- Margaret Fuller:How She Haunts
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I. introduction: horace greeley reports on fuller's coming home
"A great soul has passed from this mortal stage of being." Thus Horace Greeley prefaced his 23 July 1850 announcement in the New-York Daily Tribune of Margaret Fuller's death by drowning at Fire Island on her way home from Italy. Four days after the shipwreck that cost the life of his friend and foreign correspondent, along with her husband and twoyear-old son, Greeley wrote primarily of worldly matters. He called immediately for an edition of Fuller's writings and a memoir of her life; a few days later, he aimed a reformer's rage at the inadequate rescue operation and the plundering of property that had added negligence and criminality to the natural disaster.1 Yet his first sentence, in better touch with his feelings about nature's assault on families, also reverberates with a revived conviction about souls and their stages. According to a recent biography, Greeley was "particularly drawn to the unseen world" and to the kind of communication with the dead that, at just this moment and very much with Greeley's help, the Spiritualist movement was beginning to promote.2 Indeed, working with the nation's [End Page 67] best-known mediums, he and his wife Mary sought in late July and early August to contact Fuller's sentient spirit.
Caroline Sturgis Tappan recounted these séances in a letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson, confirming what is otherwise known about Greeley's involvement with Spiritualism. Methodologies for communicating with the dead would shortly attain an astounding national popularity, and Horace Greeley was briefly the most conspicuous experimenter.3 Two years after the Fox sisters of Hydesville in western New York first claimed to have heard spirits in rappings on walls and tables, they thrilled large audiences in Rochester and Auburn before setting up in New York City at Barnum's Hotel, where, as evangelists of a novel gospel, they made themselves available to a clamorous public. When they were put to the test at a gathering of the New York literati in June 1850, Greeley, who had earlier met the sisters, sent his assistant George Ripley (who had a decade before been assistant to Fuller on the Dial) to cover it. He and the other guests were much impressed.4
Spiritualism, early and late, was a means of coping with the deaths of children, and so matters stood just then with Greeley and his wife. A year after they lost their beloved son Arthur, known as Pickie (beloved as well by Fuller during her last months in America), the bereft parents still grieved. By early July 1850, the Fox sisters had accepted an invitation to stay at the Greeley home in order to contact Pickie; they remained until August and so were there at the time of Fuller's death. As Tappan wrote later that fall, apparently conveying Mary's account, "Questions have lately been asked of Margaret through a young [girl], 13 years old, but she [Fuller] is chary of her answers. Mrs. Greeley said perhaps you think this too low a means of communication. Margaret answered 'Indeed I do Madam.'"5
But Kate Fox, the youngest sister, was not the only one asking questions: "A Mr. Harris has higher communications," Tappan added.6 Thomas Lake Harris [End Page 68] (1823–1906), visionary poet and ardent promoter of Spiritualism, was Greeley's minister at the independent Church of the Good Shepherd, having been a Universalist prior to 1847 (as Greeley also was), when the clairvoyant Andrew Jackson Davis (1826–1910) made him acquainted with the Swedish...