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Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, Vol. I by Margaret Fuller Ossoli

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Rotch, of New Bedford, a woman of great strength of mind, connected
with the Quakers not less by temperament than by birth, and possessing
the best lights of that once spiritual sect. At Newport, Margaret
had made the acquaintance of an elegant scholar, in Mr. Calvert, of
Maryland. In Providence, she had won, as by conquest, such a homage
of attachment, from young and old, that her arrival there, one day, on
her return from a visit to Bristol, was a kind of ovation. In Boston,
she knew people of every class,--merchants, politicians, scholars,
artists, women, the migratory genius, and the rooted capitalist,--and,
amongst all, many excellent people, who were every day passing, by new
opportunities, conversations, and kind offices, into the sacred circle
of friends. The late Miss Susan Burley had many points of attraction
for her, not only in her elegant studies, but also in the deep
interest which that lady took in securing the highest culture for
women. She was very well read, and, avoiding abstractions, knew how
to help herself with examples and facts. A friendship that proved
of great importance to the next years was that established with Mr.
George Ripley; an accurate scholar, a man of character, and of eminent
powers of conversation, and already then deeply engaged in plans of an
expansive practical bearing, of which the first fruit was the little
community which nourished for a few years at Brook Farm. Margaret
presently became connected with him in literary labors, and, as long
as she remained in this vicinity, kept up her habits of intimacy with
the colonists of Brook Farm. At West-Roxbury, too, she knew and prized
the heroic heart, the learning and wit of Theodore Parker, whose
literary aid was, subsequently, of the first importance to her.
She had an acquaintance, for many years,--subject, no doubt, to
alternations of sun and shade,--with Mr. Alcott. There was much
antagonism in their habitual views, but each learned to respect the
genius of the other. She had more sympathy with Mr. Alcott's English
friend, Charles Lane, an ingenious mystic, and bold experimenter in
practical reforms, whose dexterity and temper in debate she frankly
admired, whilst his asceticism engaged her reverence. Neither could
some marked difference of temperament remove her from the beneficent
influences of Miss Elizabeth Peabody, who, by her constitutional
hospitality to excellence, whether mental or moral, has made her
modest abode for so many years the inevitable resort of studious feet,
and a private theatre for the exposition of every question of letters,
of philosophy, of ethics, and of art.

The events in Margaret's life, up to the year 1840, were few, and not
of that dramatic interest which readers love. Of the few events of her
bright and blameless years, how many are private, and must remain so.
In reciting the story of an affectionate and passionate woman, the
voice lowers itself to a whisper, and becomes inaudible. A woman
in our society finds her safety and happiness in exclusions and
privacies. She congratulates herself when she is not called to
the market, to the courts, to the polls, to the stage, or to the
orchestra. Only the most extraordinary genius can make the career of
an artist secure and agreeable to her. Prescriptions almost invincible
the female lecturer or professor of any science must encounter; and,
except on points where the charities which are left to women as their
legitimate province interpose against the ferocity of laws, with us a
female politician is unknown. Perhaps this fact, which so dangerously
narrows the career of a woman, accuses the tardiness of our civility,
and many signs show that a revolution is already on foot.

Margaret had no love of notoriety, or taste for eccentricity, to goad
her, and no weak fear of either. Willingly she was confined to the
usual circles and methods of female talent. She had no false shame.
Any task that called out her powers was good and desirable. She wished
to live by her strength. She could converse, and teach, and write. She
took private classes of pupils at her own house. She organized, with
great success, a school for young ladies at Providence, and gave
four hours a day to it, during two years. She translated Eckermann's
Conversations with Goethe, and published in 1839. In 1841, she
translated the Letters of Gunderode and Bettine, and published them as
far as the sale warranted the work. In 1843, she made a tour to Lake
Superior and to Michigan, and published an agreeable narrative of it,
called "Summer on the Lakes."

Apparently a more pretending, but really also a private and friendly
service, she edited the "Dial," a quarterly journal, for two years
from its first publication in 1840. She was eagerly solicited to
undertake the charge of this work, which, when it began, concentrated
a good deal of hope and affection. It had its origin in a club of
speculative students, who found the air in America getting a little
close and stagnant; and the agitation had perhaps the fault of being
too secondary or bookish in its origin, or caught not from primary
instincts, but from English, and still more from German books. The
journal was commenced with much hope, and liberal promises of many
cooeperators. But the workmen of sufficient culture for a poetical and
philosophical magazine were too few; and, as the pages were filled
by unpaid contributors, each of whom had, according to the usage and
necessity of this country, some paying employment, the journal did not
get his best work, but his second best. Its scattered writers had
not digested their theories into a distinct dogma, still less into a
practical measure which the public could grasp; and the magazine was
so eclectic and miscellaneous, that each of its readers and writers
valued only a small portion of it. For these reasons it never had a
large circulation, and it was discontinued after four years. But the
Dial betrayed, through all its juvenility, timidity, and conventional
rubbish, some sparks of the true love and hope, and of the piety to
spiritual law, which had moved its friends and founders, and it was
received by its early subscribers with almost a religious welcome.
Many years after it was brought to a close, Margaret was surprised in
England by very warm testimony to its merits; and, in 1848, the writer
of these pages found it holding the same affectionate place in many
a private bookshelf in England and Scotland, which it had secured at
home. Good or bad, it cost a good deal of precious labor from those
who served it, and from Margaret most of all. As editor, she received
a compensation for the first years, which was intended to be two
hundred dollars _per annum_, but which, I fear, never reached even
that amount.

