Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Margaret Fuller, born May 23, 1810

Sarah Margaret Fuller was born May 23, 1810, in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, the first child of Timothy Fuller, an attorney, and Margaret Crane Fuller. The Fullers were descended from Thomas Fuller, a pious and poetry-writing Englishman who settled in Salem in 1638. Timothy’s father, a clergyman, had opposed the signing of the United States Constitution on the grounds that it condoned human slavery.

Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, 1812

Sarah Margaret was named after her paternal grandmother and her mother.  By the age of nine, however, she dropped "Sarah" and insisted on being called "Margaret".   The house in which she was born is still standing, and is known as the Margaret Fuller House. 

Margaret Fuller House 
Margaret was the first of eight children, of whom two died in infancy and the youngest, a boy, developed mental illness.  Her father had been disappointed when his first child was a girl.  However, he taught Fuller to read and write at the age of three and a half, shortly after the couple's second daughter, Julia Adelaide, died at the age of fourteen months. Margaret was an only child until the birth of her brother, Eugene in May 1815. 

Timothy Fuller
Her father gave her an education as rigorous as any boy's at the time and forbade her from reading the typical feminine fare of the time, such as etiquette books and sentimental novels. He incorporated Latin into his teaching shortly in 1815, and soon Margaret was translating simple passages from Virgil.  Margaret also spent time with her mother, who taught her household chores and sewing.

In 1817, her brother William Henry Fuller was born.  The same year, her father was elected as a representative to the United States Congress.  For the next eight years, he spent four to six months a year in Washington, D.C.  Fuller began her formal education at the Port School in Cambridgeport in 1819.  In 1820, her sister Ellen was born. By then, Margaret was beginning to read French.  

At the age of 10, she wrote a cryptic note which her father saved: "On the 23rd of May, 1810, was born one foredoomed to sorrow and pain, and like others to have misfortunes."  She attended the Boston Lyceum for Young Ladies from 1821 to 1822, living with an aunt and uncle.  Another brother, Richard, was born n 1824; Margaret was sent to the School for Young Ladies in Groton, on the advice of relatives in the family.  On June 17, 1825, Fuller attended the ceremony at which the Revolutionary War hero, Marquis de Lafayette, laid the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument on the 50th anniversary of  the battle.  Fuller left the Groton school after two years and returned home at the age of 16. 

Bunker Hill Monument
A brother, James, was born in 1826; the same year, Margaret became responsible for the education of her younger brothers, as well as developing a program of further education for herself.  Her daily schedule began at five in the morning, ended at eleven at night, and included reading literary and philosophical works in four languages, especially German, walking, singing, and playing the piano. The passages about “Miranda” in  her book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century reflect an idealized view of this upbringing, omitting the lifelong nightmares and headaches which may have been rooted in this imposing routine,  She realized she did not fit in with other young women her age. She wrote, "I have felt that I was not born to the common womanly lot." 
I have not formed an opinion; I have determined not to form settled opinions at present; loving or feeble natures need a positive religion—a visible refuge, a protection—as much in the passionate season of youth as in those stages nearer to the grave. But mine is not such. My pride is superior to any feelings I have yet experienced; my affection is strong admiration, not the necessity of giving or receiving assistance or sympathy. When disappointed, I do not ask or wish consolation; I wish to know and feel my pain, to investigate its nature and its source; I will not have my thoughts diverted or my feelings soothed; it is therefore that my young life is so singularly barren of illusions. I know I feel the time must come when this proud and impatient heart shall be stilled, and turn from the ardors of search and action to lean on something above. But shall I say it?—the thought of that calmer era is to me a thought of deepest sadness; so remote from my present being is that future existence, which still the mind may conceive; I believe in eternal progression; I believe in a God, a beauty and perfection, to which I am to strive all my life for assimilation. From these two articles of belief I draw the rules by which I strive to regulate my life; but though I reverence all religions as necessary to the happiness of man, I am yet ignorant of the religion of revelation. Tangible promises, well-defined hopes, are things of which I do not now feel the need. At present, my soul is intent on this life, and I think of religion as its rule; and in my opinion this is the natural and proper course from youth to age.
~ Margaret Fuller, 1832
As a teenager, she was short, plump and awkward, with a nearsighted squint. She had bad hair and was raddled with acne. Fuller wrote that she “made up my mind to be bright and ugly.”  Her first adolescent crush was her relative, George T. Davis. When George married someone else, Margaret took to bed with a fever. Then Margaret, at eighteen, became infatuated with the fifteen-year-old beauty Anna Barker, kin of the Astors, sent from New York to Cambridge to acquire culture —a girl who in later years so titillated Emerson that he gushed about “that very human piece of divinity.” 

