Margaret Fuller's American
Transnational Odyssey *
When I began my own odyssey of writing Margaret Fuller's life, I knew my guiding historical question would necessarily be: how did a woman, who lived three-quarters of her life in the private sphere relegated to antebellum women, manage in a single decade to fashion herself into her generation's most famous cosmopolitan intellectual? By this I mean a self-conscious public "thinker", (to use her preferred term) vitally engaged with discourses outside her native country. A host of self-consciously modern scholars has provided one answer: she got out of the United States. Their plot of her needed escape varied according to ideological purpose. For the 1920s progressive Vernon Parrington, America's original sin that Fuller had to elude was its "Puritanism". For the post-World War ii existentialist-minded Perry Miller, it was its innocence. For the 1950s "consensus" historian Stanley Elkins it was the nation's "abstract" and dangerous utopianism. For the 1970s Marx-minded feminist scholars Bell Chevigny and Ann Douglas, it was America's lack of a class-conscious sense of "History". These teleological narratives also varied in historical plausibility. Perry Miller rounded out his modernist fable by speculating that Fuller, facing an alien nineteenth-century America, may have in fact «elected» to go down with the sinking ship Elizabeth!1
I don't mean to suggest that it's necessarily wrong to play Fuller against American difference from Europe. Since Tocqueville's Democracy in America (a work Fuller much admired), the idea of America's "exceptional" world status has in fact been probably the most relentlessly played theme in American historical writing. And this is true whether this American "exceptionalism" is regarded (as it often was in the nineteenth century) as real and positive or, (as it often has been since) mythic and negative. Moreover, the concept rests on a rock bottom historical reality: in the antebellum era, nationality, along with democracy and Protestant Christianity, did constitute one of the period's trinity of defining discourses. Finally, the national question clearly shaped Fuller's life. Certainly it drove the politics of the 1848 European revolutions that in her last years she embraced. More important still, her struggles with national self-identity give us to revert to my opening question a central key to understanding her identity as a cosmopolitan public intellectual2.
To find this key, though, we need (to revise Thomas Carlyle's famous sneer) to «accept [her] universe!». By that I mean accept both its national and international halves. If we do this, we can see that American "exceptionalism" is a profoundly misleading rubric for understanding Fuller's intellectual career in the United States for the simple reason that these spheres were not successive but intimately entangled. So, I want to propose a counter-exceptionalist narrative. First, Fuller began her intellectual life in a European-centered mode that opened her to the world but led her into a cultural cul-de-sac. Second, she tried to escape this dead-end by adapting her deracinated Romantic cosmopolitanism to a series of "transnational" American reform sites that both included and transcended nationality. Third, these moves reached their apogee in New York, where they culminated in a seminal transnational American cultural vision but an uncertain political one. Finally, at the end, I want to briefly indicate how an appreciation of Fuller's American "transnational odyssey" might inject some fresh thinking into recent calls for an "international" or "transnational" American history.
Oscar Wilde says somewhere that Romantics begin at the climax. Fuller's life plot would seem to bear this out. Instead of beginning (as in a good German Bildungsroman) with the narrow world of innocence, her life begins with the intellectual equivalent of a very wide world: Latin grammar at six; most of the classical authors by ten; French, Italian, and Spanish works by twelve; and nearly the entire canon of Renaissance and early modern European literature by nineteen. The question, though, remains: how did such a precociously cosmopolitan regimen produce a questing public intellectual, rather than merely, to rephrase Emerson's later famous disparagement of un-American scholars, a cosmopolite "bookworm"?3
To foreshorten the answer radically, we need to notice two psychologically resonant ideologies that infiltrated that precocity. One was her scholarly Jeffersonian Republican father's Enlightenment-inspired regimen for her early education. «I love her if she learns to read», Timothy Fuller, writing from the well of the U. S. House of Representatives, instructed his wife to tell their daughter on the eve of her fourth birthday. «To excel in all things should be your constant aim», he exhorted her six years later; «mediocrity is obscurity». A frustrated rationalist father's stingy parceling out love for learning and dreams of excellence and fame for unremitting work: one doesn't need to look much further to locate the psychological source for Fuller's "predetermination" (in Carlyle's amazed phrase) «to eat this big universe as her oyster or her egg». Her father's classical Enlightenment reading list also kept her hungry and awake to the world: Virgil, Cicero, Horace, and myriad martial and virtue-conscious texts of the later Roman Republic and early empire. By her teens she was devouring histories and memoirs of the great European statesmen of the early modern era, who were men of action and eschewed, she admiringly noted, «Augustan niceties»4.
This last phrase about «Augustan niceties» points to the second cultural ideology infiltrating Fuller's youthful cosmopolitan fantasies beyond that of her Addison-and-Steele-loving Enlightenment father: she was also a daughter of her local milieu's new and yet-to-be battle-tested Romantic cosmopolitanism. Contrary to that resentful cosmopolite Henry Adams's picture of the Early Republic resolutely turning its back on Europe, she had only to walk up Cambridge's main street to encounter this new transatlantic talk at every turn. Harvard's returning band of German university-trained Ph. D.'s spoke its language. So did Cambridge's influx of liberal exiles returning from failed revolutions in Europe. And so, most earnestly, did a cohort of intellectual-minded Harvard students who invited her to study in their European Romantic extra curriculum, which they thought infinitely more relevant to their dawning individualistic age than the College's "Common Sense" textbooks. From this virtual college the equally ambitious and alienated Fuller took two theoretically world-transformative propositions that would guide her all her life: that the subjective life of the mind contains an infinite ocean of meaning and value and that heroic individuals may tap into it to re-enchant an otherwise alien and despiritualized modern world5.
