the woman’s cause was courage. Margaret dared to recognise her own mental and moral power. There was nothing in her make-up to suggest the old time phrase “only a woman.” She certainly enjoyed exceptional advantages of early training and surrounding, neither of her parents having found their duty in the act of
The way in which she embraced these opportunities of instruction made evident a spirit brave from the start. Foreign tongues might be difficult; they were not too difficult for her. The ancient classics, not then included in the curriculum of a girl’s education, were not beyond her reach. Coming to womanhood, she was generous in sharing with others the results of her thoughtful study. The atmosphere of this fine culture, of this large and liberal view of life, went with her everywhere.
Biography has done for her what it could. A very full account of her life was given many years since by Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Freeman Clarke, and William Henry Channing. To be so memorialized argued a subject nothing less than illustrious. At a later date, Colonel Higginson and the writer of these lines each gave to the world a more succinct appreciation of her life and work.
The present volume contributes an unexpected addition to what is known of her. A series of letters inspired by a very fervent friendship, and written in a tone of unreserve unusual with her, reveals to us something of the ardour and depth of her nature. These letters are not for profane eyes. They show the immense craving for sympathy of one who was herself most sympathetic. She who had given so freely of her own inspiration, who had aided so many of her own generation to aspire nobly and to live truly, sought with passionate longing one who should be to her what she had been to others. For a time she evidently thought that she had found this spiritual counterpart in the person to whom these letters were addressed.
They were written at an intensely subjective period of Margaret’s life, before the wider horizon of experience had fully opened before her. The neighbourhood of New York, even when viewed from the Greeley residence, may have afforded some enlargement to one hitherto imprisoned in the narrowness of the old Boston and its surroundings. But Margaret was made for wider knowledge and more varied observation, and these came to her soon after the time now under consideration, in her visit to Europe and her residence in Rome.
Margaret sailed for England with a party of congenial friends in 1846. Her reception in that country seems to have been gratifying on the whole. Abroad, as at home, she was the theme of some harmless satire, enjoying at the same time deserved recognition. On some occasion she was said to have remarked that she accepted the universe, on report of which saying Carlyle was reported to have said: “She accepts the universe, does she? I think she had better.” On being told that she had spoken of women as possible sea-captains, he was said to have expressed a doubt whether “she could command a smack.” In letters to Mr. Emerson, nevertheless, he appears, after some question, to admit her claims to superior consideration.
The enthusiastic friendship which dictated the letters now published came unexpectedly to an end, and was never renewed. She dismisses it from her thoughts in one or two significant sentences of her Diary.
While visiting friends in Scotland, Margaret had the awful experience of passing a night on a solitary mountain-side. She had become separated from her guide, who sought her anxiously, but in vain. She related this adventure afterward to the Rev. F. H. Hedge in a way which led him to consider it as the occasion of a profound spiritual experience. He was wont to say, in speaking of it, “that night Margaret experienced religion.”
A season of European travel proved full of delighted interest to Margaret, whose pilgrimage culminated in the Eternal City. There she encountered the husband of her choice, and became doubly wedded to that Italy which had always so strongly appealed to her imagination. Of the romantic interest of her years of residence in the Eternal City, Margaret has given us glimpses in her letters and Diary. A fuller account of that momentous period of 1848 and thereafter was prepared by her for publication, but has never seen the light. She should have lived to tell us, in her own impassioned manner, of the brief, brave struggle for Italian liberty, of the joy of the brief deliverance, of the bitter disappointment that followed.
She was present when the new French Republic aimed its murderous blows at the throat of its famous sister. To us dwelling at a distance, the tragedy seemed bitter enough. What must it have been to Margaret, in the midst of the turmoil, her young husband a soldier of the fight, her newly born son separated from her by the army which besieged Rome? A dear sister of mine, herself a witness of those evil days, was seated one day with her own infant child in her arms, when Margaret unexpectedly entered the room in which she sat. The visitor’s eyes rested for a moment on the mother and child with an intensity of expression which my sister well understood, when some months later the facts of Margaret’s marriage and maternity were made known. The sequel and culminating catastrophe of this very exceptional life have long been familiar to the public. A memorial raised by loving friends preserves Margaret’s name and record on the shore of the fatal shipwreck.
The volume herewith presented to the public is a memorial, not of Margaret’s fate, but of the brilliant forenoon of her existence, a period of “imagination all compact,” in which neither difficulty nor disappointment had had power to darken the glowing interpretation of life and its conditions, which was her best gift to the men and women of her time, and of our own as well.
BOSTON, MAY 25, 1903.
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