Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli/4 Concord
VISITS TO CONCORD.
BY R. W. EMERSON.
Extract from a letter from Madame Arconati to R. W. Emerson.
Je n'ai point rencontré, dans ma vie, de femme plus noble; ayant autant de sympathie pour ses semblables, et dont l'esprit fut plus vivifiant. Je me suis tout de suite sentie attirée par elle. Quand je fis sa connoissance, j'ignorais que ce fut une femme remarquable.
VISITS TO CONCORD.
I became acquainted with Margaret in 1835. Perhaps it was a year earlier that Henry Hedge, who had long been her friend, told me of her genius and studies, and loaned me her manuscript translation of Goethe's Tasso. I was afterwards still more interested in her, by the warm praises of Harriet Martineau, who had become acquainted with her at Cambridge, and who, finding Margaret’s fancy for seeing me, took a generous interest in bringing us together. I remember, during a week in the winter of 1835-6, in which Miss Martineau was my guest, she returned again and again to the topic of Margaret’s excelling genius and conversation, and enjoined it on me to seek her acquaintance; which I willingly promised. I am not sure that it was not in Miss Martinean’s company, a little earlier, that I first saw her. And I find a memorandum, in her own journal, of a visit, made by my brother Charles and myself, to Miss Martineau, at Mrs. Farrar’s. It was not, however, till the next July, after a little diplomatizing in billets by the ladies, that her first visit to our house was arranged, and she came to spend a fortnight with my wife. I still remember the first half-hour of Margaret’s conversation. She was then twenty-six years old. She had a face and frame that would indicate fulness and tenacity of life. She was rather under the middle height; her complexion was fair, with strong fair hair. She was then, as always, carefully and becomingly dressed, and of ladylike self-possession. For the rest, her appearance had nothing prepossessing. Her extreme plainness, — a trick of incessantly opening and shutting her eyelids, — the nasal tone of her voice, — all repelled; and I said to myself, we shall never get far. It is to be said, that Margaret made a disagreeable first impression on most persons, including those who became afterwards her best friends, to such an extreme that they did not wish to be in the same room with her. This was partly the effect of her manners, which expressed an overweening sense of power, and slight esteem of others, and partly the prejudice of her fame. She had a dangerous reputation for satire, in addition to her great scholarship. The men thought she carried too many guns, and the women did not like one who despised them. I believe I fancied her too much interested in personal history; and her talk was a comedy in which dramatic justice was done to everybody’s foibles. I remember that she made me laugh more than I liked; for I was, at that time, an eager scholar of ethics, and had tasted the sweets of solitude and stoicism, and I found something profane in the hours of amusing gossip into which she drew me, and, when I returned to my library, had much to think of the crackling of thorns under a pot. Margaret, who had stuffed me out as a philosopher, in her own fancy, was too intent on establishing a good footing between us, to omit any art of winning. She studied my tastes, piqued and amused me, challenged frankness by frankness, and did not conceal the good opinion of me she brought with her, nor her wish to please. She was curious to know my opinions and experiences. Of course, it was impossible long to hold out against such urgent assault. She had an incredible variety of anecdotes, and the readiest wit to give an absurd turn to whatever passed; and the eyes, which were so plain at first, soon swam with fun and drolleries, and the very tides of joy and superabundant life.
This rumor was much spread abroad, that she was sneering, scoffing, critical, disdainful of humble people, and of all but the intellectual. I had heard it whenever she was named. It was a superficial judgment. Her satire was only the pastime and necessity of her talent, the play of superabundant animal spirits. And it will be seen, in the sequel, that her mind presently disclosed many moods and powers, in successive platforms or terraces, each above each, that quite effaced this first impression, in the opulence of the following pictures.
Let us hear what she has herself to say on the subject of tea-table-talk, in a letter to a young lady, to whom she was already much attached:—
‘I am repelled by your account of your party. It is beneath you to amuse yourself with active satire, with what is vulgarly called quizzing. When such a person as —— chooses to throw himself in your way, I sympathize with your keen perception of his ridiculous points. But to laugh a whole evening at vulgar nondescripts, — is that an employment for one who was born passionately to love, to admire, to sustain truth? This would be much more excusable in a chameleon like me. Yet, whatever may be the vulgar view of my character, I can truly say, I know not the hour in which I ever looked for the ridiculous. It has always been forced upon me, and is the accident of my existence. I would not want the sense of it when it comes, for that would show an obtuseness of mental organization; but, on peril of my soul, I would not move an eyelash to look for it.’
When she came to Concord, she was already rich in friends, rich in experiences, rich in culture. She was well read in French, Italian, and German literature. She had learned Latin and a little Greek. But her English reading was incomplete; and, while she knew Molière, and Rousseau, and any quantity of French letters, memoirs, and novels, and was a dear student of Dante and Petrarca, and knew German books more cordially than any other person, she was little read in Shakspeare; and I believe I had the pleasure of making her acquainted with Chaucer, with Ben Jonson, with Herbert, Chapman, Ford, Beaumont and Fletcher, with Bacon, and Sir Thomas Browne. I was seven years her senior, and had the habit of idle reading in old English books, and, though not much versed, yet quite enough to give me the right to lead her. She fancied that her sympathy and taste had led her to an exclusive culture of southern European books.
She had large experiences. She had been a precocious scholar at Dr. Park's school; good in mathematics and in languages. Her father, whom she had recently lost, had been proud of her, and petted her. She had drawn, at Cambridge, numbers of lively young men about her. She had had a circle of young women who were devoted to her, and who described her as “a wonder of intellect, who had yet no religion.” She had drawn to her every superior young man or young woman she had met, and whole romances of life and love had been confided, counselled, thought, and lived through, in her cognizance and sympathy.
These histories are rapid, so that she had already beheld many times the youth, meridian, and old age of passion. She had, besides, selected, from so many, a few eminent companions, and already felt that she was not likely to see anything more beautiful than her beauties, anything more powerful and generous than her youths. She had found out her own secret by early comparison, and knew what power to draw confidence, what necessity to lead in every circle, belonged of right to her. Her powers were maturing, and nobler sentiments were subliming the first heats and rude experiments. She had outward calmness and dignity. She had come to the ambition to be filled with all nobleness.
Of the friends who surrounded her, at that period, it is neither easy to speak, nor not to speak. A life of Margaret is impossible without them, she mixed herself so inextricably with her company; and when this little book was first projected, it was proposed to entitle it “Margaret and her Friends,” the subject persisting to offer itself in the plural number. But, on trial, that form proved impossible, and it only remained that the narrative, like a Greek tragedy, should suppose the chorus always on the stage, sympathizing and sympathized with by the queen of the scene.
Yet I remember these persons as a fair, commanding troop, every one of them adorned by some splendor of beauty, of grace, of talent, or of character, and comprising in their band persons who have since disclosed sterling worth and elevated aims in the conduct of life.
Three beautiful women, — either of whom would have been the fairest ornament of Papanti’s Assemblies, but for the presence of the other, — were her friends. One of these early became, and long remained, nearly the central figure in Margaret’s brilliant circle, attracting to herself, by her grace and her singular natural eloquence, every feeling of affection, hope, and pride.
Two others I recall, whose rich and cultivated voices in song were, — one a little earlier, the other a little later, — the joy of every house into which they came; and, indeed, Margaret’s taste for music was amply gratified in the taste and science which several persons among her intimate friends possessed. She was successively intimate with two sisters, whose taste for music had been opened, by a fine and severe culture, to the knowledge and to the expression of all the wealth of the German masters.
I remember another, whom every muse inspired, skilful alike with the pencil and the pen, and by whom both were almost contemmed for their inadequateness, in the height and scope of her aims. ‘With her,’ said Margaret, ‘I can talk of anything. She is like me. She is able to look facts in the face. We enjoy the clearest, widest, most direct communication. She may be no happier than ——, but she will know her own mind too clearly to make any great mistake in conduct, and will learn a deep meaning from her days.’
‘It is not in the way of tenderness that I love ——. I prize her always; and this is all the love some natures ever know. And I also feel that I may always expect she will be with me. I delight to picture to myself certain persons translated, illuminated. There are a few in whom I see occasionally the future being piercing, promising, — whom I can strip of all that masks their temporary relations, and elevate to their natural position. Sometimes I have not known these persons intimately, — oftener I have; for it is only in the deepest hours that this light is likely to break out. But some of those I have best befriended I cannot thus portray, and very few men I can. It does not depend at all on the beauty of their forms, at present; it is in the eye and the smile, that the hope shines through. I can see exactly how —— will look: not like this angel in the paper; she will not bring flowers, but a living coal, to the lips of the singer; her eyes will not burn as now with smothered fires, they will be ever deeper, and glow more intensely; her cheek will be smooth, but marble pale; her gestures nobly free, but few.’
Another was a lady who was devoted to landscape-painting, and who enjoyed the distinction of being the only pupil of Allston, and who, in her alliance with Margaret, gave as much honor as she received, by the security of her spirit, and by the heroism of her devotion to her friend. Her friends called her “the perpetual peace-offering,” and Margaret says of her, — ‘She is here, and her neighborhood casts the mildness and purity too of the moonbeam on the else parti-colored scene.’
