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Humanity, Said Edgar Allan Poe, Is Divided Into Men, Women, And Margaret Fuller
August 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 5
The polite and well-bred were truly horrified at Miss Fuller’s brazenness. The book was met with jeers, derision, mockery. It was denounced as preposterous, hysterical, immoral. The first edition was sold out within a week. It became known abroad. “Margaret Fuller” was soon a household name— inspiring to some and revolting to others.
The book was filled with a series of shockers:
“There exists in the minds of men a tone of feeling toward women as toward slaves.”
“What Woman needs is not as a woman to act or rule, but as a nature to grow, as an intellect to discern, as a soul to live freely and unimpeded.”
“[Men] think that nothing is so much to be dreaded for a woman as originality of thought or character.”
“Let it not be said, wherever there is energy or creative genius, ‘She has a masculine mind.’”
“Were [women) free, were they able fully to develop the strength and beauty of Woman, they would never wish to be men or manlike.”
“There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.”
“Women are the best helpers of one another. Let them think, let them act.”
“We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to Woman as freely as to Man.”
Horace Greeley, whose publishing firm had accepted Woman , had shrewdly foreseen the response. Already he had invited Margaret to come to New York as the first female member of the working press. Though he carped about Margaret’s statement that women should be sea captains if they wished, and refused to open doors for her, he gave her free rein. Her articles were to alternate between social and literary criticism. Since Boston intellectuals regarded New York as an uncultured, materialistic Babylon, the fact that Margaret--ignoring clucks from Emerson—accepted the job was considered little short of treason. She began work in December of 1844, soon scandalizing everyone by interviewing prostitutes in Sing Sing prison.
Margaret’s treason was magnified when she reviewed scathingly the works of New Englanders Longfellow and Lowell and dissected Emerson’s second series of essays and his poems as if working on a cadaver. She did not hesitate to be scalpel precise about Emerson: “We miss what we expect in the work of the great poet or the great philosopher,” she wrote about the essays. “Here is undoubtedly the man of ideas, but we want the ideal man also; want the heart and genius of human life to interpret it, and here our satisfaction is not so perfect.” Her criticism of his poetry was no less sharp: “His poems are mostly philosophical, which is not the truest kind of poetry. They want the simple force of nature and passion, and while they charm the ear and interest the mind, fail to wake far-off echoes in the heart.”
Already she had broken with Emerson spiritually, though they continued intermittent communication. Her reviews in effect were a public farewell. Eventually he was to have revenge.
‘Until Margaret Fuller immigrated to New York at the age of thirty-four, her major emotional involvement had been with Emerson, whose craggy face and lanky form she greatly admired. She called him “my Druid.” Her first adolescent crush had been her kinsman George T. Davis. When Davis married someone else, Margaret took to bed with a fever. Then Margaret, at eighteen, became infatuated with the fifteenyear-old beauty Anna Barker, kin of the Astors, sent from New York to Cambridge to acquire culture —a girl who in later years so titillated Emerson that he gushed about “that very human piece of divinity.” A decade later, thinking of Anna, Margaret wrote musingly in her journal, “It is so true that a woman may be in love with a woman and a man with a man.” After Anna came Samuel Gray Ward, called by Margaret her “Raffaello” because he was “so sensuous, so loving, and so lovely.” The dénouement was too painful: Sam Ward married Anna Barker, not Margaret. Thus finally Margaret turned toward Emerson, a married man with Margaret, in her way, rivalling Henry David Thoreau for the Sage of Concord’s affections.
Margaret’s “soul” relationship to Emerson came to a climax in the autumn of 1840, the time of the Ward-Barker wedding. Letters recently published for the first time have given a new dimension to this exchange, and it now appears that Margaret and Waldo were far more intimate than anyone had guessed. Emerson carefully filed his correspondence, but all of Margaret’s letters from this period disappeared—except one, and that one was a copy in Emerson’s own handwriting, suggesting that he may have preferred to delete some sections. These fragments reveal that Margaret’s emotions, though fever hot, were not caloric enough to melt the Emersonian glacier.