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The Great Lawsuit



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1620 / Margaret Fuller by the meticulously researched first volume of a projected two-volume scholarly biography. The evidence is at hand that may at last establish Fuller’s candidacy for serious consideration as what Hawthorne said mockingly, “the greatest, wisest, best woman of the age.” The Great Lawsuit MAN versus MEN. WOMAN versus WOMEN1 This great suit has now been carried on through many ages, with various results. The decisions have been numerous, but always followed by appeals to still
  1620 / M  argaret F uller 1. Reprinted here from the Boston Dial (July 1843). In 1844 Fuller published the revised,expanded version of this work under the title Woman in the Nineteenth Century, but the addi-tions were hardly more than padding.Thispassageof her preliminary 1844 footnote makes clear herintentionsfortheoriginaltitleoftheessay:“Objec-tions having been made to the former title, as notsufficiently easy to be understood, the presenthasbeen substituted as expressive ofthemainpurposeof the eassay; though, by myself, the other is pre-ferred, partly for the reason others do notlikeit,—that is, that it requires some thought to see whatit means, and might thus prepare the reader tomeet me on my own ground. Besides, it offers alarger scope, and is, in that way, more just to my desire. I meant by that title to intimate the factthat, while it is the destiny of Man, in the courseof the ages, to ascertain and fulfil the law of hisbeing, so that his life shall be seen, as a whole, tobe that of an angel or messenger, the action of prejudices and passions which attend, in the day,the growth of the individual, is continually obstructing the holy work that is to make earth apart of heaven. By Men I mean both man andwoman; these are the two halves of one thought. Ilay no especial stress on the welfare of either. Ibelieve that the development of the one cannot beeffected withoutthatoftheother.Myhighestwishis that this truth should be distinctlyandrationally apprehended, and the conditions of life and free-dom recognized as the same for the daughtersandthe sons of time; twin exponents of a divinethought.” Fuller’s relentlessly allusive style wastypical of her time. A few of her more elusive ref-erences have remained unglossed in this anthol-ogy. by the meticulously researched first volume of a projectedtwo-volumescholarlybiog-raphy. The evidence is athandthatmay at lastestablishFuller’scandidacyforseriousconsideration as what Hawthorne said mockingly, “the greatest, wisest, best womanof the age.” The Great Lawsuit  MAN versus MEN. WOMAN versus WOMEN 1 This great suit has now been carried on through many ages, with variousresults. The decisions have been numerous, but always followed by appealsto still higher courts. How can it be otherwise, when the law itself is thesubject of frequent elucidation, constant revision? Man has, now and then,enjoyed a clear, triumphant hour, when some irresistible convictionwarmedand purified the atmosphere of his planet. But, presently, he sought reposeafter his labors, when thecrowd of pigmy adversariesboundhiminhissleep.Long years of inglorious imprisonment followed, while his enemies revelledinhisspoils,andnocounselcouldbefoundtopleadhiscause,intheabsenceof that all-promising glance, which had, at times, kindled the poetic soul torevelation of his claims, of his rights. Yet a foundation for the largest claim is now established. It is known thathis inheritance consists in no partial sway, no exclusive possession, such ashis adversaries desire. For they, not content that the universe is rich, would,each one for himself, appropriate treasure; but in vain! The many-coloredgarment, which clothed with honor an elected son, when rent asunder forthe many, is a worthless spoil. A band of robbers cannot live princely in theprince’s castle; nor would he, likethem, be contentwithlessthanall,thoughhe would not, like them, seek it as fuel for riotous enjoyment, but as hisprincipality, to administer and guard for the use of all living things therein.He cannot be satisfied with any one gift of the earth, any one department of knowledge, or telescopic peep at the heavens. He feels himself called tounderstand and aid nature, that she may, through his intelligence, be raisedand interpreted; to be a student of, and servant to, the universe-spirit; andonly king of his planet, that, as an angelic minister, he may bring it intoconscious harmony with the law of that spirit.  