Was this vision, though, any less bookishly cosmopolitan than her childhood Enlightenment regimen? To this question, one would have to respond, how could it have been? Barred as a girl from entering Boston-Cambridge's learned professions even, as with her male friends, to revolt against them! she retreated to her prodigious studies and, after her father's unexpected death, to school-teaching. Yet, anxious to keep herself free of what she defensively called (quoting Coleridge) that profession's «strong mental odor», she moved on two fronts to get beyond her suddenly shrunken world. She first turned herself into her young circle's authority on Romanticism's most philosophical (and in America most suspect) literary source, German literature. Then she tried to leverage her deracinated Romantic cosmopolitanism into a transnational project: "teaching" her nation the enormous cultural value of German Romantic authors. Unfortunately, she quickly discovered American quarterlies were uninterested in touting writers most Americans regarded as licentious infidels. She, in turn, stumbled on her own confusion of purpose: if America's English-derived "utilitarian" culture was (as she argued) totally hostile to her inwardly turned Germans, to whom was she speaking? Indeed, reading her critically sophisticated but often awkwardly condescending early essays, one could easily imagine Fuller becoming, not a bookish dreamer, but a Germanized version of the Wordsworthian "monarchist", the elder Richard Henry Dana, who assured his oblivion by his precious refusal virtually to publish or speak before his culturally crude countrymen6.
Yet she didn't become another Dana. There are many byways through this tale of why, which I explore in my biography from the impact of her father's high-toned Jeffersonianism and her rebellious Continental Romantics to her gender self-consciousness and her literary ambition. Here I want to concentrate, not on these biographical influences but on the broader historical discourses that she manipulated in her search to connect her Romantic proclivities with her nation's culture. Specifically, I want to show that Fuller's identity as a productive public intellectual emerged from her engagement with four transnational American cultural reform sites: New England Transcendentalism, women's rights discourse, Western settlement, and New York literary journalism7.
The Transcendentalist movement, with which she allied herself the year after her father died, provided her first opportunity. Certainly their cosmopolitan synergy struck off sparks. She pressed on the somewhat wary Emerson and his colleagues her "demonic" Continental texts: Dante, Goethe, Beethoven, George Sand, and the German Romantics. They pressed on her their more sublimated English Platonists and Renaissance hermetics. And this cosmopolitan mix produced one important intellectual result: out of it she formulated her personally seminal cosmology of man's fortunate fall into experience, struggle, and love. Yet the cosmopolitan, not to say cosmic Transcendentalists also grounded her. Their revolt against their Unitarian church's supernatural rationalist dogmas provoked her first partisan theological talk. Most important, her connections gave her a national project: an invitation to apply their Romantic maneuvers to the reform of American culture through their new magazine, the "Dial", which they asked her to edit.
Their offer couldn't have come at a more needed time. Even while organizing the magazine in the winter of 1840, her pessimism about America's crassly commercial burgeoning literary marketplace remained as deep as ever. Perusing all the «hack verbiage from which books and articles without end» were being produced made the present moment seem, she groused in her journal, not her circle's dawn of a new literary age but rather «the late days of a lower Empire». Like a good Puritan Romantic, she also flagellated herself. «I have myself a great deal written», she wrote to her friend, the Transcendentalist minister William Henry Channing, «but as I read it over scarce a word seems pertinent to the place or time». Then she put her finger on the cultural tragedy of her American Romantic generation:
How much those of us who have been forced by the European mind have to unlearn and lay aside, if we would act here. I would fain do something worthily that belonged to the country where I was born, but most times I fear it may not be8.
Fortunately, she soon got enough Transcendentalist national religion to stop complaining about the woeful state of American culture and start doing something about it. Her first move was to apply a little Romantic historicist analysis. «Since the Revolution», she explained in another throat-clearing letter to Channing, «there has been little  to call out the higher sentiments» to counterbalance their new country's inevitable material exploitation and attendant "feverish" petty politics. Then, after pushing aside all her era's false cultural claimants to curing this malaise the ossified Unitarians, the superstitious evangelicals, the Anglophile highbrow quarterlies she instead advanced her Transcendentalist circle:
They see that political freedom does not necessarily produce liberality of mind, nor freedom in church institutions vital religion; and, seeing that these changes cannot be wrought from without inwards, they are trying to quicken the soul, that they may work from within outwards. Disgusted with the vulgarity of a commercial aristocracy, they become radicals; disgusted with the materialistic working of "rational" religion, they become mystics. They quarrel with all that is, because it is not spiritual enough. They would, perhaps, be patient if they thought this the mere sensuality of childhood in our nation, which it might outgrow; but they think that they see the evil widening, deepening, - not only debasing the life, but corrupting the thought of our people, and they feel that if they know not well what should be done, yet that the duty of every good man is to utter a protest against what is done amiss.
In short, she arrayed her Transcendentalist rebels as the vanguard, not (as they appeared to many) of a new church, but of a religiously infused national cultural awakening in direct line with the American Revolution9.
Finally, in her "Dial"'s Short Essay on Critics, she added to her historicist vanguard diagnosis and prescription, a new transnational protodemocratic conception of the "office" of the critic. On one hand, she rested her idea on a classically German Romantic-sculpted base.
Against both dominant Anglo-American critical methods the older neoclassical "judicial" and the newer middlebrow "reproductive" she argued that the critic needed to approach works, neither dogmatically nor impressionistically, but dialectically. First, she needed to go "inside" the work to "apprehend" the purpose of the writer, then "outside" to determine his formal success in carrying it out, and finally all around to "comprehend" his work's comparative standing in the "whole" pantheon of world literature. On the other hand, unlike her German mentors, who made this hermeneutical method the property of a cultural clerisy, she insisted that readers themselves should be encouraged to practice it. Exploiting both Romantic and American republican metaphors, she wrote:
We do not want merely a polite response to what we thought before, but by the freshness of thought in other minds to have new thought awakened in our own. We do not want stores of information only, but to be roused to digest these into knowledge . In books, in reviews, in the senate, in the pulpit, we wish to meet thinking men, not schoolmasters or pleaders.
This complexly stringent yet culturally democratic conception of the critic, not as a cheerleader of popular judgments, but a provocateur of readers' subjective inquiries in the service of her cosmopolitan Romantic critical ideal, would guide her criticism for the rest of her life10.
