New and Complete Edition. New York: The Tribune Association. 6 vols. 12mo.
IT is very fitting that a new and permanent edition of the writings of Margaret Fuller Ossoli should proceed from the New York Tribune Association. It was the Tribune which first gave her a wider public than her Boston coterie; and perhaps no other newspaper would then have ventured to enlist such genius and such culture as hers for the production of “ human nature’s daily food ” in the way of book-notices. It was putting Pegasus in harness; and some of us can still remember how Pegasus reared and plunged, and snorted defiance to other winged steeds, which snorted yet more violently back. But after all it was a great epoch when she lingered in that harness ; and the authorling of to-day, turning over these brilliant and pungent pages, must wish that some successor of Margaret Fuller yet lived, to pronounce his doom with as superb a scorn. We have more deliberate and more judicious critics still among us, and some quite as impulsive; but who pronounces doom so brilliantly ? Who wields a scymitar so keen as hers, by which, as in the Arabian tale, the victim was decapitated without knowing it until he shook his head ?
Utterly free from unfair personalities herself, she had yet an occasional superciliousness of manner, even when she aimed at humility ; and this brought down very bitter personalities on her head. Before these were at their height, she had left America, and had exchanged literature for life, as she erelong exchanged time for eternity. But the literary antagonisms she called forth may have only added zeal to the friendships she won, — and no American woman perhaps has had so many or so honorable friendships. The memoirs which precede this edition are a sort of votive offering of personal regard ; and coming as they do from some of the most gifted among the men of her time, they constitute just the tribute her nature would have craved. The other volumes contain all of her writings that are likely to be preserved for posterity, and these were selected with the greatest care by her brother Arthur, who has since died a death almost as dramatic as her own.
The essay on “ Woman in the Nineteenth Century,” with some companion papers, fills one volume ; the three others being respectively devoted to her travels, under the name of “ At Home and Abroad ” ; to her papers on “ Art, Literature, and the Drama ”; and to other papers not very distinct in character from these, under the vaguer title of “ Life Without and Life Within.” These all show the same qualities, — a varied but rather irregular and unequal scholarship ; wonderful “lyric glimpses ” of thought, as Emerson called them ; a steady elevation of aim ; an impatience, not always courteous, of shallowness or charlatanism in others ; a high appreciation of artistic excellence, without the constructive power necessary for its attainment. For want of this, an impression of inadequacy and incompleteness attaches to her completest works ; yet the latest are usually the best, and indicate the steady literary progress that would probably have been hers had not a higher step in progress occurred instead. As it is, there is probably no American author, save Emerson, who has planted so many germs of high thought in other minds.
It is certain that in many high literary qualities she has left no equal among American women, and very few among American men. With the generation that knew her will depart much of the prestige of her personal influence, and all the remembrance of whatever unattractive qualities may have alloyed it. This will leave her purely intellectual influence to exert its full weight, for a time at least, on those who are to come. She will still be, for a generation certainly, one of the formative influences of the American mind. How her reputation, or anybody’s, will endure the terrible winnowing of a hundred years is something which no contemporary can foretell.