Woman in the Nineteenth Century

by Margaret Fuller

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To Her Brother, R.

Mr. Keats, Emma's father, is dead. To me this brings unusual sorrow, though I have never yet seen him; but I thought of him as one of the very few persons known to me by reputation, whose acquaintance might enrich me. His character was a sufficient answer to the doubt, whether a merchant can be a man of honor. He was, like your father, a man all whose virtues had stood the test. He was no word-hero.

Providence, June 16,1837.

MY DEAR ———: I pray you, amid all your duties, to keep some hours to yourself. Do not let my example lead you into excessive exertions. I pay dear for extravagance of this sort; five years ago I had no idea of the languor and want of animal spirits which torment me now. Animal spirits are not to be despised. An earnest mind and seeking heart will not often be troubled by despondency; but unless the blood can dance at proper times, the lighter passages of life lose all their refreshment and suggestion.

I wish you and ———- had been here last Saturday. Our school-house was dedicated, and Mr. Emerson made the address; it was a noble appeal in behalf of the best interests of culture, and seemingly here was fit occasion. The building was beautiful, and furnished with an even elegant propriety.

I am at perfect liberty to do what I please, and there are apparently the best dispositions, if not the best preparation, on the part of the hundred and fifty young minds with whom I am to be brought in contact.

I sigh for the country; trees, birds and flowers, assure me that June is here, but I must walk through streets many and long, to get sight of any expanse of green. I had no fine weather while at home, though the quiet and rest were delightful to me; the sun did not shine once really warmly, nor did the apple-trees put on their blossoms until the very day I came away.



  Although the sweet, still watches of the night
  Find me all lonely now, yet the delight
  Hath not quite gone, which from thy presence flows.
  The love, the joy that in thy bosom glows,
  Lingers to cheer thy friend. From thy fresh dawn
  Some golden exhalations have I drawn
  To make less dim my dusty noon. Thy tones
  Are with me still; some plaintive as the moans
  Of Dryads, when their native groves must fall,
  Some wildly wailing, like the clarion-call
  On battle-field, strewn with the noble dead.
  Some in soft romance, like the echoes bred
  In the most secret groves of Arcady;
  Yet all, wild, sad, or soft, how steeped in poesy!

Providence, April, 1888.
Providence, Oct. 21, 1888.

* * * * I am reminded by what you say, of an era in my own existence, it is seven years bygone. For bitter months a heavy weight had been pressing on me,—the weight of deceived friendship. I could not be much alone,—a great burden of family cares pressed upon me; I was in the midst of society, and obliged to act my part there as well as I could. At that time I took up the study of German, and my progress was like the rebound of a string pressed almost to bursting. My mind being then in the highest state of action, heightened, by intellectual appreciation, every pang; and imagination, by prophetic power, gave to the painful present all the weight of as painful a future.

At this time I never had any consolation, except in long solitary walks, and my meditations then were so far aloof from common life, that on my return my fall was like that of the eagle, which the sportsman's hand calls bleeding from his lofty flight, to stain the earth with his blood.

In such hours we feel so noble, so full of love and bounty, that we cannot conceive how any pain should have been needed to teach us. It then seems we are so born for good, that such means of leading us to it were wholly unnecessary. But I have lived to know that the secret of all things is pain, and that nature travaileth most painfully with her noblest product. I was not without hours of deep spiritual insight, and consciousness of the inheritance of vast powers. I touched the secret of the universe, and by that touch was invested with talismanic power which has never left me, though it sometimes lies dormant for a long time.

One day lives always in my memory; one chastest, heavenliest day of communion with the soul of things. It was Thanksgiving-day. I was free to be alone; in the meditative woods, by the choked-up fountain, I passed its hours, each of which contained ages of thought and emotion. I saw, then, how idle were my griefs; that I had acquired the thought of each object which had been taken from me; that more extended personal relations would only have given me pleasures which then seemed not worth my care, and which would surely have dimmed my sense of the spiritual meaning of all which had passed. I felt how true it was that nothing in any being which was fit for me, could long be kept from me; and that, if separation could be, real intimacy had never been. All the films seemed to drop from my existence, and I was sure that I should never starve in this desert world, but that manna would drop from Heaven, if I would but rise with every rising sun to gather it.