She should have been part of the Harvard class of 1829, but the college did not enroll women. She realized that, both intellectually and emotionally, she must learn to “be my own priest, pupil, parent, child, husband and wife.”  By 1832, she had made a personal commitment to stay single.

She died 11 years before the Civil War began, at the age of 40.

Harvard Square Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1830
Fuller hoped to earn her living through journalism and translation; her first published work, a response to historian George Bancroft, appeared in November 1834 in the North American Review.  

Groton, Massachusetts, 1831
When she was 23, her father's law practice failed and he moved the family to a farm in Groton.  In 1835, Frederick Henry Hedge and James Freeman Clarke asked her to contribute to their periodicals.  Clarke helped her publish her first literary review in the Western Messenger in June.  

Frederick Henry Hedge
In the fall of 1835, she suffered a terrible migraine with a fever that lasted nine days. Fuller continued to experience such headaches throughout her life.  While she was still recovering, her father died suddenly of cholera on October 2, 1835.  She was deeply affected by his death: "My father's image follows me constantly", she wrote. At the age of 25, she stepped in as the head of the family to take care of her widowed mother and younger siblings.  Her father had not left a will, and two of her uncles gained control of his property and finances, later assessed at $18,098.15.  The family had to rely on them for support.  Humiliated by the way her uncles were treating the family, Fuller wrote that she regretted being "of the softer sex, and never more than now.

Bronson Alcott
In 1836, Fuller was given a job teaching at Bronson Alcott's Temple School in Boston, where she remained for a year. 

Greene Street School in Providence, Rhode Island
She then accepted an invitation to teach under Hiram Fuller (no relation) at the Greene Street School in Providence, Rhode Island, in April 1837 with the unusually high salary of $1,000 per year.  

Hiram Fuller
Her family sold the Groton farm and Fuller moved with them to  Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. 

Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
In October 1839, Ralph Waldo Emerson was seeking an editor for his transcendentalist  journal, The Dial.  After several other people declined the position, he offered it to Fuller, referring to her as "my vivacious friend."  

Ralph Waldo Emerson 
Emerson had met Fuller in Cambridge in 1835; of that meeting, he admitted "she made me laugh more than I liked." Fuller accepted Emerson's offer to edit The Dial on October 20, 1839, and began work in the first week of 1840.  She edited the journal for its first two years from 1840 to 1842, though her promised annual salary of $200 was never paid.  
"The Great Lawsuit", The Dial, 1843

Following in the model of the reading parties of Elizabeth Palmer Peabody and other women's study groups, she announced a series of public "Conversations", "designed to encourage women in self-expression and independent thinking." 

Elizabeth Palmer Peabody
On a Wednesday morning, November 6, 1839, 25 women met for the first of her "Conversations",  held in the parlor of the Peabodys' Boston home.  Fuller intended to compensate for the lack of women's education with discussions and debates focused on subjects including the fine arts, history, mythology, literature, and nature.  Serving as the "nucleus of conversation", Fuller also intended to answer the "great questions" facing women: "What were we born to do? How shall we do it? which so few ever propose to themselves 'till their best years are gone by". 

Lydia "Lidian" Emerson
and her son, Edward Waldo Emerson, 1840
The Conversations proved very popular, drawing women all the way from Providence, Rhode Island. Some had studied in Fuller's private German class in 1837-38, and most were associated with the women's rights movement. Among those who subscribed and attended regularly were Lydia ("Lidian", Mrs. Ralph Waldo) Emerson and Lydia Maria Child.  

Lydia Maria Child
The Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society was represented, including the wife of the abolitionist orator Wendell Phillips. Charging $10 for a series of energetic two-hour sessions weekly, an amount later doubled as attendance grew, Fuller was able to make as much money as she had teaching school in Providence and then have time for her scholarship and writing. She supported herself in this way for five years.

Brook Farm
She was soon recognized as one of the most important figures of the transcendental movement and was invited to George Ripley's Brook Farm, a communal experiment. 