T he G reat L  awsuit / 1621 2. Ovid, Apotheosis of Hercules, translated intoclumsy English by Mr. Gay, as follows: Jove said,Be all your fears forborne, / Th’ Œtean fires dothou, great hero, scorn; / Who vanquished allthings, shall subdue the flame; / The part aloneof gross maternal frame, /Fire shall devour, whilethat from me he drew / Shall live immortal, andits force renew; / That, when he’s dead, I’ll raisetorealmsabove, / Mayallthepowerstherighteousact approve. / If any God dissent, and judge toogreat / The sacred honors of the heavenly seat, / Even he shall own his deeds deserve the sky, / Even he, reluctant, shall at length comply. / Th’assembled powers assent [Fuller’s note].3. From the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.15–16): “Neither do men light a candle, and putit under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giv-eth light unto all that are in the house. Let yourlight so shine before men, that they may see yourgood works, and glorify your Father which is inheaven.” Such is the inheritance of the orphan prince, and the illegitimatechildrenof his family will not always be able to keep it from him, for, from the fieldswhich they sow with dragon’s teeth, and water with blood, rise monsters,which he alone has power to drive away.But it is not the purpose now to sing the prophecy of his jubilee. We havesaid that, in clear triumphant moments, this has many, many times beenmade manifest, and those moments, though past in time, have been trans-lated into eternity by thought. The bright signs they left hang intheheavens,as single stars or constellations, and, already, a thickly-sown radiance con-soles the wanderer in the darkest night. Heroes have filled the zodiac of beneficent labors, and then given up their mortal part 2 to the fire without amurmur. Sages and lawgivers have bent their whole nature to the search fortruth, and thought themselves happy if they could buy, with the sacrifice of all temporal ease and pleasure, one seed for the future Eden. Poets andpriests have strung the lyre with heart-strings, poured out their best bloodupon the altar which, reared anew from age to age, shall at last sustain theflame which rises to highest heaven. What shall we say of those who, if notso directly, or so consciously, in connection with the central truth, yet, ledand fashioned by a divine instinct, serve no less to develop and interpret theopen secret of love passing into life, the divine energy creating for the pur-pose of happiness;—of the artist, whose hand, drawn by a pree¨xistent har-mony to a certain medium, moulds it to expressions of life more highly andcompletelyorganizedthanareseenelsewhere,and,bycarryingouttheinten-tion of nature, reveals her meaning to those who are not yet sufficiently matured to divine it; of the philosopher, who listens steadily for causes,and,from those obvious, infers those yet unknown; of the historian, who, in faiththat all events must have their reason and their aim, records them, and laysuparchivesfromwhichtheyouthofprophetsmaybefed.Themanofsciencedissects the statement, verifies the facts, and demonstrates connection evenwhere he cannot its purpose.Lives, too, which bear none of these names, have yielded tones of no lesssignificance. The candlestick, set in a low place, has given light as faithfully,where it was needed, as that upon the hill. 3 In close alleys, in dismal nooks,the Word has been read as distinctly, as when shown by angels to holy menin the dark prison. Those who till a spot of earth, scarcely larger than iswanted for a grave, have deserved that the sun should shine upon its sod till violets answer.So great has been, from time to time, the promise, that, in all ages, menhave said the Gods themselves came down to dwell with them; that the All-Creating wandered on the earth to taste in a limited nature the sweetnessof  virtue, that the All-Sustaining incarnated himself, to guard, in space and  1622 / M  argaret F uller 4. A distinction between man and men compara-ble to the one Emerson makes early in “TheAmer-ican Scholar.”5. In Greek mythology, the Titan who gavehumankind the gift of fire out of pity for theirmis-ery.6. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Fatherwhich is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5.48). time, the destinies of his world; that heavenly genius dwelt among the shep-herds, to sing to them and teach them how to sing. Indeed,“Der stets den Hirten gna¨dig sich bewies.”“He has constantly shown himself favorable to shepherds.” And these dwellers in green pastures and natural students of the stars, wereselected to hail, first of all, the holy child, whose life and death presentedthe type of excellence, which has sustained the heart of so large a portion of mankind in these later generations.Such marks have been left by the footsteps of man,wheneverhehasmadehis way through the wilderness of men. 4  And whenever the pygmies steppedin one of these, they felt dilate within the breast somewhat that promisedlarger stature and purer blood. They were tempted to forsake their evil ways,to forsake the side of selfish personal existence, of decrepit skepticism, andcovetousness of corruptible possessions. Conviction flowed in upon them.They, too, raised the cry; God is living, all is his, and all created beings arebrothers, for they are his children. These were the triumphantmoments;butas we have said, man slept and selfishness awoke.Thus he is still kept out of his inheritance, still a pleader, still a pilgrim.But his reinstatement is sure. And now, no mere glimmering consciousness,but a certainty, is felt and spoken, that the highest ideal man can form of his own capabilities is that which he is destined to attain. Knock, and itshallbe opened; seek, and ye shall find. It is demonstrated, it is a maxim. He nolongerpaintshispropernatureinsomepeculiarformandsays,“Prometheus 