previous next

Chapter 10: the Dial.

Nothing but the launching of a ship concentrates into short space so much of solicitude as the launching of a new magazine. Margaret Fuller writes to her friend Mrs. Barlow:
I have the pleasure of sending you the first number of a periodical some of us, your old friends, are going to scribble in. The introduction is by Mr. Emerson ; pieces on Critics and the Allston Gallery by me. The next number will be better. Fuller Mss. i. 23.

To Mr. Emerson, as one of the ship-owners, she writes far more freely (July 5, 1840):--

Until I shall have seen Mr. R. [Ripley] I cannot answer all your questions; mais à present, you can have as many numbers as you want for yourself or your friends of this first number, but our contract with them was that twelve numbers should be given to Mr. R. each quarter for the use of contributors. Of these I receive two. Mr. Thoreau will have it, of course, as we hope his frequent aid. But I did not expect to furnish it to all who may give a piece occasionally. I have not sent it to E. H. [Ellen Hooper] or C. S. [Caroline Sturgis] or N. I sent a list to W. and J. [Weeks & Jordan] of those to [155] whom I wished this number sent. I did not give Mr. Stone's name, but doubtless Mr. R. did. I will see about it, however. I presume Mr. Cranch is a sub. scriber, as is J. F. Clarke and others who will write; but I will look at the list when in town next Wednesday.

I desired Mr. Thoreau's Persius to be sent him, as I was going away to Cohasset at the time it came out, and I understood from Mr. R. that it was sent, and he did not correct it. I do not know how this was; the errors are most unhappy. I will not go away again when it is in press.

I like the poetry better in small type myself and thought the little page neat and unpretending, but have no such positive feeling about such things that I would not defer entirely to your taste. But now we have begun so, I should think it undesirable to make changes this year, as the first volume should be uniform. I wish I had consulted you at first, but did not know you attached great importance to externals in such matters, as you do so little in others. The marks shall be made and the spaces left as you desire, however, after our respective poems.

I am glad you are not quite dissatisfied with the first number. I feel myself how far it is from that eaglet motion I wanted. I suffer in looking it over now. Did you observe the absurdity of the last two pages; these are things they had to fill up blanks, and which, thinking 't was pity such beautiful thoughts should be lost, they put in for climax. Admire the winding up, the concluding sentence!!

I agree that Mr. Alcott's sayings read well. I thought to write about the expostulation in your last letter, but finally I think I would rather talk with you. [156]

The next number we will do far better. I want to open it with your article. You said you might wish to make some alterations if we kept it — do you wish to have it sent you, the first part is left in type; they had printed a good deal before finding it would be too long. E. H.'s ‘ Poet,’ some of C.'s best, Ellery, and ‘ The Bard born out of Time,’ we must have for that.


The poem described in these last words will readily be recognized as Emerson's since celebrated “Wood-notes.” The “Ellery” is an article by Emerson entitled “New poetry” and made up chiefly of extracts from Ellery Channing's poems — an essay received with mingled admiration and rage by the critics, and with especial wrath by Edgar Poe. “E. H.'s ‘ poet’ ” was a strong poem, also contained in the second number of the “Dial,” by Mrs. Ellen Hooper, wife of Dr. R. W Hooper,--a woman of genius, who gave our literature a classic in the lines beginning,--

“I slept, and dreamed that life was beauty.” Margaret Fuller wrote of her long afterwards from Rome, “I have seen in Europe no woman more gifted by nature than she.” Another of the “Dial” poets was the sister of this lady, Miss Caroline Sturgis, afterwards Mrs. William Tappan, “some of whose best” are contained in this same second number of the “Dial,” where her contributions are signed “Z.” The opening paper of this second number, “Thoughts on modern literature,” by Emerson, still yields to the [157] reader so much in the way of suggestion and criticism as to impart especial interest to the following letter; and this, moreover, shows how fearlessly Miss Fuller and her associate, the Rev. George Ripley, criticised their most revered contributor:--

19th July, 1840
I suppose it is too warm for my dear friend to write, at least to so dull a correspondent, or perhaps it is that I have asked so many things. I am sorry you did not send the verses, for I wanted to take one or two for filling the gaps, and now have been obliged to take some not so good. Have you not some distichs to bestow? I have two or three little things of yours which I wished very much to use, but thought I must not without your leave.

When I wrote the first line of this letter I thought I should fill it up with some notes I wished to make on the Hall of Sculpture. But I was obliged to stop by a violent attack of headache, and now I am not fit to write anything good, and will only scribble a few lines to send with your proof which Mr. R. [Ripley] left with me. He is much distressed at what he thinks a falling off in the end of your paragraph about the majestic artist, and I think when you look again you will think you have not said what you meant to say. The “eloquence” and “wealth,” thus grouped, have rather fair bourgeois.--“Saddens and gladdens” is good. Mr. R. hates prettinesses, as the mistress of a boarding-house hates flower vases.

“ Dreadful melody” does not suit me. The dreadful has become vulgarized since its natal day.

So much for impertinence! I am very glad I am [158] to own these remarks about the Meister. As to the genius of Goethe, the statement, though so much better than others, is too imperfect to be true. He requires to be minutely painted in his own style of hard finish. As he never gave his soul in a glance, so he cannot be painted at a glance. I wish this “ Kosmos Beauty” was not here over again. One does not like their friend to have any way, anything peculiar; he must be too individual to be known by a cough or a phrase. And is this costly true to the sense of kostliche; that means “ worthy a high price,” the other “ obtained at a high price,” n'est-ce pas ? I cannot like that illustration of the humors of the eye. I wish the word whipped was never used at all, and here it is twice in nearest neighborhood.

At this place I was obliged to take to my bed,my poor head reminding me that I was in no state for criticism.

On comparing these criticisms with the paper under discussion,1 it will be found that while Emerson has retained the words “humors” and, in one case “whipped,” in spite of criticism, he has dropped the other causes of offense. The fine paragraph on Goethe now closes as follows:--

Let him pass. Humanity must wait for its physician still, at the side of the road, and confess as this man goes out that they have served it better who assured it out of the innocent hope in their hearts that a physician will come, than this majestic artist, with all the treasures of wit, of science, and of power at his command.

It is easy to see that if this last clause originally [159] contained the words “eloquence” and “wealth” it is greatly strengthened by the change.

As to obtaining a verse from Emerson to fill the gap at the close of his paper, her appeal seems to have been successful; the five lines called “Silence” being placed there, which, although not included by him in his published volumes, are now printed as his by his editor, Mr. Cabot. At the time of its first appearance the little verse was regarded as rather grotesque; and it will never, perhaps, be placed among his happiest efforts.

The storm of criticism which opened upon the “Dial,” at the very outset, was something formidable. It was directed even at the very moderate peculiarities of Emerson; the “Knickerbocker,” a New York monthly, making great fun of his opening essay, which it derided as “literary euphuism.” But the chief assault fell upon Alcott's “Orphic Sayings,” which provoked numerous parodies, the worst of which Mr. Alcott composedly pasted into his diary, indexing them, with his accustomed thoroughness and neatness, as “Parodies on Orphic Sayings.” Epithets, too, were showered about as freely as imitations; the Philadelphia “Gazette,” for instance, calling the editors of the new journal “zanies,” “Bedlamites,” and “considerably madder than the Mormons.”

It will convey some impression of the difficulties which Margaret Fuller, as leading editor, had to meet, when we consider that, all this time, Mr. [160] Alcott and, perhaps, others of the stricter school of Transcendentalism, were shaking their heads over the “Dial” as being timid, compromising, and, in fact, rather a worldly and conventional affair. Even before its actual birth we find him writing in his diary,

I fear that the work will consult the temper, and be awed by the bearing of existing things. Alcott's Ms. Diary, XIV. 65.