But it made no difference to her exertion. She put so much heart into
it that she bravely undertook to open, in the Dial, the subjects which
most attracted her; and she treated, in turn, Goethe, and Beethoven,
the Rhine and the Romaic Ballads, the Poems of John Sterling, and
several pieces of sentiment, with a spirit which spared no labor; and,
when the hard conditions of journalism held her to an inevitable day,
she submitted to jeopardizing a long-cherished subject, by treating it
in the crude and forced article for the month. I remember, after she
had been compelled by ill health to relinquish the journal into my
hands, my grateful wonder at the facility with which she assumed the
preparation of laborious articles, that might have daunted the most
practised scribe.

But in book or journal she found a very imperfect expression of
herself, and it was the more vexatious, because she was accustomed
to the clearest and fullest. When, therefore, she had to choose an
employment that should pay money, she consulted her own genius, as
well as the wishes of a multitude of friends, in opening a class
for conversation. In the autumn of 1839, she addressed the following
letter, intended for circulation, to Mrs. George Ripley, in which her
general design was stated:--

'My dear friend:--The advantages of a weekly meeting, for
conversation, might be great enough to repay the trouble of
attendance, if they consisted only in supplying a point of
union to well-educated and thinking women, in a city which,
with great pretensions to mental refinement, boasts, at
present, nothing of the kind, and where I have heard many, of
mature age, wish for some such means of stimulus and cheer,
and those younger, for a place where they could state their
doubts and difficulties, with a hope of gaining aid from the
experience or aspirations of others. And, if my office were
only to suggest topics, which would lead to conversation of
a better order than is usual at social meetings, and to
turn back the current when digressing into personalities or
common-places, so that what is valuable in the experience of
each might be brought to bear upon all, I should think the
object not unworthy of the effort.

'But my ambition goes much further. It is to pass in review
the departments of thought and knowledge, and endeavor to
place them in due relation to one another in our minds. To
systematize thought, and give a precision and clearness in
which our sex are so deficient, chiefly, I think, because
they have so few inducements to test and classify what they
receive. To ascertain what pursuits are best suited to us, in
our time and state of society, and how we may make best use of
our means for building up the life of thought upon the life of

'Could a circle be assembled in earnest, desirous to answer
the questions,--What were we born to do? and how shall we do
it?--which so few ever propose to themselves till their best
years are gone by, I should think the undertaking a noble one,
and, if my resources should prove sufficient to make me its
moving spring, I should be willing to give to it a large
portion of those coming years, which will, as I hope, be my
best. I look upon it with no blind enthusiasm, nor unlimited
faith, but with a confidence that I have attained a distinct
perception of means, which, if there are persons competent to
direct them, can supply a great want, and promote really high
objects. So far as I have tried them yet, they have met with
success so much beyond my hopes, that my faith will not easily
be shaken, nor my earnestness chilled. Should I, however, be
disappointed in Boston, I could hardly hope that such a plan
could be brought to bear on general society, in any other city
of the United States. But I do not fear, if a good beginning
can be made. I am confident that twenty persons cannot be
brought together from better motives than vanity or pedantry,
to talk upon such subjects as we propose, without finding
in themselves great deficiencies, which they will be very
desirous to supply.

'Should the enterprise fail, it will be either from
incompetence in me, or that sort of vanity in them which wears
the garb of modesty. On the first of these points, I need not
speak. I cannot be supposed to have felt so much the wants of
others, without feeling my own still more deeply. And, from
the depth of this feeling, and the earnestness it gave, such
power as I have yet exerted has come. Of course, those who are
inclined to meet me, feel a confidence in me, and should they
be disappointed, I shall regret it not solely or most on my
own account. I have not given my gauge without measuring my
capacity to sustain defeat. For the other, I know it is very
hard to lay aside the shelter of vague generalities, the art
of coterie criticism, and the "delicate disdains" of _good
society_, and fearlessly meet the light, even though it flow
from the sun of truth. Yet, as, without such generous courage,
nothing of value can be learned or done, I hope to see many
capable of it; willing that others should think their sayings
crude, shallow, or tasteless, if, by such unpleasant means,
they may attain real health and vigor, which need no aid from
rouge or candle-light, to brave the light of the world.

'Since I saw you, I have been told of persons who are desirous
to join the class, "if only they need not talk." I am so sure
that the success of the whole depends on conversation being
general, that I do not wish any one to come, who does not
intend, if possible, to take an active part. No one will be
forced, but those who do not talk will not derive the same
advantages with those who openly state their impressions, and
can consent to have it known that they learn by blundering, as
is the destiny of man here below. And general silence, or side
talks, would paralyze me. I should feel coarse and misplaced,
were I to harangue over-much. In former instances, I have been
able to make it easy and even pleasant, to twenty-five out of
thirty, to bear their part, to question, to define, to state,
and examine opinions. If I could not do as much now, I should
consider myself as unsuccessful, and should withdraw. But I
shall expect communication to be effected by degrees, and to
do a great deal myself at the first meetings. My method has
been to open a subject,--for instance, Poetry, as expressed

External Nature;
The life of man;
The fine arts;
or, The history of a nation to be studied in--
Its religious and civil institutions;
Its literature and arts;
The characters of its great men;

and, after as good a general statement as I know how to make,
select a branch of the subject, and lead others to give their
thoughts upon it. When they have not been successful in verbal
utterance of their thoughts, I have asked them to attempt it
in writing. At the next meeting, I would read these "skarts
of pen and ink" aloud, and canvass their adequacy, without
mentioning the names of the writers. I found this less
necessary, as I proceeded, and my companions attained greater
command both of thought and language; but for a time it was
useful, and may be now. Great advantage in point of discipline
may be derived from even this limited use of the pen.

