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Margaret Fuller Ossoli.

T. W. Higginson.
Travelling by rail in Michigan, some ten years ago, I found myself seated next to a young Western girl, with a very intelligent face, who soon began to talk with me about literary subjects. She afterwards gave me, as a reason for her confidence, that! “looked like one who would enjoy Margaret Fuller's writings,” --these being, as I found, the object of her special admiration. I certainly took the remark for a compliment; and it was, at any rate, a touching tribute to the woman whose intellectual influence thus brought strangers together.

Margaret Fuller is connected, slightly but firmly, with my earliest recollections. We were born and bred in the same town (Cambridge, Massachusetts), and I was the playmate of her younger brothers. Their family then lived at the old “Brattle house,” which still stands behind its beautiful lindens, though the great buildings of the University Press now cover the site of the old-fashioned garden, whose formal fishponds and stone spring-house wore an air of European stateliness to our home-bred eyes. There I dimly remember the discreet elder sister, book in hand, watching over the gambols of the lovely little Ellen, who became, long after, the wife of my near kinsman, Ellery Channing. This later connection cemented a new tie, and led to a few interviews m maturer years with Margaret Fuller, and to much intercourse with [174] others of the family. It is well to mention even such slight ties of association as these, for they unconsciously influence one's impressions; and, after all, it is the personal glimpses which make the best part of biography, great or small, and indeed of all literature. How refreshing it is, amid the chaff of Aulus Gellius, to come upon a reference to Virgil's own copy of the Aeneid, which the writer had once seen, “quem ipsius Virgilii fuisse credebat;” and nothing in all Lord Bacon's works ever stirred me like that one magic sentence, “When I was a child, and Queen Elizabeth was in the flower of her years.” I can say that when I was a child, Margaret Fuller was the queen of Cambridge, though troubled with a large minority of rather unwilling and insurrectionary subjects.

Her mother I well remember as one of the sweetest and most sympathetic of women; she was tall and not unattractive in person, refined and gentle, but with a certain physical awkwardness, proceeding in part from extreme nearsightedness. Of the father I have no recollection, save that he was mentioned with a sort of respect, as being a lawyer and having been a congressman. But his daughter has described him, in her fragment of autobiography, with her accustomed frankness and precision:--

My father was a lawyer and a politician. He was a man largely endowed with that sagacious energy which the state of New England society for the last half century has been so well fitted to develop. His father was a clergyman, settled as pastor in Princeton, Massachusetts, within the bounds of whose parish farm was Wachusett. His means were small, and the great object of his ambition was to send his sons to college. As a boy, my father was taught to think only of preparing himself for Harvard University, and, when there, of preparing himself for the profession of law. As a lawyer, [175] again, the ends constantly presented were to work for distinction in the community, and for the means of supporting a family. To be an honored citizen and to have a home on earth were made the great aims of existence. To open the deeper fountains of the soul, to regard life here as the prophetic entrance to immortality, to develop his spirit to perfection,--motives like these had never been suggested to him, either by fellow-beings or by outward circumstances. The result was a character, in its social aspect, of quite the common sort. A good son and brother, a kind neighbor, an active man of business,--in all these outward relations, he was but one of a class which surrounding conditions have made the majority among us. In the more delicate and individual relations he never approached but two mortals, my mother and myself.

“ His love for my mother was the green spot on which he stood apart from the commonplaces of a mere bread-winning, bread-bestowing existence. She was one of those fair and flower-like natures which sometimes spring up even beside the most dusty highways of life,--a creature not to be shaped into a merely useful instrument, but bound by one law with the blue sky, the dew, and the frolic birds. Of all persons whom I have known she had in her most of the angelic,of that spontaneous love for every living thing, for man, and beast, and tree, which restores the golden age.”

Sarah Margaret Fuller was born May 23, 1810; the eldest child of Timothy Fuller and Margaret Crane. Her birthplace was a house on Cherry Street, in Cambridge, before whose door still stand the trees planted by her father on the year when she saw the light. The family afterwards removed to the “Dana house,” which then crowned, in a stately way, the hill between Old Cambridge and Cambridgeport. It was later still that they resided in the “Brattle house,” as I have [176] described. This was Margaret Fullers home until 1833, except that she spent a year or more at the school of the Misses Prescott, in Groton, Mass., where she went through that remarkable experience described by herself, under the assumed character of Mariana, in “Summer on the Lakes.” In 1826 she returned to Cambridge.

The society of that University town had then, as it still has, great attractions for young people of talent. It offers something of that atmosphere of culture for which such persons yearn,--tinged, perhaps, with a little narrowness and constraint. She met there in girlhood the same persons who were afterwards to be her literary friends, co-laborers, and even biographers. It was a stimulating and rather perilous position, for she found herself among a circle of highly cultivated young men, with no equal female companion; although she read Locke and Madame de Stael with Lydia Maria Francis, afterwards better known as Mrs. Child. Carlyle had just called attention to the rich stores of German literature; all her friends were exploring them, and some had just returned from the German universities. She had the college library at command, and she had that-vast and omnivorous appetite for books which is the most common sign of literary talent in men, but is for some reason exceedingly rare among women. At least I have known but two young girls whose zeal in this respect was at all comparable to that reported of Margaret Fuller, these two being Harriet Prescott and the late Charlotte Hawes.