After the first number he writes to Dr. Marston in England, “It is but a twilight ‘Dial;’ ” and to Charles Lane, “This ‘ Dial’ of ours should have been a truer. It does not content the public, nor even ourselves. Yours, the ‘ Monthly Magazine’ [Heraud's], pleases me better in several aspects.” To Heraud he writes at the same time:
The ‘ Dial’ partakes of our vices, it consults the mood and is awed somewhat by the bearing of existing orders, yet is superior to our other literary organs, and satisfies in part the hunger of our youth. It satisfies me not, nor Emerson. It measures not the meridian but the morning ray; the nations wait for the gnomon that shall mark the broad noon. Alcott's Ms. Diary, XIV. 65, 146, 150, 157.

These remarks are of value as illustrating the difficulty that Margaret Fuller had to encounter in endeavoring to keep her magazine somewhere midway between the demands of Theodore Parker on the one side and those of Alcott on the other. What Theodore Parker alone would have made it may be judged by his “Massachusetts [161] Quarterly Review,” which followed it; which, as he said, was to be the “Dial” with a beard, but which turned out to be the beard without the “Dial.” What Mr. Alcott alone would have made of it may be judged by Heraud's “Monthly Magazine,” which did not, any more than Parker's “Quarterly,” bear comparison in real worth and suggestiveness with the “Dial” itself. That on Alcott, at least, some gentle restrictive pressure had to be exercised may be seen by his rather indignant introduction to “Days from a diary,” in the last number that Margaret Fuller edited. Here he chafes at some delay in publishing his contribution, and adds significantly :

The ‘Dial’ prefers a style of thought and diction not mine; nor can I add to its popularity with its chosen readers. A fit organ, for such as myself, is not, but is to be. The times require a free speech, a wise, brave sincerity, unlike all examples in literature; of which the ‘ Dial’ is but the precursor. A few years more will give us all we desire — the people all they ask. Dial, II. 409.

When we consider with what fidelity the editors had held to him, although by all odds their least popular contributor, it must be admitted that this affords a new illustration of the difficulty of keeping radicals in a common harness.

After the third number, Margaret Fuller thus writes to the Rev. W. H. Channing:-- [162]

February 2, 1841.
Write to me whatever you think about the “ Dial.” I wish very much to get interested in it, and I can only do so by finding those I love and prize are so. It is very difficult to me to resolve on publishing any of my own writing: it never seems worth it, but the topmost bubble on my life; and the world, the Public! alas!-give me to realize that there are individuals to whom I can speak!2

She appears, by her correspondence, to have had the usual trials of an editor in respect to the procrastination of others; and we find her actively angling for contributions from Emerson, Parker, Hedge, Alcott, Channing, Clarke, Dwight, Cranch, and the rest. Parker even sent her poetry, as appears by the following letter from him:

Herewith I send you a couple of little bits of verse, which I confess to you, sub rosa rosissima, are mine. Now, I don't think myself made for a poet, least of all for an amatory poet. So, if you throw the lines under the grate, in your critical wisdom, I shall not be grieved, vexed, or ruffled; for, though I have enough of the irritabile in my composition, I have none of the irritabile vatis.

Weiss's Parker, II. 303.

These distrusted love verses were, as I learn from Mr. G. W. Cook, those printed in the “Dial” for July, 1841, under the name of “Protean wishes.”3 [163]

Besides these well-known contributors, she also applied to other literary friends, whose response apparently never came. Among them was her old friend at Providence, Albert G. Greene, then the recognized head of the literary society of that city. To him she writes, October 2, 1840: “Where are the poems and essays, ‘Pumpkin Monodies,’ and ‘Militia Musters,’ we were promised? Send them, I pray, forthwith.” These were humorous poems, in which Mr. Greene was prolific, though only one of this class of his productions, “Old Grimes,” has survived to posterity. They would have been oddly out of place in the “Dial,” had they arrived.