'I do not wish, at present, to pledge myself to any course
of subjects. Generally, I may say, they will be such as
literature and the arts present in endless profusion. Should a
class be brought together, I should wish, first, to ascertain
our common ground, and, in the course of a few meetings,
should see whether it be practicable to follow out the design
in my mind, which, as yet, would look too grand on paper.

'Let us see whether there will be any organ, before noting
down the music to which it may give breath.'

Accordingly, a class of ladies assembled at Miss Peabody's rooms, in
West Street, on the 6th November, 1839. Twenty-five were present, and
the circle comprised some of the most agreeable and intelligent women
to be found in Boston and its neighborhood. The following brief report
of this first day's meeting remains:--

'Miss Fuller enlarged, in her introductory conversation, on
the topics which she touched in her letter to Mrs. Ripley.

'Women are now taught, at school, all that men are; they run
over, superficially, even _more_ studies, without being really
taught anything. When they come to the business of life, they
find themselves inferior, and all their studies have not given
them that practical good sense, and mother wisdom, and wit,
which grew up with our grandmothers at the spinning-wheel.
But, with this difference; men are called on, from a very
early period, to reproduce all that they learn. Their college
exercises, their political duties, their professional studies,
the first actions of life in any direction, call on them to
put to use what they have learned. But women learn without any
attempt to reproduce. Their only reproduction is for purposes
of display.

'It is to supply this defect,' Miss Fuller said, 'that these
conversations have been planned. She was not here to teach;
but she had had some experience in the management of such a
conversation as was now proposed; she meant to give her view
on each subject, and provoke the thoughts of others.

'It would be best to take subjects on which we know words, and
have vague impressions, and compel ourselves to define those
words. We should have, probably, mortifications to suffer;
but we should be encouraged by the rapid gain that comes from
making a simple and earnest effort for expression.'

Miss Fuller had proposed the Grecian Mythology as the subject of the
first conversations, and now gave her reasons for the choice.

'It is quite separated from all exciting local subjects. It is
serious, without being solemn, and without excluding any mode
of intellectual action; it is playful, as well as deep. It
is sufficiently wide, for it is a complete expression of the
cultivation of a nation. It is objective and tangible. It is,
also, generally known, and associated with all our ideas of
the arts.

'It originated in the eye of the Greek. He lived out of doors:
his climate was genial, his senses were adapted to it. He was
vivacious and intellectual, and personified all he beheld. He
_saw_ the oreads, naiads, nereids. Their forms, as poets and
painters give them, are the very lines of nature humanized, as
the child's eye sees faces in the embers or in the clouds.

'Other forms of the mythology, as Jupiter, Juno, Apollo,
are great instincts, or ideas, or facts of the internal
constitution, separated and personified.'

After exhibiting their enviable mental health, and rebutting the
cavils of some of the speakers,--who could not bear, in Christian
times, by Christian ladies, that heathen Greeks should be
envied,--Miss Fuller declared,

'that she had no desire to go back, and believed we have the
elements of a deeper civilization; yet, the Christian was in
its infancy; the Greek in its maturity; nor could she look
on the expression of a great nation's intellect, as
insignificant. These fables of the Gods were the result of
the universal sentiments of religion, aspiration, intellectual
action, of a people, whose political and aesthetic life had
become immortal; and we must leave off despising, if we would
begin to learn.'

The reporter closes her account by saying:--"Miss Fuller's thoughts
were much illustrated, and all was said with the most captivating
address and grace, and with beautiful modesty. The position in which
she placed herself with respect to the rest, was entirely ladylike,
and companionable. She told what she intended, the earnest purpose
with which she came, and, with great tact, indicated the indiscretions
that might spoil the meeting."

Here is Margaret's own account of the first days.


'_25th Nov._, 1839.--My class is prosperous. I was
so fortunate as to rouse, at once, the tone of simple
earnestness, which can scarcely, when once awakened, cease to
vibrate. All seem in a glow, and quite as receptive as I wish.
They question and examine, yet follow leadings; and thoughts,
not opinions, have ruled the hour every time. There are
about twenty-five members, and every one, I believe, full of
interest. The first time, ten took part in the conversation;
the last, still more. Mrs. ---- came out in a way that
surprised me. She seems to have shaken off a wonderful number
of films. She showed pure vision, sweet sincerity, and much
talent. Mrs. ---- ---- keeps us in good order, and takes care
that Christianity and morality are not forgotten. The first
day's topic was, the genealogy of heaven and earth; then the
Will, (Jupiter); the Understanding, (Mercury): the second
day's, the celestial inspiration of genius, perception, and
transmission of divine law, (Apollo); the terrene inspiration,
the impassioned abandonment of genius, (Bacchus). Of the
thunderbolt, the caduceus, the ray, and the grape, having
disposed as well as might be, we came to the wave, and the
sea-shell it moulds to Beauty, and Love her parent and her

'I assure you, there is more Greek than Bostonian spoken at
the meetings; and we may have pure honey of Hymettus to give
you yet.'