In 1833 her father removed to Groton, Mass., much to her regret. Yet her life there was probably a good change in training for one who had been living for several years in an atmosphere of mental excitement. In March, 1834, she wrote thus of her mode of life:--

March, 1834.

Four pupils are a serious and fatiguing [177] charge for one of my somewhat ardent and impatient disposition. Five days in the week I have given daily lessons in three languages, in geography and history, besides many other exercises on alternate days. This has consumed often eight, always five hours of my day. There has been also a great deal of needle-work to do, which is now nearly finished, so that I shall not be obliged to pass my time about it when everything looks beautiful, as I did last summer. We have had very poor servants, and, for some time past, only one. My mother has been often ill. My grandmother, who passed the winter with us, has been ill. Thus you may imagine, as I am the only grown — up daughter, that my time has been considerably taxed.

But as, sad or merry, I must always be learning, I laid down a course of study at the beginning of winter, comprising certain subjects, about which I had always felt deficient. These were the History and Geography of modern Europe, beginning the former in the fourteenth century; the Elements of Architecture; the works of Alfieri, with his opinions on them; the historical and critical works of Goethe and Schiller, and the outlines of history of our own country.

I chose this time as one when I should have nothing to distract or dissipate my mind. I have nearly completed this course, in the style I proposed,--not minute or thorough, I confess,--though I have had only three evenings in the week, and chance hours in the day for it. I am very glad I have undertaken it, and feel the good effects already. Occasionally I try my hand at composition, but have not completed anything to my own satisfaction.

On September 23, 1835, her father was attacked by cholera, and died within three days. Great as must have been the blow to the whole family, it was greatest of all to Margaret. The tie between them had been very close, and [178] this sudden death threw the weight of the whole household upon the eldest child. It came at what had seemed to her the golden moment of her whole life; for she was about to visit Europe with her constant friends, ProfessorFarrar and Mrs. Farrar, and with their friend Harriet Martineau, who was just returning home. But all this must be at once abandoned. Mr. Fuller had left barely property enough to support his widow, and to educate the younger children, with the aid of their elder sister. Mrs. Fuller was in delicate health, and of a more yielding nature than Margaret, who became virtually head of the house. Under her strong supervision, two out of the five boys went honorably through Harvard College,--a third having previously graduated,while the young sister was sent to the best schools, where she showed the family talent.

In the autumn of 1836, Margaret Fuller went to Boston, where she taught Latin and French in Mr. Alcott's school, and had classes of young ladies in French, German, and Italian. She also devoted one evening in every week to translating German authors into English, for the gratification of Dr. Channing,--their chief reading being in De Wette and Herder. The following extract will show how absorbing were her occupations:--

And now let me try to tell you what has been done. To one class I taught the German language, and thought it good success, when, at the end of three months, they could read twenty pages of German at a lesson, and very well. This class, of course, was not interesting, except in the way of observation and analysis of language.

With more advanced pupils I read, in twenty-four weeks, Schiller's Don Carlos, Artists, and Song of the Bell, besides giving a sort of general lecture on Schiller; Goethe's Hermann and Dorothea; Goetz von Berlichingen; Iphigenia; [179] first part of Faust,--three weeks of thorough study this, as valuable to me as to them; and Clavigo,--thus comprehending samples of all his efforts in poetry, and bringing forward some of his prominent opinions; Lessing's Nathan, Minna, Emilia Galeotti; parts of Tieck's Phantasus, and nearly the whole first volume of Richter's Titan.

With the Italian class, I read parts of Tasso, Petrarch,whom they came to almost adore,--Ariosto, Alfieri, and the whole hundred cantos of the Divina Commedia, with the aid of the fine Athenaeum copy, Flaxman's designs, and all the best commentaries. This last piece of work was and will be truly valuable to myself.

She was invited, in 1837, to become a teacher in a private school just organized, on Mr. Alcott's plan, in Providence, R. I. “The proposal is,” she wrote, “that I shall teach the elder girls my favorite branches for four hours a day,choosing my own hours and arranging the course,--for a thousand dollars a year, if upon trial I am well pleased enough to stay.” This was a flattering offer, and certainly shows the intellectual reputation she had won. She accepted it, for the sake of her family, though it involved the necessity of leaving the friends and advantages which Boston had given. She had also to abandon her favorite literary project, the preparation of a Life of Goethe for Mr. Ripley's series of translations from foreign literature. It was perhaps as a substitute for this that she translated “Eckermann's conversations with Goethe,” though it did not appear till after her removal to Jamaica Plain, in 1839. It is an admirable version, and there is after all no book in English from which one has so vivid and familiar impression of Goethe. Her preface is clear, moderate, and full of good points, though less elaborate than her subsequent essay on the same subject. No one, I fancy, has ever compressed into one [180] sentence a sharper analysis of this great writer than when she says of him in the preface, “I think he had the artist's eye and the artist's hand, but not the artist's love of structure.”

She took a house in Jamaica Plain, on her own responsibility, in the spring of 1839, and removed thither the family, of which she was practically the head. The next year they returned once more to Cambridge, living in a small house near her birthplace.