There was another lady, more late and reluctantly entering Margaret’s circle, with a mind as high, and more mathematically exact, drawn by taste to Greek, as Margaret to Italian genius, tempted to do homage to Margaret's flowing expressive energy, but still more inclined and secured to her side by the good sense and the heroism which Margaret disclosed, perhaps not a little by the sufferings which she addressed herself to alleviate, as long as Margaret lived. Margaret had a courage in her address which it was not easy to resist. She called all her friends by their Christian names. In their early intercourse I suppose this lady’s billets were more punctiliously worded than Margaret liked; so she subscribed herself, in reply, ‘Your affectionate “Miss Fuller.”’ When the difficulties were at length surmounted, and the conditions ascertained on which two admirable persons could live together, the best understanding grew up, and subsisted during her life. In her journal is a note: —
‘Passed the morning in Sleepy Hollow, with ——. What fine, just distinctions she made! Worlds grew clearer as we talked. I grieve to see her fine frame subject to such rude discipline. But she truly said, “I am not a failed experiment; for, in the bad hours, I do not forget what I thought in the better.”’
None interested her more at that time, and for many years after, than a youth with whom she had been acquainted in Cambridge before he left the University, and the unfolding of whose powers she had watched with the warmest sympathy. He was an amateur, and, but for the exactions not to be resisted of an American, that is to say, of a commercial, career, — his acceptance of which she never ceased to regard as an apostasy, — himself a high artist. He was her companion, and, though much younger, her guide in the study of art. With him she examined, leaf by leaf, the designs of Raphael, of Michel Angelo, of Da Vinci, of Guercino, the architecture of the Greeks, the books of Palladio, the Ruins, and Prisons of Piranesi; and long kept up a profuse correspondence on books and studies in which they had a mutual interest. And yet, as happened so often, these literary sympathies, though sincere, were only veils and occasions to beguile the time, so profound was her interest in the character and fortunes of her friend.
There was another youth, whom she found later, of invalid habit, which had infected in some degree the tone of his mind, but of a delicate and pervasive insight, and the highest appreciation for genius in letters, arts, and life. Margaret describes ‘his complexion as clear in its pallor, and his eye steady.’ His turn of mind, and his habits of life, had almost a monastic turn, — a jealousy of the common tendencies of literary men either to display or to philosophy. Margaret was struck with the singular fineness of his perceptions, and the pious tendency of his thoughts, and enjoyed with him his proud reception, not as from above, but almost on equal ground, of Homer and Æschylus, of Dante and Petrarch, of Montaigne, of Calderon, of Goethe. Margaret wished, also, to defend his privacy from the dangerous solicitations to premature authorship: —
‘His mind should be approached close by one who needs its fragrance. All with him leads rather to glimpses and insights, than to broad, comprehensive views. Till he needs the public, the public does not need him. The lonely lamp, the niche, the dark cathedral grove, befit him best. Let him shroud himself in the symbols of his native ritual, till he can issue forth on the wings of song.’
She was at this time, too, much drawn also to a man of poetic sensibility, and of much reading, — which he took the greatest pains to conceal, — studious of the art of poetry, but still more a poet in his conversation than in his poems, — who attracted Margaret by the flowing humor with which he filled the present hour, and the prodigality with which he forgot all the past.
‘Unequal and uncertain,’ she says, ‘but in his good moods, of the best for a companion, absolutely abandoned to the revelations of the moment, without distrust or check of any kind, unlimited and delicate, abundant in thought, and free of motion, he enriches life, and fills the hour.’
‘I wish I could retain ——’s talk last night. It was wonderful; it was about all the past experiences frozen down in the soul, and the impossibility of being penetrated by anything. “Had I met you,” said he, “when I was young! — but now nothing can penetrate.” ‘Absurd as was what he said, on one side, it was the finest poetic inspiration on the other, painting the cruel process of life, except where genius continually burns over the stubble fields.
‘“Life,” he said, “is continually eating us up.” He said, “Mr. E. is quite wrong about books. He wants them all good; now I want many bad. Literature is not merely a collection of gems, but a great system of interpretation.” He railed at me as artificial. “It don’t strike me when you are alone with me,” he says; “but it does when others are present. You don’t follow out the fancy of the moment; you converse; you have treasured thoughts to tell; you are disciplined, — artificial.” I pleaded guilty, and observed that I supposed that it must be so with one of any continuity of thought, or earnestness of character. “As to that,” says he, “I shall not like you the better for your excellence. I don’t know what is the matter. I feel strongly attracted towards you; but there is a drawback in my mind, — I don’t know exactly what. You will always be wanting to grow forward; now I like to grow backward, too. You are too ideal. Ideal people anticipate their lives; and they make themselves and everybody around them restless, by always being beforehand with themselves.”
‘I listened attentively; for what he said was excellent. Following up the humor of the moment, he arrests admirable thoughts on the wing. But I cannot but see, that what they say of my or other obscure lives is true of every prophetic, of every tragic character. And then I like to have them make me look on that side, and reverence the lovely forms of nature, and the shifting moods, and the clinging instincts. But I must not let them disturb me. There is an only guide, the voice in the heart, that asks, “Was thy wish sincere? If so, thou canst not stray from nature, nor be so perverted but she will make thee true again.” I must take my own path, and learn from them all, without being paralyzed for the day. We need great energy, faith, and self-reliance to endure to-day. My age may not be the best, my position may be bad, my character ill-formed; but Thou, oh Spirit! hast no regard to aught but the seeking heart; and, if I try to walk upright, wilt guide me. What despair must he feel, who, after a whole life passed in trying to build up himself, resolves that it would have been far better if he had kept still as the clod of the valley, or yielded easily as the leaf to every breeze! A path has been appointed me. I have walked in it as steadily as I could. I am what I am; that which I am not, teach me in the others. I will bear the pain of imperfection, but not of doubt. E. must not shake me in my worldliness, nor —— in the fine motion that has given me what I have of life, nor this child of genius make me lay aside the armor, without which I had lain bleeding on the field long since; but, if they can keep closer to nature, and learn to interpret her as souls, also, let me learn from them what I have not.’
And, in connection with this conversation, she has copied the following lines which this gentleman addressed to her: —
“I mark beneath thy life the virtue shine
That deep within the star’s eye opes its day;
I clutch the gorgeous thoughts thou throw’st away
From the profound unfathomable mine,
And with them this mean common hour do twine,
As glassy waters on the dry beach play.
And I were rich as night, them to combine
With my poor store, and warm me with thy ray.
From the fixed answer of those dateless eyes
I meet bold hints of spirit’s mystery
As to what’s past, and hungry prophecies
Of deeds to-day, and things which are to be;
Of lofty life that with the eagle flies,
And humble love that clasps humanity.”
I have thus vaguely designated, among the numerous group of her friends, only those who were much in her company, in the early years of my acquaintance with her.
She wore this circle of friends, when I first knew her, as a necklace of diamonds about her neck. They were so much to each other, that Margaret seemed to represent them all, and, to know her, was to acquire a place with them. The confidences given her were their best, and she held them to them. She was an active, inspiring companion and correspondent, and all the art, the thought, and the nobleness in New England, seemed, at that moment, related to her, and she to it. She was everywhere a welcome guest. The houses of her friends in town and country were open to her, and every hospitable attention eagerly offered. Her arrival was a holiday, and so was her abode. She stayed a few days, often a week, more seldom a month, and all tasks that could be suspended were put aside to catch the favorable hour, in walking, riding, or boating, to talk with this joyful guest, who brought wit, anecdotes, love-stories, tragedies, oracles with her, and, with her broad web of relations to so many fine friends, seemed like the queen of some parliament of love, who carried the key to all confidences, and to whom every question had been finally referred.
Persons were her game, specially, if marked by fortune, or character, or success; — to such was she sent. She addressed them with a hardihood, — almost a haughty assurance, — queen-like. Indeed, they fell in her way, where the access might have seemed difficult, by wonderful casualties; and the inveterate recluse, the coyest maid, the waywardest poet, made no resistance, but yielded at discretion, as if they had been waiting for her, all doors to this imperious dame. She disarmed the suspicion of recluse scholars by the absence of bookishness. The case with which she entered into conversation made them forget all they had heard of her; and she was infinitely less interested in literature than in life. They saw she valued earnest persons, and Dante, Petrarch, and Goethe, because they thought as she did, and gratified her with high portraits, which she was everywhere seeking. She drew her companions to surprising confessions. She was the wedding-guest, to whom the long-pent story must be told; and they were not less struck, on reflection, at the suddenness of the friendship which had established, in one day, new and permanent covenants. She extorted the secret of life, which cannot be told without setting heart and mind in a glow; and thus had the best of those she saw. Whatever romance, whatever virtue, whatever impressive experience, — this came to her; and she lived in a superior circle; for they suppressed all their commonplace in her presence.
She was perfectly true to this confidence. She never confounded relations, but kept a hundred fine threads in her hand, without crossing or entangling any. An entire intimacy, which seemed to make both sharers of the whole horizon of each others’ and of all truth, did not yet make her false to any other friend; gave no title to the history that an equal trust of another friend had put in her keeping. In this reticence was no prudery and no effort. For, so rich her mind, that she never was tempted to treachery, by the desire of entertaining. The day was never long enough to exhaust her opulent memory; and I, who knew her intimately for ten years, — from July, 1836, till August, 1846, when she sailed for Europe, — never saw her without surprise at her new powers.
