In 1844 Margaret Fuller moved to New York and shortly thereafter became involved with James Nathan, a banker. At age 34, it was her first love affair. Though they exchanged hundreds of letters, Fuller was revolted when Nathan tried to turn the relationship into a sexual one. Despite this, they continued seeing each other until Nathan left to spend the summer of 1845 in Europe. During his travels, Fuller heard nothing from him, and she would later learn that he had become engaged to someone else.
New York, 24th June, 1845
This beautiful summer morning finds me free to write to you, dear friend, but a good hour of it have I wasted, lying here, thinking which of the many things I have to say, shall be selected for the letter. They are so many and yet so little. None seems well worth writing down by itself, though I should say them all to you, if you were here.
If you were here; alas! that you are not. The softness and splendour of everything around me, the musical sweep of these breezes…You would enjoy them all so fully, and there is none else, who could enjoy them so, except me, and now having had you with me, I cannot be happy as I should have been if I had not had your companionship at all. Now I must miss you; I try not, but cannot yet help it.
I do not now go out in the afternoon or evening, which was the time we used to be together, but choose the morning rather. I have got a new place on the rocks which is delightful in the morning, much more so than the one where we used to go; it is more shadowed and retired; yet the water comes up to my feet. But you, I fear, will never see it. Everything looks, as if you, having lost the pleasure of being here this summer, will not have it another, even if you should come back. I will not tell you more about them at present; but the same griefs keep breaking out with violence, and I feel as if no peace or security could be expected from connection with persons so circumstanced. My dear mother is staying with me now; her sweetness and elegance make the house seem a very different place from what it ever did before. While she stays, I feel it’s almost like home, but she will leave me early in July.
I have had many visitors, and been about a great deal; for the last month of your stay I used to put all such engagements off till you were gone, and they have accumulated. I take some pleasure in them for Mother; to her they are fresh and amusing. I take pleasure, too, in being the means that some persons, weary of the city, and to whom it is a delight to come here, can come.
I have also tried to revive my energies about the paper, and have succeeded in doing a good deal. Mr. Greeley told me that he could not bear to urge me, but unless I took more interest, he should not feel that he would go away; however his journey seems still in the distant perspective. I doubt his going before September.
This is the day of the great procession to pay funeral honours to General Jackson, honours with which I do not sympathize, except on this score, that the flaming old warrior was so downright.
There is also a new movement against the Texas annexation, but which will not, if it so to be feared, raise a very full wave.
What else shall I tell you? Nothing has happened that interests me, except that the Prison Association has taken a house in Twelfth Street as a temporary asylum for released female convicts while finding them employment. I have written an appeal to the public, to procure aid to this house, which has interested a good many. Last Sunday I went there, found ten of these women, one about eighteen, whose face you would like. Her eyes were brown and very soft, around the mouth signs of great sensibility. She seems to be in consumption. It pained me to see the poor things so bowed down, much more so than they seem in their prisons; some pious ladies were exhorting them, Bible in hand. I had some pleasant chat with them. I liked them better than most women I meet, because, if any good is left, it is so genuine, and they make no false pretensions, nor cling to shadows. But then, in talking with me, they do not show the contamination and painful images that must haunt their lonely hours. They are pleased and cheered and show only the womanly and self-respecting side.
We have had one interesting book, Longfellow’s “Poets and Poetry of Europe.” Look over it if you have a chance any time; it contains a good course in these charming studies, and there are some things, I wish I could read with you.
Little Arthur grows very handsome and engaging. He walks firmly and lightly now, and his figure is full of spirit. He likes much to run into my room and have me show him pictures, and understands all the stories I tell him about them. He has learned from my lips to say several words, but man-like, he will only say them at his own time, and now when I ask him. The first one was bird, which is a good one to begin with.
Josey is thriving. We have now an excellent man who will take good care of him.
Now, dear friend, I have told you all the gossip. I wish I could do better, but I cannot. Indeed there are soul-realities. I feel a perfect stream of life beneath all this. But it is not one of the times when I can fathom it. It carries me on, I know not whither, but only feel borne by the stream, and fanned by the gales. But it seems as if in our bond, these deep things you will easier know untold, than the little outward things. Indeed:
“A weary time thou’st been away
But yet I feel thee near.”
And when I am tempted to sing sometimes the other song: “O say dost thou love me yet?” I seem to be answered “yes! I love and know thee, even now my thoughts enfold thee with that intelligence, that was so sweet, so cherishing, nor can we become unknown to one another.”
If it is really so, thou knowest well how great the life that is growing up within me, and what sweet strange music flows in upon me at times. But I do not count these things or seek to detain them. I am passive.
No. II. Continued from another letter.
We have been much to one another, and, should we never meet again in bodily presence, precious realities must ensue to both of us from the past meeting.
But no more of such things now. I feel as if my power of writing to you would be much decided by the character of your first letters. Once you intimated, that you should not want a real correspondence with me while on your pilgrimage, for you needed to be “unaccompanied” and quite free to receive new impressions. I thought this very natural and acquieseed [sic]. But later you wished it otherwise; yet this, perhaps, was only the pain of parting. When I see what direction your feelings permanently take, then shall I be drawn or repelled accordingly. Your first letters I shall have, before you receive these, I hope, and those will tell me, too, many things, outward at least. I shall know how you fared on the waters (never do I see the sails pass without thinking of that); what thoughts rose uppermost, whether the angels did not console you for sickening realities that had disturbed your last days here, and shown you how much are in the end turned and melted into a sublime music, the melody of the Earth heard from due distance. Or were entirely new thoughts revealed, or confirmation given of what had passed before? Or were you listless and sick, needing mere amusement? Or did new sources of interest spring up?
I long to know what news you find in London, whether you will be permitted to pursue your journey, or obliged to go to your home. There you will see your mother, too, and what a holy hope it must be, after such a long separation. I think from traits you have told me, she is in some respects like mine…
The next is from Shelley and was not, I feel pretty sure, in your volume. Even if you do not like him generally, you will the exquisite pensiveness of this:
When passion’s trance is overpast,
If tenderness and truth could last
And live, while all wild feelings keep
Some mortal slumber, dark and deep,
I should not weep, I should not weep,
After the slumber of the year,
The woodland violets reappear,
All things revive in field and grove
And sky and sea—but two, which move
As for all others—life and love.
Perhaps the haze of his style and want of clear finish in the expression of his thoughts will prevent your liking him. I feel in copying his verses, that he must be harder than others for a foreigner to understand.
Now I will stop for this day. I sent no letter by the Western in consequence of an oversight, but two by the Boston steamer, which I hope reached you safely, though they contained little beyond the words of love and regret.
From Love-Letters of Margaret Fuller. Edited by Julia Ward Howe. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1903. pp. 110-119.
A 1903 review of The Love-Letters of Margaret Fuller.
An explanation of the damage done to Fuller’s legacy after her death.
Poems and biography at Poetry Foundation.