What, though, were the practical results of Fuller's protodemocratic transnational Romantic maneuvers? On the magazine side, I would say: more than literary historians have noticed. In eschewing academic affiliation, disregarding commercial demands, promoting experimental writing, offending conventional tastes, appropriating avant-garde European writings, and critically engaging the reform ideas of its time, the "Dial" gave birth to a seminal new anti-formula for America's modern highbrow "little magazines". Furthermore, they forced this premature birth in an era when American magazines were forever proclaiming the necessity for a new national literature while busily stifling the originality that was needed to produce it11.
Yet if one were to also ask how much Fuller's "Dial" writings furthered her transnational project, one would have to say not much. She wrote pioneering essays on Goethe, on English Romantic poetry, on little-known English Platonist poets, on unheard-of female German Romantics, and unperformed Romantic European composers. She also published a small batch of her German Romantic-influenced dialogues and fables, which were by far the most "outlandish" pieces (to use her own ironic word) that the formally experimental "Dial" ever published.
But they had little in them that one might call transnational. Indeed, there was little in her articles that was even national. Almost none of her articles addressed national issues. She wrote very little criticism of American authors. And she wrote absolutely nothing about the other side of national reform that she and Emerson had promised that their magazine would air: "new demands" on American institutions and social practices. For that she needed to discover some reformable social problems. Beginning a year after resigning her editorship, she took up two.
One was the status and culture of women, which Fuller addressed in her 1843 "Dial" essay, The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men. Woman versus Women. Reading this liberal Romantic treatise as a nationalist text might seem wildly off the mark. Its plethora of European myths, texts, tropes, and histories not to mention its central gender claim that «masculine» and «feminine» are fluid and often-androgynous categories were hardly antebellum household artifacts. Yet as both "textualist" and "contextualist" theorists of intellectual history have taught us, meanings in intellectual texts often reside in the interspaces between bare arguments. Specifically here, nationality deeply colors both her essay and its context. Its principal prescription, after all that women develop collectively and individually psychic self-reliance through temporary withdrawal drew directly from "come-outer" ideas afloat among her American Transcendentalist colleagues. Even more nationally self-conscious is her opening section on the origins of the current debate about women's social status. Here she argues that the nation's founding declaration (which she rewrites Romantically to read, «All men are born free and equal»), because of its respect for individual ethical integrity, surpasses the French Revolution as the moral lynchpin of that modern discourse12.
Finally, in that same section she brings forward as a vital buttress of her individualistic nationalist gender argument, the country's abolitionist movement. This was a momentous departure for her. Six years earlier she had privately lambasted in a letter to her famous mentor, the pro-Garrisonian abolitionist Harriet Martineau, for Martineau's making her Society in America an "ultraist" and "abolitionist" book and therefore (she said with some residue of postcolonial umbrage) a "presumptuous" and "hasty" anti-American screed. And only two years before, while paying proper liberal Unitarian-Transcendentalist obeisance to the principle of antislavery but declaring her neutrality over the Garrisonians' specific abolitionist platform and tactics, she had cavalierly dismissed their pro-women's rights abolitionist faction for having no program for reforming women's culture beyond antislavery activism. Here she makes precisely the argument that Boston Garrisonians had then made to her: that the abolitionists are the political spark lighting all the nation's reform discourses. Indeed, she makes an even broader nationalist argument about the abolitionists' relevance to women's rights talk: they're the only group of Americans trying to act out, and therefore sincerely express and expand, the living organic Declaration, which in a slave-owning nation is otherwise so much hypocritical "cant". In romantically reformulating the American Declaration as a rights-tract morally revitalized by the Transcendentalists and abolitionists, Fuller offered up to her readers, under the rubric of a gender argument, her first transnational liberal Romantic social critique13.
She tried to do something of the same thing with the West in her literary Romantic travelogue Summer on the Lakes, but with more mixed ideological results. In this account of her three-month trip to the Great Lakes and prairie-state region, she lurched into the classic hubris-charged national theme of America as the world's pastoral. Or, rather, four pastorals. One is simplicity: the settlers' escape from Eastern fashion and New England jargon. A second is organic nature: the West as a hybrid "garden" both wildly expressive and humanly cultivatable. The last two pastoral "types" are more unconventionally Romantic. One is organic culture: the West as an entry point for old-world cultures bringing with them their devotion to nonutilitarian folk arts. The last, and most Fulleresque, is boundlessness: the trope of a vast continent shaping national identity by beckoning ever beyond itself. «The Greeks  worship[ped] a god of limits», she writes of the northern Illinois prairies (a rare reversal of her past Romantic veneration of Greek culture). «I say, that what is limitless is alone divine». Indeed, so enthusiastic does she wax about the northern Illinois's «all new, boundless, limitless» land that she reports that on the morning of July Fourth, which she spent meditating on the top of an enormous bluff, fittingly named "Eagle's Nest", overlooking the parklike vistas of Oregon, Illinois, she experienced a cosmopolitan nationalist epiphany. «Certainly I think I had never felt so happy that I was born in America . I do believe Rome and Florence are suburbs compared to this capital of nature's art»14.
Yet her pastoral tropes perversely refuse to remain stable. Eastern female settlers absurdly try to "domesticate" the West by dragging untunable pianos to their new homes. Western farmers escape from Eastern artifice only to exploit the "limitless" new land by destroying its beautiful trees for commercial harvesting. Cultivated immigrants break down in the face of poverty, isolation, and the irrelevance of their arts to the needs of the new bustling West. But the most truly inhuman perversion of her "limitless" pastoral that she exposes is white settlers' expropriation of Indians' unvirgin land and near extermination of Indian culture, which cause her to blurt out scorching jeremiads that make her antislavery denunciations in the Great Lawsuit seem comparatively tame. As for her hope to find an approximation of the organic folk cultures that she had studied in German Romantic texts just before leaving for her trip, she frankly confesses that she found the "mental experiences" of the Germans, Norwegians, Swedes, and Swiss that she spied disembarking on the pier in Milwaukee (unlike Indians' mythic lore that she extensively analyzes) impenetrable. So she remains at the end, shooting the rapids with her Chippewa guide off Mackinaw Island, alone with western nature, dreaming her national dreams «some time to be realized, but not by me». If she were going to find a wide transnational space for her expanding liberal Romantic hopes, it was clear she would need to look beyond her "optative" Transcendentalist cultural vanguard, her nationally despised abolitionist "Jacobins", and her vanishing multicultural West15.