Of the conversations above alluded to, the substance was whatever was suggested by her passionate wish for equal companions, to the end of making life altogether noble. With the firmest tact she led the discourse into the midst of their daily living and working, recognizing the good-will and sincerity which each man has in his aims, and treating so playfully and intellectually all the points, that one seemed to see his life en beau, and was flattered by beholding what he had found so tedious in its workday weeds, shining in glorious costume. Each of his friends passed before him in the new light; hope seemed to spring under his feet, and life was worth living. The auditor jumped for joy, and thirsted for unlimited draughts. What! is this the dame, who, I heard, was sneering and critical? this the blue-stocking, of whom I stood in terror and dislike? this wondrous woman, full of counsel, full of tenderness, before whom every mean thing is ashamed, and hides itself; this new Corinne, more variously gifted, wise, sportive, eloquent, who seems to have learned all languages, Heaven knows when or how, — I should think she was born to them, — magnificent, prophetic, reading my life at her will, and puzzling me with riddles like this, ‘Yours is an example of a destiny springing from character.’ and, again, ‘I see your destiny hovering before you, but it always escapes from you.’
The test of this eloquence was its range. It told on children, and on old people; on men of the world, and on sainted maids. She could hold them all by her honeyed tongue. A lady of the best eminence, whom Margaret occasionally visited, in one of our cities of spindles, speaking one day of her neighbors, said, “I stand in a certain awe of the moneyed men, the manufacturers, and so on, knowing that they will have small interest in Plato, or in Biot; but I saw them approach Margaret, with perfect security, for she could give them bread that they could eat.” Some persons are thrown off their balance when in society; others are thrown on to balance; the excitement of company, and the observation of other characters, correct their biases. Margaret always appeared to unexpected advantage in conversation with a large circle. She had more sanity than any other; whilst, in private, her vision was often through colored lenses.
Her talents were so various, and her conversation so rich and entertaining, that one might talk with her many times, by the parlor fire, before he discovered the strength which served as foundation to so much accomplishment and eloquence. But, concealed under flowers and music, was the broadest good sense, very well able to dispose of all this pile of native and foreign ornaments, and quite able to work without them. She could always rally on this, in every circumstance, and in every company, and find herself on a firm footing of equality with any party whatever, and make herself useful, and, if need be, formidable.
The old Anaximenes, seeking, I suppose, for a source sufficiently diffusive, said, that Mind must be in the air, which, when all men breathed, they were filled with one intelligence. And when men have larger measures of reason, as Æsop, Cervantes, Franklin, Scott, they gain in universality, or are no longer confined to a few associates, but are good company for all persons, — philosophers, women, men of fashion, tradesmen, and servants. Indeed, an older philosopher than Anaximenes, namely, language itself, had taught to distinguish superior or purer sense as common sense.
Margaret had, with certain limitations, or, must we say, strictures, these larger lungs, inhaling this universal element, and could speak to Jew and Greek, free and bond, to each in his own tongue. The Concord stagecoachman distinguished her by his respect, and the chambermaid was pretty sure to confide to her, on the second day, her homely romance.
I regret that it is not in my power to give any true report of Margaret’s conversation. She soon became an established friend and frequent inmate of our house, and continued, thenceforward, for years, to come, once in three or four months, to spend a week or a fortnight with us. She adopted all the people and all the interests she found here. Your people shall be my people, and yonder darling boy I shall cherish as my own. Her ready sympathies endeared her to my wife and my mother, each of whom highly esteemed her good sense and sincerity. She suited each, and all. Yet, she was not a person to be suspected of complaisance, and her attachments, one might say, were chemical.
She had so many tasks of her own, that she was a very easy guest to entertain, as she could be left to herself, day after day, without apology. According to our usual habit, we seldom met in the forenoon. After dinner, we read something together, or walked, or rode. In the evening, she came to the library, and many and many a conversation was there held, whose details, if they could be preserved, would justify all encomiums. They interested me in every manner; — talent, memory, wit, stern introspection, poetic play, religion, the finest personal feeling, the aspects of the future, each followed each in full activity, and left me, I remember, enriched and sometimes astonished by the gifts of my guest. Her topics were numerous, but the cardinal points of poetry, love, and religion, were never far off. She was a student of art, and, though untravelled, knew, much better than most persons who had been abroad, the conventional reputation of each of the masters. She was familiar with all the field of elegant criticism in literature. Among the problems of the day, these two attracted her chiefly, Mythology and Demonology; then, also, French Socialism, especially as it concerned woman; the whole prolific family of reforms, and, of course, the genius and career of each remarkable person.
She had other friends, in this town, beside those in my house. A lady, already alluded to, lived in the village, who had known her longer than I, and whose prejudices Margaret had resolutely fought down, until she converted her into the firmest and most efficient of friends. In 1842, Nathaniel Hawthorne, already then known to the world by his Twice-Told Tales, came to live in Concord, in the “Old Manse,” with his wife, who was herself an artist. With these welcomed persons Margaret formed a strict and happy acquaintance. She liked their old house, and the taste which had filled it with new articles of beautiful form, yet harmonized with the antique furniture left by the former proprietors. She liked, too, the pleasing walks, and rides, and boatings, which that neighborhood commanded.
In 1842, William Ellery Channing, whose wife was her sister, built a house in Concord, and this circumstance made a new tie and another home for Margaret.
It was soon evident that there was somewhat a little pagan about her; that she had some faith more or less distinct in a fate, and in a guardian genius; that her fancy, or her pride, had played with her religion. She had a taste for gems, ciphers, talismans, omens, coincidences, and birth-days, She had a special love for the planet Jupiter, and a belief that the month of September was inauspicious to her. She never forgot that her name, Margarita, signified a pearl. ‘When I first met with the name Leila,’ she said, ‘I knew, from the very look and sound, it was mine; I knew that it meant night, — night, which brings out stars, as sorrow brings out truths.’ Sortilege she valued. She tried sortes biblicæ, and her hits were memorable. I think each new book which interested her, she was disposed to put to this test, and know if it had somewhat personal to say to her. As happens to such persons, these guesses were justified by the event. She chose carbuncle for her own stone, and when a dear friend was to give her a gem, this was the one selected. She valued what she had somewhere read, that carbuncles are male and female. The female casts out light, the male has his within himself. ‘Mine,’ she said, ‘is the male.’ And she was wont to put on her carbuncle, a bracelet, or some selected gem, to write letters to certain friends. One of her friends she coupled with the onyx, another in a decided way with the amethyst. She learned that the ancients esteemed this gem a talisman to dispel intoxication, to give good thoughts and understanding. ‘The Greek meaning is antidote against drunkenness.’ She characterized her friends by these stones, and wrote, to the last mentioned, the following lines: —
‘Slow wandering on a tangled way,
To their lost child pure spirits say: —
The diamond marshal thee by day,
By night, the carbuncle defend,
Heart’s blood of a bosom friend.
On thy brow, the amethyst,
Violet of purest earth,
When by fullest sunlight kissed,
Best reveals its regal birth;
And when that haloed moment flies,
Shall keep thee steadfast, chaste, and wise.’
Coincidences, good and bad, contretemps, seals, ciphers, mottoes, omens, anniversaries, names, dreams, are all of a certain importance to her. Her letters are often dated on some marked anniversary of her own, or of her correspondent’s calendar. She signalized saints’ days, “All-Souls,” and “All-Saints,” by poems, which had for her a mystical value. She remarked a preëstablished harmony of the names of her personal friends, as well as of her historical favorites; that of Emanuel, for Swedenborg; and Rosencrantz, for the head of the Rosicrucians. ‘If Christian Rosencrantz,’ she said, ‘is not a made name, the genius of the age interfered in the baptismal rite, as in the cases of the archangels of art, Michael and Raphael, and in giving the name of Emanuel to the captain of the New Jerusalem. Sub rosa crux, I think, is the true derivation, and not the chemical one, generation, corruption, &c.’ In this spirit, she soon surrounded herself with a little mythology of her own. She had a series of anniversaries, which she kept. Her seal-ring of the flying Mercury had its legend. She chose the Sistrum for her emblem, and had it carefully drawn with a view to its being engraved on a gem. And I know not how many verses and legends came recommended to her by this symbolism. Her dreams, of course, partook of this symmetry. The same dream returns to her periodically, annually, and punctual to its night. One dream she marks in her journal as repeated for the fourth time: —
‘In C., I at last distinctly recognized the figure of the early vision, whom I found after I had left A., who led me, on the bridge, towards the city, glittering in sunset, but, midway, the bridge went under water. I have often seen in her face that it was she, but refused to believe it.’
She valued, of course, the significance of flowers, and chose emblems for her friends from her garden.
‘TO ————, WITH HEARTSEASE.
‘Content, in purple lustre clad,
Kingly serene, and golden glad,
No demi-hues of sad contrition,
No pallors of enforced submission; —
Give me such content as this,
And keep awhile the rosy bliss.’
This catching at straws of coincidence, where all is geometrical, seems the necessity of certain natures. It is true, that, in every good work, the particulars are right, and, that every spot of light on the ground, under the trees, is a perfect image of the sun. Yet, for astronomical purposes, an observatory is better than an orchard; and in a universe which is nothing but generations, or an unbroken suite of cause and effect, to infer Providence, because a man happens to find a shilling on the pavement just when he wants one to spend, is puerile, and much as if each of us should date his letters and notes of hand from his own birthday, instead of from Christ’s or the king’s reign, or the current Congress. These, to be sure, are also, at first, petty and private beginnings, but, by the world of men, clothed with a social and cosmical character.
It will be seen, however, that this propensity Margaret held with certain tenets of fate, which always swayed her, and which Goethe, who had found room and fine names for all this in his system, had encouraged; and, I may add, which her own experiences, early and late, seemed strangely to justify.
