Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Sarah Margaret Fuller, Marchioness Ossoli
OSSOLI, Sarah Margaret Fuller, Marchioness, (1810-1850), an American authoress, was the eldest child of Timothy Fuller, a lawyer and politician of some eminence, and was born at Cambridge Port, Massachusetts, 23d May 1810. Her education was conducted by her father, who, she states, made the mistake of thinking to “gain time by bringing forward the intellect as early as possible,” the consequence being “a premature development of brain that made her a youthful prodigy by day, and by night a victim of spectral illusions, nightmare, and somnambulism.” At six years she began to read Latin, and at a very early age she had selected as her favourite authors Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Molière. Soon the great amount of study exacted of her ceased to be a burden, and reading became a habit and a passion. Having made herself familiar with the masterpieces of French, Italian, and Spanish literature, she in 1833 began the study of German, and within the year had read some of the masterpieces of Goethe, Körner, Novalis, and Schiller. Her father dying in 1835, she went in 1836 to Boston to teach languages, and in 1837 she was chosen principal teacher in the Green Street school, Providence, Rhode Island, where she remained till 1839. From this year until 1844 she stayed at different places in the immediate neighbourhood of Boston, forming an intimate acquaintance with the colonists of Brook Farm, and numbering among her closest friends R. W. Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and W. E. Channing. In 1839 she published a translation of Eckermann's Conversations with Goethe, which was followed in 1841 by a translation of the Letters of Günderode and Bettina. Aided by R. W. Emerson and George Ripley, she in 1840 started The Dial, a poetical and philosophical magazine representing the opinions and aims of the New England Transcendentalists. This journal she continued to edit for two years, and while in Boston she also conducted conversation classes for ladies in which philosophical and social subjects were discussed with a somewhat over-accentuated earnestness, and which may be regarded as perhaps the beginning of the modern movement in behalf of women's rights. R. W. Emerson, who had met her as early as 1836, thus describes her appearance: — “She was then twenty-six years old. She had a face and frame that would indicate fulness and tenacity of life. She was rather under the middle height; her complexion was fair, with strong fair hair. She was then, as always, carefully and becomingly dressed, and of ladylike self-possession. For the rest her appearance had nothing prepossessing. 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.” On fuller acquaintance this unprepossessing exterior seemed, however, to melt away, and her inordinate self-esteem to be lost in the depth and universality of her sympathy. She possessed an almost irresistible power of winning the intellectual and moral confidence of those with whom she came in contact, and “applied herself to her companion as the sponge applied itself to water.” She obtained from each the best they had to give. It was indeed more as a conversationalist than as a writer that she earned the title of the Priestess of Transcendentalism. It was her intimate friends who admired her most. Smart and pungent though she is as a writer, any originality that seems to characterize her views partakes more of wayward eccentricity than either intellectual depth or imaginative vigour. In 1844 she removed to New York to become contributor to The Tribune, and in 1846 she published a selection from her criticisms on contemporary authors in Europe and America, under the title Papers on Art and Literature. The same year she paid a visit to Europe, passing some time in England and France, and finally taking up her residence in Italy. There she was married in December 1847 to the Marquis Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, a friend of Mazzini. During 1848-49 she was present with her husband in Rome, and when the city was besieged she, at the request of Mazzini, took charge of one of the two hospitals while her husband fought on the walls. In May 1850, along with her husband and infant son, she embarked at Leghorn for America, but when they had all but reached their destination the vessel was wrecked on Fire Island beach, and the Ossolis were among the passengers who perished.
The Autobiography of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, with additional Memoirs by J. F. Clarke, R. W. Emerson, and W. E. Channing, was published in 1852, the last edition being that of 1874. See also Margaret Fuller (Marchesa Ossoli), by Julia Ward Howe, 1883, in the Eminent Women Series. Her collected works were also published in 1874.