Six months after publishing Summer on the Lakes, Fuller moved to New York City to accept Horace Greeley's offer to assume the new position of literary editor of his "New-York Tribune". For her project of finding a cosmopolitan American nation, her move would seem to have been a godsend. Gotham was the country's commercial center. Greeley, who had lavished praise on her book as a paean to the West, was (unlike her New England Whig friends) an expansive nationalist. And his paper matched his outlook: read by tens of thousands of farmers, mechanics, shopkeepers, and small merchants and their families and neighbors all over the North, it was the closest thing that America had or would ever have (perhaps until the current "New York Times") to a genuine national newspaper. Furthermore, her nationalist associates were not only liberal Whigs like Greeley. Soon after arriving she allied herself with the city's pro-Democratic literati, "Young America", who inveighed against (as Herman Melville, their rising star, put it), «this Bostonian leaven of literary flunkeyism towards England», and logrolled writers whose works they deemed to be indigenously «democratic»16.
At the same time, New York scarcely undermined her cosmopolitan Romantic propensities. Greeley, who professed to admire the Transcendentalists' "un-American" depth of thought, and who also conceived of his paper as a robust yet uplifting alternative to his sensationalist penny-paper competitors, boasted to his readers that he had hired Fuller precisely to expose them to the great works of continental Europe. Her "Young America" circle was also not exactly a gang of cultural chauvinists. Their firm Wiley and Putnam reprinted many middlebrow and highbrow European books in their new "Library of Choice Reading" edited by her refined "Young America" editor Evert Duyckinck, which she frequently reviewed. In fact, of the approximately 125 literary "Tribune" articles and reviews (which constituted roughly half of her total output), seventy, or well over half, were on European books and authors, many in Wiley and Putnam's series17.
Finally, as she had not done with her "Dial" criticism, she used her columns to advance her cosmopolitan national cultural vision. Partly she did this by trimming her European sails: she either wrote mostly on contemporary European works or, when reviewing American reprints of her favorite Renaissance and Romantic texts, she often carefully noted that Europeans' cultural glories were behind them. More important, she made her Romantic categories do national cultural work. In particular, she expanded her "Dial" idea of a hermeneutic literary community to include authors of less-than-great works. «I never regarded literature merely as a collection of exquisite products», she told her old Cambridge friend James Freeman Clarke, defending her respectful treatment of crude but «sincere» books, «but as a means of mutual interpretation». Most aptly, she appropriated her Romantic transnationalism, not to inflate American books, but to critically define a set of national "ideas" that needed to underlay any American literature:
What suits Great Britain, with her insular position and consequent need to concentrate and intensify her life, her limited monarchy, and spirit of trade, does not suit a mixed race, continually enriched with new blood from other stocks the most unlike that of our first descent, with ample field and verge enough to range in and leave every impulse free, and abundant opportunity to develop a genius, wide and full as our rivers, flowery, luxuriant and impassioned as our vast prairies, rooted in strength as the rocks on which the Puritan fathers landed18.
In short, in viewing American cultural identity in nationally comparativist terms, she managed to define the mongrel, expansive, impulsive, and idealistic American "idea" that she had only hesitantly glimpsed in the West. Indeed, she said, Europe inspired her national ideal. «What we loved in the literature of continental Europe», she testified, «was the range and force of ideal manifestation in forms of national and individual greatness». Finally, that «individual» was critical as well: just as Shakespeare infused the clarity and boldness of English literature with the «rich colouring, and more affluent life, of the Catholic countries», the American literary "genius", she predicted, will be a transnational mongrel, too19.
Of course, her new Romantically nourished American national cultural ideal hardly lacked difficulties. One was its distant fruition. Repeating all the historical obstacles that she had listed for William Channing, to which she now added the difficulty of fusing America's "races", she concluded that a national literature wouldn't emerge for at least another generation. Here her unflinching Romantic historicism misled her. Yet it didn't keep her from appraising week after week the literary works that the United States was already producing and with results that were amazingly prescient. For in counterposing the hackneyed products of America's commercial print revolution and the provincially "cosmopolitan" borrowings of popular middlebrow writers like Longfellow to the inwardly deep works of Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, and Poe, she alone among antebellum critics pointed to that cosmopolitan canon of the American Renaissance that wouldn't be "discovered" until the modernist early twentieth century20.
A second problem with her cosmopolitan national cultural vision might seem equally hard for her to have finessed: where would she find the social and political "life" that she argued in her "American Literature" essay was needed to infuse the "idea" of America but which she had failed to find in the West? In fact, New England had already given her two sightings as shown in her new friendliness to the abolitionist movement (if not its Garrisonian leaders) and an increasing interest in Fourierist socialist theory (if not practice). In New York, though, she turned these nascent political gestures into probes of a thick and variegated national political life. Thanks to her connections with the "Tribune" and with Channing's Society of Christian Union's circle of neo-Fourierist socialists, she got her first taste of real political battles: over the city's horrific penal and welfare institutions, its pro-capital punishment ideologues, its racist nativist movements, its hectoring evangelical moral reformers, and its censoring publishers. In even more of a departure, Gotham city gave her a new language that of "democracy", a term that she had rarely used before except pejoratively, but which she now joined in her "Tribune" editorials to the almost equally nationally resonating social democratic concepts of Christian "benevolence" and "mutual education"21.
But finally, what raised Fuller's democratic political talk in New York far beyond its local setting indeed, what transmuted it into a transnational project to match her cultural one was New York's pressing and multifaceted international character. On the social side, she resided in a city that was exploding with the foreign born who were then approaching 50% of the population, about half of this number Irish, another quarter German, and the rest mostly English, French, and Italian. On the journalistic side, not only did Fuller observe all this, but she also participated in public conversations about and more important with these immigrant groups through their thriving presses. Within a month of her arrival, she was regularly reading, translating, and publishing articles in the "Tribune" from across the entire political spectrum of German, French, and Irish newspapers. Finally, on the political side, starting her first summer, she also began periodically attending, and occasionally covering for her paper, meetings of exile groups agitating for support for liberal democratic revolutionary movements in Europe22.