Some extracts, from her letters to different persons, will show how this matter lay in her mind.
‘December 17, 1829. — The following instance of beautiful credulity, in Rousseau, has taken my mind greatly. This remote seeking for the decrees of fate, this feeling of a destiny, casting its shadows from the very morning of thought, is the most beautiful species of idealism in our day. ’Tis finely manifested in Wallenstein, where the two common men sum up their superficial observations on the life and doings of Wallenstein, and show that, not until this agitating crisis, have they caught any idea of the deep thoughts which shaped that hero, who has, without their feeling it, moulded their existence.
‘“Tasso,” says Rousseau, “has predicted my misfortunes. Have you remarked that Tasso has this peculiarity, that you cannot take from his work a single strophe, nor from any strophe a single line, nor from any line a single word, without disarranging the whole poem? Very well! take away the strophe I speak of, the stanza has no connection with those that precede or follow it; it is absolutely useless. Tasso probably wrote it involuntarily, and without comprehending it himself.”
‘As to the impossibility of taking from Tasso without disarranging the poem, &c., I dare say ’tis not one whit more justly said of his, than of any other narrative poem. Mais, n’ importe, ’tis sufficient if Rousseau believed this. I found the stanza in question; admire its meaning beauty.
‘I hope you have Italian enough to appreciate the singular perfection in expression. If not, look to Fairfax’s Jerusalem Delivered, Canto 12, Stanza 77; but Rousseau says these lines have no connection with what goes before, or after; they are preceded, stanza 76, by these three lines, which he does not think fit to mention.’
|“Misero mostro d’infelice amore;|
|Misero mostro a cui sol pena è degna|
|Dell’ immensa impietà, la vita indegna.”|
|“Vivrò fra i miei tormenti e fra le cure,|
|Mie giuste furie, forsennato errante.|
|Paventerò l’ombre solinghe e scure,|
|Che l’primo error mi recheranno avante:|
|E del sol che scoprì le mie sventure,|
|A schivo ed in orrore avrò il sembiante.|
|Temerò me medesmo; e da me stesso|
|Sempre fuggendo, avrò me sempre appresso.”|
|La Gerusalemme Liberata, C. XII. 76, 77.|
TO R. W. E.
‘Dec. 12, 1848. — When Goethe received a letter from Zelter, with a handsome superscription, he said, “Lay that aside; it is Zelter’s true hand-writing. Every man has a dæmon, who is busy to confuse and limit his life. No way is the action of this power more clearly shown, than in the hand-writing. On this occasion, the evil influences have been evaded; the mood, the hand, the pen and paper have conspired to let our friend write truly himself.”
‘You may perceive, I quote from memory, as the sentences are anything but Goethean; but I think often of this little passage. With me, for weeks and months, the dæmon works his will. Nothing succeeds with me. I fall ill, or am otherwise interrupted. At these times, whether of frost, or sultry weather, I would gladly neither plant nor reap, — wait for the better times, which sometimes come, when I forget that sickness is ever possible; when all interruptions are upborne like straws on the full stream of my life, and the words that accompany it are as much in harmony as sedges murmuring near the bank. Not all, yet not unlike. But it often happens, that something presents itself, and must be done, in the bad time; nothing presents itself in the good: so I, like the others, seem worse and poorer than I am.’
In another letter to an earlier friend, she expatiates a little.
‘As to the Dæmoniacal, I know not that I can say to you anything more precise than you find from Goethe. There are no precise terms for such thoughts. The word instinctive indicates their existence. I intimated it in the little piece on the Drachenfels. It may be best understood, perhaps, by a symbol. As the sun shines from the serene heavens, dispelling noxious exhalations, and calling forth exquisite thoughts on the surface of earth in the shape of shrub or flower, so gnome-like works the fire within the hidden caverns and secret veins of earth, fashioning existences which have a longer share in time, perhaps, because they are not immortal in thought. Love, beauty, wisdom, goodness are intelligent, but this power moves only to seize its prey. It is not necessarily either malignant or the reverse, but it has no scope beyond demonstrating its existence. When conscious, self-asserting, it becomes (as power working for its own sake, unwilling to acknowledge love for its superior, must) the devil. That is the legend of Lucifer, the star that would not own its centre. Yet, while it is unconscious, it is not devilish, only dæmoniac. In nature, we trace it in all volcanic workings, in a boding position of lights, in whispers of the wind, which has no pedigree; in deceitful invitations of the water, in the sullen rock, which never shall find a voice, and in the shapes of all those beings who go about seeking what they may devour. We speak of a mystery, a dread; we shudder, but we approach still nearer, and a part of our nature listens, sometimes answers to this influence, which, if not indestructible, is at least indissolubly linked with the existence of matter.
In genius, and in character, it works, as you say, instinctively; it refuses to be analyzed by the understanding, and is most of all inaccessible to the person who possesses it. We can only say, I have it, he has it. You have seen it often in the eyes of those Italian faces you like. It is most obvious in the eye. As we look on such eyes, we think on the tiger, the serpent, beings who lurk, glide, fascinate, mysteriously control. For it is occult by its nature, and if it could meet you on the highway, and be familiarly known as an acquaintance, could not exist. The angels of light do not love, yet they do not insist on exterminating it.
‘It has given rise to the fables of wizard, enchantress, and the like; these beings are scarcely good, yet not necessarily bad. Power tempts them. They draw their skills from the dead, because their being is coeval with that of matter, and matter is the mother of death.’
In later days, she allowed herself sometimes to dwell sadly on the resistances which she called her fate, and remarked, that ‘all life that has been or could be natural to me, is invariably denied.’
She wrote long afterwards: —
‘My days at Milan were not unmarked. I have known some happy hours, but they all lead to sorrow, and not only the cups of wine, but of milk, seem drugged with poison, for me. It does not seem to be my fault, this destiny. I do not court these things, — they come. I am a poor magnet, with power to be wounded by the bodies I attract.’
I said that Margaret had a broad good sense, which brought her near to all people. I am to say that she had also a strong temperament, which is that counter force which makes individuality, by driving all the powers in the direction of the ruling thought or feeling, and, when it is allowed full sway, isolating them. These two tendencies were always invading each other, and now one and now the other carried the day. This alternation perplexes the biographer, as it did the observer. We contradict on the second page what we affirm on the first: and I remember how often I was compelled to correct my impressions of her character when living; for after I had settled it once for all that she wanted this or that perception, at our next interview she would say with emphasis the very word.
I think, in her case, there was something abnormal in those obscure habits and necessities which we denote by the word Temperament. In the first days of our acquaintance, I felt her to he a foreigner, — that, with her, one would always be sensible of some barrier, as if in making up a friendship with a cultivated Spaniard or Turk. She had a strong constitution, and of course its reäctions were strong; and this is the reason why in all her life she has so much to say of her fate. She was in jubilant spirits in the morning, and ended the day with nervous headache, whose spasms, my wife told me, produced total prostration. She had great energy of speech and action, and seemed formed for high emergencies.
Her life concentrated itself on certain happy days, happy hours, happy moments. The rest was a void. She had read that a man of letters must lose many days, to work well in one. Much more must a Sappho or a sibyl. The capacity of pleasure was balanced by the capacity of pain. ‘If I had wist! —’ she writes, ‘I am a worse self-tormentor than Rousseau, and all my riches are fuel to the fire. My beautiful lore, like the tropic clime, hatches scorpions to sting me. There is a verse, which Annie of Lochroyan sings about her ring, that torments my memory, ’tis so true of myself.’
When I found she lived at a rate so much faster than mine, and which was violent compared with mine, I foreboded rash and painful crises, and had a feeling as if a voice cried, Stand from under! — as if, a little further on, this destiny was threatened with jars and reverses, which no friendship could avert or console. This feeling partly wore off, on better acquaintance, but remained latent; and I had always an impression that her energy was too much a force of blood, and therefore never felt the security for her peace which belongs to more purely intellectual natures. She seemed more vulnerable. For the same reason, she remained inscrutable to me; her strength was not my strength, — her powers were a surprise. She passed into new states of great advance, but I understood these no better. It were long to tell her peculiarities. Her childhood was full of presentiments. She was then a somnambulist. She was subject to attacks of delirium, and, later, perceived that she had spectral illusions. When she was twelve, she had a determination of blood to the head. ‘My parents,’ she said, ‘were much mortified to see the fineness of my complexion destroyed. My own vanity was for a time severely wounded; but I recovered, and made up my mind to be bright and ugly.’
She was all her lifetime the victim of disease and pain. She read and wrote in bed, and believed that she could understand anything better when she was ill. Pain acted like a girdle, to give tension to her powers. A lady, who was with her one day during a terrible attack of nervous headache, which made Margaret totally helpless, assured me that Margaret was yet in the finest vein of humor, and kept those who were assisting her in a strange, painful excitement, between laughing and crying, by perpetual brilliant sallies. There were other peculiarities of habit and power. When she turned her head on one side, she alleged she had second sight, like St. Francis. These traits or predispositions made her a willing listener to all the uncertain science of mesmerism and its goblin brood, which have been rife in recent years.
She had a feeling that she ought to have been a man, and said of herself, ‘A man’s ambition with a woman’s heart, is an evil lot.’ In some verses which she wrote ‘To the Moon,’ occur these lines: —
‘But if steadfast gaze upon thy face,
A human secret, like my own, I trace;
For, through the woman’s smile looks the male eye.’