In the autumn of 1839, she instituted that remarkable conversational class, which so stimulated the minds of the more cultivated women of Boston, that even now the leaders of thought and intellectual society date back their first enlightenment to her, and wish that their daughters might have such guidance. The very aim and motive of these meetings showed her clear judgment. She held that women were at a disadvantage as compared with men, because the former were not called on to test, apply, or reproduce what they learned; while the pursuits of life supplied this want to men. Systematic conversations, controlled by a leading mind, would train women to definite statement, and continuous thought; they would make blunders and gain by their mortification; they would seriously compare notes with each other, and discover where vague impression ended and clear knowledge began. She thus states, in her informal prospectus, her three especial aims:--

To pass in review the departments of thought and knowledge, and endeavor to place them in due relation to one another in our minds. To systematize thought, and give a precision and clearness, in which our sex are so deficient,chiefly, I think, because they have so few inducements to test and classify what they receive. To ascertain what pursuits are best suited to us, in our time and state of society, [181] and how we may make best use of our means for building up the life of thought upon the life of action.

These conversations lasted during several successive Winters, with much the same participants, numbering from twenty to thirty. These were all ladies. During one brief series, the experiment of admitting gentlemen was tried, and it seems singular that this should have failed, since many of her personal friends were of the other sex, and certainly men and women are apt to talk best when together. In this exceptional course, the subject was mythology, and it was thought that the presence of those trained in classical studies might be useful. But an exceedingly able historian of the enterprise adds, “All that depended on others entirely failed. . . . Even in the point of erudition on the subject, which Margaret did not profess, she proved the best informed of the party, while no one brought an idea, except herself. Take her as a whole,” adds this lady, “she has the most to bestow upon others by conversation of any person I have ever known. I cannot conceive of any species of vanity living in her presence. She distances all who talk with her.”

It is said by all her friends that no record of her conversation does it any justice. I have always fancied that the best impression now to be obtained of the way she talked when her classes called her “inspired,” must be got by reading her sketch of the Roman and Greek characters, in her autobiographic fragment. That was written when her conversations most flourished, in 1840, and a marvellous thing it is. It is something to read and re-read, year after year, with ever new delight. Where else is there a statement, so vivid, so brilliant, so profound, of the total influence exerted on a thoughtful child by those two mighty teachers? No attempted report of her conversation gives such an impression of what it must have been, as this self-recorded reverie. If on [182] the tritest of all subjects, she could so easily write something admirable, what must it have been when the restraints of the pen — to her most distasteful — were removed?

On the last day of these meetings — which were closed only by her departure for New York — she wrote thus :--

April 28, 1844.

It was the last day with my class. How noble has been my experience of such relation now for six years, and with so many and so various minds! Life is worth living,--is it not? We had a most animated meeting. On bidding me good-by, they all and always show so much good — will and love that I feel I must really have become a friend to them. I was then loaded with beautiful gifts, accompanied with those little delicate poetic traits, which I should delight to tell you of, if you were near.

While thus serving women, she aided men also, by her editorship of the “Dial.” This remarkable quarterly, established in 1840, by a circle of her friends, was under her exclusive charge for two years, and these the most characteristic years of its existence. It was a time of great seething in thought and many people had their one thing to say, which being said, they retired into the ranks of common men. The less instructed found their outlet in the radical conventions, then so abundant; the more cultivated uttered themselves in the “Dial.” The contributors, who then thronged around Margaret Fuller,--Emerson, Alcott, Parker, Thoreau, Ripley, Hedge, Clarke, W. H. Channing,--were the true founders of American literature. They emancipated the thought of the nation, and also its culture, though their mode of utterance was often crude and cumbrous from excess of material. These writers are all now well known, and some are famous; but at that time not one of them was popular, save Theodore Parker, whose vigorous commonsense [183] soon created for itself a wide public. It was his articles, as Mr. Emerson has since told me, that sold the numbers; that is, as far as they did sell, which was not very far. The editor was to have had two hundred dollars as her annual salary, but it hardly reached that sum, and I believe that the whole edition was but five hundred copies.

I can testify to the vast influence produced by this periodical, even upon those who came to it a year or two after its first appearance, and it seems to me, even now, that in spite of its obvious defects, no later periodical has had so fresh an aroma, or smacked so of the soil of spring. When the unwearied Theodore Parker attempted, half a dozen years after, to embody the maturer expression of the same phase of thought in the “Massachusetts quarterly review,” he predicted that the new periodical would be “The Dial, with a beard.” But the result was disappointment. It was all beard, and no “Dial.”

During the first year of the “Dial's” existence, it contained but little from the editor,--four short articles, the “Essay on critics,” “Dialogue between poet and critic,” “The Allston exhibition,” and “Menzel's view of Goethe,” --and two of what may be called fantasy-pieces, “Leila,” and “The Magnolia of Lake Pontchartrain.” The second volume was richer, containing four of her most elaborate critical articles,.-“Goethe,” “Lives of the great Composers,” “Festus,” and “Bettine Brentano.” Few American writers have ever published in one year so much of good criticism as is to be found in these four essays. She wrote also, during this period, the shorter critical notices, which were good, though unequal. She was one of the first to do hearty justice to Hawthorne, of whom she wrote, in 1840, “No one of all our imaginative writers has indicated a genius at once so fine and so rich.” Hawthorne was at that time scarcely known, and it is singular to read in her diary, four years earlier, her account [184] of reading one of his “Twice-told tales,” under the impression that it was written by “somebody in Salem,” whom she took to be a lady.

I find that I underscored in my copy of the “Dial,” with the zeal of eighteen, her sympathetic and wise remark on Lowell's first volume. “The proper critic of this book would be some youthful friend to whom it has been of real value as a stimulus. The exaggerated praise of such an one would be truer to the spiritual fact of its promise than accurate measure of its performance.” This was received with delight by us ardent Lowellites in those days, and it still seems to me admirable.

In the third volume of the “Dial,” she wrote of “Beethoven,” “Sterling,” “Romaic and Rhine ballads,” and other themes. In the fourth volume she published a remarkable article, entitled, “The Great Lawsuit; Man versus Men, Woman versus Women.” It was a cumbrous name, for which even the vague title, “Woman in the nineteenth century,” was hailed as a desirable substitute, when the essay was reprinted in book-form. In its original shape, it attracted so much attention that the number was soon out of pant; and it is not uncommon to see sets of the “Dial” boundup without it.

She printed, in 1841, another small translation from the German,--a portion of that delightful book, the correspondence between Bettine Brentano and her friend Gunderode. One-fourth of this was published in pamphlet form, by way of experiment; and it proved an unsuccessful one. Long after, her version was reprinted, the work being completed by a far inferior hand. Margaret Fuller was one of the best of translators, whether in reproducing the wise oracles of Goethe, or the girlish grace and daring originality of Bettine and her friend. She says of this last work, in a spirit worthy the subject: “I have followed as much as possible [185] the idiom of the writer as well as her truly girlish punctuation. Commas and dashes are the only stops natural to girls; their sentences flow on in little minim ripples, unbroken as the brook in a green field unless by some slight waterfall or jet of Ohs and Ahs.” I know of no other critic who has ever done exact justice to the wonderful Bettine, recognizing fully her genius and her charms, yet sternly pointing out the inevitable failure of such self-abandonment and the way in which the tree which defies the law mars its own growth.

During the summer of 1843, she made a tour to the West with her friends James Freeman Clarke and his artist-sister. The result of this was her first original work, “Summer on the Lakes,” --a book which, with all artistic defects upon its head, will yet always remain delightful to those who first read it in its freshness. To this day it is almost the only work which presents Western life in any thoughtful or ideal treatment,which is anything more than a statistical almanac or a treatise on arithmetical progression. Though most of its statements of fact are long since superseded, it yet presents something which is truer than statistics,--the real aroma and spirit of Western life. It is almost the only book which makes that great region look attractive to any but the energetic and executive side of man's nature. In this point of view even her literary episodes seem in place; it is pleasant to think that such books as she describes could be read upon the prairies. In the narrative of most travellers it would seem inappropriate to say that they stopped in Chicago and read a poem. It would seem like being offered a New York Tribune at Paestum. But when Margaret Fuller reads “Philip Van Artevelde,” by the lake shore, just in the suburbs of the busy city, all seems appropriate and harmonized, and the moral that it yields her is fit to be remembered for years.

In Chicago I read again “Philip Van Artevelde,” and [186] certain passages in it will always be in my mind associated with the deep sound of the lake, as heard in the night. I used to read a short time at night, and then open the blind to look out. The moon would be full upon the lake, and the calm breath, pure light, and the deep voice harmonized well with the thought of the Flemish hero. When will this country have such a man? It is what she needs; no thin idealist, no coarse realist, but a man whose eye reads the heavens, while his feet step firmly on the ground, and his hands are strong and dexterous for the use of human implements.

What was that power in Margaret Fuller which made her words barbed arrows, to remain in the hearts of young people forever? For one I know that for twenty years that sentence has haunted me, as being, more than any other, the true formula for the American man, the standard by which each should train himself in self-education. I fancy that the secret of my allegiance to this woman lies in the shaping influence of that one sentence. Others have acknowledged the same debt to other stray phrases she uses,--her “lyric glimpses,” as Emerson called them. Thus William Hunt, the artist, acknowledged that a wholly new impulse of aspiration was aroused in him by a few stray words she had pencilled on the margin of a passage in Mrs. Jameson's “Italian painters.”

Even the narrative in this book, and its recorded conversations, show that she exerted on travelling acquaintances this stimulating and unlocking power. This showed itself with the Illinois farmers, “the large first product of the soil,” and especially with that vanishing race, who can only be known through the sympathy of the imagination, the Indians. There is no book of travels, except, perhaps, Mrs. Jameson's, which gives more access to those finer traits of Indian character that are disappearing so fast amid persecution and demoralization. [187] But the book as a whole, is very fragmentary and episodical, and in this respect, as well as in the wide range of merit and demerit in the verses here and there interspersed, it reminds one of Thoreau's “Week on the Concord and Merrimack rivers.” It is hardly possible, however, to regret these episodes, since one of them contains that rare piece of childish autobiography, “Mariana;” which is however separated from its context in her collected works.

In 1844. she removed to New York. It is not the least of Horace Greeley's services to the nation, that he was willing to entrust the literary criticisms of the “Tribune” to one whose standard of culture was so far above that of his readers or his own. Nevertheless, there she remained for nearly two years, making fearless use of her great opportunity of influence. She was dogmatic, egotistic, and liable to err; but in this she did not differ from her fellow-critics. The point of difference was in the thoroughness of training to which she had submitted,--at least in certain directions, --the elevation of her demands, her perfect independence, and her ready sympathy. With authors who demanded flattery on the one side, and a public on the other which demanded only intellectual substance, and was almost indifferent to literary form, she bravely asserted that literature was to be regarded as an art. Viewing it thus, she demanded the highest; reputations, popularity, cliques, to her were nothing; she might be whimsical, but she was always independent, and sought to try all by the loftiest standard. If she was ever biased by personal considerations,--and this rarely happened,--it was always on the chivalrous side.