George Ripley
Fuller never officially joined the community but was a frequent visitor, often spending New Year's Eve there. Fuller was known in her time for her personality and, in particular, for being overly self-confident and having a bad temper.  

Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter
Her personality was the inspiration for the character Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter, specifically her radical thinking about "the whole race of womanhood".  Hawthorne and his then-fiancee, Sophia, first met Fuller in October 1839.

Nathaniel Hawthorne
In 1840, she wrote Emerson:  
"If you ever know me well, you will feel that the fact of my abiding by you thus far, affords a strong proof that we are to be much to one another. How often have I left you despairing & forlorn. How often have I said, This light will never understand my fire. … Could I lead the highest angel captive by a look, that look I would not give, unless prompted by true love: I am no usurper. … To L. [Lidian, Mrs. Emerson] my love. In her I have always recognized the saintly element. … Yet I am no saint, no anything, but a great soul born to know all.”
In the summer of 1843, she traveled with Sarah and James Freeman Clarke, and their mother, Rebecca, to Chicago, Milwaukee, Niagara Falls, and Buffalo.  She interacted with Native Americans, including members of the Ottawa and the Chippewa tribes.  She reported her experiences in a book called Summer on the Lakes, which she completed writing in on her 34th birthday in May 1844.  Fuller used the library at Harvard College to do research on the Great Lakes region and study maps, and became the first woman allowed to use Harvard's library.  She admitted that, though she was raised to believe "that the Indian obstinately refused to be civilized", her travels in the American West made her realize that the white man unfairly treated the Native Americans; she considered Native Americans an important part of American heritage.

James Freeman Clarke
Fuller advocated reform at all levels of society, including prison. In October 1844, she visited Sing Sing Prison and interviewed the women prisoners, even staying overnight in the facility.  Sing Sing was developing a more humane system for its women inmates, many of whom were prostitutes.  

Fuller was also concerned about the homeless and those living in dire poverty, especially in New York.  She also supported the rights of African-Americans, referring to "this cancer of slavery",  and suggested that those who were interested in the Abolition movement follow the same reasoning when considering the rights of women: "As the friend of the Negro assumes that one man cannot by right hold another in bondage, so should the Friend of Woman assume that Man cannot by right lay even well-meant restrictions on Woman."
Sing Sing Prison, 1850
Fuller was an avid reader; by the time she was in her 30s, she had earned a reputation as the best-read person, male or female, in New England.  She used her knowledge to give private lessons based on the teaching style of Elizabeth Palmer Peabody.

Fuller was an early proponent of feminism and especially believed in providing education to women.  Once equal educational rights were afforded women, she believed, women could push for equal political rights as well.  She advocated that women seek any employment they wish, rather than catering to the stereotypical "feminine" roles of the time, such as teaching. She once said, "If you ask me what office women should fill, I reply—any ... let them be sea captains if you will. I do not doubt that there are women well fitted for such an office". 

Fuller also warned women to be careful about marriage and not to become dependent on their husbands. As she wrote, "I wish woman to live, first for God's sake. Then she will not make an imperfect man for her god, and thus sink to idolatry. Then she will not take what is not fit for her from a sense of weakness and poverty". 

Fuller also questioned a definitive line between male and female: "There is no wholly masculine man ... no purely feminine" but that both were present in any individual.  She suggested also that within a female were two parts: the intellectual side (which she called the Minerva) and the "lyrical" or "Femality" side (the Muse).  She admired the work of Emanuel Swedenborg, who believed men and women shared "an angelic ministry", as she wrote, as well as Charles Fourier, who placed "Woman on an entire equality with Man".

Emanuel Swedenborg
Fuller agreed with the transcendental concern for the psychological well-being of the individual,  though she was never comfortable being labeled a transcendentalist.  Even so, she wrote, if being labeled a transcendentalist means "that I have an active mind frequently busy with large topics I hope it is so".  She criticized people like Emerson, however, for focusing too much on individual improvement and not enough on social reform.  Like other members of the  Transcendental Club,  she rebelled against the past and believed in the possibility of change.  Unlike some others in the movement, her rebellion was not based on religion: though Fuller occasionally attended Unitarian services, she did not entirely identify with that religion. 

Woman in the Nineteenth Century

Fuller's "The Great Lawsuit" was written in serial form for The Dial. She originally intended to name the work The Great Lawsuit: Man 'versus' Men, Woman 'versus' Women; when it was expanded and published independently in 1845, it was titled Woman in the Nineteenth Century. After completing it, she wrote to a friend: "I had put a good deal of my true self in it, as if, I suppose I went away now, the measure of my footprint would be left on earth."  The work discussed the role that women played in American democracy and Fuller's opinion on possibilities for improvement. It has since become one of the major documents in American feminism, and is considered the first work of its kind in the United States.  The typically harsh literary critic, Edgar Allan Poe, wrote of the work as "a book which few women in the country could have written, and no woman in the country would have published, with the exception of Miss Fuller", noting its "independence" and "unmitigated radicalism".  

Edgar Allan Poe

Henry David Thoreau also thought highly of the book, suggesting that its strength came in part from Fuller's conversational ability. As he called it, it was "rich extempore writing, talking with pen in hand".

Henry David Thoreau
The book was filled with a series of shockers:
  • “There exists in the minds of men a tone of feeling toward women as toward slaves.”

  • “What Woman needs is not as a woman to act or rule, but as a nature to grow, as an intellect to discern, as a soul to live freely and unimpeded.”

  • “[Men] think that nothing is so much to be dreaded for a woman as originality of thought or character.”
  • “Let it not be said, wherever there is energy or creative genius, ‘She has a masculine mind.’”
  • “Were [women) free, were they able fully to develop the strength and beauty of Woman, they would never wish to be men or manlike.”
  • “There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.”
  • “Women are the best helpers of one another. Let them think, let them act.”
  • “We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to Woman as freely as to Man.”

Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony, was another admirer of Fuller; she wrote that Fuller "possessed more influence on the thought of American women than any woman previous to her time".  

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Anthony, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage wrote in their History of Woman Suffrage that Fuller "was the precursor of the Women's Rights agitation".
Matilda Joslyn Gage
Fuller, however, was not without her critics.  English writer and critic Matthew Arnold scoffed at Fuller's "conversations", saying, "My G–d, [sic] what rot did she and the other female dogs of Boston talk about Greek mythology!"  

Sophia Hawthorne
Sophia Hawthorne, who had previously been a supporter of Fuller, was critical of her after Woman of the Nineteenth Century was published:
The impression it left was disagreeable. I did not like the tone of it—& did not agree with her at all about the change in woman's outward circumstances ... Neither do I believe in such a character of man as she gives. It is altogether too ignoble ... I think Margaret speaks of many things that should not be spoken of.
Fuller left The Dial in 1844 in part because of ill health but also because of her disappointment with the publication's dwindling subscription list.  She moved to New York that autumn and joined Horace Greeley's New York Tribune as literary critic, becoming the first full-time book reviewer in American journalism.  She boarded for a while with Greeley and his wife, before later taking her own lodgings.

Horace Greeley
In late 1844, Fuller met James Nathan, a blue-eyed, blond German businessman from Holstein.  He was about her age, but from a family as orthodox in Judaism as hers was in Puritanism. He had two particular assets: a guitar, which he played with a romantic air, and an appealing dog named Josie.  Fuller had been invited by Mrs. Greeley to live at the Greeley farm on the outskirts of town. Aside from the fact that this location was difficult for a city suitor, Mr. Greeley did not much “take to” Nathan, and subterfuge became necessary. Fuller and Nathan were forced to meet in bookshops, tearooms, restaurants, and other public places.  She composed a series of notes to him: “I hear you with awe assert power over me and feel it to be true,” she wrote. “It causes awe, but not dread, such as I felt sometimes since at the approach of this mysterious power, for I feel deep confidence in my friend and know that he will lead me on in a spirit of holy love.…”
However, he did not. The affair lasted only a few months, when Nathan departed for Germany, leaving his dog with Fuller. Gradually she realized she had been abandoned; the disillusionment was bitter. She demanded the return of her letters, or that they be burned. Nathan refused. (The existence of the letters did not become public knowledge until 1903.  Sold by Nathan’s son, they were published with an introduction by Julia Ward Howe and titled The Love Letters of Margaret Fuller.)