And she found something of true portraiture in a disagreeable novel of Balzac’s, “Le Livre Mystique,” in which an equivocal figure exerts alternately a masculine and a feminine influence on the characters of the plot.
Of all this nocturnal element in her nature she was very conscious, and was disposed, of course, to give it as fine names as it would carry, and to draw advantage from it. ‘Attica,’ she said to a friend, ‘is your province, Thessaly is mine: Attica produced the marble wonders of the great geniuses; but Thessaly is the land of magic.’
‘I have a great share of Typhon to the Osiris, wild rush and leap, blind force for the sake of force.’
‘Dante, thou didst not describe, in all thy apartments of Inferno, this tremendous repression of an existence half unfolded; this swoon as the soul was ready to be born.’
‘Every year I live, I dislike routine more and more, though I see that society rests on that, and other falsehoods. The more I screw myself down to hours, the more I become expert at giving out thought and life in regulated rations, — the more I weary of this world, and long to move upon the wing, without props and sedan chairs.’
TO R. W. E.
‘Dec. 26, 1839. — If you could look into my mind just now, you would send far from you those who love and hate. I am on the Drachenfels, and cannot get off; it is one of my naughtiest moods. Last Sunday, I wrote a long letter, describing it in prose and verse, and I had twenty minds to send it you as a literary curiosity; then I thought, this might destroy relations, and I might not be able to be calm and chip marble with you any more, if I talked to you in magnetism and music; so I sealed and sent it in the due direction.
‘I remember you say, that forlorn seasons often turn out the most profitable. Perhaps I shall find it so. I have been reading Plato all the week, because I could not write. I hoped to be tuned up thereby. I perceive, with gladness, a keener insight in myself, day by day; yet, after all, could not make a good statement this morning on the subject of beauty.’
She had, indeed, a rude strength, which, if it could have been supported by an equal health, would have given her the efficiency of the strongest men. As it was, she had great power of work. The account of her reading in Groton is at a rate like Gibbon’s, and, later, that of her writing, considered with the fact that writing was not grateful to her, is incredible. She often proposed to her friends, in the progress of intimacy, to write every day. ‘I think less than a daily offering of thought and feeling would not content me, so much seems to pass unspoken.’ In Italy, she tells Madame Arconati, that she has ‘more than a hundred correspondents; and it was her habit there to devote one day of every week to those distant friends. The facility with which she assumed stints of literary labor, which veteran feeders of the press would shrink from,— assumed and performed, — when her friends were to be served, I have often observed with wonder, and with fear, when I considered the near extremes of ill-health, and the manner in which her life heaped itself in high and happy moments which were avenged by lassitude and pain.
‘As each task comes,’ she said, ‘I borrow a readiness from its aspect, as I always do brightness from the face of a friend. Yet, as soon as the hour is past, I sink.’
I think most of her friends will remember to have felt, at one time or another, some uneasiness, as if this athletic soul craved a larger atmosphere than it found; as if she were ill-timed and mis-mated, and felt in herself a tide of life, which compared with the slow circulation of others as a torrent with a rill. She found no full expression of it but in music. Beethoven’s Symphony was the only right thing the city of the Puritans had for her. Those to whom music has a representative value, affording them a stricter copy of their inward life than any other of the expressive arts, will, perhaps, enter into the spirit which dictated the following letter to her patron saint, on her return, one evening, from the Boston Academy of Music.
‘Saturday Evening, 25th Nov., 1843.
‘My only friend,
‘How shall I thank thee for once more breaking the chains of my sorrowful slumber? My heart beats. I live again, for I feel that I am worthy audience for thee, and that my being would be reason enough for thine.
‘Master, my eyes are always clear. I see that the universe is rich, if I am poor. I see the insignificance of my sorrows. In my will, I am not a captive; in my intellect, not a slave. Is it then my fault that the palsy of my affections benumbs my whole life?
‘I know that the curse is but for the time. I know what the eternal justice promises. But on this one sphere, it is sad. Thou didst say, thou hadst no friend but thy art. But that one is enough. I have no art, in which to vent the swell of a soul as deep as thine, Beethoven, and of a kindred frame. Thou wilt not think me presumptuous in this saying, as another might. I have always known that thou wouldst welcome and know me, as would no other who ever lived upon the earth since its first creation.
‘Thou wouldst forgive me, master, that I have not been true to my eventual destiny, and therefore have suffered on every side “the pangs of despised love.” Thou didst the same; but thou didst borrow from those errors the inspiration of thy genius. Why is it not thus with me? Is it because, as a woman, I am bound by a physical law, which prevents the soul from manifesting itself? Sometimes the moon seems mockingly to say so, — to say that I, too, shall not shine, unless I can find a sun. O, cold and barren moon, tell a different tale!
‘But thou, oh blessed master! dost answer all my questions, and make it my privilege to be. Like a humble wife to the sage, or poet, it is my triumph that I can understand and cherish thee: like a mistress, I arm thee for the fight: like a young daughter, I tenderly bind thy wounds. Then art to me beyond compare, for thou art all I want. No heavenly sweetness of saint or martyr, no many-leaved Raphael, no golden Plato, is anything to me, compared with thee. The infinite Shakspeare, the stern Angelo, Dante, — bittersweet like thee, — are no longer seen in thy presence. And, beside these names, there are none that could vibrate in thy crystal sphere. Thou hast all of them, and that ample surge of life besides, that great winged being which they only dreamed of. There is none greater than Shakspeare; he, too, is a god; but his creations are successive; thy fiat comprehends them all.
‘Last summer, I met thy mood in nature, on those wide impassioned plains flower and crag-bestrown. There, the tide of emotion had rolled over, and left the vision of its smiles and sobs, as I saw to-night from thee.
‘If thou wouldst take me wholly to thyself——! I am lost in this world, where I sometimes meet angels, but of a different star from mine. Even so does thy spirit plead with all spirits. But thou dost triumph and bring them all in.
‘Master, I have this summer envied the oriole which had even a swinging nest in the high bough. I have envied the least flower that came to seed, though that seed were strown to the wind. But I envy none when I am with thee.’
Margaret at first astonished and repelled us by a complacency that seemed the most assured since the days of Scaliger. She spoke, in the quietest manner, of the girls she had formed, the young men who owed everything to her, the fine companions she had long ago exhausted. In the coolest way, she said to her friends, ‘I now know all the people worth knowing in America, and I find no intellect comparable to my own.’ In vain, on one occasion, I professed my reverence for a youth of genius, and my curiosity in his future, — ‘O no, she was intimate with his mind,’ and I ‘spoiled him, by overrating him.’ Meantime, we knew that she neither had seen, nor would see, his subtle superiorities.
I have heard, that from the beginning of her life, she idealized herself as a sovereign. She told —— she early saw herself to be intellectually superior to those around her, and that for years she dwelt upon the idea, until she believed that she was not her parents’ child, but an European princess confided to their care. She remembered, that, when a little girl, she was walking one day under the apple trees with such an air and step, that her father pointed her out to her sister, saying, Incedit regina. And her letters sometimes convey these exultations, as the following, which was written to a lady, and which contained Margaret’s translation of Goethe’s “Prometheus.”
‘1838. — Which of us has not felt the questionings expressed in this bold fragment? Does it not seem, were we gods, or could steal their fire, we would make men not only happier, but free, — glorious? Yes, my life is strange; thine is strange. We are, we shall be, in this life, mutilated beings, but there is in my bosom a faith, that I shall see the reason; a glory, that I can endure to be so imperfect; and a feeling, ever elastic, that fate and time shall have the shame and the blame, if I am mutilated. I will do all I can, — and, if one cannot succeed, there is a beauty in martyrdom.
‘Your letters are excellent. I did not mean to check your writing, only I thought that you might wish a confidence that I must anticipate with a protest. But I take my natural position always: and the more I see, the more I feel that it is regal. Without throne, sceptre, or guards, still a queen.’
It is certain that Margaret occasionally let slip, with all the innocence imaginable, some phrase betraying the presence of a rather mountainous ME, in a way to surprise those who knew her good sense. She could say, as if she were stating a scientific fact, in enumerating the merits of somebody, ‘He appreciates me.’ There was something of hereditary organization in this, and something of unfavorable circumstance in the fact, that she had in early life no companion, and few afterwards, in her finer studies; but there was also an ebullient sense of power, which she felt to be in her, which as yet had found no right channels. I remember she once said to me, what I heard as a mere statement of fact, and nowise as unbecoming, that ‘no man gave such invitation to her mind as to tempt her to a full expression; that she felt a power to enrich her thought with such wealth and variety of embellishment as would, no doubt, be tedious to such as she conversed with.’
Her impatience she expressed as she could. ‘I feel within myself,’ she said, ‘an immense force, but I cannot bring it out. It may sound like a joke, but I do feel something corresponding to that tale of the Destinies falling in love with Hermes.’
In her journal, in the summer of 1844, she writes: — ‘Mrs. Ware talked with me about education, — wilful education, — in which she is trying to get interested. I talk with a Goethean moderation on this subject, which rather surprises her and ——, who are nearer the entrance of the studio. I am really old on this subject. In near eight years’ experience, I have learned as much as others would in eighty, from my great talent at explanation, tact in the use of means, and immediate and invariable power over the minds of my pupils. My wish has been, to purify my own conscience, when near them; give clear views of the aims of this life; show them where the magazines of knowledge lie; and leave the rest to themselves and the Spirit, who must teach and help them to self-impulse. I told Mrs. W. it was much if we did not injure them; if they were passing the time in a way that was not bad, so that good influences have a chance. Perhaps people in general must expect greater outward results, or they would feel no interest.’