Of all Americans thus far, she seems to me to have been born for a literary critic. One of her early associates said well “that she was no artist; she could never have written ar epic, or romance, or drama; yet no one knew better the qualities [188] which go to the making of these; and, though catholic as to kind, no one was more rigidly exacting as to quality.” She puts this still better in her own journal: “How can I ever write, with this impatience of detail? I shall never be an artist. I have no patient love of execution. I am delighted with my sketch, but if I try to finish it, I am chilled. Never was there a great sculptor who did not love to chip the marble.”

But the very fact that she was able to make this discrimination shows her critical discernment. There are not a dozen prose-writers in America who “love to chip the marble;” but so long as we do not discover the defect, we can neither do good work ourselves nor appreciate that of another. All Margaret Fuller's books are very defective as to form; but because she saw the fault, she was able to criticise the books of others.

She had also the rare quality of discerning both needs of the American mind,--originality and culture,--and no one, except Emerson, has done so much to bridge the passage from a tame and imitative epoch to a truly indigenous literature. Most of us are either effeminated by education, or are left crude and rough by the want of it. She who so exquisitely delineated the Greek and Roman culture in her fragment of autobiography, had yet the discernment to write in an essay, “It was a melancholy praise bestowed on the German Iphigenia, that it was an echo of the Greek mind. Oh, give us something rather than Greece more Grecian, so new, so universal, so individual!”

It was, therefore, an event in the history of our literature, when a woman thus eminently gifted became the literary critic of the New York Tribune, --then; and perhaps still, the journal possessing the most formative influence over the most active class of American minds. There were, of course, drawbacks upon her fitness. She was sometimes [189] fantastic in her likings; so are most fastidious people; so is Emerson. She might be egotistical and overbearing. But she was honest and true. It was apt to be the strong, not the weak, whom she assailed. Her greatest errors were committed in vindicating those whom others attacked, or in dethroning popular favorites to make room for obscurer merit. A different course would have made her life smoother and her memory less noble.

In her day, as now, there were few well-trained writers in the country, and they had little leisure for criticism; so that work was chiefly left to boys. The few exceptions were cynics, like Poe, or universal flatterers, like Willis and Griswold. Into the midst of these came a woman with no gifts for conciliation, with no personal attractions, with a habit of saying things very explicitly and of using the first person singular a good deal too much. In her volume of “Papers on literature and art,” published in 1846, there is a preface of three pages in which this unpleasant grammatical form occurs just fifty times. This is very characteristic; she puts the worst side foremost. The preface once ended, the rest of the book seems wise and gentle, and only egotistic here and there.

Or at least, nothing need be excepted from this claim, except the article on “American literature” --the only essay in the book which had not been previously published. Gentle this was not always, nor could it be; and she furthermore apologized for it in the preface (wisely or unwisely), as prepared too hastily for a theme so difficult, and claimed only that it was “written with sincere and earnest feelings, and from a mind that cares for nothing but what is permanent and essential.” “It should, then,” she adds, “have some merit, if only in the power of suggestion.” It certainly has such merit. It is remarkable, after twenty years, to see how many of her judgments have been confirmed by the public [190] mind. How well, for instance, she brought forth from obscurity the then forgotten genius of Charles Brockden Brown; how just were her delineations of Bryant, Willis, Dana, Halleck; how well she described Prescott, then at his culmination,--his industry, his wealth of material, his clear and elegant arrangement, and his polished tameness! So much the public could endure. It was when she touched Longfellow and Lowell that her audience, or that portion of it which dwelt round Boston, grew clamorously indignant.

In reverting, after twenty years, to these criticisms, one perceives that the community must have grown more frank or less sensitive. There seems no good reason why they should have made so much stir. There is no improper personality in them, and, though they may be incorrect, they are not unfair. She frankly confesses to “a coolness towards Mr. Longfellow, in consequence of the exaggerated praise bestowed upon him. When we see a person of moderate powers receive honors which should be reserved for the highest, we feel somewhat like assailing him and taking from him the crown which should be reserved for grander brows: And yet this is perhaps ungenerous.” She then goes on to point out the atmosphere of overpraise which has always surrounded this poet,--says that t his is not justly chargeable on himself,,but on his admirers, publishers, and portrait-painters; and adds in illustration that the likeness of him in the illustrated edition of his works suggests the impression of a “dandy Pindar.” This phrase, I remember, gave great offence at the time; yet, on inspection of that rather smirking portrait, it proves to be a fair description; and she expressly disclaims all application of the phrase to the poet himself. She defends him from Poe's charges of specific plagiarism, and points out, very justly, that these accusations only proceed from something imitative and foreign in many [191] of his images and in the atmosphere of much of his verse. She says, as many have felt, that he sees nature, whether human or external, too much through the windows of literature, and finally assigns him his place as “a man of cultivated taste, delicate though not deep feeling, and some, though not much, poetic force.” This may not be an adequate statement of the literary claims of Longfellow; but it certainly does not differ so widely from the probable final award as to give just ground for complaint against the critic. It is also recorded by Mr. Greeley that she only consented to review Longfellow's poems with the greatest reluctance, and at the editors particular request, “assigning the wide divergence of her views of poetry from those of the author and his school as the reason.”

Towards Lowell she showed more asperity. Yet there was nothing personal in her remarks, even here; there was simply an adverse literary criticism, conveyed with a slight air of arrogance. To preface an opinion with “We must declare it, though to the grief of some friends and the disgust of more,” was undoubtedly meant for a deprecatory and regretful expression; but it had a sort of pompous effect that did not soften the subsequent brief verdict. She declared him “absolutely wanting in the true spirit and tone of poesy,” with the addition that “his interest in the moral questions of the day had supplied the want of vitality in himself.” Even this last statement was far too strong, no doubt. Yet it will now be admitted by Lowell's warmest admirers that his poetic phases have been singularly coincident with his phases of moral enthusiasm. His early development of genius was united with extreme radicalism of position; then followed many years, comprising the prime of his life, when both his genius and his enthusiasm seemed quiescent. It was the unforeseen stimulus of the war which made him again put on his singing robes, for that “Commemoration [192] Ode,” which is incomparably the greatest of his poems. All this vindicated in some degree the discernment, though it could not justify the sweeping manner of Margaret Fuller's criticism; and her tone of arrogance is more than counterbalanced by the fierce personalities with which the poet retaliated upon her in the “Fable for critics.”

The criticisms on English poets in this collection seem to me singularly admirable; they take rank with those of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in her “Essays on the poets.” There are many single phrases that are unsurpassed in insight and expression, as where she speaks of the “strange, bleak fidelity of Crabbe.” “Give Coleridge a canvas,” she says, “and he will paint a picture as if his colors were made of the mind's own atoms.” “The rush, the flow, the delicacy of vibration in Shelley's verse can only be paralleled by the waterfall, the rivulet, the notes of the bird and of the insect world.” “It is as yet impossible to estimate duly the effect which the balm of his [Wordsworth's] meditations has had in allaying the fever of the public heart, as exhibited in Byron and Shelley.” This is a rare series of condensed criticisms, on authors about whom so much has been written, and her remarks on the new men — Sterling, Henry Taylor, and Browning — were almost as good. She was one of the first in America to recognize the genius of Browning, and, while his “Bells and pomegranates” was yet in course of publication, she placed him at the head of contemporary English poets.

There is much beside, in these rich volumes; a brief criticism on “Hamlet,” for instance, in one of the dialogues, which is worthy to take rank with those of Mrs. Jameson; and an essay on “Sir James MacKINTOSHintosh,” which, in calm completeness and thorough workmanship, was her best work, as it was one of her latest. Indeed, the “Papers on literature and art” always seemed to me her best book; far superior to the [193] “Woman in the nineteenth century” (published two years previously), which was perhaps framed on too large a scale for one who had so little constructive power. It was noble in tone, enlightened in its statements, and full of suggestion; yet after all it was crude and disconnected in its execution. But the “Papers” have been delightful reading, to me at least, for twenty years, and I could quote many a sentence which has passed into my bone and marrow, as have those of Emerson. “Tragedy is always a mistake.” “The difference between heartlessness and the want of a deep heart.” “We need to hear the excuses men make to themselves for their worthlessness.” “It needs not that one of deeply thoughtful mind be passionate, to divine all the secrets of passion. Thought is a bee that cannot miss those flowers.” And so on.

The only complaint I should make in regard to this book is founded on its title, “Papers on literature and art.” With art, save as included in literature, she should not have meddled. At least, she should have dealt only with the biography and personal traits of artists,--not with their work. One of her early friends said that the god Terminus presided over her intellect; but to me it seems that she did not always recognize her own limits. A French wit said that there were three things he had loved very much, without knowing anything about them,--music, painting, and women. Margaret Fuller loved all three, and understood the last.

If, however, she was thus tempted beyond her sphere, it was less perhaps from vanity than because she yielded to the demand popularly made on all our intellectual laborers, that they should scatter themselves as much as possible. Literary work being as yet crude and unorganized in America, the public takes a vague delight in seeing one person do a great many different things. It is like hearing a street musician perform on. six instruments at once; he plays them all ill, but it is so remarkable that he should play them together. If we [194] have a stirring pulpit orator, he must try his hand on a novel; if a popular editor, he must write a history of the rebellion. Margaret Fuller, under the same influence, wrote on painting and music, and of course wrote badly.

As to this whole charge of vanity, indeed, there have certainly been great exaggerations. She had by inheritance certain unpleasant tricks of manner, which gave the impression, as Emerson said, of “a rather mountainous Me.” She was accustomed to finding herself among inferiors, and lorded it a little in her talk. She was also obliged, as a woman, to fight harder than others, first for an education and then for a career. All these influences marred her, in some degree; and those whom her criticisms wounded, made the most of the result. But though her most private diaries and letters have been set before the public, I do not see that anything has been produced which shows a petty or conceited disposition, while she has certainly left on record many noble disclaimers. A woman who could calmly set aside all the applauses she received for her wonderful conversation by pointing out to herself that this faculty “bespoke a second-rate mind,” could not have had her head turned by vanity. At another time she wrote in her diary, “When I look at my papers, I feel as if I had never had a thought that was worthy the attention of any but myself; and 'tis only when, on talking with people, I find I tell them what they did not know, that my confidence at all returns.”

