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  • "The Ultraism of the Day ":Greene's Boston Post, Hawthorne, Fuller, Melville, Stowe, and Literary Journalism in Antebellum America
  • Robert J. Scholnick (bio)

"I am truly interested in this great field which opens before me and it is pleasant to be sure of a chance at half a hundred thousand readers," Margaret Fuller, the newly-appointed literary editor of the New-York Tribune, the Whig organ established by Horace Greeley in November, 1841, wrote on March 9, 1845 to her brother Eugene, a lawyer associated with a New Orleans newspaper. Eugene had written to report that he had seen a review of Fuller's recently published Woman in the Nineteenth Century during a visit to an Arkansas town. The "great field" opening before Fuller was a new form of literary journalism, one devoted at once to social critique and extended discussions of books and ideas and aimed at the widest possible readership. Recognizing the power of the daily press both to sell books and to promote the discussion of important social questions, Fuller asked Eugene to place a notice of Woman in the Nineteenth Century "in a N.O. newspaper." She then shared with him the immense pleasure she took in the reception of a book that "was sold off in a week to the booksellers and $85 handed to me as my share. Not that my object was in any wise money, but I consider this the signet of success. If one can be heard, that is enough!" However, after claiming that "respect is expressed for me personally" she had to admit that "abuse public and private is lavished upon its views."1

To help us understand the sort of "abuse" that was "lavished upon" the book's views, I reproduce below a previously unknown review of Woman in the Nineteenth Century from the Boston Post, which, as the narrator of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Ghost of Dr. Harris" asserts, was "the leading journal of the Democratic Party, in the northern States."2 Published on February 28, 1845, the review, which most likely was written, I will show below, by the paper's influential founding editor, Charles Gordon Greene (1804-1886), articulates the [End Page 163] skepticism about the cause of women's rights held by a significant segment of the Boston community and beyond. To generalize, Democrats were far more resistant to social reforms than were the Whigs, and so the Post's treatment of Fuller may be seen as part of the pitched culture wars of the 1840s. Both Greene and Hawthorne, also a Democrat and a devoted reader of the Post, were outspoken in their skepticism about the wide variety of utopian schemes for the reform of social institutions and the perfection of human beings of the sort famously being promoted by Greeley's Tribune. In his campaign biography of Franklin Pierce, Hawthorne praised his subject for not being swept up by "the mistiness of a philanthropic theory." Further, Hawthorne asserted, "There is no instance, in all history, of the human will and intellect having perfected any great moral reform by methods which it adapted to that end."3

Differing as they did on the rights of women, abolition, and many other questions before the public, Greene and Greeley were both leaders in expanding the scope and reach of the daily newspaper to give new prominence to discussions of books and ideas. On September 24, 1845 Fuller wrote in the Tribune that "The Newspaper promises to become daily of more importance, and if the increase of size be managed with equal discretion, to draw within itself the [audience] of all other literature of the day."4 In 1831, a decade before Greeley established the Tribune, Greene had launched the Post, achieving great success in no small measure by making the daily newspaper also a daily literary paper. In addition to critical discussions of books and the arts, the Post published original poetry, comic sketches, familiar essays, and creative works in other forms. Envisioning the potential of a great urban newspaper to reach a national audience, Greene in 1843 created semi-weekly and weekly editions and established a semi-monthly California edition as well. Two years later...


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pp. 163-191
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