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Chapter 12: books published.

The first sign of marked literary talent, in a young person, is apt to be an omnivorous passion for books, followed, sooner or later, by the desire to produce something; this desire often taking experimental and fugitive forms. The study of “Sir James MacKINTOSHintosh's life and Works,” at Groton, seems to have impressed Margaret Fuller strongly with the danger of miscellaneous and desultory preparation. She writes:--

The copiousness of Sir J. Mackintosh's reading journals is, I think, intimately connected with his literary indolence. Minds of great creative power take no pleasure in going into detail on the new materials they receive,--they assimilate them by meditation and new creations follow. A Scott, a Goethe, would neither talk out nor write down the reflections suggested by what the day had brought; they would be transfused into new works.

Fuller Mss. II. 275.

Later, she had a vision of writing romances, like George Sand, and expressed herself thus in her diary:-- [188]

Groton, November, 1835.
These books have made me for the first time think I might write into such shapes what I know of human nature. I have always thought that I would not, that I would keep all that behind the curtain, that I would not write, like a woman, of love and hope and disappointment, but like a man, of the world of intellect and action. But now I am tempted, and if I can but do well my present work and show that I can write like a man, and if but the wild gnomes will keep from me with their shackles of care for bread in all its shapes of factitious life, I think I will try whether I have the hand to paint, as well as the eye to see. But I cannot but feel that I have seen, from the mouth of my damp cave, stars as fair, almost as many, as this person from the “ Fleche of the Cathedral,” where she has ascended at such peril. But I dare boast no more; only, please fate, be just and send me an angel out of this golden cloud that comes after the pelting showers I have borne so long.1

The project of fiction went no farther, unless her fragment of an “Autobiographical romance,” written in 1840, was the result of it; and her first two published books were, naturally enough, translations from the German. She had expected, as early as November 30, 1834, as appears by a letter to the Rev. F. H. Hedge, to print her translation of Goethe's Tasso.2 This had failed to find a publisher; but several years later George [189] Ripley and other friends of hers projected and carried out, to the extent of fifteen volumes, a series of “Specimens of foreign literature,” composed of translations from the German and French. As announced in the preface to the first volume, dated February 22, 1838, the series was to have included “A Life of Goethe, in preparation for this work, from original documents;” and of this memoir, apparently, Margaret Fuller was to have been the compiler. For some reason this plan was abandoned, but she was the translator and editor of the fourth volume of the series, containing Eckermann's “Conversations” with the great German poet. The work was done, as her preface states, under many disadvantages, much of it being dictated to others, on account of illness; and these obstacles were the more felt, inasmuch as she was not content with a literal translation, but undertook to condense some passages and omit others. Her preface is certainly modest enough, and underrates instead of overstating the value of lier own work. She made a delightful book of it, and one which, with Sarah Austin's “Characteristics of Goethe,” helped to make the poet a familiar personality to English-speaking readers. For one, I can say that it brought him nearer to me than any other book, before or since, has ever done. This volume was published at Boston, by Hilliard, Gray & Co., in 1839,--her preface being dated at Jamaica Plain on May 23 of that year,--and I suspect that she never had any compensation [190] for it beyond the good practice for herself and the gratitude of others. Her preface contains some excellent things, giving a view of Goethe more moderate than that which Carlyle had just brought into vogue, though she still was ardent and admiring enough. But she points out very well — though perhaps emphasizing them too much — some of the limitations of Goethe's nature. She does not even admit him to be in the highest sense an artist, but says, “I think he had the artist's eye and the artist's hand, but not the artist's love of structure,” --a distinction admirably put.

