Humanity, Said Edgar Allan Poe, Is Divided Into Men, Women, And Margaret Fuller


Margaret’s dispatches to the Tribune were strictly factual. Nevertheless, in her editorial interpolations she called openly for United States recognition of the Roman Republic. In this she had the support of envoy Cass. But the State Department moved with such slowness that word of recognition did not arrive until a fortnight after the Republic’s fall.

Margaret’s partisanship for Mazzini did not blind her to the primary weakness in his revolutionary program—the lack of economic planning. With amazing insight for someone of her background, she commented: “Mazzini has a mind far in advance of his time in general, and his nation in particular. … And yet Mazzini sees not all: he aims at political emancipation; but he sees not, perhaps would deny, the bearing of some events which even now begin to work their way.... I allude to that of which the cry of Communism, the systems of Fourier, etc., are but forerunners.” Margaret may well have already been aware of the 1848 publication by Marx and Engels of The Communist Manifesto and of its implications.

In spite of her criticism, her portrayal of Mazzini throughout is warm and deeply sympathetic, as her portrait of Garibaldi (whom at first she feared as a guerrilla bandit) is one of respect and admiration. It would be difficult to find in American journalism more graphic and moving descriptions than her eyewitness account of the tattered Garibaldi legion as it prepared to retreat to the hills and fight on for Italian freedom; or of Mazzini as he wandered hollow-eyed about the streets after the French had entered Rome.

The final paragraph of Margaret’s last dispatch ended with a personal appeal: “O men and women of America, spared these frightful sights —acknowledge as the legitimate leaders and rulers, those men who represent the people. …”

Angelo Ossoli, like Mazzini, escaped from Rome with an American passport provided by Cass at Margaret’s request. Margaret and Angelo, both almost penniless, fled together to their child, hidden in Rieti. They found their “Nino” near death, emaciated by what was probably an intestinal infection. This added trauma very nearly threw Margaret into shock. She rallied and with Angelo’s devoted help slowly nursed the baby back to life.

Angelo’s father had died, and he was no longer on speaking terms with his brothers. He tried to recoup some of his inheritance but failed. Rieti, so close to Rome, was dangerous. In the autumn the dispirited revolutionaries moved on to Florence, where their American passports saved them from the Austrian police. There, according to a letter written in Italian by Angelo’s sister Angela, Margaret and Angelo were married. This letter is the only evidence extant, and only in 1969 was it published in English. Margaret in fact became the Marchesa Ossoli.

Horace Greeley, apparently paying heed to rumors of free love, dropped Margaret from his payroll. Though her financial situation steadily deteriorated, she settled down to write her History . Angelo settled down to learn English. He had no way to earn a living. As Margaret wrote to Caroline Sturgis, “Being a nobleman is a poor trade in a ruined despotism.”

Margaret revelled in her child, bathing, dressing, playing with him constantly, writing long letters to her friends about his graces. “Christmas day I wasjust up, and Nino all naked on his sofa, when came some beautiful large toys: a bird, a horse, a cat. … It almost made me cry to see the kind of fearful rapture with which he regarded them.”

In Florence they lived quietly; among their few friends were the Brownings. Margaret had introduced them to the American public but reviewed Miss Barrett less favorably than Mr. Browning. Miss Barrett, in retaliation, initially proclaimed Margaret’s situation scandalous and finally called her writings “naught.” Also, she was wary of Margaret politically, “she being one of the out and out Reds and scorners of grades of society.” Margaret, for her part, found Mrs. Browning “too gentle and faded at first sight to excite prospective feeling of any kind.”

If such a buzz of gossip had been provoked in Florence, then what of America? To Emelyn Story, Margaret wrote that she did not admit “the rights of the social inquisition in the United States to know all the details of my affairs … many persons there will blame whatever is peculiar.”

Everyone in the United States whom she had criticized or offended would be quick to condemn. Lowell already had mangled her in his Fable for Critics . Bishop John Hughes’s reply to her dispatches had been to organize mass rallies in New York supporting Pius ix. Her praise of abolitionists had annoyed moderates. And finally, certain judgments in her dispatches had alienated many patriots: “My country is at present spoiled by prosperity, stupid with the lust of gain, soiled by crime in its willing perpetuation of slavery, shamed by an unjust war [the Mexican War], noble sentiment much forgotten even by individuals, the aims of politicians selfish or petty, the literature frivolous and venal. In Europe ... a nobler spirit is struggling—a spirit which cheers and animates mine.”