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Chapter 7: suburban life at Jamaica Plain. (1838-1844.)

In looking forward to leaving the scene of her school-teaching, Margaret Fuller wrote thus to Mrs. Barlow in a moment of headache and nervous exhaustion:--

November 8, 1838.
I shall go home about Christmas and stay till April, and never set foot out of doors unless to take exercise; and see no human face, divine or otherwise, out of my own family. But I am wearied out and I have gabbled and simpered and given my mind to the public view these two years back, till there seems to be no good left in me.1

She wrote to Mr. Emerson of the remaining months of that winter,

My sufferings last winter in Groton were almost constant, and I see the journal is very sickly in its tone. I have taken out some leaves. Now I am a perfect Phoenix compared with what I was then, and it all seems past to me. Ms. letter, November 25, 1839.

During this invalid winter, however, she made a brief visit to Boston, where she had three enjoyments, [95] so characteristic as to be worth quoting:--

7 January, 1839.
Three things were specially noteworthy. First, a talk with Mr. Alcott, in which he appeared to me so great, that I am inclined to think he deserves your praise, and that he deceived neither you nor himself in saying that I had not yet seen him. Beside his usual attitude and closeness to the ideal, he showed range, grasp, power of illustration, and precision of statement such as I never saw in him before. I will begin him again and read by faith awhile.

There was a book of studies from Salvator Rosa, from the Brimmer donation, at the Athenaeum, which I looked over with great delight and got many thoughts for my journal. There was at last an interview with Mr. Allston. He is as beautiful as the town-criers have said, and deserves to be Mr. Dana's Olympus, Lares, and Penates, as he is. He got engaged upon his Art, and flamed up into a galaxy of Platonism. Yet what he said was not as beautiful as his smile of genius in saying it. Unfortunately, I was so fascinated, that I forgot to make myself interesting, and shall not dare to go and see him.2

Three months later the family left Groton forever, having taken a house at Jamaica Plain, then and perhaps now the most rural and attractive suburb of Boston. Here their dwelling was near a little stream, called Willow Brook, and there were rocks behind it covered with cardinal flowers. Margaret Fuller had with her two pupils [96] from Providence; she was within easy reach of friends, and could at the same time renew that love of nature which Groton had first taught her, and which city-life had only suspended. From this time, many charming outdoor sketches appear among her papers. Inheriting a love of flowers from her mother, she gave to them meanings and mysticisms of her own. Of her later “Dial” sketches, “The Magnolia of Lake Pontchartrain” grew, as she writes in one of her unpublished letters, out of the suggestion by some one that its odor was so exquisite at that spot as to be unlike any other magnolia; and the “Yucca Filamentosa” came wholly from a description given her by Dr. Eustis, in his garden at Brookline, of its flowering at full-moon. “If you like it” (the sketch of the magnolia),--she says to one of her correspondents,--

I will draw the soul also from the Yucca and put it into words. Ms. (W. H. C.)

Among her unpublished papers there are several similar flower-pieces; one upon the Passion Flower, whose petals had just fallen from her girdle, she says, while all her other flowers remained intact; and with which she connects a striking delineation of human character, as embodied in some person not now to be identified. Again she has been hearing in some conversation a description of the thorn called Spina Christi, which still grows on the plains of Judaea, and this leads her to a noble winter reverie:-- [97]

January 30, 1841.
Recipe to prevent the cold of January from utterly destroying life.

Beneath all pain inflicted by Nature, be not only serene, but more, let it avail thee in prayer. Put up at the moment of greatest suffering a prayer, not for thy own escape, but for the enfranchisement of some being dear to thee, and the sovereign spirit will accept thy ransom.

My head is very sensitive, and as they described the Spina Christi I shuddered all over, and could have fainted only at the thought of its pressure on his head. Yet if he had experienced the sufferings of humanity and believed that by “thy will be done” --a steady feeling in his breast during these hours of torture from an ungrateful race — he could free them from suffering and sin, I feel how he might have borne it. It seems to me I might be educated through suffering to the same purity.

Does any man wound thee; not only forgive, but work into thy thought intelligence of the kind of pain, that thou mayst never inflict it on another spirit. When its work is done, it will never search thy whole nature again.

Oh, love much, and be forgiven.3

It will be seen from another letter that she set an especial value on her flower sketches:--

You often tell me what to do when you are gone; if you survive me, will you not collect my little flower-pieces, even the insignificant ones? I feel as if from mother I had received a connection with the flowers; [98] she has the love, I the interpretation. My writings about them are no fancies, but whispers from themselves. I am deeply taught by the constant presence of any growing thing. This apple-tree before my window I shall mourn to leave. Seeing fruit trees in a garden is entirely another thing from having this one before my eyes constantly, so that I can't help seeing all that happens to it. But I shall write out the history of our acquaintance and give you a copy.

Ms. (W. H. C.)

Yet I must confess to liking her out-door sketches even better when they are more wholly descriptive and less imaginative, as with the following:--

September 27, [1840?]
Oh, it is the loveliest morning. After those days of glad light and calm, benign, roseate sunsets, how sweet the “unutterable love” of such clouds as the west wind has brought; they keep sighing themselves away and letting us see, behind the tenderest blue, the sky of May. The utmost purity with such tenderness! All the fragrance of farewell is breathing out of the earth. The flowers seem to have grown up express for the day. In the wood where I have been they all thronged the path; it is a wood where none but me goes, and they can smile secure. I was looking at the clouds and thinking they could not choose but weep,--there was no other way to express such intense tenderness,--when down came such a sun-shower as you describe from Waldo's thoughts, the clouds only looking the sweeter and more sunlit all the time for being able to express themselves. All this music is playing upon me almost too fully; I have scarcely [99] force to bear it. Perhaps it will be well when cold winter comes and locks the instrument up. I am living like an angel, and I don't know how to get down. Yet they are waiting all around, leaning on the packs they expect me to lift; they look at me reverently, affectionately; they are patient, yet I see they are waiting.4

Then comes the following, in which she extracts quite as much from the wild asters as from yuccas and magnolias:--

I have just returned from a walk this golden autumn morning, with its cloudless sky and champagne air. I found some new wood walks, glades among black pines and hemlocks, openings to the distant hills, graceful in silvery veils. A very peculiar feeling these asters give me, gleaming on every side. They seem my true sisters. They look so refined, so saintly, so melancholy, so generous of their beauty, and the flowers look at me more like eyes than any other. These are good reasons for loving ye, sweet asters, but they do not go to the root of the matter. I feel a really yearning tenderness, a sense of relationship. But the golden-rod is one of the fairy, magical flowers; it grows not up to seek human love amid the light of day, but to mark to the discerning what wealth lies hid in the secret caves of earth. . . . The disgust at unworthy care, the aching sense of how far deeds are transcended by our lowest aspiration, pass away, and for a while I lean on the bosom of nature, and inhale new life with her breath. Could but love, like knowledge, be its own reward; could we look upon the objects of our affection and rejoice in their existence, purely for its own sake, as we do with the ferns [100] and asters,--but that is contrary to the nature of love; though it be true in one sense, as Schiller says, that he only loves who loves without hope, yet in another it is true that love cannot exist without desire, though it be the desire of the moth for the star.


Sometimes she records rambles with others, and we have here a visit to Mount Auburn, at the period when it still retained its rural beauty:--

Ellery [Channing] and I had a good afternoon at Mount Auburn. He was wondering why men had expressed so little of any worth about death. I said I thought they attached too much importance to it. On this subject I always feel that I can speak with some certainty, having been on the verge of bodily dissolution. I felt at that time disengaged from the body, hovering and calm. And in moments of profound thought or feeling, or when, after violent pain in the head, my exhausted body loses power to hem me in, I have felt changes more important than then. I believe that the mere death of the body has no great importance except when it is in no sense accidental, that is, when the mind, by operations native to it, has gradually cast aside its covering, and is ready for a new one. But this is very seldom the case. Persons die generally, not as a natural thing, but from extraneous causes; then it must be a change only one degree more important than going to sleep; for what the mind wants to develop it, it must have, here or elsewhere. A death from love would be perfectly natural.

Reasons why there are no good monuments? I must write upon this subject. March, 1840.6


She had fancies, as Mr. Emerson tells us, about days and precious stones and talismans; and in one of her letters I find these reveries about proper names:--

It pleases that Raphael and Michael Angelo should have received the archangelic names; it seems inspiration in the parents. So that Swedenborg should bear the name of Emanuel, and Kant, too. The name of Beethoven's mother does not seem without meaning. In writing yesterday, I observed the names of Mary and Elizabeth meeting again in the two queens with some pleasure. William is the Conqueror. Perhaps it is from such association that I thought from earliest childhood I could never love one that bore another name; I am glad it was Shakespeare's. Shelley chose it for his child. It is linked with mine in ballad as if they belonged together, but the story is always tragic. In the Douglas tragedy, the beauty is more than the sorrow. In one of the later ones the connection is dismal.