Again: ‘With the intellect I always have, always shall, overcome; but that is not the half of the work. The life, the life! O, my God! shall the life never be sweet?’
I have inquired diligently of those who saw her often, and in different companies, concerning her habitual tone, and something like this is the report: — In conversation, Margaret seldom, except as a special grace, admitted others upon an equal ground with herself. She was exceedingly tender, when she pleased to be, and most cherishing in her influence; but to elicit this tenderness, it was necessary to submit first to her personally. When a person was overwhelmed by her, and answered not a word, except, “Margaret, be merciful to me, a sinner,” then her love and tenderness would come like a seraph’s, and often an acknowledgment that she had been too harsh, and even a craving for pardon, with a humility, — which, perhaps, she had caught from the other. But her instinct was not humility, — that was always an afterthought.
This arrogant tone of her conversation, if it came to be the subject of comment, of course, she defended, and with such broad good nature, and on grounds of simple truth, as were not easy to set aside. She quoted from Manzoni’s Carmagnola, the lines: —
“Tolga il ciel che alcuno
Piu altamente di me pensi ch’io stesso.”
“God forbid that any one should conceive more highly of me than I myself.” Meantime, the tone of her journals is humble, tearful, religious, and rises easily into prayer.
I am obliged to an ingenious correspondent for the substance of the following account of this idiosyncrasy:—
Margaret was one of the few persons who looked upon life as an art, and every person not merely as an artist, but as a work of art. She looked upon herself as a living statue, which should always stand on a polished pedestal, with right accessories, and under the most fitting lights. She would have been glad to have everybody so live and act. She was annoyed when they did not, and when they did not regard her from the point of view which alone did justice to her. No one could be more lenient in her judgments of those whom she saw to be living in this light. Their faults were to be held as “the disproportions of the ungrown giant.” But the faults of persons who were unjustified by this ideal, were odious. Unhappily, her constitutional self-esteem sometimes blinded the eyes that should have seen that an idea lay at the bottom of some lives which she did not quite so readily comprehend as beauty; that truth had other manifestations than those which engaged her natural sympathies; that sometimes the soul illuminated only the smallest arc — of a circle so large that it was lost in the clouds of another world.
This apology reminds me of a little speech once made to her, at his own house, by Dr. Channing, who held her in the highest regard: “Miss Fuller, when I consider that you are and have all that Miss —— has so long wished for, and that you scorn her, and that she still admires you, — I think her place in heaven will be very high.”
But qualities of this kind can only be truly described by the impression they make on the bystander; and it is certain that her friends excused in her, because she had a right to it, a tone which they would have reckoned intolerable in any other. Many years since, one of her earliest and fastest friends quoted Spenser’s sonnet as accurately descriptive of Margaret: —
“Rudely thou wrongest my dear heart’s desire,
In finding fault with her too portly pride;
The thing which I do most in her admire
Is of the world unworthy most envied.
For, in those lofty looks is close implied
Scorn of base things, disdain of foul dishonor,
Threatening rash eyes which gaze on her so wide
That loosely they ne dare to look upon her:
Such pride is praise, such portliness is honor,
That boldened innocence bears in her eyes;
And her fair countenance, like a goodly banner,
Spreads in defiance of all enemies.
Was never in this world aught worthy tried,
Without a spark of some self-pleasing pride.”
She had been early remarked for her sense and sprightliness, and for her skill in school exercises. Now she had added wide reading, and of the books most grateful to her. She had read the Italian poets by herself, and from sympathy. I said, that, by the leading part she naturally took, she had identified herself with all the elegant culture in this country. Almost every person who had any distinction for wit, or art, or scholarship, was known to her; and she was familiar with the leading books and topics. There is a kind of undulation in the popularity of the great writers, even of the first rank. We have seen a recent importance given to Behmen and Swedenborg; and Shakspeare has unquestionably gained with the present generation. It is distinctive, too, of the taste of the period, — the new vogue given to the genius of Dante. An edition of Cary’s translation, reprinted in Boston, many years ago, was rapidly sold; and, for the last twenty years, all studious youths and maidens have been reading the Inferno. Margaret had very early found her way to Dante, and from a certain native preference which she felt or fancied for the Italian genius. The following letter, though of a later date, relates to these studies: —
TO R. W. E.
‘December, 1842. — When you were here, you seemed to think I might perhaps have done something on the Vita Nuova; and the next day I opened the book, and considered how I could do it. But you shall not expect that, either, for your present occasion. When I first mentioned it to you, it was only as a piece of Sunday work, which I thought of doing for you alone; and because it has never seemed to me you entered enough into the genius of the Italian to apprehend the mind, which has seemed so great to me, and a star unlike, if not higher than all the others in our sky. Else, I should have given you the original, rather than any version of mine. I intended to translate the poems, with which it is interspersed, into plain prose. Milnes and Longfellow have tried each their power at doing it in verse, and have done better, probably, than I could, yet not well. But this would not satisfy me for the public. Besides, the translating Dante is a piece of literary presumption, and challenges a criticism to which I am not sure that I am, as the Germans say, gewachsen. Italian, as well as German, I learned by myself, unassisted, except as to the pronunciation. I have never been brought into connection with minds trained to any severity in these kinds of elegant culture. I have used all the means within my reach, but my not going abroad is an insuperable defect in the technical part of my education. I was easily capable of attaining excellence, perhaps mastery, in the use of some implements. Now I know, at least, what I do not know, and I get along by never voluntarily going beyond my depth, and, when called on to do it, stating my incompetency. At moments when I feel tempted to regret that I could not follow out the plan I had marked for myself, and develop powers which are not usual hero, I reflect, that if I had attained high finish and an easy range in these respects, I should not have been thrown back on my own resources, or known them as I do. But Lord Brougham should not translate Greek orations, nor a maid-of-all-work attempt such a piece of delicate handling as to translate the Vita Nuova.’
Here is a letter, without date, to another correspondent:
‘To-day, on reading over some of the sonnets of Michel Angelo, I felt them more than usual. I know not why I have not read them thus before, except that the beauty was pointed out to me at first by another, instead of my coming unexpectedly upon it of myself. All the great writers, all the persons who have been dear to me, I have found and chosen; they have not been proposed to me. My intimacy with them came upon me as natural eras, unexpected and thrice dear. Thus I have appreciated, but not been able to feel, Michel Angelo as a poet.
‘It is a singular fact in my mental history, that, while I understand the principles and construction of language much better than formerly, I cannot read so well les langues méridionales. I suppose it is that I am less méridionale myself. I understand the genius of the north better than I did.’
Dante, Petrarca, Tasso, were her friends among the old poets, — for to Ariosto she assigned a far lower place, — Alfieri and Manzoni, among the new. But what was of still more import to her education, she had read German books, and, for the three years before I knew her, almost exclusively, — Lessing, Schiller, Richter, Tieck, Novalis, and, above all, Goethe. It was very obvious, at the first intercourse with her, though her rich and busy mind never reproduced undigested reading, that the last writer, — food or poison, — the most powerful of all mental reagents, — the pivotal mind in modern literature, — for all before him are ancients, and all who have read him are moderns, — that this mind had been her teacher, and, of course, the place was filled, nor was there room for any other. She had that symptom which appears in all the students of Goethe, — an ill-dissembled contempt of all criticism on him which they hear from others, as if it were totally irrelevant; and they are themselves always preparing to say the right word, — a prestige which is allowed, of course, until they do speak: when they have delivered their volley, they pass, like their foregoers, to the rear.
The effect on Margaret was complete. She was perfectly timed to it. She found her moods met, her topics treated, the liberty of thought she loved, the same climate of mind. Of course, this book superseded all others, for the time, and tinged deeply all her thoughts. The religion, the science, the catholicism, the worship of art, the mysticism and demonology, and withal the clear recognition of moral distinctions as final and eternal, all charmed her; and Faust, and Tasso, and Mignon, and Makaria, and Iphigenia, became irresistible names. It was one of those agreeable historical coincidences, perhaps invariable, though not yet registered, the simultaneous appearance of a teacher and of pupils, between whom exists a strict affinity. Nowhere did Goethe find a braver, more intelligent, or more sympathetic reader. About the time I knew her, she was meditating a biography of Goethe, and did set herself to the task in 1837. She spent much time on it, and has left heaps of manuscripts, which are notes, transcripts, and studies in that direction. But she wanted leisure and health to finish it, amid the multitude of projected works with which her brain teemed. She used great discretion on this point, and made no promises. In 1839, she published her translation of Eckermann, a book which makes the basis of the translation of Eckermann since published in London, by Mr. Oxenford. In the Dial, in July, 1841, she wrote an article on Goethe, which is, on many accounts, her best paper.
Margaret was in the habit of sending to her correspondents, in lieu of letters, sheets of criticism on her recent readings. From such quite private folios, never intended for the press, and, indeed, containing here and there names and allusions, which it is now necessary to veil or suppress, I select the following notices, chiefly of French books. Most of these were addressed to me, but the three first to an earlier friend.
‘Reading Schiller’s introduction to the Wars of the League, I have been led back to my old friend, the Duke of Sully, and his charming king. He was a man, that Henri! How gay and graceful seems his unflinching frankness! He wore life as lightly as the feather in his cap, I have become much interested, too, in the two Guises, who had seemed to me mere intriguers, and not of so splendid abilities, when I was less able to appreciate the difficulties they daily and hourly combated. I want to read some more books about them. Do you know whether I could get Matthieu, or de Thou, or the Memoirs of the House of Nevers?
