New England Transcendentalism
[Margaret Fuller, biography]
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Margaret Fuller
an outline biography

  Sarah Margaret Fuller, who was born at Cambridgeport, Massachusetts in May 1810, was the first of an eventual six surviving children of Unitarian parents, Margarett Crane and Timothy Fuller, Jr.
  Timothy Fuller was an Harvard educated lawyer who was to serve four terms in the United States Congress.

  Because of the early demise of a younger sister Margaret Fuller was effectively an only child until she was five years old and was thus the focus of her parents attention. She learned the alphabet and numbers by age three, began reading Virgil (in Latin) at age six and Shakespeare at age eight. Whilst the expectations of her parents, (her father in particular), helped to form Margaret's life and character "The consequence was a premature development of the brain, that made me a 'youthful prodigy' by day, and by night a victim of spectral illusions, nightmare and somnambulism..." Margaret's bookish habits were such as to cut her off from the usual childhood relationships with others of her years.

  Between 1819 and 1825, Margaret variously attended the Cambridge Port Private Grammar School, Dr. Park's Boston Lyceum, and Miss Prescott's Young Ladies' Seminary in Groton, Massachusetts. Overall she received a good classical education, then most unconventional for a young girl. Margaret further challenged convention by gaining admittance to the male-only halls of Harvard College Library. She was eventually to become proficient in four languages, making it possible for her to read original texts.

  Margaret and some of her friends were particularly interested in "romantic movement" authors like Rousseau, Byron and Mme. de Staël.

  Although she was not really comfortable in society at this early stage in her life her conversational powers won her the admiration of many students. James Freeman Clarke commented that a conversation with Margaret "could not merely entertain and inform, but make an epoch in one's life."

  Her father's sudden death of cholera in the fall of 1835 threw the family into financial crisis. Margaret Fuller was then twenty-five and had to give up the keenly anticipated prospect of a European tour with some literary friends. She struggled to take her father's place, protecting her mother's interests in an inheritance dispute with her father's brother and also seeing to the education and welfare of the younger children. From that time forward, financial difficulties plagued her life, the education of two younger brothers at Harvard College had to be funded.

  In compensation for the lost trip to Europe, Eliza Farrar and Harriet Martineau urged Emerson to befriend Fuller, and Elizabeth Palmer Peabody suggested he invite her to Concord. Though she had counted on the experience abroad to prepare her for a literary career, the introduction into the Transcendentalist circle served the purpose.

  After visiting Emerson by invitation for three weeks in 1836 she became acquainted with many transcentalists including Bronson Alcott.
  Alcott was an educator who invited her to teach at his innovative Temple School in Boston. She took up such a post in December of that year.

  Emerson himself at first was a little put off by Margaret being on the plain side and being disconcertingly nearsighted. On better acquaintance however he came to consider that she was intellectually a most rewarding personality showing nobility of mind and a capacity for being extremely entertaining.

  In the event Bronson Alcott's Temple School lapsed towards into a financial failure. Margaret subsequently worked for a time from 1837 as a principal teacher in a Providence, Rhode Island, school.

  In March 1839 the Fuller family moved to Jamaica Plain near Boston. Margaret Fuller, the life-changingly spellbinding conversationalist, held women only "conversation classes," in Elizabeth Palmer Peabody's West Street bookstore in Boston in 1839 designed to emancipate women from their traditional intellectual subservience to men. Her companions during these conversations usually including many women influentially connected with Unitarian and Transcendentalist circles such as Lidian (Mrs. Ralph Waldo) Emerson, Sarah Bradford Ripley, Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia Peabody, Abigail Allyn Francis, Lydia Maria Child (who was a particularly close friend), Elizabeth Hoar, Eliza Farrar, Mary Channing, Sophia Dana Ripley, Ellen and Caroline Sturgis, and Lydia (Mrs. Theodore) Parker. This famous series of conversations was planned for an attendance of twenty five women committed to thirteen weeks of conversation, from noon to two once a week.

  A series of mixed gender conservational classes was also embarked upon but these proved to be significantly less successful in attracting continued participation and support.

  Margaret Fuller derived a steady income from these conversations such that they supported her for five years during which she published her celebrated translation of Eckermann's "Conversations with Goethe" (1839), the correspondence between Karoline von Günderode and Bettina von Arnim (1842), and several shorter pieces.
  From late in 1839 she also shared editorial duties with Ralph Waldo Emerson in The Dial, the newly established (by Emerson, George Ripley and others) quarterly periodical that, from July 1840, aired the aims and opinions of New England Transcendentalism. Besides encouraging persons including Bronson Alcott, George Ripley, Theodore Parker, James Freeman Clarke, Nathaniel Hawthorne , and Henry David Thoreau to make contributions of essays and articles Margaret Fuller also wrote much of the content of The Dial herself. The editorship was indeed officially hers during the period 1839-2 and she continued to perform considerable editorial duties after relinquishing the editorship in 1842 until the Dial ceased publication in 1844. Perhaps Margaret's most significant journalistic contribution to The Dial was an article in 1843 entitled 'The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men, Woman versus Women' in which she argued for woman´s rights.

  As a Transcendentalist she was on friendly terms with, and also intellectually respected by, Emerson, Thoreau, the Peabody sisters, the Alcotts, and others.

  Horace Greeley was a newspaper owner and editor who was greatly impressed by Margaret Fuller's "Summer on the Lakes in 1843", (published in 1844), such that he offered her a plum job. In December 1844 Margaret Fuller relocated to work as literary critic for the New York Tribune (the first literary critic in any American Newspaper). Whilst in New York Margaret Fuller became involved in a more momentous romantic liason, with a James Nathan, than she seems to have previously experienced. She also became more aware of social deprivations becoming interested in prison reform, prostitution, suffrage rights for women, slavery abolition, and the status of minorities.

  Her book, Women in the Nineteenth Century (1845), brought her international acclaim for the enormous knowledge of literature and philosophy it displayed and for the nobility of language with which the rights of women as independent and rational beings were defended. The American women's rights movement was subsequently to have its formal beginning at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.

  In 1846, she became a foreign correspondent for the Tribune - an unheard of role for a young woman. She journeyed to Europe spending time in England, Scotland, and France before basing herself in Rome in 1847. From Rome she traveled widely in the Italian Penisula and into Switzerland. At that time aspirations for a more politically unified Italian Peninsula, (the peninsula was at that time divided into eight separate states, many of them controlled by the Austrian Empire, directly or indirectly, or by the Papacy), under the authority of a recently installed "liberal" Pope were strongly stirring.

  The years 1848-9 proved to be "years of revolutionary unrest" in Europe, Margaret Fuller, foreign correspondent, became an admirer of the policies of Giuseppe Mazzini, (whom she had first met in England), the leader of the Italian Unification Movement and even became personally involved in the Italian revolution. This involvement was not merely political as she also fell in love in 1847 with one of Mazzini's lieutenants Giovanni Angelo, the Marchese Ossoli. This relationship led to the birth of a son, Angelo Eugene, to Miss Margaret Fuller and her Italian lover in September 1848. Margaret at this time was in her late thirties whilst Ossoli was in his late twenties.

  She helped in the direction of a hospital during the events that led up to the establishment of a Roman Republic and the subsequent seige of Rome in 1849 by the French, and, after the fall of the Roman Republic, she and Ossoli found refuge with the English-speaking colony in Florence where they lived together openly.
  Margaret Fuller and Ossoli socialised with, amongst others, the Brownings who themselves had a young son. She meanwhile continued to work on a history of the Italian revolution.

  Margaret claimed in some of her letters to have married Ossoli but this has not been established as fact. Whatever their exact marital situation Margaret and the Marchese Ossoli decided to relocate to America with their son. They set sail on a merchant freighter, the USS Elizabeth, from Livorno on May 17, 1850, for the U.S. It happened however that the ships captain shortly thereafter expired from smallpox. (Young Angelo Eugene was also infected but managed to pull through this affliction).

  The relative inexperience of the junior officer who assumed command of the ship may have contributed to the Margaret Fuller, Ossoli, and their young son all perishing when their ship was wrecked in an hurricane at Fire Island just off the U.S. coast on July 19, 1850. The mortal remains of Margaret or her Marchese were never recovered, neither was Margaret's manuscript describing the dramatic social and political developments in Rome that she had recently observed.

  Following this loss of life at sea the Fuller family arranged for a memorial monument being placed on the family burial plot.

New England
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Henry David Thoreau
Margaret Fuller
Elizabeth Palmer Peabody
The Brook Farm


Start of
Margaret Fuller
an outline biography