From the subject of Goethe followed naturally, in those days, that of Bettina Brentano, whose correspondence with the poet, translated in an attractive German-English by herself, had appeared in England in 1837, and had been reprinted at Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1841. Margaret Fuller, in the “Dial” in January, 1842,3 had called attention to another work from the same source: the letters that had passed, at an earlier period than the Goethe correspondence, between Bettina and her friend Caroline von Gunderode. These letters were published at Leipzig in 1840, after the death of Gunderode. They were apparently written in the years 1805-06, when Bettina was about sixteen; and she in her letters to Goethe's mother, published in “Correspondence of a child,” gives an account of this friend and her tragic death. [191] Bettina is now little read, even by young people, apparently, but she then gave food for the most thoughtful. Emerson says: “Once I took such delight in Plato that I thought I never should need any other book; then in Swedenborg, then in Montaigne,--even in Bettina;” and Mr. Alcott records in his diary (August 2, 1839), “he [Emerson] seems to be as much taken with Bettina as I am.” For the young, especially, she had a charm which lasts through life, insomuch that the present writer spent two happy days on the Rhine, so lately as 1878, in following out the traces of two impetuous and dreamy young women whom it would have seemed natural to meet on any hillside path, although more than half a century had passed since they embalmed their memory there.

When first at work upon this translation, Margaret Fuller wrote thus to the Rev. W. H. Channing:--

I meant to have translated for you the best passages of ‘ Die Gunderode’ (which I prefer to the correspondence with Goethe. The two girls are equal natures, and both in earnest. Goethe made a puppet-show for his private entertainment of Bettina's life, and we wonder she did not feel he was not worthy of her homage). But I have not been well enough to write much, and these pages are only what I have dictated; they are not the best, yet will interest you. The exquisite little poem by Gunderode read aloud two or three times, that you may catch the music; it is of most sweet mystery. [192] She is to me dear and admirable, Bettina only interesting. She is of religious grace, Bettina the fullness of nature.

Ms. (W. H. C.)

Again she writes to him, copying at the same time Gunderode's poem, “Ist Alles stumm und leer.”

Gunderode is the ideal; Bettina, nature; Gunderode throws herself into the river because the world is all too narrow. Bettina lives, and follows out every freakish fancy, till the enchanting child degenerates into an eccentric and undignified old woman. There is a medium somewhere. Philip Sidney found it; others had it found for them by fate.

Ms. (W. H. C.)

Apart from all other aspects of interest, Margaret Fuller's translation of the first part of these letters is perhaps the best piece of literary work that she ever executed; so difficult was it to catch the airy style of these fanciful German maidens; and so perfectly well did she succeed, preserving withal the separate individualities of the two correspondents. Only one thin pamphlet was published, in 1842, containing about a quarter part of the letters. It appeared without her name; and apparently there was not enough of patronage to lead her on; but, after the death of Bettina von Arnim, the translation was completed by Mrs. Minna Wesselhoeft at the suggestion of Miss Elizabeth P. Peabody, the original publisher, and was printed with Margaret Fuller's [193] fragment, by a Boston bookseller (Burnham) in 1860. There is nothing in the reprint to indicate the double origin, but the point of transition between the two translations occurs at the end of the first letter on page 86; while this volume, as completed, retains Margaret Fuller's original preface and an extract from her “Dial” essay. Mrs. Wesselhoeft informs me that she revised Miss Fuller's part of the translation, but found nothing to correct save two or three colloquial idioms, pretty sure to be misinterpreted by one not a native of Germany.

Margaret Fuller's first original work was the fruit of the only long journey she ever took, in her own country; a summer spent in traveling in what was then called “the far West” (May 25 to September 19, 1843) with her life-long friends, James Freeman Clarke and his sister Sarah, under the guidance of their brother, William H. Clarke, of Chicago. The last named was one of Margaret Fuller's dearest friends; a man of rare gifts, a delightful out-door companion and thoroughly acquainted with the pioneer life to which he introduced his friends. Their mode of traveling seems of itself to mark a period a hundred years ago instead of forty; and is graphically described in a letter to Mr. Emerson, written on the return journey:--

Chicago, 4th August, 1843.
We traveled in a way that left us perfectly free to idle as much as we pleased, to gather every flower and [194] to traverse every wood we fancied. We were then in a strong vehicle called a lumber wagon which defied all the jolts and wrenches incident to wood paths, mud holes, and the fording of creeks; we were driven by a friend, who drove admirably, who had the true spirit which animates daily life, who knew the habits of all the fowl, and fish, and growing things, and all the warlike legends of the country, and could recite them, not in a pedantical, but in a poetical manner; thus our whole journey had the gayety of adventure, with the repose of intimate communion. Now we were in a nice carriage, fit for nothing but roads, and which would break even on those, with a regular driver, too careful of his horses to go off a foot-pace, etc., etc.

