Julia Ward Howe

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“He found the remains of Margaret Fuller lying on the beach in her nightgown.”

Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) was the Susan Sontag of her day–America’s original Susan Sontag, actually. The first female book critic of great acclaim, Fuller was not exactly modest about her brilliance. “I find no intellect comparable to my own,” she offered to all who would listen. She was a prominent member of Brook Farm, George Ripley’s failed experiment in Utopian living, and reportedly inspired the “Zenobia” character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, who commits suicide by drowning. Fuller herself died by water, perishing in a shipwreck that she seemingly could have escaped but chose not to. Her body was never recovered. Some 35 years after her death, an odd (and likely apocryphal) story appeared about her in the Boston Traveller, which was reprinted in the September 6, 1885 Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The article in full:

“As every topic comes up at the elegant lunch and dinner tables of Newport, so I was not astonished to hear a lady say that she ‘knew of the grave of Margaret Fuller.’ Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, who was present, and who had written a life of Margaret Fuller, was astonished, as it is reputed in all the lives written of that extraordinarily resurrected person, the Marchesi Ossili, that her body never reached land. An old fisherman at Fire Island, however, told a lady who was in the habit of going there several years ago, that he found the remains of Margaret Fuller lying on the beach in her nightgown, which was marked by her name, and that he wrote to the brothers Fuller and Horace Greeley about it, without receiving any answer; that he went up to New York to see Mr. Greeley, but he seemed to take no notice of the fact; and that he then buried Margaret Fuller at Coney Island; and could identify the spot.”

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George Ripley had the best of intentions.

In 1841, the Transcendentalist social reformer and journalist founded the short-lived Massachusetts collective, Brook Farm. Established along with other progressives of his day, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, the communal space was to be a haven for workers who longed for industry, not toil. The profits would be shared fairly. But there were no profits, just debts. Brook Farm didn’t experience a moral collapse, but a financial one. The kinetic never was able to match the potential. Hawthorne got a a novel out of the experiment (The Blithedale Romance), but what did Ripley gain from this bitter failure apart from heartbreak? He said of the experience at its end in 1846: “I can now understand how a man would feel if he could attend his own funeral.”

But here’s the thing: Maybe Brook Farm wasn’t the unmitigated disaster it seemed at the time. Massachusetts today is the leader among American states in both education and health care. Ripley can’t claim responsibility for those developments, but perhaps he and other idealists help lay a foundation for the state’s magnanimity. Utopias can distort reality, yes, but they give us a goal in the distance.

This classic photograph of Ripley, taken by Mathew Brady, is dated somewhere from 1849 to 1860. A brief article about the original promise of Brook Farm from the February 1, 1899 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“‘The Brook Farm Experiment’ was the subject of a lecture given before the Long Island Historical Society last night. The lecturer was Mrs. Julia Ward Howe. The hall of the society, on Pierrepont and Clinton Streets, was so crowded that many stood in the aisles during the whole discourse.

“A tract of arable land was purchased, Mr. Ripley pledging his library for a part of the necessary payment.”

‘The story of what actually took place at Brook Farm,’ Mrs. Howe said, ‘is soon told. A tract of arable land was purchased, Mr. Ripley pledging his library for a part of the necessary payment. A dwelling house already on the premises was altered and enlarged, and other buildings of cheap construction were added from time to time, as the growth of the association made it necessary. Farming must have begun in 1841, as in 1842 Orestes Bronson writes of the community existing and flourishing. The work of the great family was carefully apportioned, Mr. Ripley taking upon himself some of the heaviest and least pleasant part of it, such as the daily cleaning of the stables. Justice was the ideal of the infant association. Within its domain, all labor was equally esteemed. Brain work should enjoy no preference over hand work, and the hand which guided the pen should be ready when so ordered to guide the plow. At times all the members of the community gathered to wash the dishes, and the male members did their full share. The first object in the administration was naturally the support of  life. Every effort was made to improve the land, which made but an ungrateful return for such labor. A practical farmer directed agricultural operations, much of what was produced was consumed on the premises, but milk and vegetables, excellent in their kind, were sent to the market. Mr. Ripley once mentioned to me a Boston conservative who used to say that he didn’t like Ripley’s ideas but he did like his peas.'”

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"Old Hoss" Radbourn: "Like J. Santana, I once 'lost' my change up. Left it in a whore's rucksack. That was embarrassing."

You don’t have to love baseball and post-Civil War American history to appreciate the greatness of the “Old Hoss” Radbourn Twitter account, but it helps.

The real Charles Gardner “Old Hoss” Radbourn was a Rochester native and tough-as-nails professional baseball pitcher from 1881-1891, during the Deadball Era. He became famous for winning 59 games (or 60, depending on what stats you believe) in the 1884 season for the Boston Beaneaters. After his playing days were over, Radbourn became the proprietor of an Illinois pool hall and saloon. A book about his life–Fifty-Nine in ’84–has recently been published.

Some unknown wit has set up a Twitter account as “Old Hoss” Radbourn and dispenses commentary on modern sports and culture through the purview of a 19th-century hardass. The results are pretty special. It’s been rumored that one of the guys responsible for the now-defunct Fire Joe Morgan site is behind the Old Hoss Twitter. I’m not sure who it is, but I’m glad it’s there. A few of the account’s tweets:

  • One of the advantages of playing armed: hooligans who ran on the field earned a lead bullet and a shallow grave.
  • I was never really the same after 1887, the year laudanum was declared a “performance enhancer.”
Julia Ward Howe: “Thighs like spun cream.”
  • I liked “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” for my at-bat music. I was of course bedding its author, Julia Ward Howe. Thighs like spun cream.
  • This C. Crist reminds me of “Peaches” Delahunt, who was a white, landed slave-owner who claimed to be a Lincoln Republican. He was most tan.
  • The real reason people throw back home run balls: in my day a sniper would plug you if you didn’t. Balls were expensive; lives weren’t.
  • I once traveled to Rome to see Michelangelo’s Pietà. It was so lifelike and moving. It would make a better out fielder than C. Quentin.
  • Just watched “Bull Durham.” Of all the gifts Annie gave “Nuke,” Hoss suspects gonorrhea was the lad’s least favorite.
  • 1888. A crushingly disappointing year. Had to go on the DL with a case of the gout. I curse you, sweetbreads and other rich delicacies.
  • Tonight Hoss noticed greeting cards labeled “Easter, romantic.” Not sure that is what J. Christ had in mind when he vanquished death itself.

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