Julia Ward Howe
By 1846, she became the New York Tribune's first female editor.  Her first article, a review of a collection of essays by Emerson, appeared in the December 1, 1844, issue.  At this time, the Tribune had some 50,000 subscribers and Fuller earned $500 a year for her work.  In addition to American books, she reviewed foreign literature, concerts, lectures, and art exhibits. During her four years with the publication, she published more than 250 columns, most signed with a "*" as a byline.  In these columns, Fuller discussed topics ranging from art and literature to political and social issues such as the plight of slaves and women's rights.  

Frances Sargent Osgood

Around this time, she was also involved in a scandal involving fellow literary critic Edgar Allan Poe, who had been carrying on a public flirtation with the married poet Frances Sargent Osgood.  Another poet, Elizabeth Ellet, had become enamored of Poe and jealous of Osgood, and suggested the relationship between Poe and Osgood was more than an innocent flirtation. Osgood then sent Fuller and Anne Lynch Botta to Poe's cottage on her behalf to request that he return the personal letters she had sent him. Angered by their interference, Poe called them "Busy-bodies".   A public scandal erupted and continued until Osgood's estranged husband Samuel Stillman Osgood stepped in and threatened to sue Ellet.

Elizabeth Ellet

Poe's cottage

Anne Lynch Botta

Samuel Stillman Osgood
In his 1846 essay,"The Literati of New York", Edgar Allan Poe offered a brief portrait of Margaret Fuller, “the personal woman”:
She is of the medium height; nothing remarkable about the figure; a profusion of lustrous light hair; eyes a bluish gray, full of fire; capacious forehead; the mouth when in repose indicates profound sensibility, capacity for affection, for love — when moved by a slight smile, it becomes even beautiful in the intensity of this expression; but the upper lip, as if impelled by the action of involuntary muscles, habitually uplifts itself, conveying the impression of a sneer. Imagine, now, a person of this description looking you at one moment earnestly in the face, at the next seeming to look only within her own spirit or at the wall; moving nervously every now and then in her chair; speaking in a high key, but musically, deliberately, (not hurriedly or loudly,) with a delicious distinctness of enunciation — speaking . . . and emphasizing the words . . . not by impulsion of the breath, (as is usual,) but by drawing them out as long as possible, nearly closing her eyes the while — imagine all this, and we have both the woman and the authoress before us.
In 1846, the New York Tribune sent Fuller to England and Italy as its first female foreign correspondent.  Marcus and Rebecca Spring, wealthy Quaker friends, offered to pay Margaret’s fare if she would accompany them and tutor their twelve-year-old son, and Greeley offered to pay eight to twelve dollars per dispatch.  She traveled from Boston to Liverpool in August on the Cambria, a vessel that used both sail and steam to make the journey in a record crossing ten days and sixteen hours.  Over the next four years she provided the Tribune with thirty-seven reports.  

 George Sand
She interviewed many prominent writers,  including George Sand and Thomas Carlyle.  George Sand had previously been an idol of hers, but Fuller was disappointed when Sand chose not to run for the French National Assembly, saying that women were not ready to vote or to hold political office. 

Harriet Martineau

She interviewed Harriet Martineau, William Wordsworth, and Thomas De Quincey; inspected pubs, country estates, coal mines, castles, steel mills, public laundries, and got lost for an entire night on the Scottish mountain Ben Lomond. She was appalled by the poverty and the class distinctions, enchanted by the English countryside, furious at the working conditions in the mines and factories, shocked by the filth and hopelessness of the poor. Immediately she advocated a “peaceful revolution.”

Giuseppe Mazzini

She met Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian exile living in England with a sentence of death on his head, an intellectual with intense, beautiful, fascinating eyes. He had organized poor immigrant boys into schools and clubs as part of his “Young Italy” movement. One evening Margaret addressed one of the groups, and Mazzini wrote to his mother that she “made a touching speech.” He wrote other things, too, so glowing that his mother suggested that he should have Margaret live with him and care for him.  Margaret for her part was swept entirely into his orbit. She found him “pure music.” She wrote an article for the Tribune about Mazzini and his goals, reminding Americans that Italy was “the mother of our language and our laws, our greatest benefactress.” Unaware of potential dangers, she joined a plot to smuggle Mazzini back into Italy as a member of the Springs’ party—with an American passport. To Margaret his parting admonition was far from political: “Learn to love not only Italy, but the Italians.” 

The Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, a friend of Mazzini's, wrote to her: “After having admired the women of Rome, say to yourself, ‘I too am beautiful!’ … In you I met a real person. I need not give you any other praise.” He also wrote, “For you the first step of your deliverance … is to know whether you are to be permitted to remain a virgin.” An exile like Mazzini, Mickiewicz lived in Paris, banished from his Polish homeland by the Russian czar for revolutionary activities. At the age of 48, he was still handsome, his country’s national poet, and a popular hero as well. His appreciation of Fuller was a contrast to that of her New England colleagues: she was “the only woman to whom it has been given to touch what is decisive in the present world and to have a presentiment of the world of the future.” He continued by letter to urge her physical liberation.

In early spring, 1847, she and the Springs left Paris, heading for Naples. On the way a serious mishap occurred: their English steamer was rammed and nearly sunk by a coastal ship. Fuller described it all for her Tribune readers, but in a letter to Emerson, she admitted the frightening truth: she had “only just escaped being drowned.”

Italy in 1847 was divided into eight separate political states, with the temporal territories of the pope splitting the peninsula in half.  Rome and the Papal States were ruled by the pope as a theocracy. The object of Mazzini’s crusade was to unite all Italy into a single republic. In reaction, every frontier post of every state had standing orders for his immediate arrest.
Fuller had letters of introduction to various republicans, who were to help provide information for her Tribune dispatches. She began with a travelogue about Rome, but quickly switched to politics, Holy Week, and Pope Pius IX. 

In Rome she met Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, eleven years her junior, the youngest son of a noble family in the papal service.  His father was a high papal official; his three brothers served in the pope’s Guardia Nobile , and one brother was, in addition, a secretary of the Privy Chamber. He himself was a marchese. He was also secretly a republican, an admirer of Mazzini.  Fuller thought that she had found another soul mate; but Ossoli proved to be less ethereal and more real.   From Fuller's letters it is evident that the relationship was still at this time platonic. To her amazement,  Ossoli offered to marry her.  She refused and left with the Springs for northern Italy.

Then she  parted with the Springs, and instead of resuming the homeward journey, as planned, hurried from Milan to Rome. Mickiewicz had written that she ought not to “leave your young Italian.” 
 Ossoli himself had predicted to her: “You will return—to me.” Fuller said later, “I acted upon a strong impulse. … I neither rejoice nor grieve. I acted out my character.” She had written, “Woman is born for love, and it is impossible to turn her from seeking it.” She loved him, and unquestionably he loved her. He did not feel that the disparity in their ages was of any significance—though Fuller confided to a close friend that if someday he should love someone else, “I shall do all that this false state of society permits to give him what freedom he may need.”  Their affair was kept secret from everyone, including, especially, their families. Obliquely Fuller wrote to her mother: “I have not been so well since I was a child, nor so happy ever.” 

Caroline Sturgis
In December of 1847 she discovered that she was pregnant, and suddenly a dark mood of despair overwhelmed her. “At present I see no way out except through the gate of death,” she wrote Caroline Sturgis, not yet confessing her condition. She continued to refuse Ossoli s offers of marriage.  To Ossoli such a marriage meant being disinherited, because Fuller was poor, Protestant and radical.  When the size of her growing belly could no longer be concealed, she sought a hiding place outside Rome, in the village of Rieti fifty miles distant. Since Ossoli had volunteered as a sergeant in the popular “civic guard,” he could not leave the city; and the two carried on an intense correspondence in Italian.  Ossoli often hid secret messages in newspapers he sent to Fuller.

The baby, a boy, was born with difficulty on September 5, 1848.  Angelo Eugene Philip Ossoli was given his father’s name and title, which was possible in Italy, then and now, even when the parents were not married.  Ossoli was able to stay with Fuller only one day, then rushed back to Rome. After several months the baby was placed in a foster home in Rieti, to Fuller’s great distress; then reluctantly she traveled to Rome. She wanted to hide the baby in the city, but Ossoli  refused, for fear their secret might become known. They continued to live apart.

Fuller returned on the eve of one of the most stirring revolutions in European history.  With her finances exhausted, she resumed at once her dispatches to the Tribune . She resumed, too, the collection of material for the History of Italian Liberation she proposed to write.  For her literary task, she had extraordinary sources of information. From 
Ossoli  s contacts she had access to the papal side; from Mazzini’s contacts, the republican side.  In addition, she herself had made noteworthy friends among the Italians.  And, fortunately, Lewis Cass, Jr., the American chargé d’affaires to the papal court, formed a strong liking for her and passed on much inside information. 