5 had it,” but “Man must have it.” However disputed by many, however igno-rantly used, or falsified, by those who do receive it, the fact of an universal,unceasing revelation, has been too clearly stated in words, to be lost sight of in thought, and sermons preached form the text, “Be ye perfect,” 6 are theonly sermons of a pervasive and deep-searching influence.But among those who meditate upon this text, there is great difference of  view, as to the way in which perfection shall be sought.Through the intellect, say some; Gather from every growth of life its seedof thought; look behind every symbol for its law. If thou canst see clearly,the rest will follow.Through the life, say others; Do the best thou knowest to-day. Shrink notfrom incessant error, in this gradual, fragmentary state. Follow thy light foras much as it will show thee, be faithful as far as thou canst, in hope thatfaith presently will lead to sight. Help others, without blame that they needthy help. Love much, and be forgiven.It needs not intellect, needs not experience, says a third. If you took thetrue way, these would be evolved in purity. You would not learn throughthem, but express through them a higher knowledge. In quietness, yield thy soul tothe casualsoul.Donotdisturbitsteachingsbymethodsofthineown.Be still, seek not, but wait in obedience. Thy commission will be given.Could we, indeed, say what we want, could we give a description of thechild that is lost, he would be found. As soon as the soul can say clearly,that  T he G reat L  awsuit / 1623 7. See Isaiah 7–11.8. According to Mark 16.19, after the crucifiedand risen Jesus had preached to the disciples, “hewas received up into heaven, and sat on the righthand of God.”9. “St. Martin” [Fuller’s note]. Louis Claude deSaint-Martin (1743–1803), French philosopher,from The Ministry of Man and Spirit (1802).1. In Greek mythology, a musician so powerfulthat with his lyre he cast a spell on Hades andalmost succeeded in drawing his dead wife, Eury-dice, back to the upper world. In 1839 Fuller saw the statue of Orpheus by Thomas Crawford(1814–1857) at the Allston Gallery in Boston andwrote a poem aboutit,whichsheincorporatesintothis essay just below. a certain demonstration is wanted, it is at hand. When the Jewish prophetdescribed the Lamb, as the expression of what was required by the comingera, the time drew nigh. 7 But we say not, see not, as yet, clearly, what wewould. Those who call for a more triumphant expression of love, a love thatcannot be crucified, show not a perfect sense of what has already beenexpressed. Love has already been expressed, that made all things new, thatgave the worm its ministry as well as the eagle; a love, to which it was aliketo descend into the depths of hell, or to sit at the right hand of the Father. 8  Yet, no doubt, a new manifestation is at hand, a new hour in the day of man. We cannot expect to see him a completed being, when the mass of men lie so entangled in the sod, or use the freedom of their limbs only withwolfish energy. The tree cannot come to flower till its root be freed from thecankering worm, and its whole growth open to air and light. Yet somethingnew shall presently be shown of the life of man, for hearts crave it now, if minds do not know how to ask it. Among the strains of prophecy, the following, by an earnest mind of aforeign land, written some thirty years ago, is not yet outgrown; and it hasthe merit of being a positive appeal from the heart, instead of a criticaldeclaration what man shall not do.“The ministry of man implies, that he must be filled from the divinefountains which are being engendered through all eternity, so that, atthe mere name of his Master, he may be able to cast all his enemiesintothe abyss; that he may deliver all parts of nature from the barriers thatimprison them; that he may purge the terrestrial atmosphere from thepoisons that infect it; that he may preserve the bodies of men from thecorrupt influences that surround, and the maladies that afflict them;still more, that he may keep their souls pure from the malignant insin-uations which pollute, and the gloomy images that obscure them; thatwe may restore its serenity to the Word, which false words of men fillwith mourningandsadness;that hemaysatisfythedesiresoftheangels,who wait from him the development of the marvels of nature; that, infine, his world may be filled with God, as eternity is.” 9  Another attempt we will give, by an obscure observer of our own day andcountry, to draw some lines of the desired image. It was suggested by seeingthe design of Crawford’s Orpheus, 1 and connecting with the circumstanceof the American, in his garret at Rome, making choice of this subject, thatof Americans here at home, showing such ambition to represent the char-acter, by callingtheirprose and verse,Orphicsayings,Orphics.Orpheuswasa lawgiver by theocratic commission. He understood nature, and made allher forms move to his music. He told her secrets in the form of hymns,nature as seen in the mind of God. Then it is the prediction, that to learnand to do, all men must be lovers, and Orpheus was, in a high sense, a lover.
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