However, we had much pleasure and saw many pretty things, of which I must tell you at my leisure. Our time was chiefly passed in the neighborhood of a chain of lakes, fine pieces of water, with the wide sloping park-like banks, so common in this country.4

“Summer on the Lakes” was prepared for the press after her return, with the aid of a good deal of study at the Harvard College Library; where I can well remember to have seen Miss Fuller sitting, day after day, under the covert gaze of the undergraduates who had never before looked upon a woman reading within those sacred precincts, where twenty of that sex are now employed as assistants. She was correcting the press during much of the spring of 1844, when the proof-sheets came in every evening., “I expect it at night,” she writes, “as one might some old guardian.” [195] During this period she had many sleepless nights, as appears by her diary, with such constant headaches that she chronicles not the days when she has them but when she is without them. One day at last she writes, quite exhausted :--

I begin to be so tired of my book! It will be through next Thursday, but I'm afraid I shall feel no better then, because dissatisfied with this last part. I ought to rewrite the Indian chapter, were there but time! It will, I fear, seem desultory and ineffectual, when my materials are so rich; owre rich, perhaps, for my mind does not act on them enough to fuse them.

The work itself is of value as illustrating a truth often noticed, that the ideal books of travel last longer than the merely statistical; since the details, especially of our newer communities, are superseded in a year, while it may be decades before another traveler comes along who can look beneath them and really picture the new scenes for the mind's eye. A book of facts about Illinois in 1843 would now be of little value, but the things that Margaret Fuller noted are still interesting. Like Mrs. Jameson, who wrote her “Winter studies and summer rambles” about the same time, she saw the receding Indian tribes from a woman's point of view; she sat in the wigwams, played with the children, pounded maize with the squaws. The white settlers, also, she studied, and recorded their characteristics; “the Illinois farmers, the large, first product of the soil ;” and the varied nationalities represented [196] among the foreign immigrants. The following extract from a letter to Mr. Emerson shows her careful observation of these types, then so new:--

Here I am interested in those who have a mixture of Indian blood. With one lady I may become well acquainted, as she is to travel with us. Her melancholy eyes, and slow, graceful utterance, and delicate feeling of what she has seen, attract me. She is married here and wears our dress, but her family retain the dress and habits of their race. Through her I hope to make other acquaintance that may please me.

Next week we are going into the country to explore the neighborhood of Fox and Rock rivers. We are going, in regular western style, to travel in a wagon, and stay with the farmers. Then I shall see the West to better advantage than I have as yet.

We are going to stay with one family, the mother of which had what they call a ‘ claim fight.’ Some desperadoes laid claim to her property, which is large; they were supposed to belong to the band who lately have been broken up by an exertion of lynch law. She built shanties in the different parts; she and her three daughters each took one to defend it. They showed such bravery that the foe retreated.

Then there is an Irish gentleman who owns a large property there. He was married to the daughter of an Irish earl. His son, a boy who inherits the (her) fortune he has left in Europe, and since the death of his wife lives alone on the Rock River; he has invited us to stay at his house, and the scenery there is said to be most beautiful.

I hear, too, of a Hungarian count who has a large tract of land in Wisconsin. He has removed thither [197] with all his tenantry, several hundred persons they say. He comes to market at Milwaukee; they call him there the Count; they do not seem to know his other name. We are to stay at Milwaukee, and I shall inquire all about him. I should like to know how he has modified his life from the feudal lord to the brotherly landlord. I should think he must be a good and resolute man to carry out such a scheme successfully.

I want to see some emigrant with worthy aims, using all his gifts and knowledge to some purpose honorable to the land, instead of lowering themselves to the requisitions of the moment, as so many of them do.


The book has, doubtless, great defects, as is apt to be the case with a first work; an author feels, at such times, that he may never have another opportunity, and so is tempted to load his book down with episodes in order to lose nothing. This was the case with Miss Fuller. To insert boldly, in the middle of her book of travels, forty pages about Kerner's “Seeress of Prevorst,” which she had read in Milwaukee,--this showed the waywardness of a student and talker, rather than the good judgment which she ought to have gained in editing even the most ideal of magazines. These things weighed the book down too heavily for success, and her brother, in reediting her works, has wisely printed them separately. Yet the value of “Summer on the Lakes” remains; and I found afterwards, in traveling westward, that it had done more than any other book to prepare me for [198] some of the most important aspects of that new world. It also excited interest in some quarters through the episodes themselves, especially that of “Mariana,” which was taken to be autobiographical, as it partly was; although the character of Sylvain, Mariana's supposed lover, was almost wholly imaginary, as the following letter will show :--

As to my book, there are complimentary notices in the papers, and I receive good letters about it. It is much read already, and is termed ‘ very entertaining!’ Little & Brown take the risk, and allow a percentage. My bargain with them is only for one edition; if this succeeds, I shall make a better. They take their own measures about circulating the work, but any effort from my friends helps, of course. Short notices by you, distributed at Philadelphia, New York, and even Cincinnati, would attract attention and buyers!! Outward success in this way is very desirable to me, not so much on account of present profit to be derived, as because it would give me advantage in making future bargains, and open the way to ransom more time for writing. The account of the “Seeress” pleases many, and it is pleasing to see how elderly routine gentlemen, such as Dr. Francis and Mr. Farrar, are charmed with the little story of “ Mariana.” They admire, at poetic distance, that powerful nature that would alarm them so in real life . . . Imagine prose eyes, with glassy curiosity looking out for Mariana Nobody dreams of its being like me; they all thought Miranda was, in the “Great Lawsuit.” People seem to think that not more than one phase of character can be shown in one life. [199]

Sylvain is only a suggested picture; you would not know the figure by which it is drawn, if you could see it. Have no desire, I pray thee, ever to realize these ideals. The name I took from Fanny Ellsler's partner. In the bridal dance, after movements of a bird-like joy, and overflowing sweetness, when he comes forward, she retires with a proud, timid grace, so beautiful; it said, “See what a man I am happy enough to love.” And then came forward this well-taught dancer, springing and pirouetting without one tint of genius, one ray of soul; it was very painful and symbolized much, far more than I have expressed with Sylvain and Mariana.

Ms. (W. H. C.)

“ Summer on the Lakes” seems to have yielded nothing to the author but copies to give away. It is a pathetic compensation for an unsuccessful book, that the writer at least has an abundant supply of it; and when we consider that Thoreau, eight years later, was carrying up to his garret, as unsold, seven hundred out of the thousand copies of his “Week on the Concord and Merrimack,” we may well feel that Miss Fuller's little book of travels was successful, if it cost her nothing. At any rate she distributed it with some freedom, writing to Mr. Emerson, May 22, 1845, “Thirteen copies of Summer on the Lakes were sent to your address in Boston; five for you, four for Caroline [Sturgis], four to be sent to Sarah Clarke, through James, if you will take the trouble.” There must have been, at some time, a [200] hope of a second edition, as Miss Sarah Clarke etched some charming illustrations to accompany it, a series of which I have seen. This re-issue never came, but she sold, apparently, seven hundred copies 5 the whole edition of a new book at that day being usually five hundred or a thousand.

Before assuming her editorial work she found time to revise and amplify an essay which had been first published in the “Dial,” and had attracted far more general attention than any of her previous articles. It had appeared in October, 1843, under the name of “The Great Lawsuit, or Man vs. Men, Woman vs. Women.” This phrase was awkward, but well intentioned, its aim being to avert even the suspicion of awakening antagonism between the sexes. The title attracted attention, and as the edition of the “Dial,” in its last year, was even smaller than ever before, this number soon disappeared from the market, and it is not uncommon to see sets of the periodical bound up without it, as is the case with my own.

She added a great deal to the essay before reprinting it, and brought it to a final completion during seven weeks delightfully spent amid the scenery of the Hudson, at Fishkill, N. Y., where she had the society of her favorite out-door companion, Miss Caroline Sturgis, lived in the open air with her when the sun shone, and composed only on rainy days. She wrote to Mr. Emerson (November 17, 1844) :-- [201]

I have been happy now in freedom from headache and all other interruptions, and have spun out my thread as long and many-colored as was pleasing. The result I have not yet looked at; must put some days between me and it first. Then I shall revise and get it into printer's ink by Christmas, I hope.


