The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/S. Margaret Fuller
Engraved in London from a Portrait by Hicks
S. MARGARET FULLER,
(MARCHIONESS OF OSSOLI.)
Sarah Margaret Fuller was born at Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 23, 1810. She was the daughter of the Hon. Timothy Fuller, a lawyer of Boston, but nearly all his life a resident of Cambridge, and a Representative of the Middlesex District in Congress from 1817 to 1825. Mr. Fuller, upon his retirement from Congress, purchased a farm at some distance from Boston, and abandoned law for agriculture, soon after which he died. His widow and six children still survive.
Margaret was the first-born, and from a very early age evinced the possession of remarkable intellectual powers. Her father regarded her with a proud admiration, and was from childhood her chief instructor, guide, companion, and friend. At eight years of age he was accustomed to require of her the composition of a number of Latin verses per day, while her studies in philosophy, history, general science, and current literature were in after years extensive and profound. After her father’s death, she applied herself to teaching as a vocation, first in Boston, then in Providence, and afterwards in Boston again, where her “Conversations” were for several seasons attended by classes of women, some of them married, and including many from the best families of that city.
In the autumn of 1844, she accepted an invitation to take part in the conduct of “The Tribune,” with especial reference to the department of Reviews and Criticisms on current Literature and Art, a position which she filled with eminent ability for nearly two years. Her reviews of Longfellow’s Poems, Wesley’s Memoirs, Poe’s Poems, Bailey’s “Festus,” Douglas’s Life, &c., may be mentioned with special emphasis. She had previously found “fit audience, though few,” for a series of remarkable papers on “The Great Musicians,” “Lord Herbert of Cherbury,” “Woman,” &c., in “The Dial,” of which she was at first co-editor with Ralph Waldo Emerson, but which was afterwards edited by him only, though she continued a contributor to its pages. In 1843, she accompanied some friends on a tour by Niagara, Detroit, and Mackinac to Chicago, and across the Prairies of Illinois, and her resulting volume, entitled “Summer on the Lakes,” is considered one of the best works in its department ever issued from the American press. Her “Woman in the Nineteenth Century”—an extension of her essay in “The Dial”—was published early in 1845, and a moderate edition sold. The next year a selection from her “Papers on Literature and Art” was issued by Wiley & Putnam, in two fair volumes of their “Library of American Books.” These “Papers” embody some of her best contributions to “The Dial,” “The Tribune,” and perhaps one or two which had not appeared in either.
In the summer of 1845, Miss Fuller accompanied the family of a devoted friend to Europe, visiting England, Scotland, France, and passing through Italy to Rome, where they spent the ensuing winter. She accompanied her friends next spring to the north of Italy, and there stopped, spending most of the summer at Florence, and returning at the approach of winter to Rome, where she was soon after married to Giovanni, Marquis d’Ossoli, who had made her acquaintance during her first winter in the Eternal City. They afterwards resided in the Roman States until the summer of 1850, after the surrender of Rome to the French army of assassins of liberty, when they deemed it expedient to migrate to Florence, both having taken an active part in the Republican movement. Thence in June they departed and set sail at Leghorn for New York, in the Philadelphia brig Elizabeth, which was doomed to encounter a succession of disasters. They had not been many days at sea when the captain was prostrated by a disease which ultimately exhibited itself as confluent small-pox of the most malignant type, and terminated his life soon after they touched at Gibraltar, after a sickness of intense agony and loathsome horror. The vessel was detained some days in quarantine by reason of this affliction, but finally set sail again just in season to bring her on our coast on the fearful night between the 18th and 19th of July, 1850, when darkness, rain, and a terrific gale from the south-west conspired to hurl her into the very jaws of destruction. She struck during the night, and before the next evening was a mass of drifting sticks and planks, while her passengers and part of her crew were buried in the boiling surges.
Among those drowned in this fearful wreck were the Marquis and Marchioness d’Ossoli, and their only child.
Miss Fuller was more remarkable for strength and vigour of thought, and a certain absolute and almost scornful independence, than for the graces of style and diction. She had the reputation of being “the best talker since Madame de Staël,” and by those who knew her most intimately her conversational powers were considered more brilliant even than her talents as a writer. She was, without doubt, in both respects, one of the most remarkable women of the present century. Her friends, R. W. Emerson and W. H. Channing, are understood to be engaged in preparing a memoir of her life, which will be looked for with much interest.