Woman in the Nineteenth Century

by Margaret Fuller

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Other Letters

Florence, Jan. 8, 1850.

My Dear R.: * * * * The way in which you speak of my marriage is such as I expected from you. Now that we have once exchanged words on these important changes in our lives, it matters little to write letters, so much has happened, and the changes are too great to be made clear in writing. It would not be worth while to keep the family thinking of me. I cannot fix precisely the period of my return, though at present it seems to me probable we may make the voyage in May or June. At first we should wish to go and make a little visit to mother. I should take counsel with various friends before fixing myself in any place; see what openings there are for me, &c. I cannot judge at all before I am personally in the United States, and wish to engage myself no way. Should I finally decide on the neighborhood of New York, I should see you all, often. I wish, however, to live with mother, if possible. We will discuss it on all sides when I come. Climate is one thing I must think of. The change from the Roman winter to that of New England might be very trying for Ossoli. In New York he would see Italians often, hear his native tongue, and feel less exiled. If we had our affairs in New York and lived in the neighboring country, we could find places as quiet as C———, more beautiful, and from which access to a city would be as easy by means of steam.

On the other hand, my family and most cherished friends are in New England. I shall weigh all advantages at the time, and choose as may then seem best.

I feel also the great responsibility about a child, and the mixture of solemn feeling with the joy its sweet ways and caresses give; yet this is only different in degree, not in kind, from what we should feel in other relations. We may more or less impede or brighten the destiny of all with whom we come in contact. Much as the child lies in our power, still God and Nature are there, furnishing a thousand masters to correct our erroneous, and fill up our imperfect, teachings. I feel impelled to try for good, for the sake of my child, most powerfully; but if I fail, I trust help will be tendered to him from some other quarter. I do not wish to trouble myself more than is inevitable, or lose the simple, innocent pleasure of watching his growth from day to day, by thinking of his future. At present my care of him is to keep him pure, in body and mind, to give for body and mind simple nutriment when he requires it, and to play with him. Now he learns, playing, as we all shall when we enter a higher existence. With him my intercourse thus far has been precious, and if I do not well for him, he at least has taught me a great deal.

I may say of Ossoli, it would be difficult to help liking him, so sweet is his disposition, so disinterested without effort, so simply wise his daily conduct, so harmonious his whole nature. And he is a perfectly unconscious character, and never dreams that he does well. He is studying English, but makes little progress. For a good while you may not be able to talk freely with him, but you will like showing him your favorite haunts,—he is so happy in nature, so sweet in tranquil places.

TO ———.
What a difference it makes to come home to a child! How it fills up all the gaps of life just in the way that is most consoling, most refreshing! Formerly I used to feel sad at that hour; the day had not been nobly spent,—I had not done my duty to myself or others, and I felt so lonely! Now I never feel lonely; for, even if my little boy dies, our souls will remain eternally united. And I feel infinite hope for him,—hope that he will serve God and man more loyally than I have done; and seeing how full he is of life, how much he can afford to throw away, I feel the inexhaustibleness of nature, and console myself for my own incapacities.

Madame Arconati is near me. We have had some hours of great content together, but in the last weeks her only child has been dangerously ill. I have no other acquaintance except in the American circle, and should not care to make any unless singularly desirable; for I want all my time for the care of my child, for my walks, and visits to objects of art, in which again I can find pleasure, end in the evening for study and writing. Ossoli is forming some taste for books; he is also studying English; he learns of Horace Sumner, to whom he teaches Italian in turn.

Florence, Feb. 6, 1850.

My Dear M. and R.: You have no doubt ere this received a letter written, I think, in December, but I must suddenly write again to thank you for the New Year's letter. It was a sweet impulse that led you all to write together, and had its full reward in the pleasure you gave! I have said as little as possible about Ossoli and our relation, wishing my old friends to form their own impressions naturally, when they see us together. I have faith that all who ever knew me will feel that I have become somewhat milder, kinder, and more worthy to serve all who need, for my new relations. I have expected that those who have cared for me chiefly for my activity of intellect, would not care for him; but that those in whom the moral nature predominates would gradually learn to love and admire him, and see what a treasure his affection must be to me. But even that would be only gradually; for it is by acts, not by words, that one so simple, true, delicate and retiring, can be known. For me, while some of my friends have thought me exacting, I may say Ossoli has always outgone my expectations in the disinterestedness, the uncompromising bounty, of his every act.

