[The following interesting memoir of an excellent Christian woman was not prepared with any reference to being printed. It was written by one of her sons for the use of his children; but, having had the privilege of reading it, I requested to be allowed to print it in the Quarterly Journal, and my request was granted. I think the readers of the Journal will be interested in this sketch.—EDITOR JOURNAL.]
MARGARET FULLER, the daughter of Major Peter Crane, was born in Canton, Mass., February 15, 1789. Her father, though an artisan of moderate circumstances, was quite scholarly for his day and condition in life, and possessed an original turn of mind, as well as marked independence of character. He left some disquisitions, preserved by his family, of no literary excellence, but indicative of a strong and untutored mind, coping with the intellectual problems of life, and feeling after truth by the unaided light of individual thought. He was noted for going on in his own course, with utter disregard of popularity, and of the view which others might take of his conduct. He served in the revolutionary war, and at one time, when there was no chaplain, performed the duties of that office for his regiment. Though belonging to no church, and entertaining, perhaps, rather crude views of his own in religious things, yet he had an influence over the minds of others, which induced his counsel and his prayers to be sought for in circumstances of distress. He died before I was born; but my grandmother lived till after I attained manhood. My father and mother often visited her at Canton, riding in a chaise, and carrying one of the children, sitting on a cricket at their feet; and my tarn for these journeys came often. My father was an ardent lover of nature, which he doubly enjoyed in his escapes from the pressure of public and professional business; and his enjoyment of it, and the points of interest he called attention to, heightened my relish for this pure gratification. He drove slowly, and sang with my mother on the way. These journeys are ever memorable with me; and the visits were always celebrated in ·sacred song among the Canton kindred, which my father accompanied with the flute, enjoying music with almost passionate delight. Arriving at Canton, we were always joyously greeted by the bright and sunny face of my aged grandmother, who lived with a maiden aunt, and the uniformity of whose life was very agreeably varied by these visits, while my father never neglected to bring generous supplies for her rather meagre larder. She was a very pious woman, in the simplicity and devotion of the Baxter school, whose “Saint’s Rest,” as well as the works of Watts and Doddridge, were very familiar and precious to her, and formed, with her ever-diligently conned and well-worn Bible, almost the whole range of her literary acquirement. She was very fond of singing devotional hymns. Among others, I remember “China” was a great favorite, sung even with her last failing voice upon her death bed. As she sang it, the minor cadence and its reference to the grave rather affrighted and repelled my childish taste; but I have since been able to appreciate the sentiment which made it attractive. My grandmother had great sweetness of temper and a sunshine of disposition, which may have been received by my mother as an hereditary gift.
In childhood and youth, my mother was marked not only for rare bloom and personal beauty, but for an almost irrepressible gayety and buoyancy of temper. She was as full of the elasticity of life, and her heart as overflowing with the music of nature, as the early songsters of spring. She was above the medium height of woman, being in stature about five feet and nine or ten inches, and considerably taller than my father. She had blue eyes, a fair, white complexion, not liable to tan or freckle, and a rich bloom, like that of the peach, in her cheeks. This bloom was a very marked characteristic of her face, and one that she retained to quite mature life. It was transmitted to her daughter Ellen, and its rose has reappeared undiminished in the blooming cheeks of some of her grandchildren.
My mother had a very happy childhood. Her own temper, with its rare elasticity, was then, and ever through life, a fund of happiness for herself as well as others. As a child and maiden, she had a wild exuberance of spirits, regulated, however, by as strong a benevolence, and a tenderness of feeling and sympathy, which made her generally beloved. Her fondness for flowers was ever a passion with her, if so gentle and refined a sentiment may be thus denominated. I have heard her speak of her mother as one who, though sweet and loving, was determined not to spoil the child by sparing the rod, when occasion required its exercise, which, happily, was seldom. On one occasion, however, her mother had forbidden the children to eat certain grapes, and Margaret had yielded to the temptation of the luscious fruit, and despoiled the vine of some of its clusters. Her mother inquired of Abby, a younger daughter, if she had done it, and was answered, “No.” On being further interrogated if she knew the offending party, Abby would not reply; and her mother attempted with the rod to compel her to answer. Abby bore it with heroic endurance, and continued mute, till Margaret, unable to endure the sight of this vicarious suffering, confessed the deed, and thereby transferred the rod to her own more deserving shoulders. Before she was out of her teens, she taught school in the district where she resided. One large boy presumed upon his familiar acquaintance and her well-known playfulness of disposition, which he could hardly believe it possible for her to lay aside, and showed a disinclination to submit to her sceptre in the school room. She displayed her characteristic energy and courage, called the boy out upon the floor, and, ere he could collect his forces for resistance, ferruled him soundly. The dismayed youth quailed and submitted, and her authority was afterwards unquestioned.