She wrote more fully, on the same day, to the Rev. W. H. Channing:--

Sunday evening, November 17th
At last I have finished the pamphlet. The last day it kept spinning out beneath my hand. After taking a long walk early in one of the most noble, exhilarating sort of mornings, I sat down to write, and did not put the last stroke till near nine in the evening. Then I felt a delightful glow, as if I had put a good deal of my true life in it; as if, suppose I went away now, the measure of my footprint would be left on the earth. That was several days ago, and I do not know how it will look on revision, for I must leave several days more between me and it before I undertake that, but think it will be much better than if it had been finished at Cambridge, for here has been no headache, and leisure to choose my hours.

It will make a pamphlet rather larger than a number of the “ Dial,” and would take a fortnight or more to print. Therefore I am anxious to get the matter en train before I come to New York, that I may begin the 1st December, for I want to have it out by Christmas. Will you, then, see Mr. Greeley about it the latter part of this week or the beginning of next? He is absent now, but will be back by that time, and I will write to [202] him about it. Perhaps he will like to undertake it him. self.

The estimate you sent me last summer was made expecting an edition of fifteen hundred, but I think a thousand will be enough. The writing, though I have tried to make my meaning full and clear, requires, shall I say, too much culture in the reader to be quickly or extensively diffused. I shall be satisfied if it moves a mind here and there, and through that others; shall be well satisfied if an edition of a thousand is disposed of in the course of two or three years. If the expense of publication should not exceed a hundred or even a hundred and fifty dollars, I should not be unwilling to undertake it, if thought best by you and Mr. G. But I suppose you would not think that the favorable way as to securing a sale.

If given to a publisher, I wish to dispose of it only for one edition. I should hope to be able to make it constantly better while I live, and should wish to retain full command of it, in case of subsequent editions.6

Of the reception of this book, re-baptized “Woman in the Nineteenth Century,” she wrote thus:

The book is out, and the theme of all the newspapers and many of the journals. Abuse, public and private, is lavished upon its views, but respect expressed for me personally. But the most speaking fact, stand the one which satisfied me, is that the whole edition was sold off in a week to the booksellers, and $85 handed to me as my share. Not that my object was in any wise money, but I consider this the signet of success. If one can be heard, that is enough; I shall send you two [203] copies, one for yourself and one to give away, if you like. If you noticed it in a New Orleans paper, you might create a demand for it there; the next edition will be out in May.

Fuller Mss. II. 769. 2 Fuller Mss. II. 793.

On December 10, 1845, we find her recording in her journal the pleasure — rarer in those days than now — of receiving an English reprint, published in Clarke's Cabinet Library.2 She was then visiting Mrs. Child; and she records, also, her hope of a second American edition, but I am not aware that it ever arrived until the book was reprinted, after her death, by her brother Arthur.

She also published, during her connection with the “Tribune,” two thin volumes of her miscellaneous writings, called “Papers on literature and Art.” This work appeared in 1846, just before her departure for Europe, and was, in the judgment of her brother Arthur, the most popular of all her books. He has reprinted it, without alteration, in that volume of her writings called “Art, literature, and the Drama,” including the preface, which was thought to savor of vanity and became the theme of Lowell's satire; although the sentence he apparently had in view, “I feel with satisfaction that I have done a good deal to extend the influence of Germany and Italy among my compatriots,” was strictly true.

It was in this volume that she published — being the only part of it that had not previously appeared in print — an essay on “American literature,” [204] in which she expressed, more fully than before, the criticisms on Longfellow and others which were then not uncommon among the Transcendentalists, and which, as uttered by her, brought on her head some wrath. It did not diminish this antagonism that the offending essay attracted especial attention in England, and was translated and published in a Paris review; but this aspect of her career must be considered in a later chapter.

1 Fuller Mss. III. 303-305. The allusion is to George Sand's Sept Cordes de la Lyre.

2 Published after her death, in her Art, Literature, and the Drama.

3 Dial, II. 313.

4 Ms.

5 Fuller Mss. II. 755.

6 Ms. (W. H. C.)

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