Margaret Fuller in Europe: 1846-1850

‘Give me truth: cheat me by no illusion’ demanded this intrepid American enthusiast, who, during her early middle age, landed in Europe for the first time. There, writes Joyce Clark Follet, she found love, adventure, hardship and the revolutionary cause she needed.

In August, 1846, Margaret Fuller sailed for Europe. The trip was the fulfilment of a hope she had cherished since childhood when, as a precocious youngster, she read classical literature and, in her vivid imagination, re-enacted its history and befriended its heroes. Now, her friends Marcus and Rebecca Spring invited her to travel with them, and Horace Greeley granted her temporary leave as literary editor of his New York Tribune. Finally, at the age of thirty-seven, she was going to visit the well-springs of the ideas she dealt in as an intellectual and would relay her impressions for publication in the Tribune.

But it soon became evident in her dispatches that Margaret Fuller was attracted more by the political ferment in Europe than by its art. In six months of travelling toward Rome, she sensed the revolutionary rumblings in the continent. People everywhere, it seemed, were struggling to throw off reactionary governments and oppressive economic systems. She was viewing at first-hand the conditions that fed the discontent - squalid industrial slums in Liverpool and Manchester, hunger amid the flaunted prosperity of Paris, cramped garrets of weavers in Lyons.

None of the sites that would have wooed her earlier seemed to mollify her indignation at ‘the frightening inequalities’ she found between the lot of man and man. Not monuments to Goethe and Beethoven, not enchanting castle ruins, not a visit to Wordsworth, not even the birthplace of Shakespeare. Margaret Fuller’s letters were testimony that exposure to the ‘shocking inhumanity of exclusiveness’ was welding her compassionate nature to a commitment to reform.Ideas about reform were the currency of the many political activists who peopled the intellectual circles of England and France, and Margaret Fuller’s literary reputation gave her access to their company.

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