Emerson's EditorMarch 22nd, 2014
tags: choices
Emerson's Editor

If a great tree stands among other great trees in a forest, does it make a noise?

I think it does, we just have to listen more closely. Megan Marshall has attuned our ears in her biography Margaret Fuller: A New American Life. As I read this story I found it hard to believe I'd never heard of this great woman, had never before been introduced to her insights.

Sarah Margaret Fuller, born May 23, 1810 in Cambridge Massachusetts, was the precocious eldest daughter of Timothy Fuller, a Harvard Law graduate and aspiring politician. Her intelligence and willingness were recognized early, and she effortlessly took on the potential of an eldest son, raised in her father's image. Her formal education, though priviledged, was restricted to private grammar school and academies for young women, which she completed by age 16. Other than this limited educational encouragement, Margaret was home-schooled and self-taught.

Her father's aquaintances, as well as his ambitions, allowed Margaret access to the area's cultural leaders. Her friends were the artistic, philosophical and intellectual elete of the generation - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thereau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Horace Greeley, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Bronson Alcott, to name a few.

Even among this company, her accomplishments were exceptional: she created a salon, Conversations, intending to provoke women's intellects, and wrote the seminal feminist work, Women in the Nineteeth Century. As the first editor of Emerson's trascendentalist journal,The Dial, Margaret became known as one of the leaders in the Transcedentalist Movement. As a columnist for Horace Greeley'sNew York Tribune, she advocated for the poor, slaves and for women's rights, and by 1846 became the publication's first female editor. That same year she left for Europe and became our country's first female foreign correspondent.

And yet, as I witnessed the arch of her life, these notable accomplishments were not what impressed me most. What touched me, what sunk deep into the heart of me, was her ability to trascend the circumstances of her life, and of that day, to find a greater truth in her experience as a woman.

I recognize her instincts to seek out and study what was worthy, noble and honorable, and to hold these as her standard even though, as a woman, there was no cultural support for her in these efforts. I appreciate her courage and willfulness, her willingness to hold a position of tension between her aspirations and ideals, and the reality of the cultural barriers of that time. I honor her courage to acknowledge her hopes, even though doing so must have highlighted the painful truth - that she would never attain that which she could so clearly see.

I'm incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to become aquainted with Margaret Fuller. She possessed a clarity of vision, thought and word that emanated from her life and transcended the definitions of her generation. Thank-you, Margaret, for asking, "How is it that I seem to be this Margaret Fuller? What does it mean? What shall I do about it?" . Thank-you for "longing to experience life with (my) 'woman's heart'". And thank-you for having an imagination that "empower(ed) you to incessant acts of vigorous beauty."