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Humanity, Said Edgar Allan Poe, Is Divided Into Men, Women, And Margaret Fuller
August 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 5
Toward the end of September, 1840, Emerson wrote that “certain crises must impend,” and “perhaps it [is] better to part now. Now in your last letter you … do say … that I am yours & yours shall be, let me dally how long soever in this or that other temporary relation.” Next day he entered in his journal, avoiding use of Margaret’s name: “You would have me love you? What shall I love? Your body? The supposition disgusts you.”
On the day of Emerson’s letter Margaret was writing to her closest woman friend, Caroline Sturgis (with whom Emerson also corresponded): “Of the mighty changes in my spiritual life I do not wish to speak, yet surely you cannot be ignorant of them.”
A few days later she wrote Waldo the letter he copied for his file: ”… If you ever know me well, you will feel that the fact of my abiding by you thus far, affords a strong proof that we are to be much to one another. How often have I left you despairing & forlorn. How often have I said, This light will never understand my fire. … Could I lead the highest angel captive by a look, that look I would not give, unless prompted by true love: I am no usurper. … To L. [Lidian, Mrs. Emerson] my love. In her I have always recognized the saintly element. … Yet I am no saint, no anything, but a great soul born to know all.”
A month later Margaret told Caroline in confidence: “I have just written a letter to our dear Waldo which gives me pain. … His call bids me return, I know not how, yet full of tender renunciation, know not how to refuse.” Emerson’s reply was unsparing: “I have your frank & noble & affecting letter, and yet I think I could wish it unwritten.”
From this point on, all was a downward spiral. Margaret’s assumption of the Dial editorship that same year increasingly consumed her energies. When, a year later, she was a houseguest at Emerson’s home in Concord, she and the Sage preferred to confront each other by letter from room to room, rather than face to face. Emerson’s small son, Waldo, was their courier. Balked by the impenetrable walls between them, Margaret wrote plaintively: “When I come to yourself, I cannot receive you, and you cannot give yourself; it does not profit.” And: “There is nothing I wish more than to be able to live with you, without disturbing you.”
Perhaps Margaret’s acceptance of Greeley’s Tribune offer in late 1844, in addition to her need to earn a living, was a gesture of defiance toward Emerson. In New York she was sufficiently free of “the Dear Wise One” to be able to search elsewhere for a soul mate. The likeliest prospect stemmed from the most unlikely quarter: a blue-eyed, blond German immigrant from Holstein, a businessman. James Nathan, whom she met at a literary soiree, was about her age, but from a family as orthodox in Judaism as hers was in Puritanism. He had two particular assets: a guitar, which he played with a romantic air, and an appealing dog named Josie.
Margaret had been invited by Mrs. Greeley to live at the Greeley farm on the outskirts of town. Aside from the fact that this location was difficult for a city suitor, Mr. Greeley did not much “take to” Nathan, and subterfuge became necessary. Margaret and Nathan were forced to meet in bookshops, tearooms, restaurants, and other public places, which retarded the development of intimacy.
Again Margaret resorted to the pen, composing a series of notes which are theatrical in comparison with her letters to Emerson, and fanciful in comparison with the love letters she was to write later in Italian. Evidently her inner eye seemed to be watching a play with a histrionic, grandly dramatic heroine. “I hear you with awe assert power over me and feel it to be true,” she wrote. “It causes awe, but not dread, such as I felt sometimes since at the approach of this mysterious power, for I feel deep confidence in my friend and know that he will lead me on in a spirit of holy love.…”
However, he did not. The “affair” lasted only a few months, until Nathan hurriedly departed for Germany, leaving his dog with Margaret. Only gradually did she realize she had been abandoned; the disillusionment was bitter. She demanded the return of her letters, or that they be burned. Nathan refused. The letters weighed heavily on Margaret, but their existence did not become public knowledge until 1903. Sold by Nathan’s son, they were published with an introduction by Julia Ward Howe and titled The Love Letters of Margaret Fuller . The more revealing Italian love letters remained almost totally unknown.
Psychically and physically exhausted, Margaret eagerly accepted the opportunity to go abroad as foreign correspondent for the Tribune . It was the old dream realized. Marcus and Rebecca Spring, wealthy Quaker friends, offered to pay Margaret’s fare if she would accompany them and tutor their twelve-year-old son, and Greeley offered to pay eight to twelve dollars per dispatch.