In truth, she was not made of pure intellect; if that quality marks men (which I have never discovered), then she was essentially a woman. “Of all whom I have known,” wrote one of her female friends, “she was the largest woman, and not a woman who wished to be a man.” And one of her friends of the other sex wrote of her, “The dry light which Lord Bacon loved she never knew; her light was life, was love, was warm with sympathy, and a boundless energy of [195] affection and hope.” The self-devotion of her closing years brought no surprise to those who remembered how she had sacrificed her most cherished plans for the sake of educating her brothers; and how she had through all her life been ready to spend money and toil for those around her, when she had little money and no health. She gave to the community, also, the better boon of moral courage; it showed itself most conspicuously in the telling of unwelcome truth; but it was mianifested also in heroic endurance, since she was, as Mr. Emerson has testified, “all her life the victim of disease and pain.”

Her life thus did more for the intellectual enfranchisement of American women than was done by even her book on the subject, though that doubtless did much, exerting a permanent influence on many minds. No one has ever given so compact a formula for the requirements of woman. She claims for her sex “not only equal power with man,--for of that omnipotent nature will never permit her to be defrauded, -but a chartered power, too fully recognized to be abused.” Never were there ten words which put the whole principle of impartial suffrage so plainly as these. And even where her statements are less clear, they always rest on wise reflection, not on any one-sided view. Thus, for instance, she showed better than most her faith in the eternal laws which make woman unlike man,--for she was ready to trust these laws instead of legislating to sustain them. She knew that there was no fear of woman's unsexing herself. “Nature has pointed out her ordinary sphere by the circumstances of her physical existence. She cannot wander far. . . . Achilles had long plied the distaff as a princess, yet at first sight of a sword he seized it. So with woman,---one hour of love would teach her more of her proper relations than all your formulas.”

After twenty months of happy life and labor in New York, [196] she sailed for Europe, thus fulfilling the design abandoned eleven years before, when her home duties demanded the sacrifice. She published in the “Tribune” (Aug. 1, 1846), a cordial and almost enthusiastic “Farewell to New York,” thanking the great city for all it had been to her. She had found no more of evil there than elsewhere, she said, and more of sympathy, and there was at least nothing petty or provincial. Perhaps, after visiting Europe, she thought differently. New York does not at first seem provincial to a Bostonian, nor Paris to a New Yorker; but all great cities boon show themselves provincial, by their disproportioned self-estimate, their tiresome local gossip, and their inability to tolerate real independence. Still it was good for one, who lived her life as strongly as Margaret Fuller, to seek the largest atmosphere she could find, and win her own emancipation at last.

Over the tragic remainder of her life I shall pass but lightly, for I have preferred to reverse the proverb and be the historian of her times of peace alone. It is because they were not really her times of peace, but only her training for final action; besides, it was during those years that she was most misconstrued and maligned; and it is more interesting to dwell on this period than to add a garland where all men praise. Enough to say that in that later epoch all the undue self-culture of her earlier life was corrected, and all its self-devotion found a surer outlet. That “hour of love” of which she had written came to her, and all succeeding hours were enriched and ennobled. Throwing herself into the struggle for a nation's life, blending this great interest with the devotion due to her Italian husband, she lived a career that then seemed unexampled for an American woman, though our war has since afforded many parallels. During.the siege of Rome, in 1848, the greater part of her time was passed in the hospital dei Pellegrini, which was put under her special [197] direction. “The weather was intensely hot; her health was feeble and delicate; the dead and dying were around her in every stage of pain and horror; but she never shrank from the duty she had assumed.” “I have seen,” wrote the American consul, Mr. Cass, “the eyes of the dying, as she moved among them, extended on opposite beds, meet in commendation of her universal kindness.”

She was married in Italy, during the year 1847, to Giovanni Angelo, Marquis Ossoli,--a man younger than herself, and of less intellectual culture, but of simple and noble nature. He had given up rank and station in the cause of the Roman Republic, while all the rest of his family had espoused the other side; and it was this bond of sympathy which first united them. Their child, Angelo Philip Eugene Ossoli, was born at Rieti, September 5th, 1848. After the fall of the republic it was necessary for them to leave Rome, and this fact, joined with her desire to print in America her history of the Italian struggle, formed the main reasons for their return to this country. They sailed from Leghorn, May 17th, 1850, in the barque Elizabeth, Captain Hasty.

Singular anticipations of danger seem to have hung over their departure. “Beware of the sea” had been a warning given Ossoli by a fortune-teller, in his youth, and he had never before been on board a ship. “Various omens have combined,” wrote his wife, “to give me a dark feeling.” “In case of mishap, however, I shall perish with my husband and child.” Again she wrote, “It seems to me that my future on earth will soon close.” “I have a vague expectation of some crisis, I know not what. But it has long seemed that in the year 1850 I should stand on a plateau in the ascent of life, where I should be allowed to pause for a while and take a more clear and commanding view than ever before. Yet my life proceeds as regularly as the fates of a Greek tragedy, and I can but accept the pages as they turn” [198]

As they were leaving Florence at the last moment, letters arrived which would probably have led them to remain in Italy, had not all preparations been made. And on the very day of sailing, in Leghorn, Margaret lingered for a final hour on shore, almost unable to force herself to embark. It seemed as if there were conflicting currents in their destiny, which held them back while they urged them forward.

