- Historic Sites
Humanity, Said Edgar Allan Poe, Is Divided Into Men, Women, And Margaret Fuller
August 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 5
“ My Italy,” as Margaret exulted to Emerson, vital, sensuous Italy, was in 1847 divided into eight separate political states, with the temporal territories of the pope splitting the peninsula in half from sea to sea. Rome and the Papal States were ruled by the pope as a theocracy. The object of Mazzini’s crusade was to unite all Italy into a single republic. In reaction, every frontier post of every state had standing orders for his immediate arrest.
Into this stewing caldron Margaret leaped as a devoted Mazzinian, eventually to become in Rome a letter drop for Mazzini’s secret agents. She also bore introductions to various republicans, who were to help provide information for her Tribune dispatches. She began tepidly with a travelogue about Rome but quickly switched to politics, Holy Week, and Pope Pius ix. She questioned whether the newly elected pontiff would be able to fulfill his subjects’ aspirations for desperately needed reforms—and whether he was as liberal as he seemed. This warning proved her among the most astute political observers in Europe. Time and again she would anticipate Pius’s actions to an almost unbelievable degree.
But for Margaret, Holy Week had another and special significance. She had visited St. Peter’s with the Springs and separated from them to view various chapels. Somehow there was confusion about their rendezvous, and she found herself alone. She was approached by an obviously cultivated young man, handsome, with flowing hair, a mustache, and melancholy eyes. He asked if he could be of any help. Margaret explained her situation, and he offered to find a carozza —but no carriages were at hand. So he walked her to her lodgings. His name was Giovanni Angelo Ossoli.
He was, as it happened, eleven years her junior, the youngest son of a noble family important in the papal service. His mother had died when he was a child. His father was a high papal official; his three brothers served in the pope’s Guardia Nobile , and one brother was, in addition, a secretary of the Privy Chamber. He himself was a marchese—heir of the great lords of the castle of Pietraforte. He was also secretly a republican, an admirer of Mazzini. Until the past two years almost nothing has been known in America about Ossoli. As late as 1963, Professor Miller could write that Angelo “on somewhat vague premises claimed to be a Marquis.” Yet a superb Ossoli chapel, a symbol of the family’s nobility, stands in one of the oldest churches in Rome for anyone to see.
Margaret thought at once that she had found another soul mate. But Angelo proved to be less ethereal and more real—as Margaret discovered when they picnicked with cheese and wine in the Alban hills. Nevertheless, from Margaret’s letters it is evident that the relationship was still at this time platonic. Shortly, to her amazement, Angelo offered to marry her. She refused and left with the Springs for northern Italy.
Then the totally unexpected happened. Margaret parted with the Springs, and instead of resuming the homeward journey, as planned, hurried from Milan to Rome. Angelo, of course, was the magnet. Mickiewicz had written that she ought not to “leave your young Italian.” Angelo himself had predicted to Margaret: “You will return—to me.” Margaret said later, “I acted upon a strong impulse. … I neither rejoice nor grieve. I acted out my character.” She had written, “Woman is born for love, and it is impossible to turn her from seeking it.” How well she knew herself!
Angelo was not in any sense an intellectual like the metaphysical transcendentalists. His book learning was meager, but he had the cultural education of any young man of the aristocracy, as was attested by Margaret’s close friends in Rome, sculptor W. W. Story and his wife Emelyn. In no way was Angelo the “boor” that Hawthorne, who never met him, said he was. He was, curiously, anticlerical, but not antiCatholic. He opposed only the Church’s temporal power. Margaret found in him gentleness, sympathy, an intuitive understanding of her as a woman. He was able to provide the human warmth the Puritan moralists lacked. In short, she loved him, and unquestionably he loved her. He did not feel that the disparity in their ages was of any significance—though Margaret confided to a close friend that if someday he should love someone else, “I shall do all that this false state of society permits to give him what freedom he may need.”
Their affair was kept secret from everyone including, most especially, their families. Obliquely Margaret wrote to her mother: “I have not been so well since I was a child, nor so happy ever.” In December of 1847 Margaret discovered that she was pregnant, and suddenly a dark mood of despair overwhelmed her. “At present I see no way out except through the gate of death,” she wrote Caroline Sturgis, not yet confessing her condition. She continued to refuse Angelo’s offers of marriage. “The connection seemed so every way unfit,” she said. To Angelo such a marriage meant being disinherited, simply because Margaret was poor, Protestant, and radical. Indeed, until recently the Ossoli family took the view that Margaret ruined Angelo’s life.