‘I do not think this is a respectable way of passing my summer, but I cannot help it.
‘I never read any life of Molière. Are the facts very interesting? You see clearly in his writing what he was a man not high, not poetic; but firm, wide, genuine, whose clearsightedness only made him more noble. I love him well that he could see without showing these myriad mean faults of the social man, and yet make no nearer approach to misanthropy than his Alceste. These witty Frenchmen, Rabelais, Montaigne, Molière, are great as were their marshals and preux chevaliers; when the Frenchman tries to be poetical, he becomes theatrical, but he can be romantic, and also dignified, maugre shrugs and snuff-boxes.’
‘Thursday Evening. — Although I have been much engaged these two days, I have read Spiridion twice. I could have wished to go through it the second time more at leisure, but as I am going away, I thought I would send it back, lest it should be wanted before my return.
‘The development of the religious sentiment being the same as in Hélene, I at first missed the lyric effusion of that work, which seems to me more and more beautiful, as I think of it more. This, however, was a mere prejudice, of course, as the thought here is poured into a quite different mould, and I was not troubled by it on a second reading.
‘Again, when I came to look at the work by itself, I thought the attempt too bold. A piece of character-painting does not seem to be the place for a statement of these wide and high subjects. For here the philosophy is not merely implied in the poetry and religion, but assumes to show a face of its own. And, as none should meddle with these matters who are not in earnest, so, such will prefer to find the thought of a teacher or fellow-disciple expressed as directly and as bare of ornament as possible.
‘I was interested in De Wette’s Theodor, and that learned and (on dit) profound man seemed to me so to fail, that I did not finish the book, nor try whether I could believe the novice should ever arrive at manly stature.
‘I am not so clear as to the scope and bearing of this book, as of that. I suppose if I were to read Lamennais, or L’Erminier, I should know what they all want or intend. And if you meet with Les paroles d’un Croyant, I will beg you to get it for me, for I am more curious than ever. I had supposed the view taken by these persons in France, to be the same with that of Novalis and the German Catholics, in which I have been deeply interested. But from this book, it would seem to approach the faith of some of my friends here, which has been styled Psychotheism. And the gap in the theoretical fabric is the same as with them. I read with unutterable interest the despair of Alexis in his Eclectic course, his return to the teachings of external nature, his new birth, and consequent appreciation of poetry and music. But the question of Free Will, — how to reconcile its workings with necessity and compensation, — how to reconcile the life of the heart with that of the intellect, — how to listen to the whispering breeze of Spirit, while breasting, as a man should, the surges of the world, — these enigmas Sand and her friends seem to have solved no better than M. F. and her friends.
‘The practical optimism is much the same as ours, except that there is more hope for the masses — soon.
‘This work is written with great vigor, scarce any faltering on the wing. The horrors are disgusting, as are those of every writer except Dante. Even genius should content itself in dipping the pencil in cloud and mist. The apparitions of Spiridion are managed with great beauty. As in Hélene, as in Novalis, I recognized, with delight, the eye that gazed, the ear that listened, till the spectres came, as they do to the Highlander on his rocky couch, to the German peasant on his mountain. How different from the vulgar eye which looks, but never sees! Here the beautiful apparition advances from the solar ray, or returns to the fountain of light and truth, as it should, when eagle eyes are gazing.
‘I am astonished at her insight into the life of thought. She must know it through some man. Women, under any circumstances, can scarce do more than dip the foot in this broad and deep river; they have not strength to contend with the current. Brave, if they do not delicately shrink from the cold water. No Sibyls have existed like those of Michel Angelo; those of Raphael are the true brides of a God, but not themselves divine. It is easy for women to be heroic in action, but when it comes to interrogating God, the universe, the soul, and, above all, trying to live above their own hearts, they dart down to their nests like so many larks, and, if they cannot find them, fret like the French Corinne. Goethe’s Makaria was born of the stars. Mr. Flint’s Platonic old lady a lusus naturæ, and the Dudevant has loved a philosopher.
‘I suppose the view of the present state of Catholicism no way exaggerated. Alexis is no more persecuted than Abelard was, and is so, for the same reasons. From the examinations of the Italian convents in Leopold’s time, it seems that the grossest materialism not only reigns, but is taught and professed in them. And Catholicism loads and infects as all dead forms do, however beautiful and noble during their lives.’ * *
GEORGE SAND, AGAIN.
‘1839, — When I first knew George Sand, I thought I found tried the experiment I wanted. I did not value Bettine so much; she had not pride enough for me; only now when I am sure of myself, would I pour out my soul at the feet of another. In the assured soul it is kingly prodigality; in one which cannot forbear, it is mere babyhood. I love abandon only when natures are capable of the extreme reverse. I knew Bettine would end in nothing, when I read her book. I knew she could not outlive her love.
‘But in Les Sept Cordes de la Lyre, which I read first, I saw the knowledge of the passions, and of social institutions, with the celestial choice which rose above them. I loved Hélene, who could so well hear the terrene voices, yet keep her eye fixed on the stars. That would be my wish, also, to know all, then choose; I ever revered her, for I was not sure that I could have resisted the call of the Now, could have left the spirit, and gone to God. And, at a more ambitious age, I could not have refused the philosopher. But I hoped from her steadfastness, and I thought I heard the last tones of a purified life: — Gretchen, in the golden cloud, raised above all past delusions, worthy to redeem and upbear the wise man, who stumbled into the pit of error while searching for truth.
‘Still, in André and in Jacques, I traced the same high morality of one who had tried the liberty of circumstance only to learn to appreciate the liberty of law, to know that license is the foe of freedom. And, though the sophistry of passion in these books disgusted me, flowers of purest hue seemed to grow upon the dank and dirty ground I thought she had cast aside the slough of her past life, and began a new existence beneath the sun of a true Ideal.
‘But here (in the Lettres d’un Voyageur) what do I see? An unfortunate bewailing her loneliness, bewailing her mistakes, writing for money! She has genius, and a manly grasp of mind, but not a manly heart! Will there never be a being to combine a man’s mind and woman's heart, and who yet finds life too rich to weep over? Never?
‘When I read in Leone Lioni the account of the jeweller's daughter's life with her mother, passed in dress and in learning to be looked at when dressed, avec un front impassible, it reminded me exceedingly of ——, and her mother. What a heroine she would be for Sand! She has the same fearless softness with Juliet, and a sportive naïveté, a mixture of bird and kitten, unknown to the dupe of Lioni.
‘If I were a man, and wished a wife, as many do, merely as an ornament, or silken toy, I would take —— as soon as any I know. Her fantastic, impassioned, and mutable nature would yield an inexhaustible amusement. She is capable of the most romantic actions; — wild as the falcon, and voluptuous as the tuberose, — yet she has not in her the elements of romance, like a deeper and less susceptible nature. My cold and reasoning E., with her one love lying, perhaps, never to be unfolded, beneath such sheaths of pride and reserve, would make a far better heroine.
‘Both these characters are natural, while S. and T. are naturally factitious, because so imitative, and her mother differs from Juliet and her mother, by the impulse a single strong character gave them. Even at this distance of time, there is a slight but perceptible taste of iron in the water.
‘George Sand disappoints me, as almost all beings have, especially since I have been brought close to her person by the Lettres d'un Voyageur. Her remarks on Lavater seem really shallow, and hasty, à la mode du genre feménin. No self-ruling Aspasia she, but a frail woman mourning over a lot. Any peculiarity in her destiny seems accidental. She is forced to this and that, to earn her bread forsooth!
‘Yet her style, — with what a deeply smouldering fire it burns! — not vehement, but intense, like Jean Jacques.’
‘“La harpe tremble encore, et la flûte soupire.”
‘Sometimes we doubt this, and think the music has finally ceased, so sultry still lies the air around us, or only disturbed by the fife and drum of talent, calling to the parade-ground of social life. The ear grows dull.
‘“Faith asks her daily bread,
And Fancy is no longer fed.”
‘So materialistic is the course of common life, that we ask daily new Messiahs from literature and art, to turn us from the Pharisaic observance of law, to the baptism of spirit. But stars arise upon our murky sky, and the flute soupire from the quarter where we least expect it.
‘La jeune France! I had not believed in this youthful pretender. I thought she had no pure blood in her veins, no aristocratic features in her face, no natural grace in her gait. I thought her an illegitimate child of the generous, but extravagant youth of Germany. I thought she had been left at the foundling hospital, as not worth a parent’s care, and that now, grown up, she was trying to prove at once her parentage and her charms by certificates which might be headed, Innocent Adultery, Celestial Crime, &c.
‘The slight acquaintance I had with Hugo, and company, did not dispel these impressions. And I thought Chateaubriand (far too French for my taste also,) belonged to l’ancien régime, and that Béranger and Courier stood apart. Nodier, Paul de Kock, Sue, Jules Janin, I did not know, except through the absurd reports of English reviewers; Le Maistre and Lamennais, as little.
‘But I have now got a peep at this galaxy. I begin to divine the meaning of St. Simonianism, Cousinism, and the movement which the same causes have produced in belles-lettres. I perceive that le jeune France is the ‘legitimate, though far younger sister of Germany; taught by her, but not born of her, but of a common mother. I see, at least begin to see, what she has learned from England, and what the bloody rain of the revolution has done to fertilize her soil, naturally too light.
