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Humanity, Said Edgar Allan Poe, Is Divided Into Men, Women, And Margaret Fuller
August 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 5
For all her depression Margaret made no move toward abortion. When her girth could no longer be concealed, she sought a hiding place outside Rome, in the village of Rieti fifty miles distant. Since Angelo had volunteered as a sergeant in the popular “civic guard,” he could not leave the city; and the two carried on an intense correspondence in Italian. Not the least of their problems was the papal censor. Angelo often hid secret messages in newspapers he sent to Margaret and used cover names in his letters. In many of their letters the personal and political are so intermingled as to become inseparable.
“I received this morning your dear letter,” Angelo wrote. “The banker [a republican agent] sent a message that the documents didn’t come, because Mazzini had escaped from Milano. I am very disturbed at hearing that you had such a bad night … I hope that you will always be courageous. I will be waiting for a sign to come straight into your arms, before they deprive us of even this pleasure. … Meanwhile I salute you, and believe me am always yours.”
With the baby due in a fortnight, Margaret requested, “See if you can get details of Milano … I am terribly worried about our dear friends there [fighting against the Austrians]; how they must be suffering now! Also I am thinking much of you. I hope that you are less tormented. If we were together it would be a consolation, though everything is going badly now. But it’s impossible to continue so, always, always. Goodby my love. I am sorry that we must pass so many days until you come; but I am glad I have the small portrait, which I look at often. M. (I hug you.)”
The baby, a boy, was born with difficulty September 5, 1848, and given its father’s name and title, possible in Italy, then and now, even when the parents are not married. Angelo drew up a complex legal document in Latin on parchment. He was able to stay only one day, then rushed back to Rome. After several months the baby was placed in a foster home in Rieti, to Margaret’s great distress; then reluctantly she took the diligence to Rome. She wished to hide the baby in the city, but Angelo refused, for fear their secret might become known. They continued, unwillingly, to live apart.
Margaret returned on the eve of one of the most stirring revolutions in European history, a dramatic upsurge of the Italian Risorgimento. With finances exhausted, she resumed at once her dispatches to the Tribune . She resumed, too, the systematic collection of material for the monumental History of Italian Liberation she proposed to write.
For her literary task Margaret had extraordinary sources of information. From Angelo’s contacts she had access to the papal side; from Mazzini’s contacts, the republican side. In addition, she herself had made noteworthy friends among the Italians, particularly the Marchesa Costanza Arconati Visconti (of the famed and ancient Visconti family). They carried on an active correspondence. And, fortunately, Lewis Cass, Jr., the American chargé d’affaires to the papal court, formed a strong liking for her and passed on much inside information. To top things off, she had chosen, accidentally, an apartment overlooking the pope’s Quirinale Palace—so that she watched from her balcony some of the most dramatic scenes of the revolution.
One such scene occurred when the papal Swiss Guard fired on a crowd demonstrating for a constitution, civil rights, and redress of grievances. Inside the palace were Angelo’s brothers, serving in the papal elite guard. Outside were Angelo and the civic guard. The crowd reacted with bedlam, setting fire to the great portal of the palace. Margaret saw “the broken windows, the burnt doors, the walls marked by shot, just beneath the loggia on which we have seen [the pope] giving the benediction.”
A few days later Pius ix fled in the disguise of a simple priest, taking asylum with the Bourbon king of Naples, who also had a revolution on his hands. Events thereafter proceeded swiftly, with the entry of Mazzini and Garibaldi into Rome, the proclamation of a Roman Republic, and the advance of Bourbon, Spanish, Austrian, and French troops to destroy the Republic and restore the pope to his throne. Mazzini became chief of the Triumvirs governing the Republic and was in frequent contact with Margaret. (A number of his letters survive.) Garibaldi, whom Margaret had first seen while she was hiding in Rieti, became a leader in the defense of Rome—though alas for the Romans, not commander in chief.
The French army, sent by Louis Napoleon, was the first to arrive. The French soldiers were driven back and disorganized by Garibaldi but returned with reinforcements to besiege Rome. One of the defenders was Margaret’s Angelo, now promoted to captain, in charge of a battery of rusty cannon. During the siege, from April 30 to July 4, 1849, Margaret was director of a military hospital, watching every cartload of wounded for the dreaded sight of Angelo. The last night of the attack she spent on the walls with Angelo, expecting death for them both. Today a viale —a tree-lined street —within the walls is named for her.