My mother has given some rather grotesque accounts of riding to church on a pillion; and of being sometimes taken up behind a rustic cavalier, whose invitation she had unwillingly accepted, to spare him the mortification of a refusal. It was at church that my father first saw her, she happening, through some chance, to be in Cambridge on the Sabbath. He loved, and his love was returned. He soon led her to the altar, a blooming girl of twenty, and ten years younger than himself. Father was not blind to worldly advantages of family and position; and such were readily within the reach of a rising young lawyer, whose talents had already become favorably known. But it was well for him that he yielded to a softer and a better sentiment. “His love for my mother,” says Margaret in her autobiographical sketch, “was the green spot on which he stood apart from the commonplaces of a mere bread-winning, bread-bestowing existence.” She adds, in describing her mother, “She was one of those fair and flower—like natures which sometimes spring up even beside the most dusty highways of life— a creature not to be shaped into a merely useful instrument, but bound by one law with the blue sky, the dew, and the frolic birds. Of all persons whom I have known, she had in her most of the angelic—of that spontaneous love for every living thing, for man, and beast, and tree, which restores the golden age.” Not only was this union a blessing to father, but favorable to the character of his children. Margaret used to say that we derived our ideal sentiment mainly from our mother. And certainly she had a good store of refined fancy and delicate feeling, though coupled, as they but rarely are, with a ready hand and a willing mind for useful effort, graced by uninterrupted benignity and sweetness, and not marred by the moody and irritable temperament which are not unfrequently the blemish of an imaginative mind. None of her sons can fail to be grateful for sentiment, from whichever parent derived, since it is not only the most satisfactory evidence of a divine and immortal germ within, but affords that purer gratification of thought and fancy, which, better than any thing in life, deserves the name of pleasure, being a satisfaction to which memory can ever revert without self—reproach. It is true that such a temperament is apt to be more sensitive to the thorns in life’s pathway; but, when religiously developed, which is its best and most congenial bias, it furnishes itself a corrective for its fault, and opens to the soul fountains of even heavenly consolation.
My mother’s Cambridge years rather antedate my recollection; but in Groton her character and life are fresh in my memory. A picture of her is very prominent in my mind, as she stooped over her flower—bed, and toiled long sunny hours over its extensive border. Her unwearied labors in the heat attracted the admiration even of the hardy farmers. Her expression, as she knelt by the flower bed and bent her nearsighted gaze close to a plant, and, discovering some new unfolding promise of beauty, turned round to announce it with a child-like simplicity and a delighted smile, I think can never fade from the memories of her children. This image has often been renewed; and though latterly her hair, no less beautiful than before, has been gray, yet never thinned by years, her smile has gleamed ever with the same sunshiny, child—like triumph, her countenance never hardened or saddened by life’s experience, nor her joy abated with the declining vigor of life. The. flowers were ever new and ever young, and they kept her spirit still child—like in freshness of sentiment, simplicity of taste, and purity of soul, showing her ever guileless, single—hearted, and such as are of the kingdom of heaven.
My father’s death was a dreadful stroke to my mother. It bowed her to the earth; but it did not break her spirit, and she rose again, leaning on the arm of her beloved Lord. My father had been a man of strength and of success, and on him she had entirely relied, never cognizant of the practical financial problems of life. His property was in unproductive real estate, and, with young children to be educated, it was necessary to change and straiten our style of living. The arithmetic of the business appalled my mother; she was as naturally inapt for it as the lilies that neither toil nor spin. But she was always remarkable for indefatigable industry; and she applied herself to the dairy, and the farm, and the economy of the table with heroic determination, while she was aided and encouraged by Margaret’s firm and courageous, though far from financial or business—like, mind. She ever rose early, and her voice with the morning birds roused the rest of the household. Well do I remember the night of my father’s death, when I was ten years of age. The solemn tones of the minister’s voice in prayer, in the chamber of death, have not been—can never be—forgotten. Very soon after I was confined to my bed for a fortnight, with fever. Mother feared it might prove fatal. She never faltered; she was with me night and clay. I remember well her voice as she called me her “dear lamb.” Her soothing, gentle hand had no ornament but her simple wedding-ring of gold, without any stone, which she always wore, and which was· buried with her. After my father’s death she devoted every energy, with untiring self-sacrifice, to her children. Her economy in respect to herself was most rigorous. Her dress was as plain and simple as propriety would permit, and it was preserved with great care. She always persevered in this self-denial, wishing to husband what was hers for others. Her annual income from her share of the property was five or six hundred dollars, and she invariably saved about half of it, till the lot was purchased at Mount Auburn, which was obtained to commemorate the dear departed, and to testify her perennial remembrance. She contributed largely and principally toward its marble memorials, and adorned it with flowers, whose growth she assiduously fostered with her own hand. We think this was a great solace to her; and it evidently furnished her satisfaction, not merely to keep green and fresh holy memories, but to express in the language of flowers her never doubting Christian faith.
At Groton she was active in the efforts of the religious society to which she belonged. Indeed, from the time she united with the Unitarian Church in Cambridge, soon after her marriage, till her last sickness, and even during it, as far as possible, she was much and actively engaged in religious effort. Loving and full of ‘charity towards those of every Christian name, she was herself an earnest and devoted Unitarian, through evil report and good report. She’ was among the first who formed the Lee Street Church and Society, in Cambridge; nor can her efforts in its behalf be soon forgotten. When her son, Rev. Arthur B. Fuller, was settled in Manchester, N. H., she was, with him, actively devoted to the interests of his society, and tenderly loved by all its members. When he left Manchester, to accept the call of the New North Church in Boston, she accompanied him, and there continued till her last sickness. Her sympathy for all, her teaching in the Sabbath school, her interest, always cordial and as laborious as her years would permit, in the benevolent organization of the society, and her Christian graces, which shone with so mild and lovely a light, won affection as well as respect from all who came in contact with her, no matter how variant their theological creed from her own.
Benevolence, of a sympathetic and hopeful cast, overflowed from the pure fountains of her Christian heart. The bad awoke in her much pity and little reproach. No one could desire a kinder judge than she to pass upon character or determine destiny. In the large charity of her soul, she hoped from the divine benignity a place for repentance would ever be preserved for all. She never spoke against others—dwelt much upon their virtues, gently and charitably upon their faults. She reproved her children if they spoke unfavorably of the absent, and always advocated their cause, and endeavored to excuse what was alleged against them. We sometimes held np the faults of others merely to notice the ingenuity with which she would seek for excuse, or strive to throw the veil of charity over them. I shall never forget her efforts by the bedside of a large, coarse man, a tenant of ours in Groton, who lived “without God and without hope in the world,” until he took opium to end his wretched existence. Mother used every exertion to rescue him from death, and staid by him during the hours of fearful struggle between a powerful frame and the working of the poison. In the early part of it, before his mind entirely wandered, he said, “It will be all in vain; but you may try all means.” The memory of this scene is in one view appalling, as representing a gross and sensual nature meeting the fearful fate itself had invoked; but, on the other hand, is beautiful as exhibiting one, like an angel, exerting every power to snatch him from his self—elected doom.
Mother’s sympathy was sometimes taken advantage of to induce her to lend money which she could ill spare. One case in particular we used to jest a little about, of a man who induced her to lend him, on the plea that he “wanted to pay his debts, and become an honest man.” We thought it would only change his creditor, and doubted if it would not make him a less honest man, not only by the pretext he used, but by his employing the money for other objects than that alleged. But in her readiness of sympathy she exhibited the charity that “believeth all things.”
