June 3, 2010

Dall: When friendship is a passion

Caroline Healey Dall was one of the few women to gain any influence in the circle of mostly-male Transcendentalists. She was involved with several reform movements, particularly abolitionism and women's rights. In 1860, for example, she held a women's rights meeting in Boston that included James Freeman Clarke, Harriet Tubman, and others. Historians appreciate Dall particularly because of the detailed journals she kept for several decades.

Dall took an interest in fellow female Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller and attended her "Conversations" in Boston in 1841. She found the older woman "more agreeable — modest — than I anticipated." Dall later wrote a biography of Fuller. Some suggested Dall had picked up where Fuller left off but, in her modesty, Dall disagreed. "How unfit I am to be named with Margaret," she wrote, "but it was pleasant to find one person, inclined to throw her mantle over me — and it brought a tear of strong resolve to my cheek."

On June 3, 1841, Miss Healey (she did not marry Charles Henry Appleton Dall until 1844) wrote in her journal about Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson (she had seen him speak as early as when she was 12 years old). She noted her impression:

That on Compensation is the finest thing upon the subject... but the views advanced in that upon self reliance — are extravagant and unsafe. When I read the essay upon Friendship, I was moved to find a man — who had gone through the world — feeling — like a girl — under the first development of her passions — for there is a time when friendship is a passion.

Dall noted that she had not yet read the essay "Love," but noted its first sentence  — "Each soul is a celestial Venus to every other soul" — as "peculiar." A male friend of hers noted that "if Mr Emerson had ever seen his soul" he would not have written that.


  1. Thanks Rob,

    ...for yet-another interesting posting, this time on Caroline Healey Dall (about whom I knew nothing). Your efforts really expand and enhance my understanding-of the Transcendentalists (and other nineteenth-century literary figures).

    A couple of questions--one related to this entry, and one not. First, regarding Dall's male friend's notation about the "soul" thing, was he referring to his OWN soul (the impression I got), or Emerson's soul (which, whether one likes Emerson or doesn't, still seems to be pretty advanced)? If his own (Dall's friend), it's witty.

    Second (not related to today's posting): Will you be doing anything, future, with regard to Joseph Palmer, the Fruitlands "beard" guy? There's gotta be some sort of literary connection to make, given that he's connected to Bronson Alcott's "wild oats" experience.

  2. You know, my first reading of that quote, I assumed he was referring to Emerson's soul. During the copy edit stage, I was a bit confused. It's still early in Dall studies so I'm not sure it's been settled either way.

    I've got nothing on the table for Joseph Palmer right now, but anything is possible!

  3. Hey Rob,

    My husband wishes to read a biography of Margaret Fuller. He's done some research on what's available, but wondered if you had any recommendations. Thanks.

  4. Without hesitation, I recommend The Minerva and the Muse: A Life of Margaret Fuller by Joan von Mehren. You can get a used copy on Amazon.com fairly cheap right now but many local libraries carry it too.

  5. Thanks so much; he's on it.