I’m glad to include here a paper by my colleague Lauren Phillips from an Aesthetic Realism public seminar, which includes a discussion of the life of Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller.
Aesthetic Realism taught me that a woman will be intelligent in love when she uses a man to like the world. I was like most women in feeling that my charm and personality should be enough, and that if I could just find the right man to adore me, everything would be all right. I felt, “when it comes to love, who needs knowledge?”
Aesthetic Realism explained my pain and taught me what I most needed to know. In “Love and Reality,” chapter 7 of Self and World, Eli Siegel writes:
Love is in exact proportion to accurate knowledge. To say that love—as many have intimated—is based on mystery, dimness, blindness, blurriness, though it may sound fetchingly ‘romantic,’ is really to do away with the true mystery, the true expansiveness, the true grandeur, the true intensity of love.”
Learning that the purpose of love is to like the world through knowing it, changed my life and enabled me for the first time honestly to love a man—Aesthetic Realism consultant Bruce Blaustein, who is my husband.
I’ll tell something of my life and comment on aspects of the life of a woman I’ve come to respect tremendously—the important American writer and critic, Margaret Fuller who lived from 1810 to 1850. She was a courageous critic of injustice to people—to women, Native Americans, persons who were poor, and she wanted to have a good effect on the world. While addressing female prisoners at Sing Sing Christmas Day, 1844, she said, “If in one act,—for one day,—you can do right, let that live…in your memory; for if you have done well once you can again.” She is most famous for her scholarly work, which was reprinted many times including in Europe, titled Woman in the Nineteenth Century in which she criticized the narrow, contemptuous way women were seen at that time. In a lecture Eli Siegel said of her, “Margaret Fuller is thought to be the most intellectual lady in America, and had deep thought and…conversations of a kind that hardly any other woman had had in America…”
I. Unintelligence, Flattery and Love
I learned that the way we see the first representatives of the world we meet, usually our parents, affects how we see everything, including love. From the time I was very young, my father praised me excessively. When we’d go for walks, I’d encourage him to talk disparagingly about the rest of the family so that I could be important. And when he appeared sad, I looked for opportunities to soothe him. I felt I was very smart about my father, certainly smarter than my mother. Without knowing it, I was doing something very hurtful to my mind: using him against caring for or being interested in anything else.
By the time I went to college, I felt I should be the most important thing in a man’s life. When Tom, a man I had been seeing for months, sang and played the guitar one evening, I was shocked at how beautifully he played. How could I have spent so much time with him and not have known he played the guitar? I felt ashamed of how little interested I’d been in him. Yet I never asked him to play again.
The reason was, I saw any interest Tom had in other things as an interference with his making much of me. I even became furious with him during finals because he spent so much time studying. I myself was taking a Russian literature course that I loved, but in a choice between War and Peace and conquering Tom, I chose Tom, and I got so far behind that I skipped all the chapters on war.I felt I had a small mind and that I didn’t have much to offer anyone. How thankful I am to my Aesthetic Realism consultants, Nancy Huntting, Karen Van Outryve, and Carrie Wilson, for teaching me why I was so pained in love, and how I could change. They explained:
The flattery between fathers and daughters [can]…wound and cripple a person, [and stop her] from caring for anything else….There’s no room for really knowing and taking in otherness, you’re so filled with yourself.
As I learned that my deepest purpose was not to be praised excessively, but to know and be fair to the world, I felt my mind was coming out of the darkness into sunlight, and was much larger than I’d any idea of.
II. She Wanted to Put Together Warmth and Intellect, For and Against
Margaret Fuller was born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts in 1810. As a young woman, she became friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott, who were prominent in the Transcendental movement. Later, she worked as a newspaper writer for Horace Greeley’s New York Daily Tribune and was a critic of literature, art and life in America and Europe. In a class for consultants and associates Ellen Reiss described Ms. Fuller as having, “one of the most energetic, careful minds.” And she herself wrote in her Memoirs:
Very early I knew that the only object in life was to grow. I was often false to this knowledge, in idolatries of particular objects, or impatient longings for happiness, but I have never lost sight of it, have always been controlled by it, and this first gift of thought has never been superseded by a later love. [Woman and Myth, 55]
In her early years she was educated at home by her father Timothy Fuller, who introduced his five year old daughter to Greek and Latin, which she loved and read daily for many years. When Margaret was eight years old she fell in love with Shakespeare and began reading Moliere and Cervantes. “It will be seen,” she wrote in her Memoirs, “that my youth was not unfriended, since those great minds came to me in kindness….” 
