Chapter 9: a literary club and its organ.Apart from every word she ever wrote, Margaret Fuller will always be an important figure in American history, for this plain reason: that she was the organizer and executive force of the first thoroughly American literary enterprise. The intellectual and spiritual excitement, popularly called “Transcendentalism,” had at least this one merit, that, whatever else it was, it was indigenous. To determine its real worth and weight, beyond this, we must go back to the “Dial.” That is its only authentic record. To know what Emerson individually was, we can go to his books; it is the same with Parker, Thoreau, Alcott. But what it was which united these diverse elements, what was their central spirit, what their collective strength or weakness, their maximum and minimum, their high and low water mark, this must be sought in the “Dial.” That was the alembic within which they were all distilled, and the priestess who superintended this intellectual chemic process happened to be Margaret Fuller. It is a curious fact that this aspect of her life — being that which will, on the whole, make her most interesting to  coming generations — occupies but two pages and a half in the two volumes of her published memoirs. It will be the duty of the present biographer, in view of the plan which directs this literary series, to dwell more fully on this aspect of her life. We can now see that a great deal of unnecessary sympathy used to be wasted on our American writers of fifty years ago. It was habitually taken for granted that they lived on a peculiarly barren soil, and that especial credit was to be allowed them if they accomplished anything at all. The concession was quite needless. They undoubtedly had nature and their own souls to draw upon; they had few books, but those were the best; they had some remote glimpse of art through engravings, at least; they had around them the inspiration of a great republic, visibly destined to overspread a continent; and they had two or three centuries of romantic and picturesque pioneer history behind them. We now recognize that Irving, Cooper, Bryant, Whittier did not create their material; they simply used what they found; and Longfellow's fame did not become assured till he turned from Bruges and Nuremberg, and chose his theme among the exiles of Acadia. It was not Irving who invested the Hudson with romance, but the Hudson that inspired Irving. In 1786, when Mrs. Josiah Quincy, then a young girl, sailed up that river in a sloop, she wrote: “Our captain had a legend for every scene, either supernatural  or traditional, or of actual occurrence during the war; and not a mountain reared its head, unconnected with some marvelous story.” Irving was then a child of three years old, but Rip Van Winkle and Ichabod Crane — or their equivalents — were already on the spot, waiting for some one of sufficient literary talent to tell their tale. Margaret Fuller grew up at a time when our literature was still essentially colonial; not for want of material, but for want of self-confidence. As Theodore Parker said in his vigorous vernacular, somewhat later, the cultivated American literature was exotic, and the native literature was “rowdy,” consisting mainly of campaign squibs, coarse satire, and frontier jokes.1 Children were reared, from the time they learned their letters, on Miss Edgeworth and Mrs. Trimmer, whose books, otherwise excellent, were unconsciously saturated with social conventionalisms and distinctions quite foreign to our society. Mrs. Lydia Maria Child, the leader in the now vast field of American literature for children,--and afterwards one of the leaders in that other experiment of the American novel,--was then a young woman, and the fellow-student of Margaret Fuller. Charles Brockden Brown, Irving, Cooper — these were our few literary heroes. Fortunately for Margaret Fuller, she had been led by the political tastes of her father to turn from the weaker side of American intellect, which then was literature, to the  strong side, which was statesmanship. She had thus learned that there was a department of American life which was not derivative and apologetic, but strong and self-relying; and she was just in the mood to be a literary pioneer. What is called the Transcendental movement amounted essentially to this: that about the year 1836 a number of young people in America made the discovery that, in whatever quarter of the globe they happened to be, it was possible for them to take a look at the stars for themselves. This discovery no doubt led to extravagances and follies; the experimentalists at first went stumbling about, like the astrologer in the fable, with their eyes on the heavens; and at Brook Farm they, like him, fell into a ditch. No matter. There were plenty of people to make a stand in behalf of conventionalism in those very days; the thing most needed was to have a few fresh thinkers, a few apostles of the ideal; and they soon made their appearance in good earnest. The first impulse, no doubt, was in the line of philosophic and theologic speculation; but the primary aim announced on the very first page of the “Dial” was “to make new demands on literature.” Dial, i. 1. It is in this aspect that the movement must especially be treated here. Even if they had not made this emancipation of literature one of their prominent objects, they still would have been laboring for it, even while unconscious.  The moment they made the discovery that they could see the universe with their own eyes, they ceased to be provincial. “He despises me,” wrote Ben Jonson, “because I live in an alley, Tell him his soul lives in an alley.” After all, narrowness or enlargement are in the mind. Mr. Henry James, turning on Thoreau the reverse end of a remarkably good telescope, pronounces him “parochial,” because he made the woods and waters of Concord, Massachusetts, his chief theme. The epithet is curiously infelicitous. To be parochial is to turn away from the great and look at the little; the daily newspapers of Paris afford the best illustration of this fault. It is not parochial, but the contrary, when Dr. Gould spends his life in watching the stars from his lonely observatory in Paraguay; or when Lafarge erects his isolated studio among the Paradise Rocks near Newport; or when Thoreau studies birds and bees, Iliads and Vedas, in his little cottage by Lake Walden. To look out of the little world into the great, that is enlargement; all else is parochialism. It is also to be remembered that people in America, in those days, if they had access to no great variety of thought, still had — as in the Indian's repartee about Time-all the thought there was. The sources of intellectual influence then most powerful in England, France, and Germany, were accessible and potent in America also. The writers who were then remoulding English intellectual habits — Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelleywere  eagerly read in the United States; and Carlyle found here his first responsive audience. There was a similar welcome afforded in America to Cousin and his eclectics, then so powerful in France; the same to Goethe, Herder, Jean Paul, Kant, Schelling, Fichte, Jacobi, and Hegel. All these were read eagerly by the most cultivated classes in the United States, and helped, here as in Europe, to form the epoch. Margaret Fuller, so early as October 6, 1834, wrote in one of her unpublished letters,2 “our master, Goethe;” and Emerson writes to Carlyle (April 21, 1840), “I have contrived to read almost every volume of Goethe, and I have fifty-five.” Carlyle-Emerson correspondence, i. 285. To have read fifty-five volumes of Goethe was a liberal education. Add to this, that Margaret Fuller, like Emerson, had what is still the basis of all literary training in the literature of Greece and Rome — a literature whose merit it is that it puts all its possessors on a level; so that if a child were reared in Alaska and had Aeschylus and Horace at his fingers' ends, he would have a better preparation for literary work, so far as the mere form goes, than if he had lived in Paris and read only Balzac. Still again, the vast stores of oriental literature were just being thrown open; and the “Dial” was, perhaps, the first literary journal to place what it called the “Ethnical Scriptures” in the light now  generally conceded to them; or to recognize what has been latterly called “the Sympathy of Religions.” Thanks to this general fact, that the best literature is transportable and carries the same weight everywhere, these American innovators, living in their little Boston and Cambridge and Concord, had for literary purposes a cosmopolitan training. This advantage would, however, have been of little worth to them unless combined with the consciousness that they were living in a new world and were part of a self-governing nation. As Petrarch gave an impulse to modern European literature when he thought himself reviving the study of the ancient, so the Transcendental movement in America, while actively introducing French and German authors to the American public, was really preparing the way for that public to demand a literature of its own. The utterances of the “Dial” were often, from the very outset, tinged with the passing fashion of a period now gone by. The writers took an ideal view of things,--sometimes extravagantly ideal,--and this has not proved a permanent fashion. No matter; no fashion is permanent; and the ideal point of view is as sure to have its turn again, as is the world to roll round — as sure as the recurrence of Gainsborough hats and Queen Anne houses. But with this fleeting show there was achieved a substantial gain, which was not subject to fashion, and which, when won, was won forever. Behind all the catchwords, and even  cant, if you please, of the “Transcendentalists,” lay the fact that they looked immediately around them for their stimulus, their scenery, their illustrations, and their properties. After fifty years of national life, the skylark and nightingale were at last dethroned from our literature, and in the very first volume of the “Dial” the blue-bird and the wood-thrush took their place. Since then, they have held their own; birds and flowers are recognized as a part of the local coloring, not as mere transportable property, to be brought over by emigrants in their boxes, and good only as having crossed the ocean. Americans still go to England to hear the skylark, but Englishmen also come to America to hear the bobolink. This effect of the new movement was doubtless partly unconscious; for the impulse included some who were illiterate, but thoughtful, and distrusted all literature. In the minds of the leaders, however, the attitude was conscious and deliberate.
It was this strong conviction in their own  minds of the need of something fresh and indigenous, which controlled the criticism of the Transcendentalists; and sometimes made them unjust to the early poetry of a man like Longfellow, who still retained the European symbols, and exasperated them by writing about “Pentecost” and “bishop's-caps,” just as if this continent had never been discovered. The most striking illustration of the direct literary purpose of this movement is not to be found in the early writings of Emerson, though they make it plain enough; but in a remarkable address given at Cambridge by a young man, whose career was cut short by death, after he had given promise of important service. Robert Bartlett, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, graduated at Cambridge in 1836, and in his “Master of Arts” oration, three years after, took for his theme the phrase, “No good possible, but shall one day be real.” The address attracted great attention, and was afterwards published in an English magazine,3 under the title, “A Voice from America. The hope of literature.” Nothing then written -nothing in even the “Dial” itself-has preserved for us so good a picture of the working of the new impulse among educated minds, at that day; but the most remarkable passage was that in which the young student announced the possibilities of American Literature, as follows:--
He who doubts whether this age or this country can yield any contribution to the literature of the world only betrays his own blindness to the necessities of the human soul. Has the power of poetry ceased, or the need? Have the eyes ceased to see that which they would have, and which they have not? . . . The heart beats in this age as of old, and the passions are busy as ever.Emerson in Dial, i. 157,158 (October, 1840).
This oration, be it remembered, was delivered and printed while the “Dial” was yet unborn; and before Emerson had published anything but “Nature” and a few addresses. These words which I have quoted were like a trumpet-call to myself and others, half a dozen years later; and nothing of Emerson's ever touched us more deeply. They make it very clear, at any rate, that the intellectual excitement of that day, whatever may be thought of it as philosophy, produced in literature the effect of emancipation. The “Dial” was the embodiment of this movement; and without Margaret Fuller it is doubtful whether the “Dial” would ever have been born. In conducting it, she had to attempt that hardest thing in life, to bring reformers into systematic cooperation. Reformers are like Esquimaux dogs, which must be hitched to the sledge, each by a separate thong; if put in one common harness, they turn and eat each other up. Under the common phrase, “Transcendentalists,” were comprised, at that day, people of the most antagonistic temperaments. Nobody could dwell higher among the clouds than Alcott; no one could keep his feet more firmly on the earth than Parker; yet they must be harnessed to the same conveyance. Those who have had to do similar charioteering amid the milder divergences and  smoother individualities of the present day can best estimate what her task must have been. Both the magazine and the literary club from which it sprang seem to have been a subject of correspondence among a circle of friends for several years before either took definite shape. Margaret Fuller writes to the Rev. F. H. Hedge, so early as July 4, 1833:--
When Horace was affecting to make himself a  Greek poet, the genius of his country, the shade of immortal Romulus, stood over him, “post mediam noctem visus quum somnia vera”, and forbade the perversion. .. Is everything so sterile and pigmy here in New England, that we must all, writers and readers, be forever replenishing ourselves with the mighty wonders of the Old World? Is not the history of this people transcendent in the chronicles of the world for pure, homogeneous sublimity and beauty and richness? Go down some ages of ages from this day, compress the years from the landing of the Pilgrims to the death of Washington into the same span as the first two centuries of Athens now fill our memories. Will men then come hither from all regions of the globe — will the tomb of Washington, the rock of the Puritans then become classic to the world? will these spots and relics here give the inspiration, the theme, the image of the poet and orator and sculptor, and be the ground of splendid mythologies? . . We do not express the men and the miracles of our history in our social action, and correspondingly, ay, and by consequence, we do not outwrite them in poetry or art. We are looking abroad and back after a literature. Let us come and live, and know in living a high philosophy and faith, so shall we find now, here, the elements, and in our own good souls the fire. Of every storied bay and cliff and plain, we will make something infinitely nobler than Salamis or Marathon. This pale Massachusetts sky, this sandy soil and raw wind, all shall nurture us:Nature, less is all of thine,Rich skies, fair fields shall come to us, suffused with the immortal hues of spirit, of beauteous act and  thought. Unlike all the world before us, our own age and land shall be classic to ourselves.
Than are thy borrowings from our human breast.Heraud's New Monthly Magazine, III. 448.
I should be very willing to join such a society as you speak of, and will “compose a piece,” if you will give me a subject.This, however, was merely a social club, composed of ladies and gentlemen in Cambridge, and Dr. Hedge has no remembrance of any literary exercises connected with it. But during the winter of 1834-35 there was a good deal of discussion in respect to a possible magazine, and on March 5, 1835,--nearly two years after,--she writes to him, still from Groton:--
Every knot of bright young thinkers is easily tempted to plan a periodical which shall reflect the thoughts of the coterie; and it seemed for some years as if this particular enterprise would go no farther. The Rev. F. H. Hedge, who had urged it most definitely, removed to Bangor, Maine, in 1835, and the project languished. But it so happened that there was held in the autumn of 1836 the bicentennial celebration of Harvard College, and it turned out an important circumstance for this special movement. Four young Unitarian clergymen — Emerson, Hedge, Ripley, and Putnam — meeting after the exercises, got into some conversation about the narrow tendencies of thought in the churches. They adjourned to a room at Willard's Hotel-then a place of some resort in Cambridge, now converted into a horse-railroad office — and talked the matter over at length. It ended in a small meeting for consultation at Rev. George Ripley's in Boston, on September 19, 1836, at which were present Ripley, Emerson, Hedge, Alcott, Clarke, and Francis, and one or two divinity students. This led to a much larger meeting at Mr. Emerson's in Concord, at which were present, besides the above, O. A. Brownson, T. Parker, C. A. Bartol, C. Stetson, and various other men; with Margaret Fuller and Elizabeth P. Peabody. This was the inauguration of a club,  called “The Transcendental Club” by the world; sometimes, by Mr. Alcott, “The Symposium Club;” and occasionally, by its members, “The Hedge Club,” because its meetings were often adapted to suit the Rev. F. H. Hedge's occasional visits to Boston. This association met once a month or thereabouts for several years. In 1839 the theme of a much-desired journal constantly appears in the manuscript diary of Mr. Alcott, both in connection with this club and with his own meditations. Thus he writes (March 12, 1839), “Before long a journal will be circulating the thoughts which are now talked about in private circles,” Alcott's Ms. Diary, XII. 464.--yet this he says evidently in his general attitude of prophet and seer, without more definite forecast. Soon after (March 27), he writes:--
Your periodical plan charms me; I think you will do good and, what is next best, gain favor. Though I have been somewhat jostled in this working-day world, I have still a great partiality for the goddess whovires [que] acquirit eundo;I shall feel myself honored if I am deemed worthy of lending a hand, albeit I fear I am merely “ Germanico,” and not “transcendental.” I go by fits and starts: there  is no knowing what I should wish to write upon next January.
Parva metu primo; mox sese attolit in auras
... et caput inter nubila condit.4Ms.
Again, in his record of a meeting of the club, May 8, 1839, it appears that the first topic of discussion was “The present temper of our journals.”  He continues, recording his own remarks but not those of others:--
Brought home with me Brownson's ‘Boston Quarterly Review,’ for April. This is the best journal now current on this side of the Atlantic, but falls far below the idea of the best minds among us. Its circulation is limited. A better work will appear before long. Some of the freest pens now lie idle for want of a channel. . . . The ‘ Christian Examiner’ is timid and conservative.Alcott's Ms. Diary, XII. 542.
The Club went on meeting, now at Mr. Emerson's in Concord, now at Dr. Francis's in Watertown, now at Mr. Bartol's in Boston. It was made up of unusual materials. Hedge supplied the trained philosophic mind; Convers Francis, the omnivorous mental appetite; James Freeman Clarke, the philanthropic comprehensiveness; Theodore Parker, the robust energy; Orestes A. Brownson, the gladiatorial vigor; Caleb Stetson, the wit; William Henry Channing, the lofty enthusiasm; Ripley, the active understanding; Bartol, the flame of aspiration; Alcott, the pure idealism; Emerson, the lumen siccum, or dry light. Among members or occasional guests were Thoreau, Jones Very, George P. Bradford, Dr. Le Baron Russell, and a few young theological students from Cambridge, such as William D. Wilson, now professor at Cornell University, and Robert Bartlett, whose Harvard “Master of Arts” oration has been already quoted. Once, and once only, Dr. Channing and George Bancroft seem to have met with them at Mr. Ripley's (December 5, 1839). The project of a magazine, long pending, seems to have been brought to a crisis by the existence  of an English periodical, which was at the time thought so good as to be almost a model for the American enterprise; but which seems, on rereading it in the perspective of forty years, to be quite unworthy of the comparison. There was in England a man named John A. Heraud, author of a Life of Savonarola, and described in one of Carlyle's most deliciously humorous sketches as “a loquacious, scribacious little man of middle age, of parboiled greasy aspect,” and by Leigh Hunt, as “wavering in the most astonishing manner between being Something and being Nothing.” He seems to have been, if not witty himself, the cause of wit in others, for Stuart Mill said of him: “I forgive him freely for interpreting the Universe, now when I find he cannot pronounce the h's.” When Carlyle once quoted to him the saying of Novalis, that the highest problem of authorship is the writing of a Bible,--
I said that they were destitute of proper freshness and independence. The ‘ Liberator’ was then the only journal which had root in the soul and flourished.Alcott's Ms. Diary. XII.
Nothing was more natural than that Mr. Alcott --who, upon a far higher plane of character, as even Carlyle would have admitted, was engaged in the same rather daring task with Heraud, and even bound up some volumes of his manuscript diary with the label, “Scriptures for 1840,” or whatever the date might be — should have looked eagerly toward Heraud, especially when the latter began to publish his “New Monthly Magazine.”  Dr. Convers Francis, who contrived upon the salary of a poor country clergyman to subscribe to everything and buy everything, of course took Heraud's periodical; and his copy, apparently the only one to be found in these parts, now lies before me. In this magazine it was proposed to publish some other things from American sources besides Bartlett's oration ; as, for instance, a review of Jones Very's poems, by Miss Fuller; and one of Tennyson's, by John S. Dwight; but these seem never to have appeared. Besides this monthly, Heraud or his friends planned and announced a still more esoteric periodical, to be called “Aurora;” and his ally, Dr. J. Westland Marston, actually published some numbers of one called “Psyche.” All these productions were read with great eagerness by the Boston circle, Mr. Alcott's diary recording from month to month the satisfaction taken by himself, Miss Fuller, and others in Heraud's undertakings, and his own fear that Americans could not support such an enterprise. “It will be some time,” he writes in his diary (November 1, 1839),
‘That is precisely what I am doing,’ answered the aspiring, unaspirating.
before our contemplated journal will be commenced, and I question whether we shall find talent or spirit to equal that of our English brethren. We have writers enough, but they are neither accomplished nor free. Half a dozen men exhaust our list of contributors; Emerson, Hedge, Miss Fuller, Ripley, Channing, Dwight, and Clarke are our dependence. Alcott's Ms. Diary, XIII. 375.But  the trophies of Heraud would not suffer Bostonians to sleep. There was great interchange of pamphlets and new books, and Mr. Alcott, while planning to reprint a little work of Heraud's from an English volume called “The Educator,” --a reprint actually accomplished by him two years later, in a small volume called “Spiritual culture,” --followed the matter up still further, as may be seen in the following extract from his diary:--
Before this, however, as appears from other memoranda by Mr. Alcott in my possession, Margaret Fuller, at a meeting of the “Symposium” Club, September 18, “gave her views of the proposed ‘ Dial,’ which she afterwards edited.” This is the first instance I have found of the introduction  of the actual title of the American periodical; but the word was several times used by Mr. Alcott to describe his own laborious diary; and he expressly states that it was transferred from his personal use to that of the proposed magazine. “To these papers,” he says, speaking of his own manuscript volumes, “I give the name of ‘ the Dial,’ ” and indorses on a copy of the original prospectus,
This journal takes its name from a Ms. of mine of like designation, referred to on pages 47 and 50 of this Scripture. Alcott's Ms. Diary, XIV. 79.The new magazine now at last impending moved Mr. Brownson to make a final effort to unite it with his own, and he came to Mr. Alcott for that purpose, proposing that instead of establishing the “Dial” its projectors should write under their own signatures in the “Boston Quarterly Review.” Alcott says of this suggestion (October 19, 1839) : “I shall speak with Emerson and Miss Fuller about it;” and the next day he and the lady went together to Concord and discussed the plan, apparently wisely rejecting it. He writes of Miss Fuller after his return,
She has a deeper insight into character than any of her contemporaries, and will enrich our literature. Alcott's Ms. Diary, XIII. 320, 321, 326.We find her soon actively at work in writing to friends and summoning forth contributions. Thus she writes on New Year's Day, to the Rev. W. H. Channing, then preaching at Cincinnati:-- 
On the same day she writes to Rev. F. H. Hedge, at Bangor, Maine:--
Later, she writes to him again:--
On March 18, 1840, Emerson writes to Carlyle: 
Again he says, April 22, 1840:--
My vivacious friend, Margaret Fuller, is to edit a journal whose first number she promises for the first of July next,--which, I think, will be written with a good will, if written at all.
On April 19, 1840, she writes to the Rev. W. H. Channing again:--
I have very good hope that my friend Margaret Fuller's journal — after many false baptisms now saying it will be called ‘ The Dial’ and which is to appear in July -will give you a better knowledge of our young people than any you have had.Ibid. i. 285.
On May 31, 1840, she writes to Emerson:--
I do not expect to be of much use except to urge on the laggards and scold the lukewarm, and act like Helen McGregor to those who love compromise, by doing my little best to sink them in the waters of oblivion.Ms.
Upon such modest encouragement did a periodical proceed which was to be the beginning of a new era in cis-Atlantic literature. The original prospectus — written, I suspect, by Mr. Ripley--was as follows:-- 
There are only thirty names on the Boston subscription list of the ‘ Dial.’ I hope you will let me have your paper by next Friday or Saturday.Ms.