Woman in the Nineteenth Century

by Margaret Fuller

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Part III - Extracts from Journals and Letters

[The following extract from Margaret's Journal will be read with a degree of melancholy interest when connected with the eventful end of her eventful life. It was written many years before her journey to Europe, and rings in our ears now almost with the tones of prophecy.—Ed.]

I like to listen to the soliloquies of a bright child. In this microcosm the philosophical observer may trace the natural progression of the mind of mankind. I often silently observe L—-, with this view. He is generally imitative and dramatic; the day-school, the singing-school or the evening party, are acted out with admirable variety in the humors of the scene, end great discrimination of character in its broader features. What is chiefly remarkable is his unconsciousness of his mental processes, and how thoughts it would be impossible for him to recall spring up in his mind like flowers and weeds in the soil. But to-night he was truly in a state of lyrical inspiration, his eyes flashing, his face glowing, and his whole composition chanted out in an almost metrical form. He began by mourning the death of a certain Harriet whom he had let go to foreign parts, and who had died at sea. He described her as having "blue, sparkling eyes, and a sweet smile," and lamented that he could never kiss her cold lips again. This part, which he continued for some time, was in prolonged cadences, and a low, mournful tone, with a frequently recurring burden of "O, my Harriet, shall I never see thee more!"

It is so true that a woman may be in love with a woman, and a man with a man. It is pleasant to be sure of it, because it is undoubtedly the same love that we shall feel when we are angels, when we ascend to the only fit place for the Mignons, where

"Sie fragen nicht nach Mann und Welb."
It is regulated by the same law as that of love between persons of different sexes, only it is purely intellectual and spiritual, unprefaced by any mixture of lower instincts, undisturbed by any need of consulting temporal interests; its law is the desire of the spirit to realize a whole, which makes it seek in another being that which it finds not in itself.

Thus the beautiful seek the strong; the mute seek the eloquent; the butterfly settles on the dark flower. Why did Socrates so love Alcibiades? Why did Körner so love Schneider? How natural is the love of Wallenstein for Max, that of Madame de Stael for de Recamier, mine for ——-! I loved —— for a time with as much passion as I was then strong enough to feel. Her face was always gleaming before me; her voice was echoing in my ear; all poetic thoughts clustered round the dear image. This love was for me a key which unlocked many a treasure which I still possess; it was the carbuncle (emblematic gem!) which cast light into many of the darkest corners of human nature. She loved me, too, though not so much, because her nature was "less high, less grave, less large, less deep;" but she loved more tenderly, less passionately. She loved me, for I well remember her suffering when she first could feel my faults, and knew one part of the exquisite veil rent away—how she wished to stay apart and weep the whole day.

These thoughts were suggested by a large engraving representing Madame Recamier in her boudoir. I have so often thought over the intimacy between her and Madame de Stael.

Madame Recamier is half-reclining on a sofa; she is clad in white drapery, which clings very gracefully to her round, but elegantly-slender form; her beautiful neck and arms are bare; her hair knotted up so as to show the contour of her truly-feminine head to great advantage. A book lies carelessly on her lap; one hand yet holds it at the place where she left off reading; her lovely face is turned towards us; she appears to muse on what she has been reading. When we see a woman in a picture with a book, she seems to be doing precisely that for which she was born; the book gives such an expression of purity to the female figure. A large window, partially veiled by a white curtain, gives a view of a city at some little distance. On one side stand the harp and piano; there are just books enough for a lady's boudoir. There is no picture, except one of De Recamier herself, as Corinne. This is absurd; but the absurdity is interesting, as recalling the connection. You imagine her to have been reading one of De Stael's books, and to be now pondering what those brilliant words of her gifted friend can mean.

Everything in the room is in keeping. Nothing appears to have been put there because other people have it; but there is nothing which shows a taste more noble and refined than you would expect from the fair Frenchwoman. All is elegant, modern, in harmony with the delicate habits and superficial culture which you would look for in its occupant.

Sept. 5, 1887.

* * * * If I stay in Providence, and more money is wanting than can otherwise be furnished, I will take a private class, which is ready for me, and by which, even if I reduced my terms to suit the place, I can earn the four hundred dollars that —— will need. If I do not stay, I will let her have my portion of our income, with her own, or even capital which I have a right to take up, and come into this or some other economical place, and live at the cheapest rate. It will not be even a sacrifice to me to do so, for I am weary of society, and long for the opportunity for solitary concentration of thought. I know what I say; if I live, you may rely upon me.

God be with you, my dear mother! I am sure he will prosper the doings of so excellent a woman if you will only keep your mind calm and be firm. Trust your daughter too. I feel increasing trust in mine own good mind. We will take good care of the children and of one another. Never fear to trouble me with your perplexities. I can never be so situated that I do not earnestly wish to know them. Besides, things do not trouble me as they did, for I feel within myself the power to aid, to serve.

Most affectionately,

Your daughter, M.

Providence, Oct. 7, 1838.

* * * For yourself, dear ——, you have attained an important age. No plan is desirable for you which is to be pursued with precision. The world, the events of every day, which no one can predict, are to be your teachers, and you must, in some degree, give yourself up, and submit to be led captive, if you would learn from them. Principle must be at the helm, but thought must shift its direction with the winds and waves.

Happy as you are thus far in worthy friends, you are not in much danger of rash intimacies or great errors. I think, upon the whole, quite highly of your judgment about people and conduct; for, though your first feelings are often extravagant, they are soon balanced.

I do not know other faults in you beside that want of retirement of mind which I have before spoken of. If M——— and A——— want too much seclusion, and are too severe in their views of life and man, I think you are too little so. There is nothing so fatal to the finer faculties as too ready or too extended a publicity. There is some danger lest there be no real religion in the heart which craves too much of daily sympathy. Through your mind the stream of life has coursed with such rapidity that it has often swept away the seed or loosened the roots of the young plants before they had ripened any fruit.

I should think writing would be very good for you. A journal of your life, and analyses of your thoughts, would teach you how to generalize, and give firmness to your conclusions. Do not write down merely that things are beautiful, or the reverse; but what they are, and why they are beautiful or otherwise; and show these papers, at least at present, to nobody. Be your own judge and your own helper. Do not go too soon to any one with your difficulties, but try to clear them up for yourself.

I think the course of reading you have fallen upon, of late, will be better for you than such books as you formerly read, addressed rather to the taste and imagination than the judgment. The love of beauty has rather an undue development in your mind. See now what it is, and what it has been. Leave for a time the Ideal, and return to the Real.

I should think two or three hours a day would be quite enough, at present, for you to give to books. Now learn buying and selling, keeping the house, directing the servants; all that will bring you worlds of wisdom if you keep it subordinate to the one grand aim of perfecting the whole being. And let your self-respect forbid you to do imperfectly anything that you do at all.

I always feel ashamed when I write with this air of wisdom; but you will see, by my hints, what I mean. Your mind wants depth and precision; your character condensation. Keep your high aim steadily in view; life will open the path to reach it. I think ——, even if she be in excess, is an excellent friend for you; her character seems to have what yours wants, whether she has or has not found the right way.

Providence, Feb. 19, 1888


I wish you could see the journals of two dear little girls, eleven years old, in my school. They love one another like Bessie Bell and Mary Gray in the ballad. They are just of a size, both lively as birds, affectionate, gentle, ambitious in good works and knowledge. They encourage one another constantly to do right; they are rivals, but never jealous of one another. One has the quicker intellect, the other is the prettier. I have never had occasion to find fault with either, and the forwardness of their minds has induced me to take both into my reading-class, where they are associated with girls many years their elders. Particular pains do they take with their journals. These are written daily, in a beautiful, fair, round hand, well-composed, showing attention, and memory well-trained, with many pleasing sallies of playfulness, and some very interesting thoughts.

Jamaica Plain, Dec. 20, 1840.

* * * * About your school I do not think I could give you much advice which would be of value, unless I could know your position more in detail. The most important rule is, in all relations with our fellow-creatures, never forget that, if they are imperfect persons, they are immortal souls, and treat them as you would wish to be treated by the light of that thought.

As to the application of means, abstain from punishment as much as possible, and use encouragement as far as you can without flattery. But be even more careful as to strict truth in this regard, towards children, than to persons of your own age; for, to the child, the parent or teacher is the representative of justice; and as that of life is severe, an education which, in any degree, excites vanity, is the very worst preparation for that general and crowded school.

I doubt not you will teach grammar well, as I saw you aimed at principles in your practice.

In geography, try to make pictures of the scenes, that they may be present to their imaginations, and the nobler faculties be brought into action, as well as memory.

In history, try to study and paint the characters of great men; they best interpret the leadings of events amid the nations.

I am pleased with your way of speaking of both people and pupils; your view seems from the right point. Yet beware of over great pleasure in being popular, or even beloved. As far as an amiable disposition and powers of entertainment make you so, it is a happiness; but if there is one grain of plausibility, it is poison.

But I will not play Mentor too much, lest I make you averse to write to your very affectionate sister,


I entirely agree in what you say of tuition and intuition; the two must act and react upon one another, to make a man, to form a mind. Drudgery is as necessary, to call out the treasures of the mind, as harrowing and planting those of the earth. And besides, the growths of literature and art are as much nature as the trees in Concord woods; but nature idealized and perfected.


I take great pleasure in that feeling of the living presence of beauty in nature which your letters show. But you, who have now lived long enough to see some of my prophecies fulfilled, will not deny, though you may not yet believe the truth of my words when I say you go to an extreme in your denunciations of cities and the social institutions. These are a growth also, and, as well as the diseases which come upon them, under the control of the one spirit as much as the great tree on which the insects prey, and in whose bark the busy bird has made many a wound.

When we get the proper perspective of these things we shall find man, however artificial, still a part of nature. Meanwhile, let us trust; and while it is the soul's duty ever to bear witness to the best it knows, let us not be hasty to conclude that in what suits us not there can be no good. Let us be sure there must be eventual good, could we but see far enough to discern it. In maintaining perfect truth to ourselves and choosing that mode of being which suits us, we had best leave others alone as much as may be. You prefer the country, and I doubt not it is on the whole a better condition of life to live there; but at the country party you have mentioned you saw that no circumstances will keep people from being frivolous. One may be gossipping, and vulgar, and idle in the country,—earnest, noble and wise, in the city. Nature cannot be kept from us while there is a sky above, with so much as one star to remind us of prayer in the silent night.

As I walked home this evening at sunset, over the Mill-Dam, towards the city, I saw very distinctly that the city also is a bed in God's garden. More of this some other time.

Concord, May 2, 1887.

MY DEAR: I am passing happy here, except that I am not well,—so unwell that I fear I must go home and ask my good mother to let me rest and vegetate beneath her sunny kindness for a while. The excitement of conversation prevents my sleeping. The drive here with Mr. E——— was delightful. Dear Nature and Time, so often calumniated, will take excellent care of us if we will let them. The wisdom lies in schooling the heart not to expect too much. I did that good thing when I came here, and I am rich. On Sunday I drove to Watertown with the author of "Nature." The trees were still bare, but the little birds care not for that; they revel, and carol, and wildly tell their hopes, while the gentle, "voluble" south wind plays with the dry leaves, and the pine-trees sigh with their soul-like sounds for June. It was beauteous; and care and routine fled away, and I was as if they had never been, except that I vaguely whispered to myself that all had been well with me.

The baby here is beautiful. He looks like his father, and smiles so sweetly on all hearty, good people. I play with him a good deal, and he comes so natural, after Dante and other poets.

Ever faithfully your friend.


MY BELOVED CHILD: I was very glad to get your note. Do not think you must only write to your friends when you can tell them you are happy; they will not misunderstand you in the dark hour, nor think you forsaken, if cast down. Though your letter of Wednesday was very sweet to me, yet I knew it could not last as it was then. These hours of heavenly, heroic strength leave us, but they come again: their memory is with us amid after-trials, and gives us a foretaste of that era when the steadfast soul shall be the only reality.

My dearest, you must suffer, but you will always be growing stronger, and with every trial nobly met, you will feel a growing assurance that nobleness is not a mere sentiment with you. I sympathize deeply in your anxiety about your mother; yet I cannot but remember the bootless fear and agitation about my mother, and how strangely our destinies were guided. Take refuge in prayer when you are most troubled; the door of the sanctuary will never be shut against you. I send you a paper which is very sacred to me. Bless Heaven that your heart is awakened to sacred duties before any kind of gentle ministering has become impossible, before any relation has been broken. [Footnote: It has always been my desire to find appropriate time and place to correct an erroneous impression which has gained currency in regard to my father, and which does injustice to his memory. That impression is that he was exceedingly stern and exacting in the parental relation, and especially in regard to my sister; that he forbid or frowned upon her sports;—excluded her from intercourse with other children when she, a child, needed such companionship, and required her to bend almost unceasingly over her books. This impression has, certainly in part, arisen from an autobiographical sketch, never written for publication nor intended for a literal or complete statement of her father's educational method, or the relation which existed between them, which was most loving and true on both sides. While the narrative is true, it is not the all she would have said, and, therefore, taken alone, conveys an impression which misleads those who did not know our father well. Perhaps no better opportunity or place than this may ever arise to correct this impression so for us it is wrong. It is true that my father had a very high standard of scholarship, and did expect conformity to it in his children. He was not stern toward them.

It is doubtless true, also, that he did not perfectly comprehend the rare mind of his daughter, or see for some years that she required no stimulating to intellectual effort, as do most children, but rather the reverse. But how many fathers are there who would have understood at once such a child as Margaret Fuller was, or would have done even as wisely as he? And how long is it since a wiser era has dawned upon the world (its light not yet fully welcomed), in which attention first to physical development to the exclusion of the mental, is an axiom in education! Was it so deemed forty years ago? Nor has it been considered that so gifted a child would naturally, as she did, seek the companionship of those older than herself, and not of children who had little in unison with her. She needed, doubtless, to be urged into the usual sports of children, and the company of those of her own age; if not urged to enter these she was never excluded from either. She needed to be kept from books for a period, or to be led to those of a lighter cost than such as she read, and which usually task the thoughts of mature men. This simply was not done, and the error arose from no lack of tenderness, or consideration, from no lack of the wisdom of those times, but from the simple fact that the laws of physiology as connected with those of mind were not understood then as now, nor was attention so much directed to physical culture as of the primary importance it is now regarded. Our father was indeed exact and strict with himself and others; but none has ever been more devoted to his children than he, or more painstaking with their education, nor more fondly loved them; and in later life they have ever been more and more impressed with the conviction of his fidelity and wisdom. That Margaret venerated her father, and that his love was returned, is abundantly evidenced in her poem which accompanies this letter. This, too, was not written for the public eye, but it is too noble a tribute, too honorable both to father and daughter, to be suppressed. I trust that none, passing from one extreme to the other, will infer from the natural self-reproach and upbraiding because of short-comings, felt by every true mind when an honored and loved parent departs, that she lacked fidelity in the relation of daughter. She agreed not always with his views and methods, but this diversity of mind never affected their mutual respect and love.—[Ed.]]

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