In addition, she had chosen, accidentally, an apartment overlooking the pope’s Quirinale Palace—so that she watched from her balcony some of the most dramatic scenes of the revolution.  One such scene occurred when the papal Swiss Guard fired on a crowd demonstrating for a constitution, civil rights, and redress of grievances. Inside the palace were  Ossoli  s brothers, serving in the papal elite guard. Outside were  Ossoli  and the civic guard.  The crowd reacted with bedlam, setting fire to the great portal of the palace. Fuller saw “the broken windows, the burnt doors, the walls marked by shot, just beneath the loggia on which we have seen [the pope] giving the benediction.”

A few days later, the pope fled in the disguise of a simple priest, taking asylum with the Bourbon king of Naples, who also had a revolution on his hands. Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi returned to Rome, a Roman Republic was proclaimed, and Bourbon, Spanish, Austrian, and French troops advanced to destroy the Republic and restore the pope to his throne. Mazzini became chief of the Triumvirs governing the Republic and was in frequent contact with Fuller.

The French army, sent by Louis Napoleon, was the first to arrive. The French soldiers were driven back by Garibaldi, but returned with reinforcements to besiege Rome.  One of the defenders was 
Ossoli, now promoted to captain, in charge of a battery of cannon.  During the siege, from April 30 to July 4, 1849, Margaret was director of a military hospital, watching every cartload of wounded for the dreaded sight of her Angelo. The last night of the attack she spent on the walls with him, expecting death for them both. Today, a viale —a tree-lined street —within the walls is named for her.

Fuller’s dispatches to the Tribune were strictly factual; however, in her editorial interpolations she called openly for United States recognition of the Roman Republic. In this she had the support of envoy Cass. But the State Department moved with such slowness that word of recognition did not arrive until a fortnight after the Republic’s fall.

Fuller’s partisanship for Mazzini did not blind her to the primary weakness in his revolutionary program—the lack of economic planning.  She wrote: “Mazzini has a mind far in advance of his time in general, and his nation in particular. … And yet Mazzini sees not all: he aims at political emancipation; but he sees not, perhaps would deny, the bearing of some events which even now begin to work their way.... I allude to that of which the cry of Communism, the systems of Fourier, etc., are but forerunners.”  In spite of her criticism, her portrayal of Mazzini throughout is warm and deeply sympathetic, as her portrait of Garibaldi  is one of respect and admiration.

Giuseppe Garibaldi
Angelo Ossoli, like Mazzini, escaped from Rome with an American passport provided by Cass at Fuller’s request. Fuller and Ossoli, both almost penniless, fled together to their child, hidden in Rieti. They found their “Nino” near death, emaciated by what was probably an intestinal infection. This added trauma threw Margaret into shock. She rallied, and with Ossoli’s help, slowly nursed the baby back to life.

Ossoli’s father had died, and he was no longer on speaking terms with his brothers. He tried to recoup some of his inheritance, but failed.  Rieti, so close to Rome, was dangerous for them. In the autumn, the dispirited revolutionaries moved on to Florence, where their American passports saved them from the Austrian police. There, according to a letter written in Italian by Ossoli's sister Angela, Margaret Fuller and Angelo Ossoli were married. This letter is the only evidence extant that Margaret Fuller became the Marchesa Ossoli.

In August 1849, Fuller informed her mother about Ossoli and Angelino in a letter that explained that she had kept silent so as not to upset her "but it has become necessary, on account of the child, for us to live publicly and permanently together."  Her mother's response was that she was happy for her daughter, writing: "I send my first kiss with my fervent blessing to my grandson."

Horace Greeley, apparently paying heed to rumors of free love, dropped Fuller from his payroll.  Her praise of abolitionists had annoyed moderates.  And certain judgments in her dispatches had alienated many patriots: 
“My country is at present spoiled by prosperity, stupid with the lust of gain, soiled by crime in its willing perpetuation of slavery, shamed by an unjust war [the Mexican War], noble sentiment much forgotten even by individuals, the aims of politicians selfish or petty, the literature frivolous and venal. In Europe ... a nobler spirit is struggling—a spirit which cheers and animates mine.”
Though her financial situation steadily deteriorated, she settled down to write her HistoryShe believed the work would be her most important, referring to it in a letter to her brother Richard as, "something good which may survive my troubled existence."  Ossoli began learning English.  At the time, he had no way to earn a living.  As Fuller wrote to Caroline Sturgis, “Being a nobleman is a poor trade in a ruined despotism.”

