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Chapter 2: Hereditary traits.

“We are never better understood,” says Margaret Fuller in her fragment of autobiographical romance, “than when we speak of ‘a Roman virtue,’ ‘a Roman outline.’ ” She goes on: “There is somewhat indefinite, somewhat yet unfulfilled in the thought of Greece, of Spain, of modern Italy; but Rome, it stands by itself a clear Word. The power of will, the dignity of a fixed purpose, is what it utters. Every Roman was an emperor.” Tried by this standard, she herself may be said to have had a Roman parentage. An element of strength went through all her ancestry.

And the quality which was their drawbacktoo much of self-assertion — was essentially Roman also. “It never shocks us,” the autobiography continues, “that the Roman is self-conscious. One wants no universal truth from him, no philosophy, no creation, but only his life, his Roman life, felt in every pulse, realized in every gesture. The universal heaven takes in the Roman only to make us feel his individuality the more. The Will, the Resolve of Man; it has been expressed, fully expressed.” [8]

There is no evidence that Margaret Fuller herself had ever thought of any such analogy as I find between the type thus strongly indicated and the race from which she sprung; but in my own mind it is clear and gave the key to her life. Let us go back to her ancestry and trace this fine thread of New England vigor — which was a Roman vigor, touched by Christianity — running through it all.

Thomas Fuller, entitled “Lieutenant” in the probate proceedings on his will, came from England to America in 1638, and left this record of his spiritual experiences.

In thirty-eight I set my foot
On this New England shore;
My thoughts were then to stay one year,
And here remain no more.

But, by the preaching of God's word
By famous Shepard he,
In what a woful state I was,
I then began to see.

Christ cast his garments over me,
And all my sins did cover:
More precious to my soul was he
Than dearest friend or lover.

His pardoning mercy to my soul
All thought did far surmount;
The measure of his love to me
Was quite beyond account. ...

I said, My mountain does stand strong,
And doubtless 't will forever;
But soon God turned his face away,
And joy from me did sever. [9]

Sometimes I am on mountains high,
Sometimes in valleys low:--
The state that man's in here below,
Doth oft-times ebb and flow ....

But surely God will save my soul!
And, though you trouble have,
My children dear, who fear the Lord,
Your souls at death he'll save.

The author of these lines was detained in America, it seems, by the preaching of Rev. Mr. Shepard, of Cambridge, known in the obituaries of that period as “the holy, heavenly, sweet-affecting and soul-ravishing Mr. Shepard.” Thus guided and influenced, Lieutenant Fuller bought lands in Middleton, then a part of Salem, Mass.,--lands a portion of which is still in the possession of some of his descendants. He built a house there, but afterwards removed to Woburn, where he died. His son Jacob and his grandson Jacob succeeded him at Middleton, and a great-grandson, Timothy, was also born there in 1739, of whom more must be said.

Timothy Fuller graduated at Harvard College in 1760, and his name, with that date, might long be seen upon the corner-stone of the building called Stoughton. He became a clergyman, was settled in Princeton, Mass., and differed from most of his parishioners in regarding the impending American Revolution as premature. He therefore preached a sermon to the “minute-men,” choosing for his text the passage, “Let not him that girdeth on the harness boast himself as he that putteth [10] it off.” But the minute-men found it more satisfactory to gird on the harness and put off the minister; so the Rev. Timothy Fuller was dismissed from his parish by an ecclesiastical council in 1776. He preached elsewhere; sued the town of Princeton in vain for his salary; had even to pay the costs, for which contingency he had carefully kept money; but finally came back to the town as a farmer, his large farm embracing the Wachusett Mountain. He evidently regained the full confidence of his rebellious parishioners, for he represented Princeton in the state convention which accepted the Constitution of the United States. Independent as ever, he voted steadily against that instrument, and has left on record his reasons, all based on the fact that the Constitution recognized human slavery. In this attitude he no doubt found support from his wife, whose father, the Rev. Abraham Williams, had emancipated his own slaves by will; had required his children to give bonds for their support in old age, if needed; and had deprived any child so delinquent of all share in his estate, substituting in that case “a new Bible of the cheapest sort, hoping that, by the blessing of Heaven, it may teach them to do justice and love mercy.” Thus fortified on his wife's side, also, in Roman virtue and anti-slavery principles, the Rev. Timothy Fuller died in 1805, five years before the birth of his most eminent grandchild, Margaret.

He left five daughters and five sons, all these [11] last being lawyers,--a monotony of occupation more common in those days than now. These sons were men of marked character, possessing many admirable and some unpleasing qualities, and these in sufficient uniformity to cause their being liked and disliked — especially the latterin a body. Horace Mann, who was a person of rather vehement preferences, and who, as a lawyer, knew the brothers well, once said to me that if Margaret Fuller was unpopular, it was not from any prejudice against her as a woman, but because she probably combined “the disagreeableness of forty Fullers.” It was not true, for she had fortunately one of the sweetest mothers who ever lived, and her nature was thus tempered on the “spindle-side;” but the remark showed the traditions of the paternal race. Several of the Fuller brothers I can distinctly remember, and, to one thus recalling them, it is not difficult to comprehend just where Horace Mann's dislike came in, although to some of the brotherhood he doubtless did injustice. They were in general men of great energy, pushing, successful, of immense and varied information, of great self-esteem, and without a particle of tact. My mother used to tell a characteristic story of Abraham Fuller, who was a frequent visitor at her house in Cambridge, and whom every Cantabrigian of that period must remember. Coming in and finding my mother darning her children's stockings, he watched her a little while, and then said, abruptly, “You do not know [12] how to darn stockings; let me show you.” He being an old bachelor, and she the mother of ten children, the remark seemed the very climax of impudence; but he took the needle from her, and taught her, as she always maintained, more about darning stockings than she had ever known in her life before. This combination of unexpected knowledge and amazing frankness in its proclamation shows what a critic like Horace Mann, himself not wanting in self-assertion, might have found to suggest antagonism in “forty Fullers.”

Of a family thus gifted and thus opinionated, Timothy Fuller, Margaret Fuller's father, was the oldest, the most successful, and the most assured. He was born July 11, 1778, and received his father's name; graduated at Harvard College, with the second honors of his class, in 1801 ; was at different times a member of various branches of the state government of Massachusetts; and was a representative in Congress from 1817 to 1825. He was in politics a Jeffersonian Democrat, was chairman of the House committee on naval affairs, and was a warm supporter of John Quincy Adams for the presidency. Many references to him may be found in Mr. Adams's voluminous diary. Inheriting anti-slavery principles on both sides, he warmly opposed the Missouri Compromise, and his speeches on this and other subjects found their way into print. He worked hard in his profession, kept up his classical reading, and was making preparations to write a history of the United [13] States, when he died suddenly of Asiatic cholera, October 1, 1835.

I have carefully read some of his published addresses: a Fourth-of-July oration at Watertown in 1809, and one at Lexington in 1814; also an address before the American Peace Society in 1826. In all these there are the characteristics to be found in a thousand similar speeches of that period, together with some not so common. They are fervent, patriotic, florid; but there is also a certain exceptional flavor arising from the fact that, unlike nine tenths of those who made such addresses in New England, the speaker was a Republican--or, as men were beginning to say, a Democrat--and not a Federalist. He does not appear in these addresses as a bitter partisan; he is as ready to praise Washington and Adams as Jefferson and Madison; but he never mentions Hamilton and Jay, and seems by implication to condemn the policy of the one, and the treaty with which the name of the other is still identified. Nor does he take sides with Napoleon Bonaparte, as the Federalists charged the Democrats with doing, while he condemns, in a really striking and felicitous passage, the selfish motives of the Allied Powers in crushing him:--

At length the mighty warrior is prostrate; his proud trophies, the spoils of so many vanquished princes, are leveled with the dust. Napoleon is no more! No more, did I say? The blaze of that portentous meteor shall gleam resplendent through all future time! [14]

The proud banner of England, in close contact with her imperial coadjutors, waves in triumph over the French metropolis. The destinies of the vast empire of France and the partition of Europe await the nod of those same princes, who so lately trembled in their capitals. The ‘disinterested and magnanimous allies,’ the ‘deliverers of the world,’ seem very affectionate to the world they have delivered. Their ‘ labor of love’ is only begun. One takes Poland under his gracious protection, another is pleased to take Norway, a third Italy; and modest England resigns to each his favorite portion of prostrate Europe, and only claims, as a small gratuity, the rest of the world! France pays fifteen hundred millions of francs for the acquisition of her ancient dynasty. Oh, how would the heart of every American rejoice; how should we at this moment hymn praises to Heaven, if the generous prince who once espoused our cause in distress, now filled his rightful throne! But it may not be,--‘ The son of St. Louis is ascended to heaven.’

Address,July 4, 1814, p. 20.

True to the anti-slavery traditions of his father and grandfather, Timothy Fuller pointed out, as early as 1809, that the Constitution manifested “a temporary indulgence to a system which it nevertheless reprehends in the Southern States,” -yet he found in this concession a masterpiece of skill, although, as has been said, his own father had voted against the instrument on this very ground. He was faithful in denouncing, three years before the war of 1812, those English outrages in the way of search and impressment for [15] which the Federalists mistakenly apologized; and if he was so hopeful as to assert, without qualification, “None but just wars can ever be waged by a free country,” we can pardon something to republican zeal. Like other Americans in that day, he found a hero in Bolivar; and he held up Napoleon Bonaparte with some vigor as a warning to that popular leader:--

Should Bolivar, so much admired, so much applauded, so often dignified by a comparison with the highest name in the annals of patriotism, degenerate at last into a vulgar hero, a military usurper, the betrayer of his country; great indeed will be his degradation, loud the execrations of mankind, deep and eternal the odium of posterity. Let him beware of the temptation, lest he share the fate of him, who so lately seemed to hold the destinies of Europe in his hand. The career of military power glared upon the eye, and bewildered the senses, but was followed by swift retribution upon the usurper. He, who might forever have been honored as the champion of freedom, is consigned to the faithful historian to record in blood his deeds of injustice, usurpation and oppression. Let him then, who still soars in the meridian of success, warned by the fate of lawless ambition, take counsel from the great and good Fayette, crowned with the benedictions of a grateful nation; let him learn wisdom from his own imputed prototype, and become unequivocally, irrevocably, gloriously, the benefactor of nations, “the Washington of the South.”

Oration on Peace, p. 19.

But that Timothy Fuller was capable of doing [16] some justice to opponents is evident in the tribute which he pays, as a lawyer, to the integrity of the British admiralty courts even in time of war. When we consider how hard it was for the disciples of Jefferson to admit that anything good could come out of England, we are justified, I think, in attributing to Timothy Fuller a certain candor as well as independence of mind, in writing thus:--

During the late wars in Europe, in which Great Britain so largely participated, and when her cruisers arrested the progress of our neutral commerce, the appeals to her justice were first made through her Courts of Admiralty; and it is due to those courts to admit that those appeals were seldom made in vain, until the Executive power interposed, and required their obedience to unjust and arbitrary rules, and orders of the King in Council, unknown to the codes of international law. The interference was open, and avowed, under the odious and infamous plea of retaliation upon the enemy. The obstacle was too great to be overcome by the integrity of the judge; yet the rectitude of his principles has not been questioned.

This and other examples prove that it is not difficult to constitute a tribunal of learned, intelligent, and upright men, selected upon fair principles of reciprocal and equal rights for the adjustment of controversies between nations.

Peace Address, p. 24.

Such was the father of Margaret Fuller, a man of some narrowness and undue self-assertion, very [17] likely; but conscientious, vigorous, well-informed, and public-spirited. His daughter Margaret always recognized, after all his mistakes, her great intellectual obligations to him; and his accurate habits of mind were always mentioned by her with admiration. “Your father” she wrote to her brother Richard, many years later, “had very great power of attention; I have never seen any person who excelled him in that;” 1 and she essayed to carry into her ideal realms the same laborious and careful habits which he had brought to bear in law and statesmanship. Meanwhile she derived from her mother a different, and, in some ways, a more elevating influence. Mrs. Fuller long outlived both daughter and husband, and I remember her very well. She must have been one of the sweetest and most self-effacing wives ever ruled by a strong-willed spouse. Her maiden name was Margaret Crane, and she was the daughter of Major Peter Crane, of Canton, Mass. Of what good Puritan stock she also came may be seen not alone in the sturdy militia-title which her father bore, but in the following picture, recalling some of Heine's or Erckmann-Chatrian's peasant sketches, of her old mother --the maternal grandmother of Margaret Fuller. The grand-daughter gives this description of the good lady, as she appeared in later life:--

Mother writes that my dear old grandmother is dead. I am sorry you never saw her. She was a [18] picture of primitive piety as she sat, holding the ‘ Saints' Rest’ in her hand, with her bowed, trembling figure and her emphatic nods, and her bright, sweet blue eyes. They were bright to the last, though she was ninety. I went to see her just before I came back here. It is a great loss to mother, who felt a large place warmed in her heart by the fond and grateful love of this aged parent.

Ms. (W. H. C.)

Margaret Fuller's mother was married May 28, 1809; and came to dwell, with her husband, in Cambridge. She had in youth great personal beauty, the inheritance of which has conspicuously come down, here and there, to her descendants. This consisted especially in a peculiar richness of complexion, which time had spared even to the period when I knew her. She was tall, slender, dignified in bearing, but awkward rather than graceful in movement, and with an especial sweetness of expression in her face. Her manner is excellently described in a phrase applied by Bettina Brentano to her friend Giinderode: “She was timid-friendly.” During her husband's public life she was much in Washington society; but withdrew, as years went on, into a sort of double domesticity, dividing her life between her children and her flowers. Of each she had a large family, and, when she removed from one residence to another, the garden was transplanted like the nursery. She had eight different homes during her married life; but there were families and generations [19] of plants which went with her from place to place, adhering to her fortunes, in the words of her son, “like the tenantry of a feudal lord.” One family of lilies was thus perpetuated for a quarter of a century, and was bequeathed to her children. She wrote once to her daughter, “One must have grown up with flowers and found joy and sweetness in them, amidst disagreeable occupations, to take delight in them as I do. They have long had power to bring me into harmony with the Creator, and to soothe almost any irritation.” In accordance with this, the mother seems to have naturally suggested to the daughter some flower-like symbol. Margaret Fuller writes to her brother, “We cannot be sufficiently grateful for our mother — so fair a blossom of the white amaranth — truly to us a mother in this, that we can venerate her piety. Our relations to her have known no jar. Nothing vulgar has sullied them; and in this respect life has been truly domesticated.” When we remember that she of whom this was written was no feudal lady, “flower-like and delicate” like Browning's Duchess; but a faithful and laborious New England matron, able and willing to perform for her large household the humblest services, we can see the value of this tribute, and the treasure of this inheritance.

Such were the father and mother, such the ancestry, of Margaret Fuller. We shall see, as we go on, the traces of their inherited qualities pervading her life.

1 Fuller Mss. II. p. 691.

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