To another friend she wrote:--

'The circle I meet interests me. So even devoutly thoughtful
seems their spirit, that, from the very first, I took my
proper place, and never had the feeling I dreaded, of display,
of a paid Corinne. I feel as I would, truly a teacher and a
guide. All are intelligent; five or six have talent. But I am
never driven home for ammunition; never put to any expense;
never truly called out. What I have is always enough; though I
feel how superficially I am treating my subject.'

Here is an extract from the letter of a lady, who joined the class,
for the first time, at the eighth meeting, to her friend in New

"Christmas made a holiday for Miss Fuller's class, but it met
on Saturday, at noon. As I sat there, my heart overflowed with
joy at the sight of the bright circle, and I longed to have
you by my side, for I know not where to look for so much
character, culture, and so much love of truth and beauty, in
any other circle of women and girls. The names and faces would
not mean so much to you as to me, who have seen more of the
lives, of which they are the sign. Margaret, beautifully
dressed, (don't despise that, for it made a fine picture,)
presided with more dignity and grace than I had thought
possible. The subject was Beauty. Each had written her
definition, and Margaret began with reading her own. This
called forth questions, comments, and illustrations, on all
sides. The style and manner, of course, in this age, are
different, but the question, the high point from which it
was considered, and the earnestness and simplicity of the
discussion, as well as the gifts and graces of the speakers,
gave it the charm of a Platonic dialogue. There was no
pretension or pedantry in a word that was said. The tone of
remark and question was simple as that of children in a school
class; and, I believe, every one was gratified."

The conversations thus opened proceeded with spirit and success.
Under the mythological forms, room was found for opening all the
great questions, on which Margaret and her friends wished to converse.
Prometheus was made the type of Pure Reason; Jupiter, of Will; Juno,
the passive side of the same, or Obstinacy; Minerva, Intellectual
Power, Practical Reason; Mercury, Executive Power, Understanding;
Apollo was Genius, the Sun; Bacchus was Geniality, the Earth's answer.
"Apollo and Bacchus were contrasted," says the reporter. "Margaret
unfolded her idea of Bacchus. His whole life was triumph. Born from
fire; a divine frenzy; the answer of the earth to the sun,--of the
warmth of joy to the light of genius. He is beautiful, also; not
severe in youthful beauty, like Apollo; but exuberant,--liable to
excess. She spoke of the fables of his destroying Pentheus, &c., and
suggested the interpretations. This Bacchus was found in Scripture.
The Indian Bacchus is glowing; he is the genial apprehensive power;
the glow of existence; mere joy."

Venus was Grecian womanhood, instinctive; Diana, chastity; Mars,
Grecian manhood, instinctive. Venus made the name for a conversation
on Beauty, which was extended through four meetings, as it brought in
irresistibly the related topics of poetry, genius, and taste. Neptune
was Circumstance; Pluto, the Abyss, the Undeveloped; Pan, the glow
and sportiveness and music of Nature; Ceres, the productive power of
Nature; Proserpine, the Phenomenon.

Under the head of Venus, in the fifth conversation, the story of Cupid
and Psyche was told with fitting beauty, by Margaret; and many fine
conjectural interpretations suggested from all parts of the room.
The ninth conversation turned on the distinctive qualities of poetry,
discriminating it from the other fine arts. Rhythm and Imagery, it
was agreed, were distinctive. An episode to dancing, which the
conversation took, led Miss Fuller to give the thought that lies
at the bottom of different dances. Of her lively description the
following record is preserved:--

'Gavottes, shawl dances, and all of that kind, are intended
merely to exhibit the figure in as many attitudes as possible.
They have no character, and say nothing, except, Look! how
graceful I am!

'The minuet is conjugal; but the wedlock is chivalric. Even
so would Amadis wind slow, stately, calm, through the mazes of
life, with Oriana, when he had made obeisances enough to win
her for a partner.

'English, German, Swiss, French, and Spanish dances all
express the same things, though in very different ways. Love
and its life are still the theme.

'In the English country dance, the pair who have chosen one
another, submit decorously to the restraints of courtship
and frequent separations, cross hands, four go round, down
outside, in the most earnest, lively, complacent fashion. If
they join hands to go down the middle, and exhibit their
union to all spectators, they part almost as soon as meet,
and disdain not to give hands right and left to the most
indifferent persons, like marriage in its daily routine.

'In the Swiss, the man pursues, stamping with energy, marking
the time by exulting flings, or snapping of the fingers, in
delighted confidence of succeeding at last; but the maiden
coyly, demurely, foots it round, yet never gets out of the
way, intending to be won.

'The German asks his _madchen_ if she will, with him, for an
hour forget the cares and common-places of life in a tumult
of rapturous sympathy, and she smiles with Saxon modesty her
_Ja_. He sustains her in his arms; the music begins. At first,
in willing mazes they calmly imitate the planetary orbs, but
the melodies flow quicker, their accordant hearts beat
higher, and they whirl at last into giddy raptures, and
dizzy evolutions, which steal from life its free-will and
self-collection, till nothing is left but mere sensation.

'The French couple are somewhat engaged with one another, but
almost equally so with the world around them. They think it
well to vary existence with plenty of coquetry and display.
First, the graceful reverence to one another, then to
their neighbors. Exhibit your grace in the _chasse_,--made
apparently solely for the purpose of _dechasseing_;--then
civil intimacy between the ladies, in _la chaine_, then a
decorous promenade of partners, then right and left with
all the world, and balance, &c. The quadrille also offers
opportunity for talk. Looks and sympathetic motions are not
enough for our Parisian friends, unless eked out by words.