He was the same to his father as to me. His affections are few, but profound, and thoroughly acted out. His permanent affections are few, but his heart is always open to the humble, suffering, heavy-laden. His mind has little habitual action, except in a simple, natural poetry, that one not very intimate with him would never know anything about. But once opened to a great impulse, as it was to the hope of freeing his country, it rises to the height of the occasion, and stays there. His enthusiasm is quiet, but unsleeping. He is very unlike most Italians, but very unlike most Americans, too. I do not expect all who cared for me to care for him, nor is it of importance to him that they should. He is wholly without vanity. He is too truly the gentleman not to be respected by all persons of refinement. For the rest, if my life is free, and not too much troubled, if he can enjoy his domestic affections, and fulfil his duties in his own way, he will be content. Can we find this much for ourselves in bustling America the next three or four years? I know not, but think we shall come and try. I wish much to see you all, and exchange the kiss of peace. There will, I trust, be peace within, if not without. I thank you most warmly for your gift. Be assured it will turn to great profit. I have learned to be a great adept in economy, by looking at my little boy. I cannot bear to spend a cent for fear he may come to want. I understand now how the family-men get so mean, and shall have to begin soon to pray against that danger. My little Nino, as we call him for house and pet name, is in perfect health. I wash, and dress, and sew for him; and think I see a great deal of promise in his little ways, and shall know him better for doing all for him, though it is fatiguing and inconvenient at times. He is very gay and laughing, sometimes violent,—for he is come to the age when he wants everything in his own hands,—but, on the whole, sweet as yet, and very fond of me. He often calls me to kiss him. He says, "kiss," in preference to the Italian word bàcio. I do not cherish sanguine visions about him, but try to do my best by him, and enjoy the present moment.

It was a nice account you gave of Miss Bremer. She found some "neighbors" as good as her own. You say she was much pleased by ——; could she know her, she might enrich the world with a portrait as full of little delicate traits as any in her gallery, and of a higher class than any in which she has been successful. I would give much that a competent person should paint ——. It is a shame she should die and leave the world no copy.

Florence, May 2, 1850.

Dear Mr. Cass: I shall most probably leave Florence and Italy the 8th or 10th of this month, and am not willing to depart without saying adieu to yourself. I wanted to write the 30th of April, but a succession of petty interruptions prevented. That was the day I saw you first, and the day the French first assailed Rome. What a crowded day that was! I had been to visit Ossoli in the morning, in the garden of the Vatican. Just after my return you entered. I then went to the hospital, and there passed the eight amid the groans of many suffering and some dying men. What a strange first of May it was, as I walked the streets of Rome by the early sunlight of the nest day! Those were to me grand and impassioned hours. Deep sorrow followed,—many embarrassments, many pains! Let me once more, at parting, thank you for the sympathy you showed me amid many of these. A thousand years might pass, and you would find it unforgotten by me.

I leave Italy with profound regret, and with only a vague hope of returning. I could have lived here always, full of bright visions, and expanding in my faculties, had destiny permitted. May you be happy who remain here! It would be well worth while to be happy in Italy!

I had hoped to enjoy some of the last days, but the weather has been steadily bad since you left Florence. Since the 4th of April we have not had a fine day, and all our little plans for visits to favorite spots and beautiful objects, from which we have long been separated, have been marred!

I sail in the barque Elizabeth for New York. She is laden with marble and rags—a very appropriate companionship for wares of Italy! She carries Powers' statue of Calhoun. Adieu! Remember that we look to you to keep up the dignity of our country. Many important occasions are now likely to offer for the American (I wish I could write the Columbian) man to advocate,—more, to represent the cause of Truth and Freedom in the face of their foes. Remember me as their lover, and your friend, M. O.

To ———.
Florence, April 16, 1860.

* * * There is a bark at Leghorn, highly spoken of, which sails at the end of this month, and we shall very likely take that. I find it imperatively necessary to go to the United States to make arrangements that may free me from care. Shall I be more fortunate if I go in person? I do not know. I am ill adapted to push my claims and pretensions; but, at least, it will not be such slow work as passing from disappointment to disappointment here, where I wait upon the post-office, and must wait two or three months, to know the fate of any proposition.

I go home prepared to expect all that is painful and difficult. It will be a consolation to see my dear mother; and my dear brother E., whom I have not seen for ten years, is coming to New England this summer. On that account I wish to go this year.

May 10.—My head is full of boxes, bundles, phials of medicine, and pots of jelly. I never thought much about a journey for myself, except to try and return all the things, books especially, which I had been borrowing; but about my child I feel anxious lest I should not take what is necessary for his health and comfort on so long a voyage, where omissions are irreparable. The unpropitious, rainy weather delays us now from day to day, as our ship; the Elizabeth,—(look out for news of shipwreck!) cannot finish taking in her cargo till come one or two good days.

I leave Italy with most sad and unsatisfied heart,—hoping, indeed, to return, but fearing that may not be permitted in my "cross-biased" life, till strength of feeling and keenness of perception be less than during these bygone rich, if troubled, years!

I can say least to those whom I prize most. I am so sad and weary, leaving Italy, that I seem paralyzed.


Ship Elizabeth, off Gibraltar, June 8, 1850.

My Dear M——: You will, I trust, long ere receiving this, have read my letter from Florence, enclosing one to my mother, informing her under what circumstances I had drawn on you through ——, and mentioning how I wished the bill to be met in case of any accident to me on my homeward course. That course, as respects weather, has been thus far not unpleasant; but the disaster that has befallen us is such as I never dreamed of. I had taken passage with Captain Hasty—one who seemed to me one of the best and most high-minded of our American men. He showed the kindest interest in us. His wife, an excellent woman, was with him. I thought, during the voyage, if safe and my child well, to have as much respite from care and pain as sea-sickness would permit. But scarcely was that enemy in some measure quelled, when the captain fell sick. At first his disease presented the appearance of nervous fever. I was with him a great deal; indeed, whenever I could relieve his wife from a ministry softened by great love and the courage of womanly heroism: The last days were truly terrible with disgusts and fatigues; for he died, we suppose,—no physician has been allowed to come on board to see the body,—of confluent small-pox. I have seen, since we parted, great suffering, but nothing physical to be compared to this, where the once fair and expressive mould of man is thus lost in corruption before life has fled. He died yesterday morning, and was buried in deep water, the American Consul's barge towing out one from this ship which bore the body, about six o'clock. It was Sunday. A divinely calm, glowing afternoon had succeeded a morning of bleak, cold wind. You cannot think how beautiful the whole thing was:—the decent array and sad reverence of the sailors; the many ships with their banners flying; the stern pillar of Hercules all bathed in roseate vapor; the little white sails diving into the blue depths with that solemn spoil of the good man, so still, when he had been so agonized and gasping as the last sun stooped. Yes, it was beautiful; but how dear a price we pay for the poems of this world! We shall now be in quarantine a week; no person permitted to come on board until it be seen whether disease break out in other cases. I have no good reason to think it will not; yet I do not feel afraid. Ossoli has had it; so he is safe. The baby is, of course, subject to injury. In the earlier days, before I suspected small-pox, I carried him twice into the sick-room, at the request of the captain, who was becoming fond of him. He laughed and pointed; he did not discern danger, but only thought it odd to see the old friend there in bed. It is vain by prudence to seek to evade the stern assaults of destiny. I submit. Should all end well, we shall be in New York later than I expected; but keep a look-out. Should we arrive safely, I should like to see a friendly face. Commend me to my dear friends; and, with most affectionate wishes that joy and peace may continue to dwell in your house, adieu, and love as you can,

Your friend, MARGARET.


Legation des Etats Unis d'Amerique, Rome, May 10, 1851.

Madame: I beg leave to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the —— ult., and to express my regret that the weak state of my eyesight has prevented me from giving it an earlier reply.

In compliance with your request, I have the honor to state, succinctly, the circumstances connected with my acquaintance with the late Madame Ossoli, your deceased sister, during her residence in Rome.

In the month of April, 1849, Rome, as you are no doubt aware, was placed in a state of siege by the approach of the French army. It was filled at that time with exiles and fugitives who had been contending for years, from Milan in the north to Palermo in the south, for the republican cause; and when the gates were closed, it was computed that there were, of Italians alone, thirteen thousand refugees within the walls of the city, all of whom had been expelled from adjacent states, till Rome became their last rallying-point, and, to many, their final resting-place. Among these was to be seen every variety of age, sentiment, and condition,—striplings and blanched heads; wild, visionary enthusiasts; grave, heroic men, who, in the struggle for freedom, had ventured all, and lost all; nobles and beggars; bandits, felons and brigands. Great excitement naturally existed; and, in the general apprehension which pervaded all classes, that acts of personal violence and outrage would soon be committed, the foreign residents, especially, found themselves placed in an alarming situation.

On the 30th of April the first engagement took place between the French and Roman troops, and in a few days subsequently I visited several of my countrymen, at their request, to concert measures for their safety. Hearing, on that occasion, and for the first time, of Miss Fuller's presence in Rome, and of her solitary mode of life, I ventured to call upon her, and offer my services in any manner that might conduce to her comfort and security. She received me with much kindness, and thus an acquaintance commenced. Her residence on the Piazzi Barberini being considered an insecure abode, she removed to the Casa Dies, which was occupied by several American families.

In the engagements which succeeded between the Roman and French troops, the wounded of the former were brought into the city, and disposed throughout the different hospitals, which were under the superintendence of several ladies of high rank, who had formed themselves into associations, the better to ensure care and attention to those unfortunate men. Miss Fuller took an active part in this noble work; and the greater portion of her time, during the entire siege, was passed in the hospital of the Trinity of the Pilgrims, which was placed under her direction, in attendance upon its inmates.

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. Her heart and soul were in the cause for which those men had fought, and all was done that Woman could do to comfort them in their sufferings. I have seen the eyes of the dying, as she moved among them, extended on opposite beds, meet in commendation of her universal kindness; and the friends of those who then passed away may derive consolation from the assurance that nothing of tenderness and attention was wanting to soothe their last moments. And I have heard many of those who recovered speak with all the passionate fervor of the Italian nature, of her whose sympathy and compassion, throughout their long illness, fulfilled all the offices of love and affection. Mazzini, the chief of the Triumvirate, who, better than any man in Rome, knew her worth, often expressed to me his admiration of her high character; and the Princess Belgiojoso. to whom was assigned the charge of the Papal Palace, on the Quirinal, which was converted on this occasion into a hospital, was enthusiastic in her praise. And in a letter which I received not long since from this lady, who was gaining the bread of an exile by teaching languages in Constantinople, she alludes with much feeling to the support afforded by Miss Fuller to the republican party in Italy. Here, in Rome, she is still spoken of in terms of regard and endearment, and the announcement of her death was received with a degree of sorrow not often bestowed upon a foreigner, especially one of a different faith.

On the 29th of June, the bombardment from the French camp was very heavy, shells and grenades falling in every part of the city. In the afternoon of the 30th, I received a brief note from Miss Fuller, requesting me to call at her residence. I did so without delay, and found her lying on a sofa, pale and trembling, evidently much exhausted. She informed me that she had sent for me to place in my hand a packet of important papers, which she wished me to keep for the present, and, in the event of her death, to transmit it to her friends in the United States. She then stated that she was married to Marquis Ossoli, who was in command of a battery on the Pincian Hill,—that being the highest and most exposed position in Rome, and directly in the line of bombs from the French camp. It was not to be expected, she said, that he could escape the dangers of another night, such as the last; and therefore it was her intention to remain with him, and share his fate. At the Ave Maria, she added, he would come for her, and they would proceed together to his post. The packet which she placed in my possession, contained, she said, the certificates of her marriage, and of the birth and baptism of her child. After a few words more, I took my departure, the hour she named having nearly arrived. At the porter's lodge I met the Marquis Ossoli, and a few moments afterward I saw them walking toward the Pincian Hill.

Happily, the cannonading was not renewed that night, and at dawn of day she returned to her apartments, with her husband by her side. On that day the French army entered Rome, and, the gates being opened, Madame Ossoli, accompanied by the Marquis, immediately proceeded to Rieti, where she had left her child in the charge of a confidential nurse, formerly in the service of the Ossoli family.

She remained, as you are no doubt aware, some months at Rieti, whence she removed to Florence, where she resided until her ill-fated departure for the United States. During this period I received several letters from her, all of which, though reluctant to part with them, I enclose to your address in compliance with your request.

I am, Madame, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,


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