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Chapter 5: finding a friend.

The personal influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson was so marked, during Miss Fuller's early career, that a separate chapter may well be devoted to delineating it. The first trace of him that I have found among her voluminous papers is this from one of her lively and girlish letters to Mrs. Barlow, dated October 6, 1834. She describes an interview with the Rev. Dr. Dewey, who was, with herself, a guest at Mrs. Farrar's in Cambridge, and adds:--

He spoke with admiration of the Rev. W. Emerson, that only clergyman of all possible clergymen who eludes my acquaintance. But n'importe! I keep his image bright in my mind.

Fuller Mss. i. 17.

Again, she writes to another correspondent about the same time--

I cannot care much for preached elevation of sentiment unless I have seen it borne out by some proof, as in case of Mr. Emerson. It is so easy for a cultivated mind to excite itself with that tone!

Fuller Mss. III. 281.

More than a month later she writes to the Rev. F. H. Hedge, from Groton (November 30, 1834). [63]

With regard to Mr. Emerson, I had two reasons, if they may deserve to be so called, for wishing him to see my ‘Tasso’ [translated from Goethe]. It gratified me that a mind which had affected mine so powerfully should be dwelling on something of mine, even though 't were only some new dress for the thoughts of another. And I thought he might express something which would be useful to me. I should like very much his correction as well as yours, if it be not too much trouble.


This clearly shows how powerfully Emerson was already influencing other minds while he was still a clergyman, and had not printed a word that is now included in his writings.

Before this, according to Mr. Emerson's own statement, he had heard Margaret Fuller praised by Dr. Hedge; and he thinks, but is not quite sure, that he first met her at Mrs. Farrar's in 1835.1 In July, 1836, she visited him in Concord. He has left a record, in one of the most graphic passages contributed by him to her “Memoirs,” of impressions received from her at this first visit. I am glad to be able to place beside this a companion picture of her, during a subsequent visit — in a letter written by that gifted and high-minded woman, Elizabeth Hoar, of Concord, sister of the judge and the senator of that family, and one of the most intimate personal friends of Mr. Emerson. Miss Hoar had been betrothed to Charles Emerson at the time of his early death, and lived all her subsequent life in the close vicinity of his [64] more eminent brother, to whom she was as a younger sister. Being a constant visitor at his house, she was at times brought closely in contact with Margaret Fuller, o whom she thus records her judgment in a letter addressed to her friend, Miss H. L. Chappell, of Southington, Conn.

Concord, April 3, 1839.
My dear Hannah,--Both your letters found me at Mr. Emerson's, but I waited until I came home, to answer them. Miss Fuller has been there for a week past, and I have not yet learned the art of self-regulation so far as to be able to do anything when she is near. I see so few people who are anything but pictures or furniture, to me, that the stimulus of such a person is great and overpowering for the time. And indeed, if I saw all the people whom I think of as desirable, and if I could help myself, I do not think I should abate any of my interest in her. Her wit, her insight into characters,--such that she seems to read them aloud to you as if they were printed books, her wide range of thought and cultivation,--the rapidity with which she appropriates all knowledge, joined with habits of severe mental discipline (so rare in women, and in literary men not technically “men of science” ); her passionate love of all beauty, her sympathy with all noble effort; then her energy of character and the regal manner in which she takes possession of society wherever she is, and creates her own circumstances; all these things keep me full of admiration — not astonished, but pleased admiration — and, as genius does always (vide R. W. E. on ‘Genius’), inspire me with new life, new confidence in my own power, new desires to fulfill [65] “the possible” in myself. You would, perhaps, have an impression of levity, of want of tenderness, from her superficial manner. The mean hindrances of life, the mistakes, the tedium, which eat into your soul, and will take no form to you but the tragic, she takes up with her defying wit and sets them down in comic groups and they cease to be “respectabilities.” You feel at first as if this included ridicule or disregard of the sufferings they bring to you; but not so. Her heart is helpfully sympathizing with all striving souls. And she has overcome so much extreme physical and mental pain, and such disappointments of external fortune, that she has a right to play as she will with these arrows of fate. She is a high-minded and generous servant of Duty, and a Christian (not a traditional Christian, not made one by authority) in her idea of life. But this is all catalogue; you cannot write down Genius, and I write it more because I am thinking about her than from any hope of doing her justice. Only her presence can give you the meaning of the name Margaret Fuller, and this not once or twice, but as various occasions bring out the many sides. And her power of bringing out Mr. Emerson has doubled my enjoyment of that blessing to be in one house and room with him.2

In a fragment of diary, without date, all too short, preserved among the Fuller papers, we have a glimpse at these Concord interviews; but not at the very outset; rather, after time had mellowed the companionship and made it less exciting, but more wholly unconscious. In describing [66] a long walk by Walden Pond, Margaret Fuller says of Mr. Emerson,

He is a much better companion than formerly,--for once he would talk obstinately through the walk, but now we can be silent and see things together. Fuller Mss. III. 165.

In another place she gives this striking glimpse of his personal appearance:

It was raining hard and quite cold — he had on his blue cloak, falling in large straight folds; in that he looks as if he had come to his immortality as a statue.

Fuller Mss. III. 183.

Elsewhere she describes him as reading to her passages of his poetry, and quotes some lines which I am unable to identify, while others appear in the appendix to the edition just published:--

Waldo and I have good meetings, though we stop at all our old places. But my expectations are moderate now; it is his beautiful presence that I prize, far more than our intercourse. He has been reading me his new poems and the others. At the end he asked me how I liked the ‘ little subjective twinkle all through.’ He has indeed set off the picture lively.

Lonely he sat, the men were strange,
The women all forbidden.


Merge me in the brute universe
Or lift to some diviner dream.


His loves were sharp, sharp pains.


Content with gods or fools to live.
In the resolves of fate?] I acquiesce.
Gentle Saadi, mind thy rhyme.


And that he will no more plague himself with the mysteries of another sphere from his.

Fuller Mss. III. 175, 176.

Her visits to Concord not only established intimacy with Mr. Emerson, but with all the members of his family. She writes to her mother, during her first visit,

The baby here is beautiful. . . I play with him a good deal and he comes so natural after Dante and other poems. Fuller Mss. i. 83.

The cordial gayety of all her interchange of messages in her letters to the Concord household shows clearly the friendliness of her relations with all. “Good love to Mrs. Emerson: I hope the baby has not grown too large for me to hold.” Then in another letter, “What does Waldo say? And what has Ellen learnt?” and again, “Say to little Waldo that I have thought since I came away of a hundred witty things I forgot to say to him, and he must want to see me again.” In her diary she has much to say of this remarkable child, who will always have an interest for all lovers of poetry as having occasioned Emerson's “Threnody.”

It has been my privilege to examine a long series of unpublished letters that passed thenceforward from Margaret Fuller to Emerson. Franker and truer letters never went from woman to man; they were written under all circumstances and from all places; in one case from his own library, while he was away. How much Mr. Emerson valued them is plain from the fact that in some cases where a letter is missing there is substituted [68] a copy in his handwriting. All are indorsed by him in his systematic way, with date and theme, and at first with the name “Miss S. M. Fuller;” then the more familiar “Margaret Fuller” takes its place. She in turn, beginning with remote and reverential phrases, grows gradually more intimate. In the first letter I have seen (September, 1836), she writes meekly from Boston, “My dear friend,--I may venture to say so, since you have subscribed yourself my friend,” --but in a year or two it becomes “Dear Waldo,” at least. In this first letter there is a phrase which shows the honest beginning of their friendship: “While I was with you,” she says, “you very justly corrected me for using too strong expressions on some subject. But there is no exaggeration in saying — I must be allowed to say — that I detest Mr. Robinson at this time,” --he being her Groton pastor who had twice invited Mr. Emerson to preach there while she was away from home. In this same letter she speaks of i “Nature,” then just published, which he had sent her, and which she and Miss Anna Barker had also mutually presented to each other. To “show Anna to Mr. Emerson” was just then one of her strong desires.

Soon the borrowing of books becomes a constant theme. On April 11, 1837, she returns him Goethe's letters to Merck and the first two volumes of those to Zelter, and writes, “I look to Concord as my Lethe and Eunoi after this purgatory of distracting petty tasks. I am sure you will [69] purify and strengthen me to enter the Paradise of thought once more.” In addressing Mrs. Emerson she sends “dear love to the sainted Lidian,” -who becomes simply Lidian in later messages. “Mrs. Emerson does not love me,” she says in one place, “more than I love her.”

On May 30, 1837, she returns to Emerson, Coleridge's “Literary remains,” which she has “ransacked pretty thoroughly,” and “The friend,” with which she “should never have done;” also a volume of Goethe and one of Scougal, and she asks him on the outside of the note what these two worthies will be likely to say to one another “as they journey side by side.” She begs to keep for summer two volumes of Milton, two of Degerando, the seventh and eighth of Goethe's Nachgelassene Werke, besides one volume of Jonson and one of Plutarch's “Morals.” She also subscribes for two copies of Carlyle's “Miscellanies.” Later she writes (November 25, 1839) to ask him “What is the ‘ Harleyan (sic) Miscellany ’ ?--an account of a library?” and says, “I thought to send Tennyson next time, but I cannot part with him, it must be for next pacquet (sic). I have been reading Milnes; he is rich in fine thoughts but not in fine poetry.”

One of the best passages in these letters of Margaret Fuller, a passage that has in it a flavor of Browning's imaginative wealth, is a little sketch by her of the melancholy position of a queen who has borne no heir to the throne. It is only by [70] way of prelude to a playful condolence with Mr. Emerson, followed by a very frank criticism:--

November, 1843.
... I always thought the saddest position in the world must be that of some regal dame to whom husband, court, kingdom, world look in vain for an heir! She is only supposed to eat, breathe, move, think, nay! love, for this; the book of her life is only perused for the sake of its appendix. Meanwhile, she, perhaps, persists in living on, as if her life by itself were of any consequence, is the mother of no prince, or has even the impertinence to incumber the kingdom with a parcel of princesses, girls who must be “ weel-tochered” to make them of any value.

