Posted by: atowhee | October 27, 2021

GREAT LAKES IN 1843

Fuller, Margaret (1810-1850), born in Cambridge, Mass. Friend of Emerson and Greeley. Pioneering female journalist/editor.

I just finished reading Summer on the Lakes, in 1843. It was the first book by Margaret Fuller.  In it she travels from Buffalo as far west as Sault St. Marie, Milwaukee and the plains west of Chicago.  She writes a great deal about the Illinois plains then being settled though not all the Native Americans had yet been moved out or killed.  Fuller’s sympathetic to the tribes that survive at that time.  She is not pleased by the arrogant Christian missionaries trying to undermine Native American beliefs, and is scathing about the white traders using alcohol to destroy tribe members, often mixing in dangerous or toxic chemicals.  One importuning brave she herself gives turpentine to drink. He does with the expected illness following.

She is direct and fairly clear on the fate of frontier wives: work, work, work.  Even more distressing is  her view of how Native American women were treated, though they did have the ability to declare themselves divorced which the good Catholic and Protestant women did not have.

“Nature always refuses to be seen by being stared at.” [especially the Belted Kingfisher, say I]

Bluffs along Rock River, Illinois: “Along the face of such crumbling rocks, swallows’ nests are clustered, thick as cities, and eagles and deer do not disdain their summit. One morning, out in the bioat along the base of these rocks, it was amusing and affecting too, to see these swallows put their heads out to look at us. There was something very hispitable about it, as if man had never shown himself a tyrant near them.”

“It grieved me to hear these immigrants [frontier settlers]…from the old man down to the little girl, talking not of what they should do, but of what they should get in the new scene. It was to them a prospect, not of the unfolding of nobler energies, but of more ease, more accumulation.”

“Chicago, June 20
There can be no two places in the world more completely thoroughfares than this place and Buffalo.  They are two corresponding valves…as life-blood rushes from east to west, and back again from west to east.”

“After seeing so many of the dwellings of the new settlers, which showed plainly that they had no thought beyond satisfying the grossest material wants… Seeing the traces of the Indians, who chose the most beautiful sites for their dwellings, and whose habits do not break min on that aspect of nature under which they were born, we feel as if they were the rightful lords.”

“The great drawback upon the lives of these settlers, at present, is the unfitness of the women for their new lot.  It has generally been the choice of the men, and the women follow, as women will, doing their best for affection’s sake, but too often in heartsickness and weariness… Their great ambition for their children, to send them to school in some eastern city, the measure most likely to make them useless and unhappy at home.”

“Milwaukie… This place is most beautifully situated… The bank of lake is here a bold bluff, eighty feet in height.  From it summit you enjoyed a noble outlook  on the lake.”   

Native Americans “What feelings must consume their heart at such moments! I scarcely see how they can forbear to shoot the white man where he stands.  But the power of fate is with the white man, and the Indian feels it.”    

[Fuller had no inkling that imported European diseases had decimated Native American populations by thus time, apart from wars.  Whole tribes had already gone extinct west of the Alleghenies.]

“Our people and our government have sinned alike against the first-born of the soil… Yes! Slave-drivers and  Indian traders are called Christians, and the Indian is to be deemed less like the Son of Mary than they!   Wonderful is the deceit of man’s heart!”

“The white man, as yet, is halftamed pirate, and avails himself, as much as ever, of the maxim, ‘Might makes right.’  All that civilization does…is to cover up this with a veil of subtle evasions and chicane… I have no nope of liberalizing the missionary, of humanizing the sharks of trade, of infusing the conscientious drop into the flinty bosom of policy, of saving the Indian from immediate degradation, and speedy death.”

“He whose affections turn in summer towards vegetables, should not come to this region, till the subject of diet be better understood; that of fruit, too, there  is little yet…”

“Mackinaw has been fully described by able pens, and I can only add my tribute to the exceeding beauty of the spot and its position.  It is charming to be on an island so small that you can sail round it in an afternoon, yet large enough to admit of long secluded walks through its gentle groves.”

Native Americans: “The dog they cherish as having been once a spirit of high intelligence; and now in its fallen and imprisoned state, given to man as his special companion.”

I often found her writing too florid and inexact, similar to most pre-Hemingway American prose.  Prolix, poetic tendencies, profound occasionally.  180 years ago Ms Fuller was already fed up with American Christianity and its missionaries and gross hypocrisy.  She would not be a Trump voter today.


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