I admire Margaret Fuller tremendously and every woman can learn from her, because she felt knowledge should be the first thing in any person’s life—man or woman. Yet she was also afraid that she would go after a lesser purpose and worried that her intelligence and her desire to care for a man could not go together.
I’ve learned that there’s a fight in every child between being for the world and against it, between contempt and respect—and these two attitudes were in the admirable young girl. It seems the relation between Margaret and her father was intense and complex. Every night she had to stay up late, waiting for her father to come home from work, and recite Latin and English grammar to him, careful to make no mistakes. On the one hand he encouraged in her what she most cherished—her love of knowledge, on the other hand she was angry with him because she felt he was too severe, managing her without wanting to know what she felt. And her father, too, was hurt by Margaret, feeling she was cold when he walked into a room and she wouldn’t look up from her book to say hello. I think she came to feel warmth for a person, love for a person, were separate from knowledge and intellect.
III. There Was a Fight between Knowledge and Love
In Eli Siegel’s great lecture Aesthetic Realism and Love, he quotes from Margaret Fuller’s landmark work Woman in the 19th Century these sentences about love and knowledge:
A house is no home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as for the body. For human beings are not constituted that they can live without expansion. If they do not get it in one way, they must in another, or perish.
Commenting on this, Mr. Siegel said: “That is true,” and he continued:
Love is most often seen as a kind of compact security. It is not seen, as it should be, as an agreement to know, an agreement to a process. Love is having your way by being able to truly give yourself to another. Love is the feeling that by being affected deeply by another, beginning by seeing that other, you are going to be more yourself.
This is what it means to be intelligent in love. Mr. Siegel was describing the largest hope of Margaret Fuller and every woman.
In the mid-19th century a woman’s place was seen as being in the home and that she should not be too interested in thought or knowledge. Ms. Fuller felt both men and women were hurt by this attitude, and wrote about how men and women lessen each other by excluding the world and going for what she called “mutual idolatry”:
The parties weaken and narrow one another; they lock the gate against all the glories of the universe that they may live in a cell together.
She is admirable in seeing her own largest purpose as the going after knowledge, but also wanted other women not to confine themselves, and from 1836 to 1840 she gave a series of 10 conversations, twice a year for from 25 to 35 women. Some topics were “Education,” “Fine Arts,” and “What is life?” Ralph Waldo Emerson said these conversations were the most entertaining in America. In them, Margaret Fuller said her purpose was to answer the questions. “What were we born to do: and how shall we do it?”
Meanwhile, for many years she did not have to do with men romantically; she didn’t feel she could be married and pursue a life of study and thought. Then in 1844, while living with the Horace Greeley family in New York City she met businessman James Nathan. Of their relationship much is not known except for her letters to him which he arranged to have published after both of their deaths. In one letter which she wrote when she was 34 years old, we see some of her uncertainly and pain:
…often I feel, that you are thinking of me and it takes away all power of thought or motion. You say it will not always be so, that by-and-bye it will stimulate me to be more myself. [Love Letters of Margaret Fuller, 78]
And, at the same time her letters also show that she wanted to use him to stop thinking so she could be in a soothing, separate world. For example, she wrote to him in 1844:
…I would like to be quite still and have you the actor and the voice. You have life enough for both: you will indulge me in this dear repose. I have felt…the attraction of a wandering spirit towards a breast, broad enough and strong enough for a rest, when it wants to furl the wings…I seek repose upon your heart.