Ms. (W. H. C.)

Again, after study of Goethe's “Farbenlehre” (Theory of Colors), she writes, with similar zest:

I have been reading, most of the day, the “ Farbenlehre.” The facts interest me only in their mystical significance. As of the colors demanding one another in the chromatic circle, each demanding its opposite, and the eye making the opposite of that it once possessed. And of nature only giving the tints pure in the inferior natures, subduing and breaking them as she ascends. Of the cochineal making mordants to fix its dye on the [102] vegetables where it nestles. Of the plants which, though they grow in the dark, only make long shoots, and refuse to seek their flower.

There was a time when one such fact would have made my day brilliant with thought. But now I seek the divine rather in Love than law.7

If even these simpler thoughts show a tendency to link themselves with something a little farfetched and fantastic, we must remember that this was a period when German romance was just invading us; when Carlyle was translating the fantasy-pieces of Tieck, Hoffmann, and Musaeus; and when some young Harvard students spent a summer vacation in rendering into English the mysteries of “Henry of Ofterdingen,” by Novalis. Margaret Fuller took her share in this; typified the mysteries of the soul as “Leila,” in the “Dial,” and wrote verses about herself, under that name, in her diary:--

Leila, of all demanding heart
By each and every left apart;
Leila, of all pursuing mind
From each goal left far behind;
Strive on, Leila, to the end,
Let not thy native courage bend;
Strive on, Leila, day by day,
Though bleeding feet stain all the way;
Do men reject thee and despise--
An angel in thy bosom lies
And to thy death its birth replies.

Ms. Diary, 1844.

These were her days of thought and exaltation. Other days were given to society, usually in Boston, [103] where she sometimes took a room for the winter. Hawthorne, in his “American-note books,” records, under the date, November, 1840:--

I was invited to dine at Mr. Bancroft's yesterday with Miss Margaret Fuller; but Providence had given me some business to do, for which I was very thankful.

American note-books, i. 221.

It must be remembered that Hawthorne was always grateful for any dispensation which saved him from a formal dinner-party. That he enjoyed a conversation with Margaret Fuller personally is plain from an entry in his “American note-books,” describing an interview between them during one of her visits to Concord:--

August 22, 1842.
After leaving the book at Mr. Emerson's I returned through the woods, and, entering Sleepy Hollow, I perceived a lady reclining near the path which bends along its verge. It was Margaret herself. She had been there the whole afternoon, meditating or reading; for she had a book in her hand, with some strange title, which I did not understand, and have forgotten. She said that nobody had broken her solitude, and was just giving utterance to a theory that no inhabitant of Concord ever visited Sleepy Hollow, when we saw a group of people entering its sacred precincts. Most of them followed a path which led them away from us; but an old man passed near us and smiled to see Margaret, reclining on the ground, and me sitting by her side. He made some remark about the beauty of the afternoon, and withdrew himself into the shadow of the wood. [104] Then we talked about autumn, and about the pleasures of being lost in the woods, and about the crows, whose voices Margaret had heard; and about the experiences of early childhood, whose influence remains upon the character after the recollection of them has passed away; and about the sight of mountains from a distance, and the view from their summits; and about other matters of high and low philosophy. In the midst of our talk, we heard footsteps above us, on the high bank; and while the person was still hidden among the trees, he called to Margaret, of whom he had gotten a glimpse Then he emerged from the green shade, and, behold! it was Mr. Emerson. He appeared to have had a pleasant time; for he said that there were Muses in the woods today, and whispers to be heard in the breezes. It being now nearly six o'clock, we separated,--Margaret and Mr. Emerson towards his home, and I towards mine.8

Such scenes were but joyful interludes in her life at Jamaica Plain; at other times there were what she calls the “rye-bread days” given to domestic cares and country cousins, as in this description :--

Saturday. This was one of the rye-bread days, all dull and damp without. I accomplished many trifles, and a little writing within. Cousin — came to see me;-- came home to stay a fortnight. I passed the evening with the Farrars. Around my path how much humble love has flowed. These every-day friends never forget my heart, never censure me, make no demands on me, load me with gifts and services, and, uncomplaining, see me prefer my intellectual kindred. I [105] am ungrateful. as Timon was to his servants. Yet, Heaven be praised, though sometimes forgetful of them in absence, I make it up in presence, so far that I think I do not give pain, as I pass along this world.

Ms. Diary.

Other rye-bread days were spent in writing letters of counsel to her younger brothers, who were, during a portion of this time, away at school. There is the whole range of a New England elder-sister's life in the two following extracts from the same letter to Richard Fuller (May 12, 1842). First, the love of Greek, perhaps flagging, must be stimulated:--

While here I have been reading (only in translation, alas!) the ‘Cyropedia,’ and other works of Xenophon, and some dramas of Euripides; and, were envy ever worth our while, I should deeply envy those who can with convenience gain access to the Greek mind in its proper garb. No possession can be more precious than a knowledge of Greek. Fuller Mss. II. 691.

But the boyish wardrobe, a severer problem than even Greek, must be also supervised; she must even encounter the dawning sensitiveness as to shirt-collars, from which no sister can escape.

Out of this money I wish you and Arthur both to give your aunt some to buy linen for your shirt-bosoms. No one here understands how you wish them made; whether you wish to have bosoms and collars sewed on or separate; and you must each leave with her separate, [106] precise written directions, signed with your separate names, or they will not be done so as to suit you.

Fuller Mss. II. 689.

Then comes a letter about the use of money itself ;--a letter whose clear good sense would have surprised those who fancied her, in those days, a dreamer or a pedant.

I wish you had said distinctly how much money you want. I send five dollars, which, perhaps, is not enough. Yet this makes twenty I have sent you since mother went away. So you see even your frugality does not enable you wholly to dispense with the circulating medium you so much despise, and whose use, when you have thought more deeply on these subjects, you will find to have been indispensable to the production of the arts, of literature, and all that distinguishes civilized man. It is abused like all good things, but without it you would not have had your Horace and Virgil, stimulated by whose society you read the woods and fields to more advantage than — or--[certain uneducated neighbors]. Well, enjoy your fields and trees, supplicating the Spirit of all to bring you clear light and full sight.

Fuller Mss. II. 701.

Then deeper chords are struck, this time in her diary:

October 1st [1842]. Anniversary of my father's death. Seven years have passed,--a generation,--unspotted by regrets, and rich in thought and experience, though its gifts were bathed in tears oftentimes.

October 2, Sunday. Dr. Channing left this world. A blameless life came to an end,--a high aspiration was transferred elsewhere. He could not have died at [107] a better time; it was indeed for him the fullness of time; but it is sad that we shall see him no more,--meet no more the pale benignant countenance, be greeted no more by the gentle formal courtesy; nay, it is even sad that we shall be catechised no more for great truths to feed his earnest mind.

Fuller Mss. i. 425.

The Fuller family resided at Jamaica Plain from the spring of 1839 to that of 1842, when Margaret took the responsibility of purchasing a house in Ellery Street, Cambridge (now No. 8), not far from the site of her old abode, the Dana House. Here they lived until July, 1843, when the house was sold; but the family, now greatly lessened, bought another house on Prospect Street, which they occupied9 until after Margaret had transferred herself to New York, in the autumn of 1844, to begin what she called her “business life.” But before passing to that, we must consider the various literary and other enterprises which engrossed her about this time; and meanwhile this record of suburban life may well close with a graphic description of her as she seemed, at this period of her career, to a childish neighbor, who writes thus to me:--

I had known Miss Fuller in my childhood when she was our next-door neighbor in Ellery Street, Cambridge. She made a pet of me; and the isolated little German girl was indebted to her for a thousand trifles that make a child happy. I often sat by her and looked [108] at her eyes — the only part of her face I remember — with a strong fascination. They were wide, and full, and blue; whether fine or not, I could not at seven years old decide; but they always seemed to look far off, out of and beyond the story she was telling or the picture she was showing me; and in looking at her eyes I seemed to travel with her fancy through fairy-land. She was very sweet and good to me, and I missed her very much when, after a time, my father moved to Boston and I could no longer crawl under or climb over the fence to my Miss Margaret; for I scorned the gate, which was just as near, but had not that touch of romance.

1 Fuller Mss. i. 22.

2 Ms.

3 Ms. (W. H. C.)

4 Ms. (W. H. C.)

5 Ms.

6 Fuller Mss. i. 429

7 Ms. (W. H. C.)

8 American note-books, II. 85.

9 Compare Memoirs, i. 319, 371, 382; II. 120.

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