My mother’s piety was as truly genuine, as any I have ever witnessed. It was meek and unpretending; it had a faith which buoyed her up in all the stormy passages of life, which drew the gleam of heaven down upon the earth, and surrounded her with its sanctifying light. Duty was her daily food—not a burden, nor an artificial action, but the spontaneous movement of her life. Self—sacrifice was as natural to her as self-gratification is to many others. When I say natural, I refer to that acquired nature which was the fruit of her Christian experience. She never attached any merit to self-sacrifice, nor regarded herself as having any claim to consideration with God or man founded on it. She took spiritual nourishment as regularly as physical. Prayer was habitual—a frequent, regular, and delightful exercise to her. God was her best friend. His book was read and re-read, to her last hours, with ever fresh satisfaction; it was not only inscribed on her memory, but written on the tables of her heart. The Psalms and the Gospel of John were, perhaps, especial favorites, though not to the disparagement of the rest. What I say of her Christian character may seem like extravagant eulogy to those who did not know her; but it will not to those who knew her well, (for whom this is especially written,) since her religion was not only sentimental and devotional, but lived out in all the little and large things of life, which ever showed her mindful of the things of others, and not of her own, and always denying herself and taking up the cross. What heightened it was her humility, she having no idea that she had any such grace of character, and the sunshiny cheerfulness with which she constantly bore the crosses of life, without the gloom or austerity which sometimes stamp the Christian self-conquest with something like servitude.
Early in the year 1839, our family moved to Jamaica Plain, a part of Roxbury, having succeeded in selling our Groton farm. My brother Arthur had, the autumn previous, gone to Waltham to complete his college preparatory studies, under the teaching of Mrs. Ripley. At Jamaica Plain, Margaret had two pupils from Providence in the house. I attended the school of Mr. S. M. W chi, in Jamaica Plain. I think mother had a good deal of rest here, now the cares and responsibilities, as well as the drudgery, of the farm were over. She had ever great enjoyment in Margaret’& society. It was beautiful to see the relation between them—the noble, strong-minded, and courageous daughter sustaining and cheering the heart of that holy and loving parent. Our house in Jamaica Plain was elevated, with a fine view, near a brook, then called Willow Brook; and in the rear were rocks, at times almost covered with the wild columbine.
After I entered college, Margaret, to have me at home, as well as to be with my mother, took a house in Ellery Street, Cambridge. As I record this, memory seems to rush back upon me like a mighty wind, freighted with a mother’s and sister’s love. Here we resided till I graduated; and in the constant intercourse of my mother and sisters, I enjoyed a noble and elevating society, such as rarely can be expected this side of heaven. Not but there are many pure and noble natures, and often side by side; but they are not often fluent and expressive. Their souls rarely speak and flow forth from one to the other with benignant activity, as they might and should. We kept house in Cambridge till I graduated, in 1844. On my entering the Law School, we purchased the Prospect Street House, in Cambridge, and there resided till I went into the practice of my profession in Boston. This sojourn in Cambridge is marked in memory by the farewells we here took with Margaret on her departure for Europe. O, such a mother and sister! May life be so unselfish, noble, and aspiring that we may obtain admission into such companionship, when these years of fleeting change are passed away!
On my brother Arthur settling in Manchester, N. H., our mother went to live with him, and subsequently, after five years’ residence there, removed with him to Boston, residing with him and her loving daughter-in-law* till the departure of the latter to “the better land,” in 1856. During this mournful year, our pure and noble sister Ellen was also called to the higher divine life of heaven. Excepting these bereavement: these were sunny years for our mother. She was able to do much good in the parish, and she was the object of much attention. Mother had, for Margaret’s sake, a particular sympathy for Italians. She would hear the poor man with his organ, and invariably give; which made the street of my brother’s residence quite a common resort for these poor sons and daughters of the land of music. She also visited the suffering Italian women in their homes of penury, more, perhaps, than those of other poor, though she delighted to “lend to the Lord” by bestowing her widow’s mite to the destitute of whatever kindred and nation.