But what is this pathos compared to that perceptible in the situation of a Jove, under the masculine obligations of all-sufficingness, who rubs his forehead in vain to induce the Minerva-bearing headache! Alas! his brain remains tranquil, his fancy daughterless! Nature keeps on feeding him and putting him to sleep as if she thought the oak was of consequence, whether it bear the mistletoe or not!

Heaven help thee, my Druid! if this blessed, brooding, rainy day do not. It is a fine day for composition, were it not in Concord. But I trow the fates which gave this place Concord, took away the animating influences of Discord. Life here slumbers and steals on like the river. A very good place for a sage, but not for the lyrist or the orator.

Gentle river,
Stealing on so slowly ever,
From reeds that grow thy bank along
Easy would flow the pastoral song. [71]
But the shell
Which may be strong for lyric swell
Or trumpet spire for oratory,
Seek these mid the tritons hoary,
Where an incalculable wave
Wrecks the war-ship tall and brave,
Rushes up a mile-long strand,
Hails the stars and spurns the land,
Pushes back the noblest river
Seeking in vain its love forever,
There mightst thou find a shell
Fit to be strung for strains of Delphian swell.


Margaret Fuller's verses are not commonly quite worth preserving, though no one could think so ill of them as did she herself. But these which I have just quoted have in them some of those “lyric glimpses” that Emerson praised in her; the “incalculable wave” and “mile-long strand” are terse and poetic; and the suggestion that Emerson may have lost, as well as gained, by a lifelong residence among scenes so soothing,--this is something of value, and perhaps no one else ventured to speak so frankly to the great leader of thought as did this feminine disciple. Nor can 1 remember to have seen elsewhere so much as a hint that the world might have been the better had some great combination of events wrenched him for a time from that ideal chimney-corner in Concord. Here one may easily differ from her; nevertheless, her suggestion is worth preserving.

At any rate, this was the tone and temper of her intercourse with the closest and most eminent [72] of her friends. Many other friendships she had, which are commemorated in the pages of her published “Memoirs,” and which, indeed, produced the book. Moreover, she had half a dozen friendships with women for every one she maintained with men, and yet made it a matter of conscience to keep all these intimacies apart from one another. She writes once to Emerson (July 5, 1840):

Do not think, because persons are intimate with me, that they know this or any of my other friends' secrets: I know how to keep relations. Ms.

What was her ideal of such a tie may be seen from this passage, written to one of those nearest to her in sympathy, and dissenting both from his and from Emerson's definitions of friendship:--

July, 1841.
The more I think of it, the more deeply do I feel the imperfection of your view of friendship, which is the same Waldo E. takes in that letter on Charles's death. It is very noble, but not enough for our manifold nature. Our friends should be our incentives to Right, but not only our guiding, but our prophetic stars. To love by right is much, to love by faith is more; both are the entire love, without which heart, mind, and soul cannot be alike satisfied. We love and ought to love one another not merely for the absolute worth of each, but on account of a mutual fitness of temporary character. We are not merely one another's priests or gods, but ministering angels, exercising in the part the same function as the Great Soul in the whole, of seeing the perfect through the imperfect, nay, making it come [73] there. Why am I to love any friend the less for any obstruction in his life? Is not the very time for me to love most tenderly when I must see his life in despite of seeming; when he shows it me I can only admire: I do not give myself. I am taken captive. How shall I express my meaning? Perhaps I can do so from the tales of chivalry, where I find what corresponds far more thoroughly with my nature than in these stoical statements. The friend of Amadis expects to hear prodigies of valor of the absent preux [chevalier]; but if he be mutilated in one of his first battles, shall he be mistrusted by the brother of his soul more than if he had been tested in a hundred? If Britomart finds Artegall bound in the enchanter's spell, can she doubt, therefore, him whom she has seen in the magic glass? A Britomart does battle in his cause, and frees him from the evil power; a dame of less nobleness sits and watches the enchanted sleep, weeping night and day, or spurs away on her white palfrey to find some one more helpful than herself. But they are always faithful through the dark hours to the bright. The Douglas motto, “Tender and true,” seems to me the worthiest of the strongest breast. To borrow again from your Spenser, I am entirely suited with the fate of the three brothers, Diamond and the rest. I could not die while there was yet life in my brother's breast. I would return from the shades and nerve him with twofold life for the fight. I could do it, for our hearts beat with one blood. Do you not see the truth and happiness of this waiting tenderness? The verse,

Have I a lover
Who is noble and free,
I would he were nobler
Than to love me.

[74] does not quite come home to me, though this does,

I could not love thee, sweet,3 so much,
Loved I not honor more. ...

Do not, I implore you, whether from pride or affection, wish to exile me from the dark hour. The manly mind might love best in the triumphant hour; but the woman could no more stay from the foot of the cross than from the transfiguration.4

1 Memoirs,i. 201.

2 Ms.

3 Thus in the Ms.

4 Ms. (W. H. C.)

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