From this international stew she extracted a good deal of transnational meat. To be sure, it had in the beginning a liberal but somewhat noblesse oblige flavor. «Too many have come since for bread alone», she wrote after her first month in New York. «We cannot blame we must not reject them, but let us teach them . Yes! let us teach them, not rail at their inevitable ignorance and unenlightened action, but teach them and their children as our own». In subsequent articles, however, she dropped the teaching of the ignorant and focused on the railing of the natives. In the city with the strongest nativist party in America and in the face of widespread demonization of the Irish as hopelessly profligate, superstitious, and virtually subhuman by nativists and reformers alike (including many of her own reform friends) she publicly defended the virtues of their culture and pooh-poohed the danger of their Catholicism. She also used her translations from the liberal monarchical "Courrier des États-Unis", and the radical republican "Franco-Americain" to expose the charms of French popular culture for her often-starchly Franco-phobic readers (including her editor). Indeed, hailing the appearance of a new weekly edition of the "Deutsche Schnellpost", she completely avoided the two main "liberal" options of nineteenth-century antinativism: immigrants' wholesale assimilation into a uniformly republican-Protestant "American" culture or the toleration of their ethnic diversity as long as their labor power fed capitalist economic development (or, in the case of Democrats, the urban Democratic party). Instead, she urged the birth of a new multiethnic America:
We do want that each nation needs to hear from those of her compatriots, able to guide and enlighten them. We do want that each nation should preserve what is valuable in its parent stock. We want all the elements of the new people of the new world . But we want none of their prejudices. We want the healthy seed to develop itself into a different plant, in the new climate. We have reason to hope a new and generous race[,] where the Italian meets the Dutch[,] the Swede the Jew. Let nothing be obliterated, but all regenerated23.
We need to cast aside our present ideological blinders to see how truly radical her position is here. Fuller was no modern relativist or static pluralist: certainly she doesn't maintain (as would most famously the early twentieth-century critic Horace Kallen and also many current partisans of American "multiculturalism") that America is no more than a conglomeration of equally valid and largely separate unchanging ethnic enclaves. Rather, in her own Romantic language, she's arguing here for a dialectical ideal of American ethnicity: both the retention of immigrants' cultural characteristics and their regeneration into a spiritually broader, deeper, and freer mindset than what they had known in their respective socially conservative countries. Moreover, she regarded this required regeneration as truly transnational: both foreign and native "souls" needed to be «re-born here». Finally, as she implies here, the new European immigrants had vital cultural capital to contribute to that regeneration. Reviewing a meeting she attended her second winter celebrating the anniversary of the defeated Polish Revolution of 1830-1831, after hearing an Italian nationalist speaker (who clearly had been influenced by the ideas of Giuseppe Mazzini) speak about "Nationality" as humankind's "Individualism" and "fellow-feeling" writ large, she exclaimed: «May the same fervor of heart be turned to forward the good of the adopted land, for where there is genius, greatness and religion, blooms anew the true Italy, the garden of the world!». Besides the obvious prescience of this exclamation for Fuller's later Italy, what's notable about this mutual metaphorical national transposition is its wonderful ambiguity: it's not clear which is the «garden of the world» the «true» America or the «true» Italy24.
These multi-ethnic articles marked the highpoint of Fuller's transnational American nationalism in the United States. And necessarily so: her assumption that the American liberal "idea" and a cosmopolitan liberal world could be made to coincide, however useful and inspiring as a cultural myth, could hardly sustain itself in an era of increasingly revolutionary and counterrevolutionary political shocks. And two came quickly. The first from the national side of her transnational ledger: the ever-more boiling question of the annexation of the Republic of Texas as a future proslavery state. Indeed, one can trace Fuller's rising political temperature that year in her editorials chronicling the fate of Texas. In her First of August, 1845 article celebrating the anniversary of the West Indies emancipation, following by weeks the formal acceptance of Texas annexation, she wrote: «The most shameful deed has been done that ever disgraced a nation; because the most contrary to consciousness of right. Other nations have done wickedly, but we have surpassed them all in trampling under foot the principles that had been assumed as the basis of our national existence and our willingness to forfeit our honor in the face of the world». Then, right after Texas was admitted as a new slave state at the end of the year, she virtually declared that national pledge as dead. «What a year it has been with us!» she wrote in her 1st January, 1846 state-of-the-world article.
Texas annexed, and more annexations in store; Slavery perpetuated, as the most striking new feature of these movements. Such are the fruits of American love of liberty! Mormons murdered and driven out, as an expression of American freedom of conscience. Cassius Clay's [antislavery] paper expelled from Kentucky; that is American freedom of the press. And all these deeds defended on the true Russian grounds: «We (the stronger) know what you (the weaker) ought to do and be, and it shall be so».
Nor was it just a "lust of power" driving hypocritical Americans. «More money more land! is all the watchword they know»25.
So what to do as America politically forsook its own cosmopolitan liberal ideals? Now revising her recently restated Transcendentalist hopes that righteously witnessing "private lives" might be all that was needed, she pulled one last shock card from her transnational political deck: Europe. This was truly a cosmopolitan reshuffling. In her political commentary throughout the year, she had repeatedly declared Europe's class-bound society «bankrupt». Indeed, she had made this very point that January 1846 in taking to task the German Social Reform Association's new journal "Der Volks-Tribun" edited by Hermann Kriege, then a militant twenty-five-year-old German émigré and advocate of communism and land reform. Claiming that she, too, placed herself on the «"extreme left" of the army of Progress», she nonetheless strongly objected, not just to the newspaper's class-warfare tone as «not the spirit for Young America», but, even more so, to what she saw as its source: the journal's editors' obtuseness about the vast difference between conditions in America and Europe. «We cannot wonder, Germans», she lectured them, «if, having thrown off so heavy and galling a harness, you fume and champ to find the bit still in your mouths; yet let this impatience be transient, and prize more justly and deeply the vast privileges you have already attained. Seek to extend them, to complete and elevate their scope»26.
Yet even as she lambasted the "Volks-Tribun"'s editors for their insufficient appreciation of their «vast privileges» in America, she was already starting to look with new political eyes across the Atlantic. In the latter part of the year she had begun moving from commenting mostly on appealing European social manners to remarking about German radical political writers who implicitly challenged her own uneasy faith in America's "exceptional" promise. She even translated a dispatch from the "Deutsche Schnellpost"'s Paris correspondent Heinrich Börnstein, who had edited the recently suppressed German-language Parisian "Vorwärts!", the most radical journal in Europe, then dominated by left-wing intellectuals around Karl Marx and Arnold Ruge. Following Börnstein's insider's appraisal of the erupting radical socialist movements in Germany, in which he argued that the coming age of humanistic socialism would extend the French Revolutionary ideal of "abstract" political equality into full economic and social equality, he inserted an account of a recent strike of 5.000 carpenters in Paris. Fuller added: «The new era is not far off. The new era, when the laborer shall be thought worthy of his hire, and every man entitled to express the wants that consume him, and ask relief from the cares that now harass so many from the cradle to the grave»27.
Even more revealing of her anticipatory radical mood than her neutral-friendly gloss on Boernstein's article (which the antistrike Fourierist Greeley the next day severely critiqued) was her lengthy New Year's Day 1846 article. There she barely mentioned any American movements, even abolitionism, but found instead, as "signs" of the future, filled with "providential meaning", social and political barrier-breaching stirrings in virtually every country in Europe. Indeed, speaking of the ongoing reawakening of the Romantic socialistic ferment of the 1830s, the new «Associative and Communist principles, both here and in Europe», she wrote: «Let the worldling deem as he will about their practicability, he cannot deny [them] to be animated by faith in God and a desire for the good of Man». And the American nation in this coming democratic era, she asked?
Altogether, it looks as if a great time was coming, and that time one of Democracy. Our country will play a ruling part. Her Eagle will lead the van, but whether to soar upward to the sun or to stoop for helpless prey, who now dares promise? At present she has scarce achieved a Roman nobleness, a Roman liberty, and whether her Eagle is less like the Vulture and more like the Phenix than was the fierce Roman bird, we dare not say. May the New Year give hopes of the latter, even if the bird need first to be purified by fire.
With this soberly ambiguous look at Janus-faced American "Democracy" as future liberator or imperialist, she implied a curious corollary: if America were to «lead the van» it would seem to need a good deal of helpful «fire» from elsewhere28.
My main purpose this morning has been to show three things: that Fuller's transnationalist outlook had its roots in America; that it evolved dialectically out of a series of American transnational challenges to her Romantic-inspired European cosmopolitanism and her uneasily acquired American nationality; and that it deeply colored her liberal Romantic thinking. Her transnationalism was also prospective. On the cultural side, it wouldn't be until the delayed rise of literary modernism in America over a half-century later that critics would so eruditely and buoyantly deconstruct the nation's popular binaries of indigenous nationality and foreign borrowings in the service of aesthetic creativity. And if for modernists like Pound and Eliot, this move required the jettisoning of national democracy and humanistic religion, the jury is still out on the question of whether that was a gain or a loss. On the social side, only Whitman's «nation of nations» trope and Melville's fictive mongrel ship Pequod bear metaphorical comparison with Fuller's conception of America as a site of mutual trans-ethnic appropriation, where individuals neither fixed nor effaced but exchanged and thereby reconstituted their ethnic and American identities in the public sphere. And, after them, a roughly equivalent conception wouldn't be articulated again until the pre-World War I "Young America" critic Randolph Bourne, reacting to a second wave of European immigration, announced a new version in his famous essay Trans-national America29.
Finally, as I indicated at the beginning, I also believe that Fuller's American transnationalism might provoke us to think a little more deeply about how to overcome isolationist and exceptionalist American histories. One approach repeatedly advanced by American Studies scholars since the 1960s has been what I'd call the strategy of ideological critique: or claiming that all appropriations of the American nation have solely served the hegemonic purpose of what Sacvan Bercovitch has punningly called a conservative «rite of assent». An almost mirror-opposite approach has recently been proposed by American historians calling for a new "international" or "transnational" history that would virtually drop or radically reduce the category of "American nation" altogether. Yet if Fuller's moves and movements indicate anything, they suggest that that trope may have had in the nineteenth century more immanent transnational potential than twentieth-century scholars have yet seen. And, contra Bercovitch, liminal ideological potential as well, since for Fuller American nationality actually expanded rather than contracted her sense of democratic possibilities. And (although I don't have time to develop this here), that expansion continued in Europe. Specifically, by transferring her hopes for liberal idealism and social justice from the world's newest republic to its oldest, she captured, as no other nineteenth-century American intellectual, precisely the argument that undergirded that century's European liberal nationalist movements that nations existed to advance the world's freedom30.
Of course, there is a great irony in this last appropriation: not only did the Italian republican Revolution fail, but so also did all the European revolutions of 1848. This hard fact would leave Fuller with some hard questions. Was her dream of a cosmopolitan Romantic democratic revolution all a chimera? Did it require abandoning the central faith in democratic progress that most nineteenth-century American and European liberals always clung to? Or was that updated liberal dream something, as American radical intellectuals came to be convinced following the Continental revolutionary defeats, that could only be realized in America? Or, to put this last question more positively, would she have become, like most of them in the wake of the Northern emancipation of American slaves, once again a cosmopolitan voice for the revitalization, not of the world, but of America? We will never know, because she died while pondering the first two of these quandaries and before having to face the last of them. But there is one thing we do know, which I have tried to show this morning: her American transnationalism transformed her Romantic cosmopolitanism into (in Emerson's phrase) a «new magazine of power» in her struggle to establish herself as a public intellectual. And a private one as well: certainly they grounded her Romantic dreams of heroic individuals re-enchanting a mechanical modern world in experiences that even she couldn't have imagined ensconced thirty years earlier in what her early Victorian biographer Thomas Wentworth Higginson innocently called her Cambridge «nest»31.
* Keynote speech of the conference.
1. C. Capper, Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life, i, The Private Years, Oxford University Press, New York 1992; V. L. Parrington, Main Currents in American Thought: An Interpretation of American Literature from the Beginnings to 1920, 3 vols., Harcourt, Brace, and World, New York 1927-30, ii, 1800-1860, The Romantic Revolution in America, pp. 414-34; P. Miller (ed.), Margaret Fuller: American Romantic, Cornell University Press, Ithaca 1963, 19702, pp. ix-xxviii; S. M. Elkins, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1959, 19762, p. 155; B. G. Chevigny, The Woman and the Myth: Margaret Fuller's Life and Writings, (19761), Northeastern University Press, Boston 1994; A. Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture, Alfred A. Knopf, New York 1977, pp. 259-88; Miller, Margaret Fuller, cit., p. xxvii.
2. For thoughtful appraisals of Tocqueville's tension-filled "exceptionalist" critique of American democracy, see C. Strout, Tocqueville's Duality: Describing America and Thinking of Europe, in "American Quarterly", 21, Spring 1969, pp. 87-99; and M. Kammen, Alexis de Tocqueville and "Democracy in America", Library of Congress, Washington D.C. 1998. For recent discussions of the pervasive theme of American "exceptionalism" in historical writing, see the works cited in note 30.
3. R. W. Emerson, The American Scholar, in A. E. Ferguson et al. (eds.),The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 5 vols. to date, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1971- , i, p. 56.
4. Fuller Manuscripts and Works, Houghton Library, Harvard University, iii, 7; ivi, v, 6; J. Slater (ed.), The Correspondence of Emerson and Carlyle, Columbia University Press, New York 1964, p. 478; The Letters of Margaret Fuller, R. N. Hudspeth (ed.), 6 vols., Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London 1983-1994, i, p. 155.
5. Capper, Margaret Fuller, cit., pp. 84-7, 91-2, 103-7.
6. The Letters of Margaret Fuller, cit., i, p. 318; ivi, vi, p. 274. In addition to her dozen articles published in the "Western Messenger", "American Monthly Magazine", and "Boston Quarterly Review", Fuller planned or wrote a large number of others that were never printed.
7. I discuss in detail Fuller's engagements with these four transnational sites in my forthcoming Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life, ii, The Public Years.
8. Journal "1840", Fuller Manuscripts and Works, cit., Box 1; The Letters of Margaret Fuller, cit., ii, p. 125.
9. Ivi, ii, p. 108.
10. "Dial", i, January 1840, p. 10.
11. The still indispensable guide to the twentieth-century's "little magazines" is F. J. Hoffman, C. Allen, C. F. Ulrich, The Little Magazine: A History and a Bibliography, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1946. The best study of their international intellectual contexts remains H. F. May, The End of American Innocence: A Study of the First Years of Our Time, Alfred A. Knopf, New York 1959.
12. "Dial", iii, July 1843, 8, p. 43. The methodological question of linking textual analysis and contextual interrogation in intellectual history has received enormous attention over the last thirty years, but for a recent especially cogent appraisal, see M. Jay, The Textual Approach to Intellectual History, in Id., Force Fields: Between Intellectual History and Cultural Critique, Routledge, Chapman and Hall, New York 1993, pp. 158-66. For a now classic "contextualist" approach as applied to American intellectual history, see D. A. Hollinger, Historians and the Discourse of Intellectuals, in Id., In the American Province: Studies in the History and Historiography of Ideas, Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1985, pp. 130-51.
13. To Harriet Martineau, [ca. November 1837], The Letters of Margaret Fuller, cit., i, pp. 307, 309; to Maria Weston Chapman, December 26, 1840, ivi, ii, pp. 197-98; Anne Weston to Margaret Fuller, January 1841, Weston Papers, Anti-Slavery Collection, Boston Public Library; "Dial", iii, July 1843, p. 9. For Unitarianism and antislavery, see D. W. Howe, The Unitarian Conscience: Harvard Moral Philosophy, 1805-1861, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1970, pp. 270-305; and D. C. Stange, Patterns of Antislavery among American Unitarians, 1831-1860, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Rutherford, N. J., 1977. There exists no adequate study of the Transcendentalists and antislavery. For a classic but tendentious discussion, see Elkins, Slavery, cit., chap. 4. More positive recent appraisals of individual Transcendentalists include L. Gougeon, Virtue's Hero: Emerson, Antislavery, and Reform, University of Georgia Press, Athens 1990; R. F. Teichgraeber, iii, Sublime Thoughts/Penny Wisdom: Situating Emerson and Thoreau in the American Market, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1995, chaps. 3-6; A. J. von Frank, Mrs. Brackett's Verdict: Magic and Means in Transcendental Antislavery Work, in C. Capper, C. E. Wright (eds.), Transient and Permanent: The Transcendentalist Movement and Its Contexts, Massachussets Historical Society, Boston 1999, pp. 385-407; and D. Grodzins, American Heretic: Theodore Parker and Transcendentalism, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, forthcoming, chap. 7. In her Woman in the Nineteenth Century, 1845, Fuller would extend her analysis into more popular and political topics such as prostitution and Texas annexation but without altering the transnational liberal Romantic perspective of "The Great Lawsuit", most of whose sections she reproduced verbatim in her book.
14. M. Fuller, Summer on the Lakes in 1843, Little and Brown, Boston 1844, pp. 53, 65.
15. Ivi, p. 166; "Dial", iii, July 1843, p. 10.
16. Hawthorne and His Mosses, in H. Hayford, H. Parker, G. Th. Tanselle (eds.), The Writings of Herman Melville: The Northwestern-Newberry Edition, vols. 9: The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, 1839-1860, Northwestern University Press, Evanston and Chicago, iii, 1987, pp. 239-53.
17. H. Greeley, in R. W. Emerson, W. H. Channing, J. F. Clarke (eds.), Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, 2 vols., Phillips, Sampson and Company, Boston 1852, ii, p. 152; Greeley, Prospectus for the Year 1845, in "New-York Daily Tribune", Nov. 16, 1844.