Fuller revelled in her child, bathing, dressing, playing with him constantly, writing long letters to her friends about his graces. “Christmas day I was just up, and Nino all naked on his sofa, when came some beautiful large toys: a bird, a horse, a cat. … It almost made me cry to see the kind of fearful rapture with which he regarded them.”

It became evident that Ossoli, because of shrinking finances and secret police, must leave Florence. The couple decided to travel to the United States, and chose the cheapest passage they could find—a merchant freighter, the Elizabeth, carrying cargo that included mostly marble from Carrara.  

In the beginning of 1850, Fuller wrote to a friend: "It has long seemed that in the year 1850 I should stand on some important plateau in the ascent of life ... I feel however no marked and important change as yet."  Also that year, Fuller wrote: "I am absurdly fearful and various omens have combined to give me a dark feeling ... It seems to me that my future upon earth will soon close ... I have a vague expectation of some crisis—I know not what".  A few days after writing this letter, they boarded the ship for the United States.  Fuller passed her fortieth birthday aboard ship.  Ossoli was only twenty-nine.  Two weeks after leaving Italy, as they reached Gibraltar, the ship's captain died of smallpox. After  a week of quarantine, the ship sailed on again, under command of the first mate. A few days later, their son developed smallpox, but did not die. 

Fire Island
On the eighteenth of July the first mate informed the passengers they would arrive in New York the following day. That evening the wind picked up, becoming a gale by midnight. The first mate, thinking they were off the New Jersey coast, held course with close-reefed sails. In fact, they were off Long Island.  At 4 A.M., the Elizabeth struck a Fire Island sand bar.  The passengers and crew huddled in the forecastle while the ship gradually broke up from the force of the waves and wind.  The lifeboats had been smashed, and Fuller gave the only available life preserver to a sailor who went overboard to summon aid.  People could be seen on the beach, but they were beach pirates, waiting to pillage the wreck, and no help came. 

Toward midday the first mate abandoned ship. The crew and passengers attempted to swim to shore, leaving Fuller, Ossoli and Angelino some of the last on the ship. Ossoli was thrown overboard by a massive wave and, after the wave had passed, a crewman who witnessed the event said Fuller could not be seen.  

Margaret’s death was a public sensation, and an official investigation of the wreck was launched. Henry David Thoreau traveled to New York at the urging of Emerson, to search the shore, but neither Fuller's body nor that of Ossoli was ever recovered. The body of Angelino had washed ashore. Few of their possessions were found other than some of the child's clothes and a trunk containing Margaret’s and Angelo’s love letters . Fuller's manuscript on the history of the Roman Republic was lost.

Cenotaph Plaque in Mount Auburn Cemetery,
Cambridge, Massachusetts
A memorial to Fuller was erected on the beach at Fire Island in 1901 through the efforts of Julia Ward Howe.  A cenotaph to Fuller and Ossoli, under which Angelino is buried, is in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The inscription reads, in part:

By birth a child of New England

By adoption a citizen of Rome
By genius belonging to the world

Within a week after her death, Horace Greeley suggested to Emerson that a biography of Fuller, to be called Margaret and Her Friends, be prepared quickly "before the interest excited by her sad decease has passed away". Many of her writings were soon collected together by her brother Arthur as At Home and Abroad (1856) and Life Without and Life Within (1858). He also edited a new version of Woman in the Nineteenth Century in 1855.

Arthur Fuller
In February 1852, The Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli was published, edited by Emerson, James Freeman Clarke and William Henry Channing.  It left out details about her love affair with Ossoli and an earlier relationship with a man named James Nathan.  The three editors, believing the public interest in Fuller would be short-lived and that she would not survive as a historical figure, were not concerned about accuracy. For a time, it was the best-selling biography of the decade and went through thirteen editions before the end of the century. The book focused on her personality rather than her work. 

Portrait of Fuller

R. Buckminster Fuller
Margaret Fuller was the great-aunt of R. Buckminster Fuller; he was the son of her brother, Richard Buckminster Fuller.  Her father, Timothy Fuller, was a great-great-great-grandfather of United States Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. 

Timothy Geithner

No comments:

Post a Comment