On July 19, 1850, the freighter Elizabeth, having sailed from Leghorn, was wrecked in a storm on a sandbar off Fire Island, and Margaret Fuller, returning to America after an absence of four years, was drowned along with her Italian husband, Giovanni Ossoli, and their infant child. Watchers on the beach, mostly looters waiting for bits of salvage to be washed up, had seen her on the foundering vessel’s deck before it broke up—they were only some 400 yards away. But she and Ossoli vanished under the waves and only the baby’s body was ever recovered. Thoreau, sent to the scene the next day by Fuller’s great friend Emerson, rummaged in the looters’ collections and found Ossoli’s coat, and tore off a button as though he, too, wanted some token from the sea. He wrote in his journal,
I have in my pocket a button which I ripped off the coat of the Marquis of Ossoli, on the seashore, the other day. Held up, it intercepts the light,—an actual button,—and yet all the life it is connected with is less substantial to me, and interests me less, than my faintest dream. Our thoughts are the epochs in our lives; all else is but as a journal of the winds that blew while we were here.
The arbitrary intervention of Nature, cutting off Fuller’s life at the age of forty, seemed strangely appropriate to some of her friends. As they grimly recognized, her reentry into American life on her own terms was hard to imagine. “To the last her country proves inhospitable to her; brave, eloquent, subtle, accomplished, devoted, constant soul!” observed Emerson. Another friend, the liberal Unitarian magazine editor James Freeman Clarke, wrote, “[I]t was manifest that she was not to come back to struggle against poverty, misrepresentation, & perhaps alienated friendship and chilled affections.”
Within a week of the disaster, however, Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, who had launched her career in newspaper reporting and social comment and sent her to Italy as a correspondent, proposed a biographical book—certain to sell well in the wake of this dramatic ending. It would be made up out of a combination of the recollections of others with selections from Fuller’s private letters and journals. He invited Emerson to take charge together with two other old friends of hers, the socialist/Transcendentalist minister William Henry Channing and the aesthete banker Samuel Gray Ward. Ward protested, “How can you describe a Force? How can you write the life of Margaret?” though Emerson answered, “The question itself is some description of her.” Ward’s place in the project was taken by Clarke, with whom, as with Ward and perhaps also with Emerson, she had once been in love.
Emerson, Channing, and Clarke found themselves engaged in a labor of both love and fear. The Fuller they presented in the mistitled Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli (1852) spoke largely in her own voice but with elisions and occasional modifications that filed off some of the dangerous edges of her thoughts. They made no mention of some things they knew—like her infatuation with James Nathan, a German-Jewish commission merchant whom she met in New York in 1845. But it was her final chapter, in which she became a participant in the Risorgimento and not just a witness of it, that these apologists did not entirely understand. One difficulty was her relation to Ossoli. She had been evasive about it to her friends, and no one would ever be sure when—or even if—she had married him. The editors preferred to avert their gaze from the question.
They may not have been ready, either, to accept that she had become radical in political matters. They “judged best,” they wrote, “to let [her] tell the story of her travels” in selections from her European letters with no editorial comment of their own and little from those who had known her abroad. Apparently they did not ask for anything from the European intellectuals who became her close friends, the Polish patriot and poet Adam Mickiewicz or the revolutionary Italian aristocrat Costanza Arconati Visconti. Reminiscences offered by Giuseppe Mazzini seem to have been lost, though the leader of the Italian revolution was a friend she helped in his return to Italy from exile and in his escape after the failure of the short-lived Roman Republic.
Nevertheless, the book was immediately successful. Fuller’s own contribution was fascinating just for its account of the different phases of her life, and the elegiac reminiscences by her three friends had a certain charm; Emerson’s, particularly, drew a complex portrait of how her intensity had both attracted and repelled him, revealing something of himself in doing so. There would be thirteen editions before the end of the century. But it was not her own memoir, and not a biography. It tells only part of her history, and it gives prominence to her personality while saying too little about her intellectual accomplishments. As Robert N. Hudspeth observes in his new edition of her letters, “It created a mythic Margaret Fuller.”
The “Margaret ghost,” as Henry James would call her memory at the end of the century, received, moreover, a more grotesque interpretation from Nathaniel Hawthorne. She had counted Hawthorne among her friends, reviewed his works admiringly, and his wife, Sophia, had been an enthusiastic member of the famous discussion group called “Conversations” that she had organized for Boston women. But somewhere along the line her feminism or her self-assurance or her political leftism or her emotional force—it is hard to be sure which—got under Hawthorne’s skin. He may have already had Fuller in mind in depicting Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, finished in the year of her death, for Hester’s argument for women’s progressive liberation reads very much like passages from Fuller’s feminist tract, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845). Zenobia in The Blithedale Romance (1852) seemed to many readers a portrait of Fuller at the Utopian colony of Brook Farm, where she had briefly resided—even to a death by drowning. The seductive, guilt-stained Miriam, in The Marble Faun (1860), too, has some affinities with Fuller. But these fictional portraits, if they owe something to the real Margaret Fuller, still allow her a powerful attractiveness.
Eight years after Fuller’s death, however, having arrived with his family in Rome, Hawthorne was listening to the still lingering gossip about Fuller’s love affair with Ossoli. His reaction, committed promptly to his journal, was vehement:
I do not understand what feeling there could have been, except it were purely sensual; as from him towards her, there could hardly have been even this, for she had not the charm of womanhood. But she was a woman anxious to try all things, and fill up her experience in all directions; she had a strong and coarse nature, too, which she had done her utmost to refine, with infinite pains, but which of course could only be superficially changed… She was a great humbug; of course with much talent, and much moral reality, or else she could not have been so great a humbug. But she had stuck herself full of borrowed qualities which she chose to provide herself with, but which had no root in her… It was such an awful joke, that she should have resolved—in all sincerity, no doubt, to be the greatest, wisest, best woman of the age; and, to that end, she set to work on her strong, heavy, unpliable, and, in many respects, defective and evil nature, and adorned it with a mosaic of admirable qualities, such as she chose to possess; putting in here a splendid talent, and there a moral excellence, and polishing each separate piece, and the whole together, till it seemed to shine afar and dazzle all who saw it. She took credit to herself for having been her own Redeemer, if not her own Creator; and, indeed, she was far more a work of art than any of Mr. Mozier’s statues. But she was not working on an inanimate substance, like marble or clay; there was something within her that she could not possibly come at, to recreate and refine it; and, by and by, this rude old potency bestirred itself and undid all her labor in the twinkling of an eye. On the whole, I do not know but I like her the better for it;—the better, because she proved herself a very woman, after all, and fell as the weakest of her sisters might.
Perhaps Hawthorne was feeling particularly threatened just then by his wife’s continued admiration for the gifted woman who had recently lived freely in Rome like the heroine of Madame de Staël’s Corinne, one of Sophia’s favorite books. She, for her part, must have been shocked by the passage when she came to read it after his death, for she omitted it in her edition of her husband’s Italian notebooks. But in 1884, after her death, their son, Julian included it in his book Nathaniel Hawthorne and his Wife. The aging Clarke and others protested, but Hawthorne’s mud stuck. A younger friend, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the Unitarian minister who also encouraged Emily Dickinson, had already done his best to correct the Fuller Memoirs in a biography published shortly before Julian’s revelation. But his book was thought to be a whitewash. The modern reader may feel that Higginson was trying too hard to show that Fuller was a “true woman” who had devoted herself generously to the needs of her younger brothers and sister and who fulfilled herself when she found a husband and had a child. But his biography was the best available until recently.
Early twentieth-century historians and critics mostly remembered Fuller as the token woman in Emerson’s Transcendental Club, and even her contribution to feminine self-consciousness was nearly forgotten until the women’s movement of the 1970s. It was not only her own feminist writings but the interest of feminists in reconstructing female life histories that attracted attention to her; she seemed a striking case of a woman who had been misread by men. But it was difficult to correct the reading until her scattered letters could be studied in their original form.
Robert Hudspeth’s fine scholarly edition, begun in 1983, has now become complete with a sixth volume that includes not only her last letters but a cache of new ones—eight-four to Clarke alone—previously unknown or known only in the heavily edited text of the Memoirs. Her most famous book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, can now be bought in inexpensive reprints and her literary essays in the Dial and her newspaper writing, some of it reprinted shortly after her death, have begun to be available in modern editions. Under the title These Sad But Glorious Days (taken from her own description of her time in Italy), Larry J. Reynolds and Susan Belasco Smith have reprinted all her Tribune dispatches from Europe of 1846–1850, including several never before republished. Some of her reporting for the newspaper during her previous two years in New York is included in Catherine C. Mitchell’s Margaret Fuller’s New York Journalism. Finally, two new biographies make use of the recent research: Joan von Mehren’s, just published, and another by Charles Capper, of which we have had the first of two volumes.
With the help of these studies it is possible to view Fuller’s life as a progress away from the nest of intellectual gentlefolk in pre-Civil War Boston and its environs. If family traits explain anything it may be noted that the Massachusetts Fullers—the male members anyhow—had been known as persons who would swim against the tide—energetic, able, and, as Higginson observed, “without a particle of tact.” Her Fuller grandfather had lost his pulpit because he was suspected of insufficient zeal for the Revolution. Failing in a lawsuit to recover his ministerial salary, he became a successful politician in the town that had rejected him; then he courted unpopularity again by refusing to vote for the ratification of the new Federal constitution because it implicitly sanctioned slavery. In his forties he retired to cultivate his large farm and raise ten children.
Margaret Fuller’s father was elected to Congress for four terms and opposed the extradition of fugitive slaves, the Seminole War, and the Missouri Compromise because it admitted a slave state, this last stand ruining him with his Republican constituents. He came back from Washington to run unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor, and his prospects of public office ended. So he decided, like his father, to give his life a Virgilian conclusion. His model was Jefferson—statesman, savant, and country proprietor—though all his social acquaintances were Federalists. At fifty-three, he bought a farm and resolved to cultivate the soil and to write a history of the United States for which he had long been collecting materials.
Margaret, his eldest and brightest child, came under her father’s special tutelage as though she had been a son born to carry on the Fuller tradition. She got a gentleman’s classical education, reading Virgil, Cicero, Horace, Livy, and Tacitus, studying Greek, French, and Italian before she was nine. But she later felt that her nature had been forced by such educational pressure. She suffered from nightmares and headaches all her life, attributing these to her father’s early regimen which had deprived her not only of play but of sleep. Despite the advanced views she would develop about female equality she always subscribed to the popular theory that overstraining the mind was particularly dangerous to women.
Clearly, her father was an exacting man who expected her to be like himself yet also did not expect her to become anything other than a conventional woman, the teacher of her younger siblings and her mother’s prop during his absences from home. “Mediocrity is obscurity,” he told her, but he never suggested how she might express her own superior talents. At the first-class Boston school to which he sent her when she was ten she was a showoff who offended everyone. He transferred her to a country boarding school with a reputation for inculcating “female propriety,” but the damage was done. She had already developed an ironic arrogance of manner which was misunderstood as pride. She had, we are told, an off-putting curl of the lip, a way of twisting her neck that looked disdainful. Yet she was privately self-doubting, for the difficulty of having ability without any outlet for it became all too evident to her.
Fuller tended to see herself as having masculine and feminine traits—masculinity being a label for her logical powers, her love of knowledge, her assertiveness, her longing for active life. She also had a feminine side, she felt, a side that was poetic and emotional and responsive to nature as well as caretaking—and this she identified with her mother who exemplified the Victorian Angel in the House and loved gardening and babies. In Woman in the Nineteenth Century she advanced a theory of human androgyny and wrote that all men had some measure of the womanly, all women of the manly. But she believed the human qualities that mattered most all had a feminine heritage. In her sensitive and judicious biography Joan von Mehren takes as her theme Fuller’s lifelong effort to unite what she called the powers of a strong, intelligent goddess, Minerva, and those of the female Muse.
In Cambridge, where the Fullers lived while she was in her teens, she became famous among the more earnest and thoughtful members of the Harvard Class of 1829, which included Oliver Wendell Holmes, Benjamin Peirce, William Henry Channing, and her two first close male friends, James Freeman Clarke and the future Whig editor and congressman George T. Davis. She was drawn as well to the intelligent wives of several Harvard professors, to an older English girl who was the object of a sentimental crush, and to the future abolitionist writer Lydia Maria Child. She made lasting friendships with women of her own age like Caroline Sturgis and the beautiful Anna Barker. The younger men and women she knew saw much of one another, and often talked about new ideas of religion, new theories of life.
The young men, some preparing for the ministry, debated the issues of Revelation and Evidence, of the still new Unitarianism and an about-to-be-born philosophic faith which would get the name Transcendentalism. The young women, who could not use the Harvard Library or borrow books on their own from the Boston Athenaeum, must have had feelings comparable to those of Virginia Stephen and her sister Vanessa when they were determined to keep up with their brother Thoby and his Cambridge friends. Searching for ways to bring greater vitality into faith and life, they were reading Carlyle and Coleridge. “Close thy Byron, Open your Goethe!” Carlyle urged, and Fuller mastered German and read all of Goethe as well as Schiller and Novalis. She soon started a vogue for learning German in Boston and its suburbs. For some years she offered German lessons to others. She translated Goethe’s Torquato Tasso when she was twenty-three and a few years later Eckermann’s Conversations with Goethe.
Fuller was to be more than a member of an intellectual coterie, however. Capper believes that she became “one of ante-bellum America’s leading Transcendentalist theoreticians, its most important literary critic, its most sophisticated women’s cultural leader, and one of its most widely read international journalists.” The first volume of his biography stops in 1840 when she took over as editor of the journal of Transcendentalism, The Dial. But he shows how the young author of just a few published essays had already been a source of fresh ideas in New England. Friendship, as she practiced it and wrote about it, had for her an exalted quality. With other members of the Romantic generation she believed in the value of a transcendent union of essential selves regardless of gender: men and women could, through friendship, achieve self-knowledge and knowledge of the other as well as share the results of study and reflection. Emerson said that the young Margaret Fuller “wore [her] circle of friends…as a necklace of diamonds about her neck…and all the art, the thought, and the nobleness of New England, seemed, at that moment, related to her, and she to it.”
To Fuller’s modern biographers, some of her friendships seem indistinguishable from erotic attachments. Within a few years she was successively in love with Davis, with Clarke, and with Ward, all three of whom eventually drew back from her emotional intensity, though Clarke and Ward remained affectionate until she died. Her most important connection was with Emerson, whom she met shortly after he had resigned as the pastor of the Old North Church in Boston and while he was writing his famous essay “Nature.” She became an intimate of his household, making long visits during which he found her erudition and wit irresistible. There was something like love for Emerson on her part, and considerable ambivalence on his. He noted,
I cannot give the lights and shades, the hopes and outlooks that come to me in these strange, cold-warm, attractive-repelling conversations with Margaret, whom I always admire, most revere when I nearest see, and sometimes love, yet whom I freeze, & who freezes me to silence, when we seem to promise to come nearest.
Ward warned Fuller that the Platonic relation she believed in was only possible for those “who have never passed the line.” He would himself marry Anna Barker, the two combining to enact the passion Fuller had felt for them separately. Her biographers speculate that she may have understood her own sexuality only after she left Boston, Cambridge, and Transcendental Concord. In New York, in 1845, she had her affair with Nathan. In Paris, she met the Polish revolutionary patriot and poet Adam Mickiewicz, whom she worshiped as she had worshiped Emerson. He quoted her old friend’s advice, “Give all for love,” to her, but added, “This love must not be that of the shepherds of Florian nor that of schoolboys and German ladies.” In Rome, in 1848, she fell in love with the American painter Thomas Hicks, to whom she vainly appealed, “Do not let me go without giving me some of your life.” At last, she met Ossoli, and became pregnant by him.
She may have married him after their child was born, though practical difficulties could have delayed or even prevented a sanctified union with a Catholic. As Henry James would observe, she found in Rome ways “of being vivid that were not as the ways of Boston.” She had never been sure she wanted to marry; she had pitied the imprisoning marriages of others. Her sister Ellen married the minor poet William Ellery Channing and spent the rest of her life struggling to raise five children. Bronson Alcott, in whose famous Temple School Fuller taught in 1837, was as indifferent a provider as he was an employer; she was never paid for her labors, and his family ultimately depended on the literary earnings of his daughter, Louisa May. She saw strains besides the economic in other marriages—nervous melancholy afflicted the women wedded to such opposite temperaments as the bustling Horace Greeley and the serene Emerson. Several of her friends went through divorce. Others, like Ellen Sturgis, suffered on in bleak relationships. When her brother Richard was about to marry, Fuller warned him against “the life-long repentance of a momentary dream.” She wrote Clarke:
From a very early age I have felt that I was not born to the common womanly lot. I knew I should never find a being who could keep the key of my character; that there would be none on whom I could always lean, from whom I could always learn; that I should be a pilgrim and sojourner on earth, and that the birds and the foxes would be surer of a place to lay the head than I.
But in Woman in the Nineteenth Century she urged women to discover what was “fit for themselves” and to consider that the single life might provide opportunities for moral development and insight. “How,” she wrote, “can a woman of genius love and marry? A man of genius will not love her; he wants repose.”
In her own marriage, she did not contradict this. She sought in her marriage to Ossoli the kind of relation a gifted man might look for with a woman. She described him to her mother as though he qualified for the conventional role of a wife:
not in any respect such a person as people in general would expect to find with me…and of all that is contained in books he is absolutely ignorant. On the other hand, he has excellent practical sense; has a nice sense of duty, which, in its unfailing, minute activity, may put most enthusiasts to shame; a very sweet temper, and great native refinement… His devotion, when I am ill, is to be compared only with yours. His delicacy in trifles, his sweet domestic graces, remind me of E—[perhaps her sister]. In him I have found a home, and one that interferes with no tie.
Of her true vocation she had little doubt. “Margaret, you are destined to be an author. I shall yet see you against your will and drawn by circumstances, become the founder of an American literature!” Clarke told her in 1832. She answered:
Whether I was born to write I cannot tell but my bias towards the living and the practical dates from my first consciousness and all I have known of women authors’ mental history has but deepened the impression.
Her writings are not the work of what she thought of as a “woman author.” The book she wanted first to write—but never achieved for lack of the opportunity for research—was a biography of Goethe.
She preferred genres—biography, the essay, the review, the travelogue, topical journalism, the propagandist tract—which were seen as “masculine” because they entered the reality of public life, unlike the sentimental novel which was predominantly addressed to feminine readers and concerned with the issues of private life and personal relations, a field already dominated by “scribbling women,” as Hawthorne complained. When she read George Sand’s romances she thought:
These books have made me for the first time think I might write into such shapes what I know of human nature. I have always thought that I would not, that I would keep all that behind the curtain, that I would not write, like a woman, of love and hope and disappointment, but like a man of the world of intellect and action.
But Sand’s life was to prove more significant than her literary example when a dozen years later Fuller met the woman who was living with Chopin, “on the footing of combined means, independent friendship” and took “rank in society like a man, for the weight of her thoughts.”
Was she, then, more a prophetic presence than a writer? Even Emerson thought that her “powers of speech [threw] her writing into the shade.” Henry James dismissed her writing altogether: “She left nothing behind her, her written utterance being naught… [Her] identity was that of the talker, the moral improvisatrice.” This denigration misunderstands what she was trying to do; it is based in part on the uneasy status of non-fictional forms and the disdain for the propagandist impulse in art which one would expect from a literary sensibility. It is also based on the false notion that Fuller was preoccupied with ephemeral political and social issues. Her writing itself was an expression, as she put it, of her “bias towards the living and the practical.” She wanted above all to affect others, whether as a teacher or in her Socratic “Conversations” that changed the lives of a generation of New England women. Even the drudgery of editing The Dial became a part of her effort to influence others. In Summer on the Lakes (1844), a travelogue of a trip she took to Niagara, Chicago, the Illinois prairies, Milwaukee, and the Great Lakes, she did more than respond Romantically to the American landscape. Virtually alone in her time she decried the spoliation of the wilderness and the degradation of life on the frontier. She denounced the wanton abuse visited upon Native Americans.
Woman in the Nineteenth Century formulated the issues that would be central for the Seneca Falls convention on women’s rights of 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony thought Fuller had had “more influence on the thought of American women than any woman previous to her time.” Fuller reached back to the Jeffersonian heritage dear to her father in her argument for human equality. Without equality, she insisted, marriage was a union between parent and adopted child or master and slave. She repudiated the idea that women’s freedom of occupation would break up the home, and pointed out that the hard labor of working-class women proved that women were not too delicate to assume the burdens of men while an upper-class woman was likely to have already escaped into the frivolous pursuit of “animation for her existence.” Women could do anything: “Let them be sea-captains if you will.”
The “Conversations” in Boston had been criticized by one of her idols, Harriet Martineau, for encouraging talk “about Mars and Venus, Plato and Goethe [while] the liberties of the republic were running out.” Fuller had stayed apart from organized abolitionism, holding, with Emerson, that reform begins with the individual. But now she saw that the principle of equality which she invoked for women demanded the end of slavery. More and more she would see things politically; she was not the daughter and granddaughter of politicians for nothing. She had been a boarder at Brook Farm, where the communitarian ideal extended her own ideas of equal exchange of mind and feeling among friends. She came to see the Utopian commune as embodying an economic and social critique of the larger society. She moved from the belief in private solutions to the acceptance of the need for political change. Channing, a follower of Fourier, had become a more important influence on her than Emerson. When the reform-minded Greeley invited her to join the Tribune staff in 1844 she was ready to leave New England. For two years she wrote not only on books and cultural events but on prostitution and crime, on prisons, hospitals, and almshouses. In 1846 she was happy to leave America.
In Rome, the theater of her most engaged political activity, Fuller witnessed one of history’s memorable moments. She arrived when Pius IX seemed the hope of reform and the leader of a movement to free all Italy from foreign domination; but she saw that this was an illusory expectation. She was soon in touch with radicals in Milan, reporting on demonstrations against the Austrians in Naples and Sicily. Louis-Philippe was toppled in Paris, Metternich fled Vienna, Frederick William IV of Prussia was forced to agree to the election of a constituent assembly. In Milan and Venice insurrection triumphed. In Rome, the Pope fled. But soon the tide was reversed everywhere. Rome was under siege by the French. Mazzini’s and Garibaldi’s resistance failed.
Fuller became the chief source of American awareness and interpretation of these events. Reynolds and Smith call her terse and impassioned Italian dispatches “arguably Fuller’s finest achievement,” a historical narrative in the tradition of Michelet and Carlyle. Even Woman in the Nineteenth Century had suffered from its transcendental free form—half tract, half prophetic sermon with many examples from history and mythology. The dispatches suggest the approach she would have taken in the lost history of the Italian struggle which she had been composing and which went down with her off Fire Island. But she had written Channing, “Art is not important to me now… I take interest in the state of the people, their manners, the state of the race in them.” She was becoming an actor in the scene she described. During the siege of Rome she directed the defenders’ military hospital of Fate Bene Fratelli—a position like Florence Nightingale’s in the Crimea five years later.
She had begun to go beyond the nationalistic ideas of her Italian friends. Mazzini, she told her countrymen, “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, &c., are but forerunners.” In the year of The Communist Manifesto, which she may not have read, she saw some form of socialism as “the inevitable sequence to the tendencies of the era.” Unlike many of America’s intellectuals—Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville included—who had recoiled from the English Chartists and the Paris revolutionaries of 1848, she was drawn to the radical ideas of the European rebellions. The Jeffersonian democracy in which she had always believed no longer seemed an ultimate human aim.
In her view of America she tried to combine criticism of its institutions with the egalitarian vision she admired in early European socialists. Sympathy with the Italian people caused her to disparage America for maintaining slavery and for the war with Mexico; America, she said, had become “stupid with the lust for gain…shamed by an unjust war.” But this was not all. She saw the struggle of the European working classes as prefiguring a new age when she urged her Tribune readers to discover the meaning of democracy by learning “to reverence the true aristocracy of a nation, the only really noble—the LABORING CLASSES.”
In her last Tribune dispatch sent from Florence after the defeat of the Roman Republic, she wrote:
The seeds for a vast harvest of hatreds and contempts are sown over every inch of Roman ground, nor can that malignant growth be extirpated, till the wishes of Heaven shall waft a fire that will burn down all, root and branch, and prepare the earth for an entirely new culture. The next revolution, here and elsewhere, will be radical…. The Pope cannot retain even his spiritual power…. Not only the Austrian, and every potentate of foreign blood, must be deposed, but every man who assumes an arbitrary lordship over fellow man, must be driven out.
This dispatch was among those omitted from the collection of Fuller’s Tribune pieces published by her brother six years after her death—and only reprinted today by Reynolds and Smith from the newspaper’s yellowed pages in library archives. Perhaps Arthur Fuller worried about the effect of its apocalyptic tone on her contemporaries. Elizabeth Barrett Browning said that during her last months in Italy, Fuller had become “one of the out & out Reds” and that her lost history of the Roman Republic
could not have been otherwise than deeply coloured by those blood-colours of Socialistic views, which would have drawn the wolves upon her, with a still more howling emnity, both in England & America.
It is generally assumed that when her American friends, even Emerson, urged her to delay her return home, they were fearful of the dubious impression she would make as one who, in Hawthorne’s words, “fell as the weakest of her sisters might.” The gossip of Rome had preceded her, but her attachment to Ossoli would not have been her only social difficulty. Her radical political vision, of which her friends had also heard, would have threatened them with a greater embarrassment.
February 2, 1995