In the evening I went to the church-yard; the moon sailed above the rosy clouds,—the crescent moon rose above the heavenward-pointing spire. At that hour a vision came upon my soul, whose final scene last month interpreted. The rosy clouds of illusion are all vanished; the moon has waxed to full. May my life be a church, full of devout thoughts end solemn music. I pray thus, my dearest child! "Our Father! let not the heaviest shower be spared; let not the gardener forbear his knife till the fair, hopeful tree of existence be brought to its fullest blossom and fruit!"

Jamaica Plain, June, 1889.

* * * I have had a pleasant visit at Naliant, but was no sooner there than the air braced me so violently as to drive all the blood to my head. I had headache two of the three days we were there, and yet I enjoyed my stay very much. We had the rocks and piazzas to ourselves, and were on sufficiently good terms not to destroy, if we could not enhance, one another's pleasure.

The first night we had a storm, and the wind roared and wailed round the house that Ossianic poetry of which you hear so many strains. Next day was clear and brilliant, with a high north-west wind. I went out about six o'clock, and had a two hours' scramble before breakfast. I do not like to sit still in this air, which exasperates all my nervous feelings; but when I can exhaust myself in climbing, I feel delightfully,—the eye is so sharpened, and the mind so full of thought. The outlines of all objects, the rocks, the distant sails, even the rippling of the ocean, were so sharp that they seemed to press themselves into the brain. When I see a natural scene by such a light it stays in my memory always as a picture; on milder days it influences me more in the way of reverie. After breakfast, we walked on the beaches. It was quite low tide, no waves, and the fine sand eddying wildly about. I came home with that frenzied headache which you are so unlucky as to know, covered my head with wet towels, and went to bed. After dinner I was better, and we went to the Spouting-horn. C—— was perched close to the fissure, far above me, and, in a pale green dress, she looked like the nymph of the place. I lay down on a rock, low in the water, where I could hear the twin harmonies of the sucking of the water into the spout, and the washing of the surge on the foot of the rock. I never passed a more delightful afternoon. Clouds of pearl and amber were slowly drifting across the sky, or resting a while to dream, like me, near the water. Opposite me, at considerable distance, was a line of rock, along which the billows of the advancing tide chased one another, and leaped up exultingly as they were about to break. That night we had a sunset of the gorgeous, autumnal kind, and in the evening very brilliant moonlight; but the air was so cold I could enjoy it but a few minutes. Next day, which was warm and soft, I was out on the rocks all day. In the afternoon I was out alone, and had an admirable place, a cleft between two vast towers of rock with turret-shaped tops. I got on a ledge of rock at their foot, where I could lie and let the waves wash up around me, and look up at the proud turrets rising into the prismatic light. This evening was very fine; all the sky covered with crowding clouds, profound, but not sullen of mood, the moon wading, the stars peeping, the wind sighing very softly. We lay on the high rocks and listened to the plashing of the waves. The next day was good, but the keen light was too much for my eyes and brain; and, though I am glad to have been there, I am as glad to get back to our garlanded rocks, and richly-green fields and groves. I wish you could come to me now; we have such wealth of roses.

Jamaica Plain, Aug., 1889.

* * * * I returned home well, full of earnestness; yet, I know not why, with the sullen, boding sky came a mood of sadness, nay, of gloom, black as Hades, which I have vainly striven to fend off by work, by exercise, by high memories. Very glad was I of a painful piece of intelligence, which came the same day with your letter, to bring me on excuse for tears. That was a black Friday, both above and within. What demon resists our good angel, and seems at such times to have the mastery? Only seems, I say to myself; it is but the sickness of the immortal soul, and shall by-and-by be cast aside like a film. I think this is the great step of our life,—to change the nature of our self-reliance. We find that the will cannot conquer circumstances, and that our temporal nature must vary its hue here with the food that is given it. Only out of mulberry leaves will the silk-worm spin its thread fine and durable. The mode of our existence is not in our own power; but behind it is the immutable essence that cannot be tarnished; and to hold fast to this conviction, to live as far as possible by its light, cannot be denied us if we elect this kind of self-trust. Yet is sickness wearisome; and I rejoice to say that my demon seems to have been frightened away by this day's sun. But, conscious of these diseases of the mind, believe that I can sympathize with a friend when subject to the same. Do not fail to go and stay with ———; few live so penetrating and yet so kind, so true, so kind, so true, so sensitive. She is the spirit of love as well as of intellect. * * * *

MY BELOVED CHILD: I confess I was much disappointed when I first received your letter this evening. I have been quite ill for two or three days, and looked forward to your presence as a restorative. But think not I would have had you act differently; far better is it for me to have my child faithful to duty than even to have her with me. Such was the lesson I taught her in a better hour. I am abashed to think how often lately I have found excuses for indolence in the weakness of my body; while now, after solitary communion with my better nature, I feel it was weakness of mind, weak fear of depression and conflict. But the Father of our spirits will not long permit a heart fit for worship

                "———— to seek
  From weak recoils, exemptions weak,
  After false gods to go astray,
  Deck altars vile with garlands gay," etc.

His voice has reached me; and I trust the postponement of your visit will give me space to nerve myself to what strength I should, so that, when we do meet, I shall rejoice that you did not come to help or soothe me; for I shall have helped and soothed myself. Indeed, I would not so willingly that you should see my short-comings as know that they exist. Pray that I may never lose sight of my vocation; that I may not make ill-health a plea for sloth and cowardice; pray that, whenever I do, I may be punished more swiftly than this time, by a sadness as deep as now.

Cambridge, August 6, 1842.

My dear R.: I want to hear how you enjoyed your journey, and what you think of the world as surveyed from mountain-tops. I enjoy exceedingly staying among the mountains. I am satisfied with reading these bolder lines in the manuscript of Nature. Merely gentle and winning scenes are not enough for me. I wish my lot had been cast amid the sources of the streams, where the voice of the hidden torrent is heard by night, where the eagle soars, and the thunder resounds in long peals from side to side; where the grasp of a more powerful emotion has rent asunder the rocks, and the long purple shadows fall like a broad wing upon the valley. All places, like all persons, I know, have beauty; but only in some scenes, and with some people, can I expand and feel myself at home. I feel all this the more for having passed my earlier life in such a place as Cambridgeport. There I had nothing except the little flower-garden behind the house, and the elms before the door. I used to long and sigh for beautiful places such as I read of. There was not one walk for me, except over the bridge. I liked that very much,—the river, and the city glittering in sunset, and the lively undulating line all round, and the light smokes, seen in some weather.

Milwaukie, July 29, 1848.

DEAR R.: * * * Daily I thought of you during my visit to the Rock-river territory. It is only five years since the poor Indians have been dispossessed of this region of sumptuous loveliness, such as can hardly be paralleled in the world. No wonder they poured out their blood freely before they would go. On one island, belonging to a Mr. H., with whom we stayed, are still to be found their "caches" for secreting provisions,—the wooden troughs in which they pounded their corn, the marks of their tomahawks upon felled trees. When he first came, he found the body of an Indian woman, in a canoe, elevated on high poles, with all her ornaments on. This island is a spot, where Nature seems to have exhausted her invention in crowding it with all kinds of growths, from the richest trees down to the most delicate plants. It divides the river which there sweeps along in clear and glittering current, between noble parks, richest green lawns, pictured rocks crowned with old hemlocks, or smooth bluffs, three hundred feet high, the most beautiful of all. Two of these,—the Eagle's Nest, and the Deer's Walk, still the resort of the grand and beautiful creature from which they are named,—were the scene of some of the happiest hours of my life. I had no idea, from verbal description, of the beauty of these bluffs, nor can I hope to give any to others. They lie so magnificently bathed in sunlight, they touch the heavens with so sharp and fair a line. This is one of the finest parts of the river; but it seems beautiful enough to fill any heart and eye all along its course, nowhere broken or injured by the hand of man. And there, I thought, if we two could live, and you could have a farm which would not cost a twentieth part the labor of a New England farm, and would pay twenty times as much for the labor, and have our books and, our pens and a little boat on the river, how happy we might be for four or five years,—at least, as happy as Fate permits mortals to be. For we, I think, are congenial, and if I could hope permanent peace on the earth, I might hope it with you.