'The impassioned bolero and fandango are the dances for me.
They are not merely loving, but living; they express the sweet
Southern ecstasy at the mere gift of existence. These persons
are together, they live, they are beautiful; how can they
say this in sufficiently plain terms?--I love, I live, I
am beautiful!--I put on my festal dress to do honor to my
happiness; I shake my castanets, that my hands, too, may be
busy; I _felice,--felicissima_!'

This first series of conversations extended to thirteen, the class
meeting once a week at noon, and remaining together for two hours. The
class were happy, and the interest increased. A new series of thirteen
more weeks followed, and the general subject of the new course was
"the Fine Arts." A few fragmentary notes only of these hours have been
shown me, but all those who bore any part in them testify to their
entire success. A very competent witness has given me some interesting

"Margaret used to come to the conversations very well dressed, and,
altogether, looked sumptuously. She began them with an exordium, in
which she gave her leading views; and those exordiums were excellent,
from the elevation of the tone, the ease and flow of discourse, and
from the tact with which they were kept aloof from any excess, and
from the gracefulness with which they were brought down, at last, to a
possible level for others to follow. She made a pause, and invited the
others to come in. Of course, it was not easy for every one to venture
her remark, after an eloquent discourse, and in the presence of twenty
superior women, who were all inspired. But whatever was said, Margaret
knew how to seize the good meaning of it with hospitality, and to make
the speaker feel glad, and not sorry, that she had spoken. She showed
herself thereby fit to preside at such meetings, and imparted to the
susceptible a wonderful reliance on her genius."

In her writing she was prone to spin her sentences without a sure
guidance, and beyond the sympathy of her reader. But in discourse, she
was quick, conscious of power, in perfect tune with her company, and
would pause and turn the stream with grace and adroitness, and with
so much spirit, that her face beamed, and the young people came away
delighted, among other things, with "her beautiful looks." When
she was intellectually excited, or in high animal spirits, as often
happened, all deformity of features was dissolved in the power of the
expression. So I interpret this repeated story of sumptuousness of
dress, that this appearance, like her reported beauty, was simply an
effect of a general impression of magnificence made by her genius, and
mistakenly attributed to some external elegance; for I have been told
by her most intimate friend, who knew every particular of her conduct
at that time, that there was nothing of special expense or splendor in
her toilette.

The effect of the winter's work was happiest. Margaret was made
intimately known to many excellent persons.[A] In this company of
matrons and maids, many tender spirits had been set in ferment. A new
day had dawned for them; new thoughts had opened; the secret of life
was shown, or, at least, that life had a secret. They could not forget
what they had heard, and what they had been surprised into saying.
A true refinement had begun to work in many who had been slaves
to trifles. They went home thoughtful and happy, since the steady
elevation of Margaret's aim had infused a certain unexpected greatness
of tone into the conversation. It was, I believe, only an expression
of the feeling of the class, the remark made, perhaps at the next
year's course, by a lady of eminent powers, previously by no means
partial to Margaret, and who expressed her frank admiration on leaving
the house:--"I never heard, read of, or imagined a conversation at all
equal to this we have now heard."

The strongest wishes were expressed, on all sides, that the
conversations should be renewed at the beginning of the following
winter. Margaret willingly consented; but, as I have already
intimated, in the summer and autumn of 1840, she had retreated to some
interior shrine, and believed that she came into life and society with
some advantage from this devotion.

Of this feeling the new discussion bore evident traces. Most of the
last year's class returned, and new members gave in their names. The
first meeting was holden on the twenty-second of November, 1840. By
all accounts it was the best of all her days. I have again the notes,
taken at the time, of the excellent lady at whose house it was
held, to furnish the following sketch of the first and the following
meetings. I preface these notes by an extract from a letter of


'_Sunday, Nov. 8th, 1840_.--On Wednesday I opened with my
class. It was a noble meeting. I told them the great changes
in my mind, and that I could not be sure they would be
satisfied with me now, as they were when I was in deliberate
possession of myself. I tried to convey the truth, and though
I did not arrive at any full expression of it, they all, with
glistening eyes, seemed melted into one love. Our relation
is now perfectly true, and I do not think they will ever
interrupt me. ---- sat beside me, all glowing; and the moment
I had finished, she began to speak. She told me afterwards,
she was all kindled, and none there could be strangers to her
more. I was really delighted by the enthusiasm of Mrs. ----. I
did not expect it. All her best self seemed called up, and she
feels that these meetings will be her highest pleasure. ----,
too, was most beautiful. I went home with Mrs. F., and had a
long attack of nervous headache. She attended anxiously on me,
and asked if it would be so all winter. I said, if it were I
did not care; and truly I feel just now such a separation from
pain and illness,--such a consciousness of true life, while
suffering most,--that pain has no effect but to steal some of
my time.'

[Footnote A: A friend has furnished me with the names of so many of
the ladies as she recollects to have met, at one or another time, at
these classes. Some of them were perhaps only occasional members.
The list recalls how much talent, beauty, and worth were at that time
constellated here:--

Mrs. George Bancroft, Mrs. Barlow, Miss Burley, Mrs. L.M. Child, Miss
Mary Channing, Miss Sarah Clarke, Mrs. E.P. Clark, Miss Dorr, Mrs.
Edwards, Mrs. R.W. Emerson, Mrs. Farrar, Miss S.J. Gardiner, Mrs. R.W.
Hooper, Mrs. S. Hooper, Miss Haliburton, Miss Howes, Miss E. Hoar,
Miss Marianne Jackson, Mrs. T. Lee, Miss Littlehale, Mrs. E.G. Loring,
Mrs. Mack, Mrs. Horace Mann, Mrs. Newcomb, Mrs. Theodore Parker, Miss
E.P. Peabody, Miss S. Peabody, Mrs. S. Putnam, Mrs. Phillips, Mrs.
Josiah Quincy, Miss B. Randall, Mrs. Samuel Ripley, Mrs. George
Ripley, Mrs. George Russell, Miss Ida Russell, Mrs. Frank Shaw, Miss
Anna B. Shaw, Miss Caroline Sturgis, Miss Tuckerman, Miss Maria White,
Mrs. S.G. Ward, Miss Mary Ward, Mrs. W. Whiting.]


"Miss Fuller's fifth conversation was pretty much a monologue
of her own. The company collected proved much larger than any
of us had anticipated: a chosen company,--several persons from
homes out of town, at considerable inconvenience; and, in one
or two instances, fresh from extreme experiences of joy and
grief,--which Margaret felt a very grateful tribute to her.
She knew no one came for experiment, but all in earnest love
and trust, and was moved by it quite to the heart, which threw
an indescribable charm of softness over her brilliancy. It is
sometimes said, that women never are so lovely and enchanting
in the company of their own sex, merely, but it requires the
other to draw them out. Certain it is that Margaret never
appears, when I see her, either so brilliant and deep in
thought, or so desirous to please, or so modest, or so
heart-touching, as in this very party. Well, she began to say
how gratifying it was to her to see so many come, because all
knew why they came,--that it was to learn from each other and
ourselves the highest ends of life, where there could be no
excitements and gratifications of personal ambition, &c. She
spoke of herself, and said she felt she had undergone changes
in her own mind since the last winter, as doubtless we all
felt we had done; that she was conscious of looking at all
things less objectively,--more from the law with which she
identified herself. This, she stated, was the natural
progress of our individual being, when we did not hinder
its development, to advance from objects to law, from the
circumference of being, where we found ourselves at our birth,
to the centre.

"This advance was enacted poesy. We could not, in our
individual lives, amid the disturbing influences of other
wills, which had as much right to their own action as we to
ours, enact poetry entirely; the discordant, the inferior, the
prose, would intrude, but we should always keep in mind that
poetry of life was not something aside,--a path that might or
might not be trod,--it was the only path of the true soul;
and prose you may call the deviation. We might not always
be poetic in life, but we might and should be poetic in our
thought and intention. The fine arts were one compensation for
the necessary prose of life. The man who could not write his
thought of beauty in his life,--the materials of whose life
would not work up into poetry,--wrote it in stone, drew it on
canvas, breathed it in music, or built it in lofty rhyme. In
this statement, however, she guarded her meaning, and said
that to seek beauty was to miss it often. We should only seek
to live as harmoniously with the great laws as our social and
other duties permitted, and solace ourselves with poetry and
the fine arts."

I find a further record by the same friendly scribe, which seems a
second and enlarged account of the introductory conversation, or else
a sketch of the course of thought which ran through several meetings,
and which very naturally repeated occasionally the same thoughts. I
give it as I find it:--

"She then recurred to the last year's conversations; and,
first, the Grecian mythologies, which she looked at as
symbolical of a deeper intellectual and aesthetic life than
we were wont to esteem it, when looking at it from a narrow
religious point of view. We had merely skimmed along the
deeper study. She spoke of the conversations on the different
part played by Inspiration and Will in the works of man, and
stated the different views of inspiration,--how some had felt
it was merely perception; others apprehended it as influx upon
the soul from the soul-side of its being. Then she spoke of
the conversation upon poesy as the ground of all the fine
arts, and also of the true art of life; it being not merely
truth, not merely good, but the beauty which integrates
both. On this poesy, she dwelt long, aiming to show how
life,--perfect life,--could be the only perfect manifestation
of it. Then she spoke of the individual as surrounded,
however, by _prose_,--so we may here call the manifestation of
the temporary, in opposition to the eternal, always trenching
on it, and circumscribing and darkening. She spoke of the
acceptance of this limitation, but it should be called by the
right name, and always measured; and we should inwardly cling
to the truth that poesy was the natural life of the soul; and
never yield inwardly to the common notion that poesy was a
luxury, out of the common track; but maintain in word and
life that prose carried the soul out of its track; and then,
perhaps, it would not injure us to walk in these by-paths,
when forced thither. She admitted that prose was the necessary
human condition, and quickened our life indirectly by
necessitating a conscious demand on the source of life.
In reply to a remark I made, she very strongly stated the
difference between a poetic and a _dilettante_ life, and
sympathized with the sensible people who were tired of hearing
all the young ladies of Boston sighing like furnace after
being beautiful. Beauty was something very different from
prettiness, and a microscopic vision missed the grand whole.
The fine arts were our compensation for not being able to live
out our poesy, amid the conflicting and disturbing forces of
this moral world in which we are. In sculpture, the heights to
which our being comes are represented; and its nature is such
as to allow us to leave out all that vulgarizes,--all that
bridges over to the actual from the ideal. She dwelt long upon
sculpture, which seems her favorite art. That was grand, when
a man first thought to engrave his idea of man upon a stone,
the most unyielding and material of materials,--the backbone
of this phenomenal earth,--and, when he did not succeed,
that he persevered; and so, at last, by repeated efforts, the
Apollo came to be.

"But, no; music she thought the greatest of arts,--expressing
what was most interior,--what was too fine to be put into any
material grosser than air; conveying from soul to soul the
most secret motions of feeling and thought. This was the only
fine art which might be thought to be nourishing now. The
others had had their day. This was advancing upon a higher
intellectual ground.

"Of painting she spoke, but not so well. She seemed to think
painting worked more by illusion than sculpture. It involved
more prose, from its representing more objects. She said
nothing adequate about _color_.

"She dwelt upon the histrionic art as the most complete, its
organ being the most flexible and powerful.

"She then spoke of life, as the art, of which these all were
beautiful symbols; and said, in recurring to her opinions
expressed last winter, of Dante and Wordsworth, that she had
taken another view, deeper, and more in accordance with
some others which were then expressed. She acknowledged
that Wordsworth had done more to make all men poetical, than
perhaps any other; that he was the poet of reflection; that
where he failed to poetize his subject, his simple faith
intimated to the reader a poetry that he did not find in the
book. She admitted that Dante's Narrative was instinct with
the poetry concentrated often in single words. She uttered her
old heresies about Milton, however, unmodified.

"I do not remember the transition to modern poetry and Milnes;
but she read (very badly indeed) the Legendary Tale.

"We then had three conversations upon Sculpture, one of which
was taken up very much in historical accounts of the sculpture
of the ancients, in which color was added to form, and which
seemed to prove that they were not, after all, sufficiently
intellectual to be operated on by form exclusively. The
question, of course, arose whether there was a modern
sculpture, and why not. This led us to speak of the Greek
sculpture as growing naturally out of their life and religion,
and how alien it was to our life and to our religion. The
Swiss lion, carved by Thorwaldsen out of the side of a
mountain rock, was described as a natural growth. Those who
had seen it described it; and Mrs. ---- spoke of it. She was
also led to the story of her acquaintance with Thorwaldsen,
and drew tears from many eyes with her natural eloquence.

"Mrs. C. asked, if sculpture could express as well as painting
the idea of immortality.

"Margaret thought the Greek art expressed immortality as much
as Christian art, but did not throw it into the future, by
preeminence. They expressed it in the present, by casting out
of the mortal body every expression of infirmity and decay.
The idealization of the human form makes a God. The fact that
man can conceive and express this perfection of being, is as
good a witness to immortality, as the look of aspiration in
the countenance of a Magdalen.

"It is quite beyond the power of my memory to recall all
the bright utterances of Margaret, in these conversations on
Sculpture. It was a favorite subject with her. Then came two
or three conversations on Painting, in which it seemed to be
conceded that color expressed passion, whilst sculpture more
severely expressed thought: yet painting did not exclude the
expression of thought, or sculpture that of feeling,--witness
Niobe,--but it must be an universal feeling, like the maternal

* * * * *

"_March 22, 1841_.--The question of the day was, What is life?

"Let us define, each in turn, our idea of living. Margaret did
not believe we had, any of us, a distinct idea of life.

"A.S. thought so great a question ought to be given for a
written definition. 'No,' said Margaret, 'that is of no use.
When we go away to think of anything, we never do think. We
all talk of life. We all have some thought now. Let us tell
it. C----, what is life?'

"C---- replied,--'It is to laugh, or cry, according to our

"'Good,' said Margaret, 'but not grave enough. Come, what is
life? I know what I think; I want you to find out what you

"Miss P. replied,--'Life is division from one's principle of
life in order to a conscious reoerganization. We are cut up by
time and circumstance, in order to feel our reproduction of
the eternal law.'

"Mrs. E.,--'We live by the will of God, and the object of life
is to submit,' and went on into Calvinism.

"Then came up all the antagonisms of Fate and Freedom.

"Mrs. H. said,--'God created us in order to have a perfect
sympathy from us as free beings.'

"Mrs. A.B. said she thought the object of life was to attain
absolute freedom. At this Margaret immediately and visibly

"C.S. said,--'God creates from the fulness of life, and
cannot but create; he created us to overflow, without being
exhausted, because what he created, necessitated new creation.
It is not to make us happy, but creation is his happiness and

"Margaret was then pressed to say what she considered life to

"Her answer was so full, clear, and concise, at once, that
it cannot but be marred by being drawn through the scattering
medium of my memory. But here are some fragments of her
satisfying statement.

"She began with God as Spirit, Life, so full as to create and
love eternally, yet capable of pause. Love and creativeness
are dynamic forces, out of which we, individually, as
creatures, go forth bearing his image, that is, having within
our being the same dynamic forces, by which we also add
constantly to the total sum of existence, and shaking off
ignorance, and its effects, and by becoming more ourselves,
i.e., more divine;--destroying sin in its principle, we attain
to absolute freedom, we return to God, conscious like himself,
and, as his friends, giving, as well as receiving, felicity
forevermore. In short, we become gods, and able to give the
life which we now feel ourselves able only to receive.

"On Saturday morning, Mrs. L.E. and Mrs. E.H. were present,
and begged Margaret to repeat the statement concerning life,
with which she closed the last conversation. Margaret said she
had forgotten every word she said. She must have been inspired
by a good genius, to have so satisfied everybody.--but the
good genius had left her. She would try, however, to say what
she thought, and trusted it would resemble what she had said
already. She then went into the matter, and, true enough, she
did not use a single word she used before."