IV. Good Will Is Intelligence
Eli Siegel said in his lecture Mind and Intelligence, “The highest kind of intelligence is to understand another’s intelligence.” This, I’ve seen, is an aspect of the desire to have good will, and Margaret Fuller had this desire in a large way. As I studied her life I read many passages in which people speak about the deep, good effect she had on them. Sarah Freeman Clark wrote this powerful description of her:
In looking for the causes of the great influence possessed by Margaret Fuller.…I find something in the fact of her unusual truth-speaking power….When she met a new person she met him courageously, sincerely, and intimately.…Many of us recoiled from her at first; but as she was powerful, so she was tender; as she was exacting, she was generous. She demanded our best, and she gave us her best. To be with her was the most powerful stimulus, intellectual and moral. It was like the sun shining upon plants and causing buds to open into flowers. This was her gift, and she could no more help exercising it than the sun can help shining. [Woman and Myth, 87]
Margaret Fuller, in her desire to have a good effect on other people, put together opposites: she was exacting and generous, powerful and tender, “She demanded our best and she gave us her best.” At the same time, there was that in her, as there is in every person, which felt that in caring for people she was not intelligent about herself and that she should remain aloof and superior. For example, in her Memoirs about a trip to the cooperative Brook Farm, she wrote: “I have been too much absorbed to-day by others, and it has almost made me sick.” And the author Bell Gale Chevigny in her book Woman and the Myth quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson saying, “In the coolest way, she wrote to her friends, ‘I now know all the people worth knowing in America, and I find no intellect comparable to my own.’” It seems she made the mistake of using her knowledge and keen mind to feel superior and look down on other people, and this hurt her very much.
V. I Learn a Man Stands for The World
When I met Bruce Blaustein I was taken by his lively energy and thoughtfulness. Bruce was studying Aesthetic Realism, and as we talked, he asked me questions—as no other man had—about how I saw things and people, and was a critic of my desire to feel superior. I liked him very much. But I also made the mistake of using his interest in me to be less interested in other things. My consultants asked, “Do you think you have wanted to be swept at the expense of being conscious?” The answer was yes.
When I told them that I was afraid of not being the same person at the height of passion as when I was reading or working, they explained, “The reason you are afraid is that it’s so tempting–you just get to bliss and you don’t have to think anymore.” I said I wanted my mind to be sharp and keen with a man and they asked:
Do you think that you also want something else? If you just wanted your mind to be as sharp, it would be, wouldn’t it? …Usually a woman feels with a man’s arms around her, ‘I don’t need to think; I don’t need to be exact; this is the pleasure in life.’
…you have to want to see the true size of what it means to know another person with humility: really know that person as standing for the world which has its tangles, and its complexity and its mystery….
For the first time I felt true love was possible, and I respected my mind. And I felt and like singing from the rooftop. I treasure the marriage I have with Bruce and love him for being a deep friend to me, encouraging my intelligence and expression with imaginative good will and critical humor.
VI. Marriage: For Knowledge or Rest
In 1846 Margaret Fuller moved to Italy—the country in which she felt most at home—and soon became the first foreign correspondent sending articles to the New York Daily Tribune. This was at the time of the fight for the Italian republic. There she met the Marchese Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, who strongly believed Italy should be unified, as she did. Meanwhile, it seems he appealed to her desire to rest from the turbulent world, and to see a man as existing to be devoted to her. Ms. Fuller’s biographer Emelyn Story writes of Ossoli saying, “How sweet it is to do little things, for you never attend to such yourself, always leave them to me for my pleasure.” They were married, and from Italy she wrote to William Henry Channing:
He loves me from simple affinity; he loves to be with me, and serve and soothe me. Our relation covers only a part of my life, but I do not perceive that it interferes with anything I ought to have or be; I do not feel anyway constrained or limited or that I have made any sacrifice.
Though she wrote this way I think she felt in marrying Ossoli that intellect and love would be forever in separate parts of her life. In 1848 when she was 38 years old she and Ossoli had a son together and, because of the political situation in Italy, they were forced to leave. Though uncertain of their future, they sailed to America where just off the shore of Fire Island their ship tragically sank. Margaret Fuller was only 40 years old.
In 1835 at the age of 25 she had written:
I sigh for an intellectual guide….I have hoped some friend would do,—what none has ever yet done,—comprehend me wholly, mentally, and morally, and enable me better to comprehend myself.
The large, beautiful education Margaret Fuller was so much hoping for, the knowledge which comprehends the depths of ourselves and our relation to the world, is what women are now learning in Aesthetic Realism consultations. There is nothing more emergent or practical for people to learn than how to be proud of how we use our minds. It is the right of all people to study Aesthetic Realism and have the minds, the lives they were born to have.
Also by Lauren Phillips: