Tapestry of Faith: What Moves Us: A Unitarian Universalist Theology Program for Adults

Leader Resource 2: At Concord with the Emerson's

Part of What Moves Us

Excerpted and adapted from the article, "Margaret Fuller's 1842 Journal: At Concord with the Emersons" edited with an Introduction by Joel Myerson, Harvard Library Bulletin 21 (October 1979). The letter can be found at Houghton Library, Harvard University

The relationship between Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson has always been a fascinating one to students of American Transcendentalism. They were the literary leaders of the "New School:" Emerson with Nature and his essays, Margaret Fuller with her critical reviews in the New-York Tribune and in The Dial, which both she and Emerson edited. Yet studies of their friendship were until recently hampered by the lack of available primary documents. The only trustworthy sources are the edition of Emerson's letters by Ralph L. Rusk, which also includes many of Margaret's letters in its notes, and the current edition of Emerson's journals.

Margaret Fuller had first been brought to Emerson's attention by Frederic Henry Hedge. Fuller had wanted to meet Emerson ever since Hedge had praised him to her in 1834, and in the next year she was pleased to find out that Emerson was also interested in seeing her. The death of her father delayed their meeting and they first saw each other in the summer of 1836, when she stayed with him at Concord for three weeks. At first Emerson had thought the visit would be a failure: "Her extreme plainness, — a trick of incessantly opening and shutting her eyelids, — the nasal tone of her voice, — all repelled; and I said to myself, we shall never get far." But the visit turned out to be a great success, and Emerson decided that she was "a very accomplished very intelligent person," though he was slightly bothered by her egotism.

Margaret became a regular attendant at the Transcendental Club meetings and in November 1839 was appointed editor of the proposed Transcendental periodical, The Dial. The next few months brought her into closer contact with Emerson as she planned the magazine's first number, and soon a distinct crisis arose. As she came to write and to see Emerson more, Margaret expected a letting-down of Emerson's usual defensive reserve; when Emerson retained his aloof posture, Margaret sought to force him out of it. This stage of their relationship reached a peak during the fall of 1840, after which Margaret accepted Emerson on his own terms and even praised him for being so faithful to his own beliefs.

The journal which follows is among Margaret Fuller's journal fragments at the Houghton Library of Harvard University. It is truly unique, being not only one of the longest and most complete of her extant fragmentary journals, but also the finest non-family portrait of Emerson and his wife Lidian at home which survives from this period, [a mere few months after the death of their five-year old son from scarlet fever had devastated them both.] Besides presenting a vivid description of Margaret Fuller's own mind and feelings, this journal also provides a view of Emerson's philosophic beliefs and gives more detail about the behavior and thoughts of Ellery Channing, [husband of Margaret's sister Ellen and nephew of Dr. William Ellery Channing.]. Beginning with her arrival in Concord on 17 August 1842, the journal runs through Margaret's departure on 25 September.

Since Emerson's journals during this period are sketchy, and since less than a dozen of Emerson's letters written while Margaret was in Concord have been published, this journal should be of especial interest and value. ["Waldo" was the name used by Emerson's family and friends]:

[August] 17th. Arriving this evening quite late, all things looked sad to me. The Concord fog shrouded every object as I approached though the afternoon had been clear and of surpassing beauty. — I went to walk with Waldo. Near the river the misty moonlight was of fairy effect. We merely told our experiences these past months: it was an interchange of facts but no conversation, yet it was pleasant to be with him again.

Thursday [August 18].

... Waldo [and] I went to walk to Walden pond, as usual, [and] staid till near sunset on the water's brink beneath the pines. It was a very lovely afternoon, great happy clouds floating, a light breeze rippling the water to our feet: it was altogether sweet, and not out of memory, as is too often the case between us, but from the present moment [and] to be remembered. We go but very little way on our topics, just touch [and] taste and leave the cup not visibly shallower. Waldo said once his were short flights from bough to bough, [and] so it it [sic] is not up into the blue. I feel more at home with him constantly, but we do not act powerfully on one another. He is a much better companion than formerly, for once he would talk obstinately through the walk, but now we can be silent and see things together. We talked on the subject of his late letter, the threatenings of the time which come to so little, and of some individual cases where Sorrow is still the word, of those who began with such high resolve. Too high I said, [and] W. agreed. We spoke of the prayer of a friend Lord use me only for high purposes, no mean ones. — We must not dictate to the spirit. This evening Ellery called me out to the /east/ clover slip, from which there is a wide view over the meadows. The moon was nearly at full. He told me a great deal about himself. He got excited, as in painting a picture. He said the changes of his life made figures to him of himself on his canvass just as of other people, that it was endless change, urged on by a fate, that he disappointed every one, and most me, and there was no hope of its ever being otherwise.

Friday [August 19].

... In the evening I took a walk with W. Looking at the moon in the river he said the same thing as in his letter, how each twinkling light breaking there summons to demand the whole secret, and how "promising, promising nature never fulfils what she thus gives us a right to expect[.]" I said I never could meet him here, the beauty does not stimulate me to ask why?, and press to the centre, I was satisfied for the moment, full as if my existence was filled out, for nature had said the very word that was lying in my heart. Then we had an excellent talk: We agreed that my god was love, his truth. W. said that these statements alternate, of course, in every mind, the only difference was in which you were most at home, that he liked the pure mathematics of the thing... .

Sunday [August 28].

A heavy rain. I must stay at home. I feel sad. — ... All these evenings it has rained and we could not go out. Ellery has come into my room, but it has not been pleasant. The indoor darkness seemed to cloud his mind: he was entirely different from what he is beneath the open sky. The first night he began by railing at me as artificial. "It dont strike me when you are alone with me, he says, but it does when others are present. You dont follow out the fancy of the moment, you converse, you have treasured thoughts to tell, you are disciplined, artificial." I pleaded guilty, and observed that I supposed it must be so, with one of my continuity of thought or earnestness of character. — As to that, says he, I shall not like you the better for your excellence. I dont know what is the matter, I feel strongly attracted towards you, but there is a drawback in my mind, I dont know exactly what. You will always be wanting to grow forward, now I like to grow backward too. You are too ideal. Ideal people (always) anticipate their lives, and they make themselves and every body around them restless, by always being beforehand with themselves, [and] so on in the very tone of William's [William Henry Channing, Dr. Channing's nephew] damning letter.

I listened attentively, for what he said was excellent, following up the humor of the moment he arrests admirable thoughts on the wing. But I cannot but see, that what they say of my or other obscure lives is true of every prophetic, of every tragic character, — And then I like to have them make me look [on] that side, and reverence the lovely forms of nature, the shifting moods, and the clinging instincts. But I must not let them disturb me. There is /one/ only guide, the voice in the heart that asks — Was thy wish sincere? If so thou canst not stray from nature, nor be so perverted but she will make thee true again. I must take my own path, and learn from them all, without being paralyzed for to day. We need great energy, and self-reliance to endure to day. My age may not be the best, my position may be bad, my character ill formed, but thou, Oh Spirit, hast no regard to aught but the seeking heart, and if I try to walk upright will [thou] guide me? What despair must he feel who after a whole life passed in trying to build up himself, resolves that it would have been far better, if he had kept still as the clod of the valley, or yielded easily as the leaf to every breeze. A path has been appointed me. I have walked in it as steadily as I could. "I am what I am." That which I am not, teach me in the others. I will bear the pain of imperfection, but not of doubt. Waldo must not shake me in my worldliness, nor William [William Henry Channing] in the fine motion that that [sic] has given me what I have of life, nor this child of genius, make me lay aside the armour without which I had lain bleeding on the field long since, but if they can keep closer to Nature, and learn to interpret her as souls, also, — let me learn from them what I have not.

The spirit ascends through every form of nature into man, and no doubt here should make the complete animal instinctive man before unfolding his higher nature. But it was no accident that the serpent entered Eden, that the regular order of things was destroyed, that a painful throe accompanies every precious truth. When the soul has mastered it all, when it has learnt the secret in all its series, then there shall be no more breaks, no sluggishness, no premature fruit, but every thought be unfolded in its due order. Till then let us stand where our feet are placed and learn bit by bit, secure that it must be the destiny of each man to fill the whole circle.

Ellery said when we found a snake in the path that it was the criticism in the universe. It was not ugly, not loathsome; no, handsome and adroit in its motions, but it made you cold.

Monday [August 29]. All the rain is over: it is a day of broad sunshine, spirited but warm breezes, great floating clouds. I made a holy-day of it out in the woods. Much did I long "divinely to intend" the mind on subjects all-important to it, but I could not. I could get no steady light, only sighs for it were in a purer spirit than formerly. I am not in that state of clear vision I was two years ago, nor in that state of sweet feeling I was last summer, but Heaven be praised the clouds are rising that have lain low upon my soul all this fair summer. ...
[manuscript breaks off]

Sept [1]
This golden afternoon I walked with Waldo to the hemlocks. There we sat down and staid till near sunset. He read me verses. — Dichtung und Wahrheit [Poetry and Truth] is certainly the name for his life, for he does not care for facts, except so far as the immortal essence can be distilled from them. He has little sympathy with mere life: does not seem to see the plants grow, merely that he may rejoice in their energy.

We got to talking, as we almost always do, on Man and Woman, and Marriage.— W. took his usual ground. Love is only phenomenal, a contrivance of nature, in her circular motion. Man, in proportion as he is completely unfolded is man and woman by turns. The soul knows nothing of marriage, in the sense of a permanent union between two personal existences. The soul is married to each new thought as it enters into it. If this thought puts on the form of man or woman [,] if it last you seventy years, what then? There is but one love, that for the Soul of all Souls, let it put on what cunning disguises it will, still at last you find yourself lonely, — the Soul.

There seems to be no end to these conversations: they always leave us both where they found us, but we enjoy them, for we often get a good expression. Waldo said "Ask any woman whether her aim in this union is to further the genius of her husband; and she will say yes, but her conduct will always be to claim a devotion day by day that will be injurious to him, if he yields. ["] "Those who hold their heads highest," quoth he, with a satirical side glance, "would do no better, if they were tried." I made no reply, for it is not worthwhile to, in such cases, by words.

[September] 2d It is a most brilliant day, [and] I stole the morning from my writing to take Lidian [Mrs. Emerson] and then Mamma to ride. L. has had a slow fever which has confined her to her chamber almost ever since I came, [and] I have not been attentive to her as I should have been, if I had thought she cared about it. I did not go into her room at all for a day or two, simply because I was engaged all the time and kept expecting to see her down stairs. When I did go in, she burst into tears, at sight of me, but laid the blame on her nerves, having taken opium, etc. I felt embarrassed, [and] did not know whether I ought to stay or go. Presently she said something which made me suppose she thought W. passed the evenings in talking with me, a painful feeling flashed across me, such as I have not had, all has seemed so perfectly understood between us. I said that I was with Ellery or H[enry]. T[horeau]. both of the evenings that W. was writing in the study.

I thought it all over a little, whether I was considerate enough. As to W. I never keep him from any such duties, any more than a book would. — He lives in his own way, [and] he dont soothe the illness, or morbid feelings of a friend, because he would not wish any one to do it for him. It is useless to expect it; what does it signify whether he is with me or at his writing. L. knows perfectly well, that he has no regard for me or any one that would make him wish to be with me, a minute longer than I could fill up the time with thoughts. As to my being more his companion that cannot be helped, his life is /in/ the intellect not the affections. He has affection for me, but it is because I quicken his intellect. — I dismissed it all, as a mere sick moment of L's.

Yesterday she said to me, at dinner, I have not yet been out, will you be my guide for a little walk this afternoon. I said ["]I am engaged to walk with Mr E. but["] — (I was going to say, I will walk with you first,) when L. burst into tears. The family were all present, they looked at their plates. Waldo looked on the ground, but soft [and] serene as ever. I said "My dear Lidian, certainly I will go with you." "No! ["] she said ["]I do not want you to make any sacrifice, but I do feel perfectly desolate, and forlorn, and I thought if I once got out, the fresh air would do me good, and that with you, I should have courage, but go with Mr E. I will not go[.]"
I hardly knew what to say, but I insisted on going with her, [and] then she insisted on going so that I might return in time for my other walk. Waldo said not a word: he retained his sweetness of look, but never offered to do the least thing. I can never admire him enough at such times; he is so true to himself. In our walk and during our ride this morning L. talked so fully that I felt reassured except that I think she will always have these pains, because she has always a lurking hope that Waldo's character will alter, and that he will be capable of an intimate union; now I feel convinced that it will never be more perfect between them two. I do not believe it will be less: for he is sorely troubled by imperfections in the tie, because he dont believe in any thing better. — /And where he loved her first, he loves her always./ Then the influence of any one with him would be just in proportion to independence of him, combined with pure love of him for his own sake. Yet in reply to all L. said, I would not but own that though I thought it was the only way, to take him for what he is, as he wishes to be taken, and though my experience of him has been, for that very reason, so precious to me, I dont know that I could have fortitude for it in a more intimate relation. Yet nothing could be nobler, nor more consoling than to be his wife, if one's mind were only thoroughly made up to the truth. — As for myself, if I have not done as much as I ought for L. it is that her magnanimity has led her to deceive me. I have really thought that she was happy to have me in the house solely for Waldo's sake, and my own, and she is, I know, in the long account, but there are pains of every day which I am apt to neglect for others as for myself. — But Truth, spotless Truth, and Prayer and Love shall yield a talisman to teach me how to steer.

I suppose the whole amount of the feeling is that women can't bear to be left out of the question. And they don't see the whole truth about one like me, if they did they would understand why the brow of Muse or Priestess must wear a shade of sadness. On my side I don't remember them enough. They have so much that I have not, I can't conceive of their wishing for what I have, (enjoying is not the word: these I know are too generous for that) But when Waldo's wife, the mother of that child that is gone thinks me the most privileged of women, that E[lizabeth] H[oar] was happy because her love was snatched away for a life long separation [Note: Hoar's fiance, Charles Emerson, Waldo's brother, had died], thus she can know none but ideal love: it does seem a little too insulting at first blush. — And yet they are not altogether wrong.

Friday [September 2]

Ellery has seemed in a real pet with me for two or three days. I don't know what I did[,] some trifling thing. On Monday E [and] I went to walk, it was a calm bright afternoon. I felt full of music, and at first I did not enjoy being with E. for he was full of whimsies, [and] I felt as if I should rather have followed out my own course of feeling. At Walden we sat down among the bushes, and there E. was amusing me with his fancies of possible life upon the lake, [and] had just built his cottage, where he wrote verses from eight in the morning till four in the afternoon, summoning his attendant who hovered during the day on the edge of the wood by notes graduated on a key bugle to express his wants, — when Waldo dashed through the trees, and came down close to us. He made the same lovely apparition, as when he came down the bank where I was sitting with Hawthorne the other day, cleaving the shade like a sunbeam, the same lovely light in his eye and happy smile on his lips — I see written in his journal, "And now before the flush quite fades from my cheek, let me write, etc.["] and this sweet girlishness is expressive of these brief visitations of loveliest youth to his face, where generally is seen only the purist, the critic, or the cold idealist. The other day he asked me to ride to Cambridge with him. I did not wish to go, but when I saw him setting off without me, I could not be willing, said, Oh I ought to have gone: it will be so desolate here all day without you[.] He blushed like a silly little child [and] said "That it go up stairs and it will find a battledore and shuttlecock to console it." I laughed thought we should certainly never cease to be young. We may wear out a body: it may get worn and hard, but the look of the infant will pierce through the old disguise, and so on ad infinitum. Today he said "What, are you here. I knocked at your door for you to go with me, and as you did not answer I thought you were asleep". I made some answer on the impulse of the moment that I was sorry I was not with him, perhaps this displeased E. or something that I said next day, but he seemed unwilling even to look at me for two or three days and at last I wrote him a note which he answered in these verses.[no verses are copied into the journal at this point].

Friday [September 9]

Aft[ernoon]. Waldo came into my room to read me what he has written in his journal about marriage, [and] we had a long talk. He listens with a soft wistful look to what I say, but is nowise convinced. It was late in a dark afternoon, the fine light in that red room always so rich, cast a beautiful light upon him, as he read and talked. Since I have found in his journal two sentences that represent the two sides of his thought.

In time, "Marriage should be a covenant to secure to either party the sweetness and the handsomeness of being a calm continuing inevitable benefactor to the other."

In eternity, "Is it not enough that souls should meet in a law, in a thought, obey the same love, demonstrate the same idea. These alone are the nuptials of minds[.] I marry you for better, not for worse, I marry impersonally."

I shall write to him about it... .
This day [September 17]

H[enry]. Hedge passed with us, and in the afternoon I went with him to Cambridge... H. emphasizes the Church and the Race as William [Channing] does. I see that side, but care more for the other. What is done here at home in my heart is my religion. I said to H. I see not one step before me, and my only act is to live to day, and not hasten to conclusions. Let others choose their way, I feel that mine is to keep my equipoise as steadfastly as I may, to see, to think, a faithful sceptic, to reject nothing but accept nothing till it is affirmed in the due order of mine own nature. I belong nowhere. I have pledged myself to nothing. God and the soul and nature are all my creed, subdivisions are unimportant. — As to your Church, I do not deny the church, who can that holds communion on themes of permanent interest as I do with several minds. I have my church where I am by turns priest [and] lay man. I take these simpler modes, if the world prefers more complex, let it. I act for myself, but prescribe for none other... .

Next morning [September 18] wrote a letter to Mother and saw the boys then H. came for me. An eagle had perched on the vane of Mr Newell's church, and we found the whole town At Brookline I listened with curiosity to H's sermons. In fact it is not more wonderful for a disciple of Hegel to preach, than for a (believer) Buddhist to feel gratitude. They were written with high finish: their mechanism excellent. The doctrine was good; the one, to encourage the good in oneself, rather than make a fuss about the evil, the other I must tread the winepress alone, true, but touched so slightly on what I know and feel. At Waltham were good talk. The inspiration of the individual need not be sacrificed in favor of that of the race. We can just as well have both. Oh I am tired of this journal: it is a silly piece of work. I will never keep another such. Write thoughts, the sum of all this life, or turn it into poetic form: this meagre outline of fact has no value in any way:

(Monday) I gave the aftn and eveing to Lidian[: ] she read to me of little Waldo and talked well. She said the Angels look on what you do, perhaps with as much disdain as you and Waldo would on Mrs. Hemans. Whatever has spoken to /us of/ one human heart has a right to exist. I confess, I replied, but ever, ever we are striving to the more excellent. Forgive if we are narrow and cold on the way. Yet should we mend.
When we found snakes the other day, Ellery said they were the criticism of the universe, handsome, easy in motion, cold and odious.

This hangs well together with L's idea. When she read me W's answer to my questions, and said when he would not answer so as to meet her wants, she thought Christ would if he were there. I told her yet just so did Christ answer his disciples again and again Feed my lambs and nothing more, no explanations, no going out of himself to meet their wants. Both she and Mamma were struck by this, but L. will not remember it.
Nothing makes me so anti-Christian, and so anti-marriage as these talks with L. She lays such undue stress on the office of Jesus, and the demands of the heart. Waldo had got through with his tedious (Wednesday) prose, and to day he got into the mood to finish his poem. Just at night he came into the red room to read the passage he had inserted. This is to me the loveliest way to live that we have. I wish it would be so always that I could live in the red room, and Waldo be stimulated /by the fine days/ to write poems and come the rainy days to read them to me. My time to go to him is late in the evening. Then I go knock at the library door, and we have (yo) our long word walk through the growths of things with glimmers of light from the causes of things. Afterward, W. goes out and walks beneath the stars to compose himself for his pillow, and I open the window, and sit in the great red chair to watch them. The only thing I hate is our dining together. It is never pleasant and some days I dislike it so that I go out just before dinner stay till night in the woods, just to break the routine. I do not think a person of more complete character would feel or make the dinner bell such a vulgarity as W. does, but with him these feelings are inevitable[.] ...

Sunday [September 25]. All this morning I spent in reading W's journals for the last year, or rather in finishing them, for I have had them by me for weeks. This afternoon I meant to have gone into the woods and finished Ellery's book, but I went into the library after dinner and staid till night: it was our last talk and my best. We talked over many things in the journal, especially a good lead was given by "Sickness is generally the coat in which genius is drest," an unusual remark for W. — We talked too of Bulwer and the people of talent, — W grows more merciful day by day. I ought to go away now these last days I have been fairly intoxicated with his mind. I am not in full possession of my own. I feel faint in in [sic] the presence of too strong a fragrance. I think, too, he will be glad to get rid of me. Elizth asked if he would not be sad when I was gone[.] I told her, no, relieved rather, — for all the things he says in his Essays on these subjects are true of himself. I took tea with Ellen and Ellery and then went in to see E[lizabeth]. H[oar]. Waldo came for me, but Ellery came down to my room afterward, E.H. rose betimes next morning and came down to breakfast with us. Mamma and Lidian went to Boston with me. Farewell, dearest friend, there has been dissonance between us, and may be again, for we do not fully meet, and to me you are too much and too little by turns, yet thanks be to the Parent of Souls, that gave us to be born into the same age and the same country and to meet with so much of nobleness and sweetness as we do, and I think constantly with more and more.

Going down I had a thorough talk with Lidian. I shall never trouble myself any more: it is not just to her. But I will do more in attending to her, for I see I could be of real use. She says she feels I am always just to her, but I might be more.