18. [Aug. 14, 1845], in The Letters of Margaret Fuller, cit., vi, p. 359, «mutual education»; M. Fuller, Papers on Art, Literature, and the Drama, Brown, Taggard, and Chase, Boston 1860, pp. 298-99.
19. Ivi, pp. 299-300.
20. For the classic cosmopolitan modernist "discoveries" of the "American Renaissance", see L. Mumford, The Golden Day, Boni and Liveright, New York 1926; and F. O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman, Oxford University Press, New York 1941.
21. These developments are traced in the forthcoming second volume of my biography of Fuller.
22. The best recent discussions of German and Irish social and political life in antebellum New York City may be found in S. Nadel, Little Germany: Ethnicity, Religion, and Class in New York City, 1845-80, University of Illinois Press, Urbana 1990; R. B. Stott, Workers in the Metropolis: Class, Ethnicity, and Youth in Antebellum New York City, Cornell University Press, Ithaca 1990; and R. H. Bayor, T. J. Meagher (eds.), The New York Irish, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1996, pp. 1-209.
23. Deutsche Schnellpost, in "New-York Daily Tribune", Jan. 25, 1845, p. 1. For an example of the deep hostility harbored by many antebellum radical reformers toward the Irish, in this case by one of Fuller's ideologically closest friends in New York, see Lydia Maria Child to Maria Weston Chapman, Apr. 26, , in M. Meltzer, P. G. Holland (eds.), Lydia Maria Child: Selected Letters, 1817-1880, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst 1982, pp. 169-70.
24. Deutsche Schnellpost, in "New-York Daily Tribune", Jan. 25, 1845, p. 1; Anniversary of the Polish Revolution, ivi, Dec. 1, 1845, p. 2. For Kallen's theories of ethnic "pluralism" and their later legacies in discussions of "multiculturalism", see D. A. Hollinger, Post-Ethnic America, Basic Books, New York 20002, chap. 4. See also W. Sollors, A Critique of Pure Pluralism, in S. Bercovitch (ed.), Reconstructing American Literary History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 160-79.
25. First of August, 1845, in "New-York Daily Tribune", Aug. 1, 1845, p. 1; 1st January, 1846, ivi, p. 1.
26. New Year's Day, in "New-York Daily Tribune", Jan. 1, 1845, p. 1; First of August, 1845, ivi, p. 1; Der Volks-Tribun, Jan. 17, 1846, p. 1.
27. The Social Movement in Europe, in "New-York Daily Tribune", Aug. 5, 1845, p. 1, "Communism". The best source on Boernstein is his (1881) Fünfundsiebzig Jahre in der Alten und Neuen West. Memoiren eines Unbedeutenden, Peter Lang, Frankfurt 1983; the second half of which mostly appears in the English translation, S. Rowan (tr. and. ed.), Memoirs of a Nobody: The Missouri Years of an Austrian Radical, 1849-1866, Missouri Historical Society Press, St. Louis 1997.
28. "New-York Daily Tribune", Aug. 6, 1845; 1st January, 1846, in "New-York Daily Tribune", p. 1.
29. Trans-National America, in "Atlantic Monthly", 118, July 1916, pp. 86-97. For Bourne's transnational thought in the context of early twentieth-century liberal cosmopolitan ideals of ethnicity, see D. A. Hollinger, Ethnic Diversity, Cosmopolitanism, and the Emergence of the American Liberal Intelligentsia, in Hollinger's In the American Province, cit., pp. 56-73.
30. Sacvan Bercovitch's classic discussion of American rituals of consent is his American Jeremiad, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison 1978, but for a partly revised recent restatement, see his Rites of Assent: Transformations in the Symbolic Construction of America, Routledge, New York 1993. For calls for a new "transnational" or "international" history that would variously drop, reduce, or make highly permeable the concept of the nation in American historical scholarship and American Studies, see I. Tyrrell, American Exceptionalism in an Age of International History, in "American Historical Review", 96, October 1991, pp. 1031-55; and most of the articles in The Nation and Beyond: Transnational Perspectives on United States Identity, Special Issue of "Journal of American History", 86, December 1999. For perspectives that retain more of the concept of the American nation within a comparativist framework, see C. N. Degler, In Pursuit of an American History, in "American Historical Review", 92, February 1987, pp. 1-12; M. McGerr, The Price of the "New Transnational History", and Ian Tyrrell Responds, ivi, 96, October 1991, pp. 1056-72; and Hollinger, The Historian's Use of the United States and Vice Versa, in Th. Bender (ed.), Rethinking American History in a Global Age, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, forthcoming 2002. Transnational and comparativist antebellum intellectual histories are still comparatively rare. The two most ambitious recent works in the genre J. T. Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920, Oxford University Press, New York 1986, and D. T. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1998 both begin their stories in the 1870s. The only comparable study to extend its search backward, Dorothy Ross's, The Origins of American Social Science, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1991, argues that American "exceptionalist" ideology permeated American social science from its inception. C. J. Guarneri, Brook Farm, Fourierism, and the Nationalist Dilemma in American Utopianism, in Capper, Wright, Transient and Permanent, cit., pp. 447-70, likewise highlights the conservative impact of nationalist ideology on Transcendentalist Fourierism. Yet American literary historians have recently begun returning to an older interest in antebellum American-European cross-"influences", albeit in new ideological and transnational ways. See L. Buell, American Literary Emergence as a Postcolonial Phenomenon, in "American Literary History", 4, Fall 1992, pp. 411-42; R. Weisbuch, Atlantic Double-Cross: American Literature and British Influence in the Age of Emerson, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1986; and W. Zacharasiewicz, Das Deutschlandbild in der amerikanischen Literatur, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1998. For two much-noted reclamations of American nationhood for versions of contemporary left-liberal political criticism, see R. Rorty, Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1998; and Hollinger, Post-Ethnic America, cit., chap. 6.
31. Th. W. Higginson, Cheerful Yesterdays, Houghton Mifflin, Boston 1899, p. 3.