You will be glad to hear that I feel overpaid for coming here. Much is my life enriched by the images of the great Niagara, of the vast lakes, of the heavenly sweetness of the prairie scenes, and, above all, by the heavenly region where I would so gladly have lived. My health, too, is materially benefited. I hope to come back better fitted for toil and care, as well as with beauteous memories to sustain me in them.

Affectionately always, &c.

Chicago, August 4, 1848.

I HAVE hoped from time to time, dear ——, that I should receive a few lines from you, apprizing me how you are this summer, but a letter from Mrs. F—— lately comes to tell me that you are not better, but, at least when at Saratoga, worse.

So writing is of course fatiguing, and I must not expect letters any more. To that I could make up my mind if I could hear that you were well again. I fear, if your malady disturbs you as much as it did, it must wear on your strength very much, and it seems in itself dangerous. However, it is good to think that your composure is such that disease can only do its legitimate work, and not undermine two ways,—the body with its pains, and the body through the mind with thoughts and fears of pains.

I should have written to you long ago except that I find little to communicate this summer, and little inclination to communicate that little; so what letters I have sent, have been chiefly to beg some from my friends. I have had home-sickness sometimes here, as do children for the home where they are even little indulged, in the boarding-school where they are only tolerated. This has been in the town, where I have felt the want of companionship, because the dissipation of fatigue, or expecting soon to move again, has prevented my employing myself for myself; and yet there was nothing well worth looking at without. When in the country I have enjoyed myself highly, and my health has improved day by day. The characters of persons are brought out by the little wants and adventures of country life as you see it in this region; so that each one awakens a healthy interest; and the same persons who, if I saw them at these hotels, would not have a word to say that could fix the attention, become most pleasing companions; their topics are before them, and they take the hint. You feel so grateful, too, for the hospitality of the log-cabin; such gratitude as the hospitality of the rich, however generous, cannot inspire; for these wait on you with their domestics and money, and give of their superfluity only; but here the Master gives you his bed, his horse, his lamp, his grain from the field, his all, in short; and you see that he enjoys doing so thoroughly, and takes no thought for the morrow; so that you seem in fields full of lilies perfumed with pure kindness; and feel, verily, that Solomon in all his glory could not have entertained you so much to the purpose. Travelling, too, through the wide green woods and prairies, gives a feeling both of luxury and repose that the sight of highly-cultivated country never can. There seems to be room enough for labor to pause and man to fold his arms and gaze, forgetting poverty, and care, and the thousand walls and fences that in the cultivated region must be built and daily repaired both for mind and body. Nature seems to have poured forth her riches so without calculation, merely to mark the fulness of her joy; to swell in larger strains the hymn, "the one Spirit doeth all things veil, for its life is love."

I will not ask you to write to me now, as I shall so soon be at home. Probably, too, I shall reserve a visit to B—— for another summer; I have been so much a rover that when once on the road I shall wish to hasten home.

Ever yours, M.

Cambridge, January 21, 1644.

MY DEAR ———: I am anxious to get a letter, telling me how you fare this winter in the cottage. Your neighbors who come this way do not give very favorable accounts of your looks; and, if you are well enough, I should like to see a few of those firm, well-shaped characters from your own hand. Is there no chance of your coming to Boston all this winter? I had hoped to see you for a few hours at least.

I wrote you one letter while at the West; I know not if it was ever received; it was sent by a private opportunity, one of those "traps to catch the unwary," as they have been called. It was no great loss, if lost. I did not feel like writing letters while travelling. It took all my strength of mind to keep moving and to receive so many new impressions. Surely I never had so clear an idea before of the capacity to bless, of mere Earth, when fresh from the original breath of the creative spirit. To have this impression, one must see large tracts of wild country, where the traces of man's inventions are too few and slight to break the harmony of the first design. It will not be so, long, even where I have been now; in three or four years those vast flowery plains will be broken up for tillage,—those shapely groves converted into logs and boards. I wished I could have kept on now, for two or three years, while yet the first spell rested on the scene. I feel much refreshed, even by this brief intimacy with Nature in an aspect of large and unbroken lineaments.

I came home with a treasure of bright pictures and suggestions, and seemingly well. But my strength, which had been sustained by a free, careless life in the open air, has yielded to the chills of winter, and a very little work, with an ease that is not encouraging. However, I have had the influenza, and that has been about as bad as fever to everybody. Now I am pretty well, but much writing does not agree with me.

