1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fuller, Margaret

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FULLER, MARGARET, Marchioness Ossoli (1810–1850), American authoress, eldest child of Timothy Fuller (1778–1835), a lawyer and politician of some eminence, was born at Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, on the 23rd of May 1810. Her education was conducted by her father, who, she states, made the mistake of thinking to “gain time by bringing forward the intellect as early as possible,” the consequence being “a premature development of brain that made her a youthful prodigy by day, and by night a victim of spectral illusions, nightmare and somnambulism.” At six years she began to read Latin, and at a very early age she had selected as her favourite authors Shakespeare, Cervantes and Molière. Soon the great amount of study exacted of her ceased to be a burden, and reading became a habit and a passion. Having made herself familiar with the masterpieces of French, Italian and Spanish literature, she in 1833 began the study of German, and within the year had read some of the masterpieces of Goethe, Körner, Novalis and Schiller.

After her father’s death in 1835 she went to Boston to teach languages, and in 1837 she was chosen principal teacher in the Green Street school, Providence, Rhode Island, where she remained till 1839. From this year until 1844 she stayed at different places in the immediate neighbourhood of Boston, forming an intimate acquaintance with the colonists of Brook Farm, and numbering among her closest friends R. W. Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and W. H. Channing. In 1839 she published a translation of Eckermann’s Conversations with Goethe, which was followed in 1842 by a translation of the correspondence between Karoline von Günderode and Bettina von Arnim, entitled Günderode. Aided by R. W. Emerson and George Ripley, she in 1840 started The Dial, a poetical and philosophical magazine representing the opinions and aims of the New England Transcendentalists. This journal she continued to edit for two years, and while in Boston she also conducted conversation classes for ladies in which philosophical and social subjects were discussed with a somewhat over-accentuated earnestness. These meetings may be regarded as perhaps the beginning of the modern movement in behalf of women’s rights. R. W. Emerson, who had met her as early as 1836, thus describes her appearance: “She was then twenty-six years old. She had a face and frame that would indicate fulness and tenacity of life. She was rather under the middle height; her complexion was fair, with strong fair hair. She was then, as always, carefully and becomingly dressed, and of ladylike self-possession. For the rest her appearance had nothing prepossessing. Her extreme plainness, a trick of incessantly opening and shutting her eyelids, the nasal tone of her voice, all repelled; and I said to myself we shall never get far.” On better acquaintance this unprepossessing exterior seemed, however, to melt away, and her inordinate self-esteem to be lost in the depth and universality of her sympathy. She possessed an almost irresistible power of winning the intellectual and moral confidence of those with whom she came in contact, and “applied herself to her companion as the sponge applies itself to water.” She obtained from each the best they had to give. It was indeed more as a conversationalist than as a writer that she earned the title of the Priestess of Transcendentalism. It was her intimate friends who admired her most. Smart and pungent though she is as a writer, the apparent originality of her views depends more on eccentricity than either intellectual depth or imaginative vigour. In 1844 she removed to New York at the desire of Horace Greeley to write literary criticism for The Tribune, and in 1846 she published a selection from her articles on contemporary authors in Europe and America, under the title Papers on Literature and Art. The same year she paid a visit to Europe, passing some time in England and France, and finally taking up her residence in Italy. There she was married in December 1847 to the marquis Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, a friend of Mazzini. During 1848–1849 she was present with her husband in Rome, and when the city was besieged she, at the request of Mazzini, took charge of one of the two hospitals while her husband fought on the walls. In May 1850, along with her husband and infant son, she embarked at Leghorn for America, but when they had all but reached their destination the vessel was wrecked on Fire Island beach on the 16th of June, and the Ossolis were among the passengers who perished.

Life Without and Life Within (Boston, 1860) is a collection of essays, poems, &c., supplementary to her Collected Works, printed in 1855. See the Autobiography of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, with additional memoirs by J. F. Clarke, R. W. Emerson and W. H. Channing (2 vols., Boston, 1852); also Margaret Fuller (Marchesa Ossoli), by Julia Ward Howe (1883), in the “Eminent Women” series; Margaret Fuller Ossoli (Boston, 1884), by Thomas Wentworth Higginson in the “American Men of Letters” series, which is based largely on unedited material; and The Love Letters of Margaret Fuller, 1845–1846 (London and New York, 1903), with an introduction by Julia Ward Howe.