We notice in the above narrative that mother had three different successive homes while father lived, and after his death five. But her flowers went with her every where; they were certain to spring up and bloom around her wherever she was. From first to last, as types of the Creator’s infinite goodness, beauty, and perfection, she loved them with ardent and undiminished tenderness. Washington said his biography could not be written without the history of his country. Neither could mother’s be expressively written without the history of flowers. Families and generations of plants adhered to her, year after year, like the tenantry of a feudal lord. When she left one residence, they accompanied her, or perhaps were set out in the hospitable garden of a friend till she acquired another home. There was a family of lilies, in particular, which adhered to her fortunes for a quarter of a century; and some of them she left in my garden. Mother felt much this frequent change of home. No longer, God be praised! is she tossed to and fro. She is now in an eternal mansion—a home never to change—in the heavens. She is with her Saviour, her loved ones. Shortly before her death, when she could hardly articulate, she joined me in singing,—
I shall be glorified—
Heaven is my home I
There are the good and bleat,
Those I love most and best;
There, too, I soon shall rest—
Heaven is my home.”
Even later, she sang with Arthur,—
Let us hail the glad day.”
Another favorite and oft—repeated hymn with her was that beautiful one by Montgomery, commencing,—
Amen, so let it be!
Life from the dead is in that word
Within this body pent,
Absent from thee I roam,
Yet nightly pitch my moving tent
A day’s march nearer home.”
Mother had the truest delight in sacred music. When she taught our infant lips to pray, she also encouraged us to join her sweet voice in singing. She accompanied the tune with a gentle motion of one hand. Her love for tunes, like her affection for friends and flowers, was constant and unchanging. “Safely through another week,” how often, from my first to my last recollection of her, did I hear her sing! “While with ceaseless course the sun,” was another favorite. “Softly now the light of day,” she sang constantly. “Brattle Street,” “While thee I seek, protecting Power,” she loved to sing, especially because Margaret sang it often on her home voyage. Tappan’s beautiful hymn, “There is an hour of peaceful rest,” she seemed to feel a rest in singing. She was not exclusive, but loved all beautiful hymns, and often bade me sing by the bedside in her last sickness.
In September, 1858, mother came to our house in Wayland to pass her last days. She was suffering from most painful disease, and a fatal result was inevitable. She was sick from that time, and confined to her bed seven months, till she left us on Sabbath morning, July 31, 1859, at half past eight o’clock. Such faith I never witnessed. She had a trust in her Saviour which took away every sad aspect from mortality. She rested in his love. Every day she pursued the even tenor of her Christian life, till she at last “ fell asleep “ as peacefully as an infant, so that the moment of departure was hardly distinguishable. She told Arthur, shortly before hex decease, that she felt she had done with earth, and wanted to go home now. She was only solicitous lest her sickness should be a burden to others. She thanked even the hired nurse for what she did. She took the same heavenly interest in the world—that regard which those have for it who live above it—to the last. All that interested others, their plans, their hopes, their improvement, interested her to the very end of life. She suppressed groans and sighs of weariness, and rarely yielded to her pains any outward manifestation. She said she “believed God would give strength to a firm mind to bear whatever he imposed.” Her sweetness, resignation; trust, and sympathy were such as to draw to her bedside young children, instead of frightening and repelling, as such scenes usually do. They loved to resort to her sick room. She sought to be useful after she could sit up no longer, by encouraging them in their studies; and as we had a family school, she had them study in her room. When she died, I felt that she had gone to be with Christ, which is far better. But such a spirit as hers enriched life, made it elevated and noble. To live was Christ, and to die was gain. Fitting was it that on that calm and beautiful Sabbath morning her endless day, her glorious Sabbath, her peaceful rest should begin. Filling that, as gently she had lived, she should as gently die.
Her breathing sort and low,
Is in her breast the wave or life
Kept heaving to and fro.
* * * *
Our very hopes belied our fears,
Our fears our hopes belied;
We thought her dying when she slept,
And sleeping when she died.”
* Mrs. Elizabeth G. Fuller.
All Sub-Works of Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli (1874).:
PDF Sub-Works open in a new tab. Close the tab when done viewing to return here.