Woman in the Nineteenth Century

by Margaret Fuller

Next Chapter

Preface by Arthur B. Fuller

It has been thought desirable that such papers of Margaret Fuller Ossoli as pertained to the condition, sphere and duties of Woman, should be collected and published together. The present volume contains, not only her "Woman in the Nineteenth Century,"—which has been before published, but for some years out of print, and inaccessible to readers who have sought it,—but also several other papers, which have appeared at various times in the Tribune and elsewhere, and yet more which have never till now been published.

My free access to her private manuscripts has given to me many papers, relating to Woman, never intended for publication, which yet seem needful to this volume, in order to present a complete and harmonious view of her thoughts on this important theme. I have preferred to publish them without alteration, as most just to her views and to the reader; though, doubtless, she would have varied their expression and form before giving them to the press.

It seems right here to remark, In order to avoid any misapprehension, that Margaret Ossoli's thoughts wore not directed so exclusively to the subject of the present volume as have been the minds of some others. As to the movement for the emancipation of Woman from the unjust burdens and disabilities to which she has been subject oven in our own land, my sister could neither remain indifferent nor silent; yet she preferred, as in respect to every other reform, to act independently and to speak independently from her own stand-point, and never to merge her individuality in any existing organization. This she did, not as condemning such organizations, nor yet as judging them wholly unwise or uncalled for, but because she believed she could herself accomplish more for their true and high objects, unfettered by such organizations, than if a member of them. The opinions avowed throughout this volume, and wherever expressed, will, then, be found, whether consonant with the reader's or no, in all cases honestly and heartily her own,—the result of her own thought and faith. She never speaks, never did speak, for any clique or sect, but as her individual judgment, her reason and conscience, her observation and experience, taught her to speak.

I could have wished that some one other than a brother should have spoken a few fitting words of Margaret Fuller, as a woman, to form a brief but proper accompaniment to this volume, which may reach some who have never read her "Memoirs," recently published, or have never known her in personal life. This seemed the more desirable, because the strictest verity in speaking of her must seem, to such as knew her not, to be eulogy. But, after several disappointments as to the editorship of the volume, the duty, at last, has seemed to devolve upon me; and I have no reason to shrink from it but a sense of inadequacy.

It is often supposed that literary women, and those who are active and earnest in promoting great intellectual, philanthropic, or religious movements, must of necessity neglect the domestic concerns of life. It may be that this is sometimes so, nor can such neglect be too severely reprehended; yet this is by no means a necessary result. Some of the most devoted mothers the world has ever known, and whose homes were the abode of every domestic virtue, themselves the embodiment of all these, have been women whose minds were highly cultured, who loved and devoted both thought and time to literature, and were active in philanthropic and diffusive efforts for the welfare of the race.

The letter to M., which is published on page 345, is inserted chiefly as showing the integrity and wisdom with which Margaret advised her friends; the frankness with which she pointed out to every young woman who asked counsel any deficiencies of character, and the duties of life; and that among these latter she gave due place to the humblest which serve to make home attractive and happy. It is but simple justice for me to bear, in conjunction with many others, my tribute to her domestic virtues and fidelity to all home duties. That her mind found chief delight in the lowest forms of these duties may not be true, and it would be sad if it were; but it is strictly true that none, however humble, were either slighted or shunned.

In common with a younger sister and brother, I shared her care in my early instruction, and found over one of the truest counsellors in a sister who scorned not the youngest mind nor the simplest intellectual wants in her love for communion, through converse or the silent page, with the minds of the greatest and most gifted.

During a lingering illness, in childhood, well do I remember her as the angel of the sick-chamber, reading much to me from books useful and appropriate, and telling many a narrative not only fitted to wile away the pain of disease and the weariness of long confinement, but to elevate the mind and heart, and to direct them to all things noble and holy; over ready to watch while I slept, and to perform every gentle and kindly office. But her care of the sick—that she did not neglect, but was eminent in that sphere of womanly duty, even when no tie of kindred claimed this of her, Mr. Cass's letter abundantly shows; and also that this gentleness was united to a heroism which most call manly, but which, I believe, may as justly be called truly womanly. Mr. Cass's letter is inserted because it arrived too late to find a place in her "Memoirs," and yet more because it bears much on Margaret Ossoli's characteristics as a woman.

A few also of her private letters and papers, not bearing, save, indirectly, on the subject of this volume, are yet inserted in it, as further illustrative of her thought, feeling and action, in life's various relations. It is believed that nothing which exhibits a true woman, especially in her relations to others as friend, sister, daughter, wife, or mother, can fail to interest and be of value to her sex, indeed to all who are interested in human welfare and advancement, since these latter so much depend on the fidelity of Woman. Nor will anything pertaining to the education and care of children be deemed irrelevant, especially by mothers, upon whom these duties must always largely devolve.

Of the intellectual gifts and wide culture of Margaret Fuller there is no need that I should speak, nor is it wise that one standing in my relation to her should. Those who knew her personally feel that no words ever flowed from her pen equalling the eloquent utterances of her lips; yet her works, though not always a clear oppression of her thoughts, are the evidences to which the world will look as proof of her mental greatness.

On one point, however, I do wish to bear testimony—not needed with those who knew her well, but interesting, perhaps, to some readers into whose bands this volume may fall. It is on a subject which one who knew her from his childhood up—at home, where best the heart and soul can be known,—in the unrestrained hours of domestic life,—in various scenes, and not for a few days, nor under any peculiar circumstances—can speak with confidence, because he speaks what he "doth know, and testifieth what he hath seen." It relates to her Christian faith and hope. "With all her intellectual gifts, with all her high, moral, and noble characteristics," there are some who will ask, "was her intellectual power sanctified by Christian faith as its basis? Were her moral qualities, her beneficent life, the results of a renewed heart?" I feel no hesitation here, nor would think it worth while to answer such questions at all, were her life to be read and known by all who read this volume, and were I not influenced also, in some degree, by the tone which has characterized a few sectarian reviews of her works, chiefly in foreign periodicals. Surely, if the Saviour's test, "By their fruits ye shall know them," be the true one, Margaret Ossoli was preeminently a Christian. If a life of constant self-sacrifice,—if devotion to the welfare of kindred and the race,—if conformity to what she believed God's law, so that her life seemed ever the truest form of prayer, active obedience to the Deity,—in fine, if carrying Christianity into all the departments of action, so far as human infirmity allows,—if these be the proofs of a Christian, then whoever has read her "Memoirs" thoughtfully, and without sectarian prejudice or the use of sectarian standards of judgment, must feel her to have been a Christian. But not alone in outward life, in mind and heart, too, was she a Christian. The being brought into frequent and intimate contact with religious persons has been one of the chief privileges of my vocation, but never yet have I met with any person whose reverence for holy things was deeper than hers. Abhorring, as all honest minds must, every species of cant, she respected true religious thought and feeling, by whomsoever cherished. God seemed nearer to her than to any person I have over known. In the influences of His Holy Spirit upon the heart she fully believed, and in experience realized them. Jesus, the friend of man, can never have been more truly loved and honored than she loved and honored him. I am aware that this is strong language, but strength of language cannot equal the strength of my conviction on a point where I have had the best opportunities of judgment. Rich as is the religion of Jesus in its list of holy confessors, yet it can spare and would exclude none who in heart, mind and life, confessed and reverenced him as did she. Among my earliest recollections, is her devoting much time to a thorough examination of the evidences of Christianity, and ultimately declaring that to her, better than all arguments or usual processes of proof, was the soul's want of a divine religion, and the voice within that soul which declared the teachings of Christ to be true and from God; and one of my most cherished possessions is that Bible which she so diligently and thoughtfully read, and which bears, in her own handwriting, so many proofs of discriminating and prayerful perusal. As in regard to reformatory movements so here, she joined no organized body of believers, sympathizing with all of them whose views were noble and Christian; deploring and bearing faithful testimony against anything she deemed narrowness or perversion in theology or life.

This volume from her hand is now before the reader. The fact that a large share of it was never written or revised by its authoress for publication will be kept in view, as explaining any inaccuracy of expression or repetition of thought, should such occur in its pages. Nor will it be deemed surprising, if, in papers written by so progressive a person, at so various periods of life, and under widely-varied circumstances, there should not always be found perfect union as to every expressed opinion.

It is probable that this will soon be followed by another volume, containing a republication of "Summer on the Lakes," and also the "Letters from Europe," by the same hand.

In the preparation of this volume much valuable assistance has been afforded by Mr. Greeley, of the New York Tribune, who has been earnest in his desire and efforts for the diffusion of what Margaret has written.

A. B. F. [Margaret Fuller's brother, Arthur B. Fuller]
BOSTON, May 10th, 1855.


Return to the Woman in the Nineteenth Century Summary Return to the Margaret Fuller Library

© 2022 AmericanLiterature.com