* * * I wish you were near enough for me to go in and see you now and then. I know that, sick or well, you are always serene, and sufficient to yourself; but now you are so much shut up, it might animate existence agreeably to hear some things I might have to tell. * * *

TO THE SAME. * * * * * Just as I was beginning to visit the institutions here, of a remedial and benevolent kind, I was stopped by influenza. So soon as I am quite well I shall resume the survey. I do not expect to do much, practically, for the suffering, but having such an organ of expression as the Tribune, any suggestions that are well grounded may be of use. I have always felt great interest for those women who are trampled in the mud to gratify the brute appetites of men, and I wished I might be brought, naturally, into contact with them. Now I am so, and I think I shall have much that is interesting to tell you when we meet.

I go on very moderately, for my strength is not great; but I am now connected with a person who is anxious I should not overtask it. I hope to do more for the paper by-and-by. At present, besides the time I spend in looking round and examining my new field, I am publishing a volume, of which you will receive a copy, called "Woman in the Nineteenth Century." A part of my available time is spent in attending to it as it goes through the press; for, really, the work seems but half done when your book is written. I like being here; the streams of life flow free, and I learn much. I feel so far satisfied as to have laid my plans to stay a year and a half, if not longer, and to have told Mr. G—— that I probably shall do so. That is long enough for a mortal to look forward, and not too long, as I must look forward in order to get what I want from Europe.

Mr. Greeley is a man of genuine excellence, honorable, benevolent, of an uncorrupted disposition, and of great, abilities. In modes of life and manners he is the man of the people, and of the American people. * * *

I rejoice to hear that your situation is improved. I hope to pass a day or two with you next summer, if you can receive me when I can come. I want to hear from you now and then, if it be only a line to let me know the state of your health. Love to Miss G——, and tell her I have the cologne-bottle on my mantle-piece now. I sent home for all the little gifts I had from friends, that my room might look more homelike. My window commands a most beautiful view, for we are quite out of the town, in a lovely place on the East River. I like this, as I can be in town when I will, and here have much retirement. You were right in supposing my signature is the star.

Ever affectionately yours.

Fishkill-Landing, Nov 28, 1844.


* * * * * The seven weeks of proposed abode here draw to a close, and have brought what is rarest,—fruition, of the sort proposed from them. I have been here all the time, except that three weeks since I went down to New York, and with —— visited the prison at Sing-Sing. On Saturday we went up to Sing-Sing in a little way-boat, thus seeing that side of the river to much greater advantage than we can in the mammoth boats. We arrived in resplendent moonlight, by which we might have supposed the prisons palaces, if we had not known too well what was within.

On Sunday —— addressed the male convicts in a strain of most noble and pathetic eloquence. They listened with earnest attention; many were moved to tears,—some, I doubt not, to a better life. I never felt such sympathy with an audience;—as I looked over that sea of faces marked with the traces of every ill, I felt that at least heavenly truth would not be kept out by self-complacency and a dependence on good appearances.

I talked with a circle of women, and they showed the natural aptitude of the sex for refinement. These women—some black, and all from the lowest haunts of vice—showed a sensibility and a sense of propriety which would not have disgraced any place.

Returning, we had a fine storm on the river, clearing up with strong winds.

Rome, Jan. 20, 1849.

My Dear A.: Your letter and mother's gave me the first account of your illness. Some letters were lost during the summer, I do not know how. It did seem very hard upon you to have that illness just after your settlement; but it is to be hoped we shall some time know a good reason for all that seems so strange. I trust you are now becoming fortified in your health, and if this could only be, feel as if things would go well with you in this difficult world. I trust you are on the threshold of an honorable and sometimes happy career. From many pains, many dark hours, let none of the progeny of Eve hope to escape! * * * *

Meantime, I hope to find you in your home, and make you a good visit there. Your invitation is sweet in its tone, and rouses a vision of summer woods and New England Sunday-morning bells.

It seems to me that mother is at last truly in her sphere, living with one of her children. Watch over her carefully, and don't let her do too much. Her spirit is only all too willing,—but the flesh is weak, and her life so precious to us all! * * * *

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