October 20, 2010

We set down our Dial on the earth

The members of the Transcendental Club all supported the establishment of a new journal for their cause; as Ralph Waldo Emerson called it, "an organ of our own, wherein we can have entire freedom; in which the purest thoughts and tastes may be represented." But who would run it? Bronson Alcott — a vocal supporter for "a free Journal of the soul" — was not an option, nor was Frederick Henry Hedge, then living too far away in Maine. George Ripley had his own projects (though he would serve as business manger for The Dial). Emerson himself refused, writing that "we all wish it to be, but do not wish to be in any way personally responsible for it."

On October 20, 1839, the role of first editor of The Dial was accepted by Margaret Fuller. She wrote in her journal: "It is now proposed that I should conduct a magazine which would afford me space and occasion for every thing I may wish to do." Work began a couple months later; its first issue was in print by April 1840. Its introduction, likely a combined effort by Fuller and Emerson, read:

And so with diligent hands and good intent we set down our Dial on the earth. We wish it may resemble that instrument in its celebrated happiness, that of measuring no hours but those of sunshine. Let it be one cheerful rational voice amidst the din of mourners and polemics. Or to abide by our chosen image, let it be such a Dial, not as the dead face of a clock... but rather such a Dial as is the Garden itself, in whose leaves and flowers the suddenly awakened sleeper is instantly apprised not what part of dead time, but what state of life and growth is now arrived and arriving.

Though she would use the magazine as an outlet for her own reform ideas (including her feminist essay "The Great Lawsuit"), Fuller was instantly frustrated with her editorial duties. For one, her promised salary of $200 was likely never paid. Hedge, one of the strongest supporters of the idea of a journal, suddenly refused to contribute, worrying about his reputation. Alcott's contributions, his "Orphic Sayings," were incoherent and embarrassing. Orestes Brownson called the journal "vague" and "aerial," lacking focus in the real world. Worse, despite his refusal to be titled as editor, Emerson became a micro-manager. Fuller left the magazine two years later.

*A solid source for the information in today's entry is the first volume of Charles Capper's monumental Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life.


  1. Nice to see Margaret here again. I clicked on some ads. Be sure to check your revenue today

  2. Brownson thought that a Transcendental magazine was vague, aerial, and lacking in focus?

    Well, DUH!


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