In her first two years of editorship she brought into prominence a series of writers each of whom had his one statement to make, and, having made it, discreetly retired. Such were the Rev. W. D. Wilson, who wrote The Unitarian movement in New England; the Rev. Thomas T. Stone, who wrote “Man in the ages;” Mrs. Ripley, the gifted wife of the Rev. George Ripley, who wrote on “( Woman;” Professor John M. Mackie, now of Providence, R. I., who wrote of “Shelley ;” Dr. Francis Tuckerman, who wrote “Music of the winter;” John A. Saxton, father of the well-known military governor of South Carolina, who wrote “Prophecy — Transcendentalism — progress;” the Rev. W. B. Greene, a West Point graduate, and afterwards colonel of the Fourteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, who wrote “First principles.” [164] Miss Fuller herself wrote the more mystical sketches--“Klopstock and Meta,” “The Magnolia of Lake Pontchartrain,” “Yucca Filamentosa,” and “i Leila ;” as well as the more elaborate critical papers--“Goethe,” “Lives of the great Composers,” and “Festus.” Poetry was supplied by Clarke, Cranch, Dwight, Thoreau, Ellery Channing, and, latterly, Lowell; while Parker furnished solid, vigorous, readable, commonsense articles, which, as Mr. Emerson once told me, “sold the numbers.” It is a curious fact that the only early “Dial” to which Parker contributed nothing was that which called down this malediction from Carlyle:--

The ‘ Dial,’ too, it is all spirit-like, aeriform, auroraborealislike. Will no Angel body himself out of that; no stalwart Yankee man with color in the cheeks of him, and a coat on his back?

Yet Theodore Parker was a good deal more stalwart than Carlyle, had more color in his cheeks, and wore a more presentable coat on his back; and he had written an exceedingly straightforward paper for every number before that of October, 1841. This, as it happened, was prepared under difficulties, and Margaret Fuller herself had to write eighty-five of its one hundred and thirty-six pages. It is plain, from the reluctance to write which she so often expresses, that she occupied this occasional prominence against her will. Instead of being a monopolist, she appears as the scapegoat [165] of the procrastination of others. To fill with first-class material a magazine which does not pay a dollar, and has only twelve free copies for all contributors put together, is not so easy. In case of gaps, she must supply them. In such event, at the last moment she must revert to her copious note-books, and do that from which every careful writer shrinks — treat hurriedly and superficially some theme that had been reserved for the careful elaboration of more fortunate months. Mr. Emerson testifies to his “grateful wonder” Memoirs, i. 324. at the courage with which she could do this; and we see it recorded in such passages as the following, which is taken from a letter to her mother, written on Christmas Day, either in 1840 or 1841:--

I am in a state of extreme fatigue; this is the last week of the ‘ Dial,’ and, as often happens, the copy did not hold out, and I have had to write in every gap of time. M. and J. [two young ladies, her pupils] have been writing for me extracts, etc., but I have barely scrambled through, and am now quite unfit to hold a pen.

Fuller Mss. II. 287.

She had one essential attribute of an editor, in a keen and impartial judgment of her contributors. “I wish,” she writes in her diary, “I could overcome my distrust of Mr. Alcott's mind.” Fuller Mss. i. 599. Of Theodore Parker she says: “He cannot be the leader of my journal, . . . but his learning and just way of thinking will make him a very valuable [166] aid.” Fuller Mss. i. 599. This capital remark is also made, in one case, upon a rather elaborate contributor: “It was pity to break Mr. Lane's piece. He needs to fall his whole length to show his weight.” 4 But best of all is this clear statement, in which, even against the authority of Emerson, she pleads for breadth of judgment:--

Cambridge, 12th November, 1843.
... When I had the care of the “ Dial,” I put in what those connected with me liked, even when it did not well please myself, on this principle, that I considered a magazine was meant to suit more than one class of minds. As I should like to have writings from you, Mr. Ripley, Mr. Parker, etc., so I should like to have writings recommended by each of you. I thought it less important that everything in it should be excellent, than that it should represent with some fidelity the state of mind among us, as the name of “ Dial” said was its intent.

So I did not regard your contempt for the long prosa on “ Transcendentalism — Progress,” etc., any more than Parker's disgust at Henry Thoreau's pieces.

You go on a different principle; you would have everything in it good according to your taste, which is, in my opinion, though admirable as far as it goes, far too narrow in its range. This is your principle; very well! I acquiesce, just as in our intercourse I do not expect you to do what I consider justice to many things I prize ....

I do not care for your not liking the piece, because, [167] when you wrote in your journal that I cared for talent as well as genius, I accepted the words written in dispraise as praise. I wish my tastes and sympathies still more expansive than they are, instead of more severe. Here we differ.5

It was in reference to this same point that she wrote in her journal thus:--

My friend spoke it in blame that I could prize talent as well as genius; but why not? Do not Nature and God the same? The criticism of man should not disparage and displace, but appreciate and classify what it finds existent. Let me recognize talent as well as genius, understanding as well as reason,--but each in its place. Let me revere the statue of Moses, but prize at its due rate yon rich and playful grotesque. Also, cannot one see the merit of a stripling, fluttering muse like that of Moore, without being blind to the stately muse of Dante? Fuller Mss. i. 589.

It is to be remembered that although Miss Fuller's salary, as editor of the “Dial,” was nominally $200, she practically had nothing; and early in its second year she writes to her brother Richard (November 5, 1841): “I have begun with a smaller class this year than usual, and the ‘Dial’ is likely to fall through entirely.” In the same letter, and at a time of such discouragement as this, she proposes to her brother that they should unite in advancing $300 to an older brother in Louisiana; she pledging herself, however, to become responsible for the whole amount, if necessary, [168] though then possessed of but about $500 in the world.6 Such acts of sisterly devotion were common things with her; and this is mentioned only to show out of what patient self-denial the “Dial” was born.

Four months later she was compelled to lay down her task; her own statement of circumstances being as follows, in a letter to Mr. Emerson, and briefly indorsed by him “Margaret Fuller--March, 1842. Stop the ‘Dial’ !”

My dear Waldo,--I requested Miss Peabody to write to you, but, after looking over her letter, I want to add some lines myself. I hoped they would get at these particulars before you returned from New York, that you might hear them on your way and not be teased as soon as you arrive at your quiet home, but you came earlier than I had expected. Yesterday I found myself so unwell, and really exhausted, [while] letters received from the family made my stay here so uncertain, that I wrote the little notice with regard to the possibility of suspending the “Dial” for a time, feeling that I must draw back from my promise that I would see to the summer number; but this morning after J. Clarke and Miss P. had at last the means of almost entirely examining the accounts, they give me the result you find in her letter to you, which makes it impossible for me to go on at all.

I could not do it, in future, if I have the same burden on me as I have had before, even as well as I have done. There is a perceptible diminution of my strength, and this winter has been one of so severe [169] labor, I shall not recover fully from it for two or three months. Then, if I must take up a similar course next winter, and have this tie upon me for the summer, I think I should sink under it entirely.

I grieve to disappoint you after all the trouble you have taken. I am also sorry myself, for if I could have received a maintenance from this “ Dial,” I could have done my duties to it well, which I never have all this time, and my time might have been given to my pen; while now, for more than three months I have been able to write no line except letters. But it cannot be helped. It has been a sad business.

I think perhaps Mr. Parker would like to carry it on even under these circumstances. For him, or for you, it would be much easier than for me, for you have quiet homes, and better health. Of course, if you do carry it on, I should like to do anything I can to aid you.

There must be prompt answer, as the press will wait.

Your affectionate Margaret.7

The following month, after the appearance of a circular from Mr. Emerson announcing the continuance of the magazine, she writes as follows:--

Canton, April 18 [1842].
dear friend,--I received your letter before I left Boston, but in the hurry of the last hours could not write even a notelette with the parcel I requested J. Clarke to make up for you of Borrow, Longfellow, some more shreds of “ Dial,” including the wearifua Napoleon, and the Prayer Book, if Dorothea Dix could be induced to grant the same. What awkward thing could I have [170] said about your advertisement? I can't think.--All was understood, except that you had said “ I should put my name on the cover and announce myself as editor, only that I am not sure I can bind myself for so long as a year,” and so when I saw the advertisement I was glad, and only so far surprised as that I had not felt sure you would do it.--How many tedious words!

I think I shall like being here much and find the rest I need. The country is tolerably pretty, gentle, unobtrusive — within the house plain kindness, and generally a silence unbroken except by the sounds from the poultry, or the wind; to appreciate which blessing one should have lived half a year in a boarding-house with as infirm a head as mine, and none to ward off interruptions, sick or well.

Emerson wrote thus to Carlyle (March 31, 1842) in regard to the final transfer of editorship to himself:

I should tell you that my friend Margaret Fuller who has edited our little ‘ Dial’ with such dubious approbation on the part of you and other men, has suddenly decided a few days ago that she will edit it no more. The second volume was just closing; shall it live for a third year? You should know, that if its interior and spiritual life has been ill-fed, its outward and bibliopolic existence has been worse managed. Its publishers failed, its short list of subscribers became shorter, and it has never paid its laborious editor, who has been very generous of her time and labor, the smallest remuneration. Unhappily, to me alone could the question be put whether the little aspiring starveling should be reprieved for another year. I had not the cruelty to kill [171] it, and so must answer with my own proper care and nursing for its new life. Perhaps it is a great folly in me who have little adroitness in turning off work to assume this sure vexation, but the ‘ Dial ’ has certain charms to me as an opportunity, which I grudge to destroy. Lately at New York I found it to be to a certain class of men and women, though few, an object of tenderness and religion. You cannot believe it?

It is to be noticed that Emerson in his printed letters to Carlyle habitually speaks of the magazine as “Margaret Fuller's,” and speaks of giving his lectures to her for publication rather than make any other use of them.8 His loyalty to it seemed inseparably connected with his loyalty to her, and this seems to have been true in a measure with all its contributors. She continued to write much for it even after her editorship had ceased; but is sometimes found so discontented with her own work as to withhold it. After the death of Dr. Channing she thus writes to Mr. Emerson (November 8, 1842):--

Should you write some notice of Dr. C. for your ‘ Dial’ if I did not? I have written, but the record seems best adapted for my particular use, and I do not know whether I shall come to anything more general. If you should not write more than you have, will you send me your one stroke on the nail-head for me to look at?


Nothing could be better than this recognition [172] of the extraordinary precision and vigor of Emerson's single strokes.

The “Dial” expired after four years of precarious life. Perhaps those who best recognized its power were not those who created it, and who, as parents, recognized with anxious eyes the defects of their child,--but rather those who, like myself, came too late upon the scene to do more than have some boyish copy of verses judiciously rejected from the last numbers, and who yet drew from the earlier volumes a real and permanent impulse. When one considers the part since played in American literature and life by those whose youthful enthusiasm created this periodical, it is needless to say that their words kindled much life in the hearts of those still younger. It is a sufficient proof of the advantage of this potent influence that it worked itself clear, at last; and those who were reared on the “Dial” felt the impulse of its thought without borrowing its alleged vagueness. Nor was this influence limited to America, for on visiting England in 1846 Margaret Fuller had the pleasure of writing to Emerson, “On my first arrival I encountered at Liverpool and Manchester a set of devout readers of the ‘Dial,’ and still more of Emerson.” Fuller Mss. i. 209.

1 Dial, i. pp. 136-158.

2 Ms.

3 Dial, II. 77.

4 Ms. letter to Emerson, August 5, 1848.

5 Ms.

6 Fuller Mss. II. 661.

7 Ms.

8 Ibid. i. 287, 320.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: