Minerva and the Muse: A Life of Margaret Fuller

By Joan Von Mehren | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12

I trust by reverent faith to woo the mighty meaning of the scene, perhaps to foresee the law by which a new order, a new poetry is to be evoked from this chaos.



Summer on the Lakes

BY THE 1840s, Niagara Falls had become the icon of the country's Manifest Destiny. When John Quincy Adams visited in the summer of 1843, a few weeks after Fuller and her friends had departed for Chicago on the second leg of their western trip, he pronounced it "one of the most wonderful works of God" on earth, and the rainbow that arched its roaring waters whenever the sun shone was "a pledge of God to mankind."1

Nathaniel Hawthorne arrived in 1834, "haunted with a vision of foam and fury, and dizzy cliffs and an ocean tumbling out of the sky," but found himself cast into "a wretched disappointment" on discovering that Nature had "too much good taste" to live up to his expectations. In the same vein, Margaret Fuller approached the scene a decade later fully prepared to be swept away with "lofty emotions," only to discover that everything looked just as she thought it would. Unable to experience the sublime emotion she had been led to expect, the best she could do was tuck Niagara away in her memory.2

During the week, while she waited for the promised thrill, she explored all the obligatory sights but could only regret that she had not been with the first band of discoverers who had stumbled out of the primeval forest with Father Hennepin on "'this vast and prodigious cadence of water.'" The "perpetual trampling of the waters," seized her mind and filled it with "unsought and unwelcome . . . images, such as never haunted it before, of naked savages stealing behind me with uplifted tomahawks." She faced up to this primal scene in the book she wrote after her return in which she defended the Indian as having acted "the Roman or the Carthaginian part of heroic and patriotic selfdefense" when he wielded his tomahawk against "the Europeans who took possession of this country."3

On June 4, after Sturgis left for home, Margaret boarded a steamer with Sarah and James at Buffalo for a five-day passage through the Great Lakes to Chicago. 1843 was the year of the "Great Migration" when 1,000 settlers forged the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri, to the Columbia River country of Oregon. Nearly all of the Native Americans east of the Mississippi had been moved to the Great Plains, and thousands of homesteaders were rushing in from the coast and from Europe to fill the empty land. Most of the passengers

-172-

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Minerva and the Muse: A Life of Margaret Fuller
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction - Margaret Fuller: Should She Be Famous? 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Protected Years 6
  • Chapter 2 - A Varied Education 24
  • Chapter 3 - An Unfavorable Turn 38
  • Chapter 4 - Vain World Begone 54
  • Chapter 5 - A Trial to Fortitude 72
  • Chapter 6 - Schoolkeeping in Providence 90
  • Chapter 7 - Episodes in the Crusade 104
  • Chapter 8 - The Dial: Discontent and Freedom 120
  • Chapter 9 - A Sojourner on Earth 137
  • Chapter 10 - Marriage Studies 152
  • Chapter 11 - The Great Lawsuit 162
  • Chapter 12 - Summer on the Lakes 172
  • Chapter 13 - Woman in the Nineteenth Century 189
  • Chapter 14 - Mary and Horace Greeley 200
  • Chapter 15 - James Nathan 207
  • Chapter 16 - New York, 1845-1846 215
  • Chapter 17 - England and Scotland 230
  • Chapter 18 - France 241
  • Chapter 19 - Italy at Last 252
  • Chapter 20 - Return to Rome 264
  • Chapter 21 - 1848: on Her Own 276
  • Chapter 22 - The Roman Republic 289
  • Chapter 23 - Siege and Escape 303
  • Chapter 24 - Florence 318
  • Chapter 25 - Return 333
  • Chapter 26 - Aftermath and Debate 340
  • Notes 353
  • Index 387
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