Their voyage was very long, and the same shadow still appeared to hang over them. The captain of the barque, in whom they had placed the greatest confidence, soon sickened and died of malignant small-pox, and was buried off Gibraltar. They sailed thence on June 9th. Two days after, the little Angelo was attacked with the same fearful disease, and only recovered after an illness that long seemed hopeless. On July 15th, they made the New Jersey coast at noon, and stood to the north-east, the weather being thick, and the wind south-east. The passengers packed their trunks, assured that they should be landed at New York the next morning. By nine o'clock the wind had risen to a gale, and this, with the current, swept them much farther to the north than was supposed. At two and a half, A. M., the mate in command took soundings, found twenty-one fathoms of water, pronounced all safe, and retired to his berth. One hour afterwards, the bark struck on Fire Island beach, just off Long Island.

The main and mizen masts were at once cut away, but the ship held by the bow, and careened towards the land, every wave sweeping over her, and carrying away every boat. She was heavily laden with marble and soon bilged. The passengers hastily left their berths and collected in the cabin, which was already half full of water. They braced themselves as well as they could, against the windward side. Little Angelo cried, the survivors say, until his mother sang him to sleep, while Ossoli quieted the rest with prayer. [199] The crew were at the forward end of the vessel; and when the wreck seemed ready to go to pieces, the second mate, Mr. Davis, came aft to the cabin with two sailors, and helped the passengers to a safer place. This transfer was made terribly dangerous by the breaking surf. The captain's wife, who went first, was once swept away, and was caught only by her hair. Little Angelo was carried in a canvas bag, hung round the neck of a sailor.

Passengers and crew were now crowded round the foremast, as the part likely to last longest. Here they remained for several hours. Men were seen collecting on the beach, but there was no life-boat. After a time, two sailors succeeded in reaching the shore, the one with a life-preserver, the other with a spar. Then Mr. Davis, the courageous mate, bound the captain's wife to a plank, and swam with her to the shore, where she arrived almost lifeless. The distance was less than a hundred yards, but the surf was fearful. Madame Ossoli was urged to attempt the passage as Mrs. Hasty had done, but steadily refused to be separated from her husband and child. Time was passing; the tide was out; the sea grew for the time a little calmer. It was impossible to built a raft, and there was but this one chance of escape before the tide returned. Still the husband and wife declined to be parted; and, seeing them resolute, the first mate ordered the crew to save themselves, and most of them leaped overboard. It was now past three o'clock; they had been there twelve hours. At length the tide turned, and the gale rose higher.

The after part of the vessel broke away, and the foremast shook with every wave. From this point the accounts vary, as is inevitable. It seems however to be agreed, that the few remaining sailors had again advised the Ossolis to leave the wreck; and that the steward had just taken little Angelo in his arms to try to bear him ashore, when a more powerful [200] sea swept over, and the mast fell, carrying with it the deck, and all on board. Ossoli was seen to catch for a moment at the rigging, and then to sink. The last recorded glimpse of Margaret was when she was seated at the foot of the mast, in her white night-dress, with her hair fallen loose about her shoulders.

Their bodies were never found; but that of the little Angelo was cast upon the beach twenty minutes after, and was reverently buried among the sand-hills by the sailors, one of whom gave his chest for a coffin. .The remains were afterwards transferred to Mount Auburn cemetery, near Boston, and there reinterred in presence of weeping kinsfolk, who had never looked upon the living beauty of the child.

It was the expressed opinion of one who visited the scene, a few days after, that seven resolute men could have saved all on board the “Elizabeth.” The life-boat from Fire Island light-house, three miles off, was not brought to the beach till noon, and was not launched at all. For a time the journals were full of the tragedy that had taken away a life-whose preciousness had not been fully felt till then. But now, looking through the vista of nearly twenty years, even this great grief appears softened .by time. The very forebodings which preceded it seem now to sanctify that doom of a household, and take from its remembrance the sting. Three months before, in planning her departure, this wife and mother had thus unconsciously accepted her coming fate: “Safety is not to be secured by the wisest foresight. I shall embark more composedly in our merchant-ship, praying fervently, indeed, that it may not be my lot to lose my boy at sea, either by unsolaced illness or amid the howling waves; or, if so, that Ossoli, Angelo, and I may go together, and that the anguish may be brief.” Her prayer was fulfilled. [201]

The precious manuscript, for whose publication her friends and the friends of Italy had looked with eagerness, was lost in the shipwreck. Her remaining works were reprinted in Boston, a few years later, under the careful editorship of her brother Arthur;--that “Chaplain Fuller,” who had been educated by her self-sacrifice, and who afterwards gained a place beside hers, in the heart of the nation, by his heroic death at Fredericksburg, during the late rebellion. Her biography has also been amply written by the friends whom she would most readily have selected for the task, Messrs. Emerson, Clarke, and Channing.

Since her day, American literature has greatly widened its base, but has raised its summit no higher. There is a multiplicity of books and magazines, and a vast increase of untrained literary activity. Yet, not only has she had no successor among women, but we still miss throughout our criticism her culture, her insight, her fearlessness, her generous sympathies, and her resolute purpose to apply the highest artistic standard to the facts of American life. It is this sense of loss that is her true epitaph. It was said to have been Fontenelle's funeral oration, when the most brilliant woman in France, having uttered after his death a witticism too delicate for her audience, exclaimed sadly, “Fontenelle! Where are you?” And so every American author, who has a higher aim than to amuse, or a nobler test of merit than his publishers' account, must feel that something is wanting while Margaret Fuller's place remains unfilled.

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