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Margaret Fuller Post by :imported_n/a Category :Essays Author :Heywood Broun Date :November 2011 Read :3969

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Margaret Fuller

Katharine Anthony's Margaret Fuller is biography in new and fascinating form. "A psychological biography," Miss Anthony calls it, and she takes advantage of the theories of Freud and Jung to reveal new facts about the life of a woman long dead, by the process of submitting well known material to the psychoanalytic test. This is an engrossing game. There is something about it quite suggestive of the contrast between Sherlock Holmes and the more dull-witted detectives of Scotland Yard. Holmes, you remember, could come into a room after all the members of the force had pawed the evidence and interpret something new from the cigar ash on the table which had been to them just cigar ash, but was to Holmes convincing evidence that the crime had been committed by a red-haired man, six feet in height, born in Kentucky and an enrolled member of the Democratic Party. Other biographers were content to record the fact that Margaret Fuller was a nervous child who received all her early education at home from her father. There they paused, and it is just here that Miss Anthony leaps in to explain the exact emotional relation between father and daughter which simmered about in Margaret's subconsciousness and contributed to the convulsions of her early schooldays.

It is fascinating to watch the skilled biographer reveal all sorts of facts about Margaret Fuller of which she herself had not the ghost of a notion. We can't say that the theory of the biographer is always convincing, although we must admit that her case is full and logical at every turn. To us it is just a little too logical. There is so much proof that we are rather inclined to believe that the theory is not altogether so. It is only fair to admit that Margaret seems to have been a Freudian herself long before there was a Freud. Again and again her own observations, quick, intuitive leaps, coincide almost exactly with theories worked out later by much more difficult and rational processes. Nathaniel Hawthorne, also, seems to have had some conception of the unconscious quite consistent with the most modern theorists, for he records a conversation between himself and Margaret Fuller in which they talked about "the experiences of early childhood, whose influence remains upon the character after the recollection of them has passed away."

Margaret Fuller, laboratory specimen, is an interesting study; Margaret Fuller, feminist, an inspiring figure in American history; but most of all our interest is captured by that portion of the book which deals with Margaret Fuller, literary critic of The New York Tribune. She wrote three critical articles a week, which appeared on the first page of the paper, and since her day newspaper reviewing has gone back in other respects than the mere process of burying itself more deeply within the paper. Opinions about books seem to have been more exciting and provocative in the days of Margaret Fuller and Horace Greeley. At any rate, one or the other wrote an article in The Tribune which inspired a libel suit by James Fenimore Cooper in which he won a verdict of $200. Nothing like that happens to-day. Once we managed to incite an actor into a lawsuit, but the only sign of recognition which we ever obtain from belaboring an author is a telephone message or a letter saying that our adverse notice has amused him very much and greatly contributed to the sale of his little book and would we come around and have lunch.

Miss Fuller managed to cut deeper. James Russell Lowell never recovered from the shock of her poor opinion of him, and was forever lampooning her in public life and private. She seems to have been singularly free from awe for the great literary figures of her day. In an age when not liking Longfellow was almost as much a mark of national treason as urging a reduction in the German indemnity would be to-day Miss Fuller wrote of Longfellow in exactly the spirit in which he is regarded by the later critics who looked at him dispassionately.

"When we see a person of moderate powers," she wrote, "receive honors which should be reserved for the highest, we feel somewhat like assailing him and taking from him the crown which should be reserved for grander brows. And yet this is, perhaps, ungenerous.... He (Longfellow) has no style of his own, growing out of his experiences and observations of nature. Nature with him, whether human or external, is always seen through the windows of literature.... This want of the free breath of nature, this perpetual borrowing of imagery, this excessive, because superficial, culture which he has derived from an acquaintance with the elegant literature of many nations and men, out of proportion to the experience of life within himself, prevent Mr. Longfellow's verses from ever being a true refreshment to ourselves."

Ralph Waldo Emerson was her close friend, and yet she could see him clearly enough from a critical point of view to write: "We doubt this friend raised himself too early to the perpendicular, and did not lie along the ground long enough to hear the whispers of our parent life. We would wish he might be thrown by conflicts on the lap of Mother Earth, to see if he would not rise again with added powers."

* * *

The feminism of Margaret Fuller is passionate and far reaching. It does not stop merely with the plea for the vote, but includes a newer and freer ideal of marriage. There is inspiration in this, and yet something a little disturbing in the article which she wrote about the London Reform Club, in which she said: "I was not sorry, however, to see men predominant in the cooking department, as I hope to see that and washing transferred to their care in the progress of things, since they are 'the stronger sex.'"

(The end)
Heywood Broun's essay: Margaret Fuller

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"Margaret Fuller's father was thirty-two when she was born," writes Katharine Anthony in her biography of the great feminist. "A self-made man, he had been obliged to postpone marriage and family life to a comparatively advanced age." The paragraph came to us like a blow in the face. For years and years we had been going along buoyed up by the comments of readers who wrote in from time to time to say: "Of course, you are still a young man. You will learn better as you grow older." And now we find that we have grown older. We have reached