The fame of these conversations spread wide through all families and
social circles of the ladies attending, and the golden report they
gave, led to a proposal, that Margaret should undertake an evening
class, of four or five lessons, to which gentlemen should also be
admitted. This was put in effect, in the course of the winter, and
I had myself the pleasure of assisting at one--the second--of these
soirees. The subject was Mythology, and several gentlemen took part
in it. Margaret spoke well,--she could not otherwise,--but I remember
that she seemed encumbered, or interrupted, by the headiness or
incapacity of the men, whom she had not had the advantage of training,
and who fancied, no doubt, that, on such a question, they, too, must
assert and dogmatize.

But, how well or ill they fared, may still be known; since the same
true hand which reported for the Ladies' Class, drew up, at the time,
the following note of the Evenings of Mythology. My distance from
town, and engagements, prevented me from attending again. I was told
that on the preceding and following evenings the success was more

"Margaret's plan, in these conversations, was a very noble
one, and, had it been seconded, as she expected, they would
have been splendid. She thought, that, by admitting gentlemen,
who had access, by their classical education, to the whole
historical part of the mythology, her own comparative
deficiency, as she felt it, in this part of learning, would be
made up; and that taking her stand on the works of art, which
were the final development in Greece of these multifarious
fables, the whole subject might be swept from zenith to
nadir. But all that depended on others entirely failed. Mr. W.
contributed some isolated facts,--told the etymology of names,
and cited a few fables not so commonly known as most; but,
even in the point of erudition, which Margaret did not
profess, on the subject, she proved the best informed of the
party, while no one brought an idea, except herself.

"Her general idea was, that, upon the Earth-worship and
Sabaeanism of earlier ages, the Grecian genius acted to
humanize and idealize, but, still, with some regard to the
original principle. What was a seed, or a root, merely, in the
Egyptian mind, became a flower in Greece,--Isis, and Osiris,
for instance, are reproduced in Ceres and Proserpine, with
some loss of generality, but with great gain of beauty;
Hermes, in Mercury, with only more grace of form, though with
great loss of grandeur; but the loss of grandeur was also an
advance in philosophy, in this instance, the brain in the hand
being the natural consequence of the application of Idea to
practice,--the Hermes of the Egyptians.

"I do not feel that the class, by their apprehension of
Margaret, do any justice to the scope and depth of her views.
They come,--myself among the number,--I confess,--to be
entertained; but she has a higher purpose. She, amid all her
infirmities, studies and thinks with the seriousness of one
upon oath, and there has not been a single conversation this
winter, in either class, that had not in it the spirit which
giveth life. Just in proportion to the importance of
the subject, does she tax her mind, and say what is most
important; while, of necessity, nothing is reported from
the conversations but her brilliant sallies, her occasional
paradoxes of form, and, sometimes, her impatient reacting
upon dulness and frivolity. In particular points, I know, some
excel her; in particular departments I sympathize more with
some other persons; but, take her as a whole, she has the most
to bestow on others by conversation of any person I have ever
known. I cannot conceive of any species of vanity living in
her presence. She distances all who talk with her.

"Mr. E. only served to display her powers. With his sturdy
reiteration of his uncompromising idealism, his absolute
denial of the fact of human nature, he gave her opportunity
and excitement to unfold and illustrate her realism and
acceptance of conditions. What is so noble is, that her
realism is transparent with idea,--her human nature is the
germ of a divine life. She proceeds in her search after the
unity of things, the divine harmony, not by exclusion, as Mr.
E. does, but by comprehension,--and so, no poorest, saddest
spirit, but she will lead to hope and faith. I have thought,
sometimes, that her acceptance of evil was _too great_,--that
her theory of the good to be educed proved too much. But in a
conversation I had with her yesterday, I understood her better
than I had done. 'It might never be sin to us, at the moment,'
she said, 'it must be an excess, on which conscience puts the

The classes thus formed were renewed in November of each year, until
Margaret's removal to New York, in 1844. But the notes of my principal
reporter fail me at this point. Afterwards, I have only a few sketches
from a younger hand. In November, 1841, the class numbered from
twenty-five to thirty members: the general subject is stated as
"Ethics." And the influences on Woman seem to have been discussed
under the topics of the Family, the School, the Church, Society, and
Literature. In November, 1842, Margaret writes that the meetings have
been unusually spirited, and congratulates herself on the part taken
in them by Miss Burley, as 'a presence so positive as to be of great
value to me.' The general subject I do not find. But particular
topics were such as these:--"Is the ideal first or last; divination
or experience?" "Persons who never awake to life in this world."
"Mistakes;" "Faith;" "Creeds;" "Woman;" "Daemonology;" "Influence;"
"Catholicism" (Roman); "The Ideal."

In the winter of 1843-4, the general subject was "Education." Culture,
Ignorance, Vanity, Prudence, Patience, and Health, appear to have
been the titles of conversations, in which wide digressions, and much
autobiographic illustration, with episodes on War, Bonaparte, Goethe,
and Spinoza, were mingled. But the brief narrative may wind up with a
note from Margaret on the last day.

'_28th April, 1844_.--It was the last day with my class. How
noble has been my experience of such relations now for six
years, and with so many and so various minds! Life is worth
living, is it not?

'We had a most animated meeting. On bidding me good-bye, they
all, and always, show so much good-will and love, that I feel
I must really have become a friend to them. I was then loaded
with beautiful gifts, accompanied with those little delicate
poetic traits, of which I should delight to tell you, if we
were near. Last came a beautiful bouquet, passion-flower,
heliotrope, and soberer blooms. Then I went to take my repose
on C----'s sofa, and we had a most serene afternoon together.'

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