‘Blessed be the early days when I sat at the feet of Rousseau, prophet sad and stately as any of Jewry! Every onward movement of the age, every downward step into the solemn depths of my own soul, recalls thy oracles, O Jean Jacques! But as these things only glimmer upon me at present, clouds of rose and amber, in the perspective of a long, dim woodland glade, which I must traverse if I would get a fair look at them from the hilltop, — as I cannot, to say sooth, get the works of these always working geniuses, but by slow degrees, in a country that has no need of them till her railroads and canals are finished, — I need not jot down my petty impressions of the movement writers. I wish to speak of one among them, aided, honored by them, but not of them. He is to la jeune France rather the herald of a tourney, or the master of ceremonies at a patriotic festival, than a warrior for her battles, or an advocate to win her cause.
‘The works of M. de Vigny having come in my way, I have read quite through this thick volume.
‘I read, a year since, in the London and Westminster, an admirable sketch of Armand Carrel. The writer speaks particularly of the use of which Carrel’s experience of practical life had been to him as an author; how it had tempered and sharpened the blade of his intellect to the Damascene perfection. It has been of like use to de Vigny, though not in equal degree.
‘De Vigny passed, — but for manly steadfastness, he would probably say wasted, — his best years in the army. He is now about forty; and we have in this book the flower of these best years. It is a night-blooming Cereus, for his days were passed in the duties of his profession. These duties, so tiresome and unprofitable in time of peace, were the ground in which the seed sprang up, which produced these many-leaved and calm night-flowers.
‘The first portion of this volume, Servitude et Grandeurs Militaires, contains an account of the way in which he received his false tendency. Cherished on the “wounded knees” of his aged father, he listened to tales of the great Frederic, whom the veteran had known personally. After an excellent sketch of the king, he says: “I expatiate here, almost in spite of myself, because this was the first great man whose portrait was thus drawn for me at home, — a portrait after nature, — and because my admiration of him was the first symptom of my useless love of arms, — the first cause of one of the most complete delusions of my life.” This admiration for the great king remained so lively in his mind, that even Bonaparte in his gestures seemed to him, in later days, a plagiarist.
‘At the military school, “the drum stiffed the voices of our masters, and the mysterious voices of books seemed to us cold and pedantic. Tropes and logarithms seemed to us only steps to mount to the star of the Legion of Honor, — the fairest star of heaven to us children.
‘“No meditation could keep long in chains heads made constantly giddy by the noise of cannon and bells for the Te Deum. When one of our former comrades returned to pay us a visit in uniform, and his arm in a scarf, we blushed at our books, and threw them at the heads of our teachers. Our teachers were always reading us bulletins from the grande armée, and our cries of Vive l'Empereur interrupted Tacitus and Plato. Our preceptors resembled heralds of arms, our study halls barracks, and our examinations reviews.” Thus was he led into the army; and, he says, “It was only very late, that I perceived that my services were one long mistake, and that I had imported into a life altogether active, a nature altogether contemplative.”
‘He entered the army at the time of Napeleon’s fall, and, like others, wasted life in waiting for war. For these young persons could not believe that peace and calm were possible to France; could not believe that she could lead any life but one of conquest.
‘As De Vigny was gradually undeceived, he says: “Loaded with an ennui which I did not dream of in a life I had so ardently desired, it became a necessity to me to detach myself by night from the vain and tiresome tumult of military days. From these nights, in which I enlarged in silence the knowledge I had acquired from our public and tumultuous studies, proceeded my poems and books. From these days, there remain to me these recollections, whose chief traits I here assemble around one idea. For, not reckoning for the glory of arms, either on the present or future, I sought it in the souvenirs of my comrades, My own little adventures will not serve, except as frame to those pictures of the military life, and of the manners of our armies, all whose traits are by no means known.”
‘And thus springs up, in the most natural manner, this little book on the army.
‘It has the truth, the delicacy, and the healthiness of a production native to the soil; the merit of love-letters, journals, lyric poems, &c., written without any formal intention of turning life into a book, but because the writer could not help it. What, more than anything else, engaged the attention of De Vigny, was the false position of two beings towards a factitious society: the soldier, now that standing armies are the mode, and the poet, now that Olympic games or pastimes are not the mode. He has treated the first best, because with profounder connoissance du fait. For De Vigny is not a poet; he has only an eye to perceive the existence of these birds of heaven. But in few ways, except their own broken harp-tone’s thrill, have their peculiar sorrows and difficulties been so well illustrated. The character of the soldier, with its virtues and faults, is portrayed with such delicacy, that to condense would ruin. The peculiar reserve, the habit of duty, the beauty of a character which cannot look forward, and need not look back, are given with distinguished finesse.
‘Of the three stories which adorn this part of the book, Le Cachet Rouge is the loveliest, La Canne au Jonc the noblest. Never was anything more sweetly naïve than parts of Le Cachet Rouge. La pauvre petite femme, she was just such a person as my ——. And then the farewell injunctions, — du pauvre petite maré, — the nobleness and the coarseness of the poor captain. It is as original as beautiful, c'est dire beaucoup. In La Canne au Jonc, Collingwood, who embodies the high feeling of duty, is taken too raw out of a book, — his letters to his daughters. But the effect on the character of le Capitaine Renaud, and the unfolding of his interior life, are done with the spiritual beauty of Manzoni.
‘Cinq-Mars is a romance in the style of Walter Scott. It is well brought out, figures in good relief, lights well distributed, sentiment high, but nowhere exaggerated, knowledge exact, and the good and bad of human nature painted with that impartiality which becomes a man, and a man of the world. All right, no failure anywhere; also, no wonderful success, no genius, no magic. It is one of those works which I should consider only excusable as the amusement of leisure hours; and, though few could write it, chiefly valuable to the writer.
‘Here he has arranged, as in a bouquet, what he knew, — and a great deal it is, — of the time of Louis XIII., as he has of the Regency in “la Marechale d'Ancre,” — a much finer work, indeed one of the best-arranged and finished modern dramas. The Leonora Galigai is better than anything I have seen in Victor Hugo, and as good as Schiller. Stello is a bolder attempt. It is the history of three poets, — Gilbert, André Chenier, Chatterton. Tle has also written a drama called Chatterton, inferior to the story here. The “marvellous boy” seems to have captivated his imagination marvellously. In thought, these productions are worthless; for taste, beauty of sentiment, and power of description, remarkable. His advocacy of the poets’ cause is about as effective and well-planned as Don Quixote’s tourney with the wind-mill. How would you provide for the poet bon homme De Vigny? — from a joint-stock company Poet's Fund, or how?
‘His translation of Othello, which I glanced at, is good for a Frenchman.
‘Among his poems, La Frégate, La Sérieuse, Madame de Soubise, and Dolorida, please me especially. The last has an elegiac sweetness and finish, which are rare. It also makes a perfect gem of a cabinet picture. Some have a fine strain of natural melody, and give you at once the key-note of the situation, as this: —
‘“J’aime le son du cor le soir, au fond des bois,
Soit qu’il chante,” &c.
|‘“Qu’il est doux, qu’il est doux d’ecouter les histoires|
|Des histoires du temps passé|
|Quand les branches des arbres sont noires,|
|Quand la neige est essaisse, et charge un sol glacé,|
|Quand seul dans un ciel pâle un peuplier s’élance,|
|Quand sous le manteau blanc qui vient de le cacher|
|L’immobile corbeau sur l’arbre se balance|
|Comme la girouette au bout de long clocher.”|
‘These poems generally are only interesting as the leisure hours of an interesting man.
‘De Vigny writes in an excellent style; soft, fresh, deliberately graceful. Such a style is like fine manners; you think of the words select, appropriate, rather than distinguished, or beautiful. De Vigny is a perfect gentleman; and his refinement is rather that of the gentleman than that of the poets whom he is so full of. In character, he looks naturally at those things which interest the man of honor and the man of taste. But for literature, he would have known nothing about the poets. He should be the elegant and instructive companion of social, not the priest or the minstrel of solitary hours.
‘Neither has he logic or grasp with his reasoning powers, though of this, also, he is ambitious. Observation is his forte. To see, and to tell with grace, often with dignity and pathos, what he sees, is his proper vocation. Yet, where he fails, he has too much tact and modesty to be despised; and we cannot enough admire the absence of faults in a man whose ambition soared so much beyond his powers, and in an age and a country so full of false taste. He is never seduced into sentimentality, paradox, violent contrast, and, above all, never makes the mistake of confounding the horrible with the sublime. Above all, he never falls into the error, common to merely elegant minds, of painting leading minds “en gigantesque.” His Richelieu and his Bonaparte are treated with great calmness, and with dignified ease, almost as beautiful as majestic superiority.
‘In this volume is contained all that is on record of the inner life of a man of forty years. How many suns, how many rains and dews, to produce a few buds and flowers, some sweet, but not rich fruit! We cannot help demanding of the man of talent that he should be like “the orange tree, that busy plant.” But, as Landor says, “He who has any thoughts of any worth can, and probably will, afford to let the greater part lie fallow.”
‘I have not made a note upon De Vigny’s notions of abnegation, which he repeats as often as Dr. Channing the same watch-word of self-sacrifice. It is that my views are not yet matured, and I can have no judgment on the point.’
‘Sept. 1839. — I have lately been reading some of Béranger’s chansons. The hour was not propitious. I was in a mood the very reverse of Roger Bontemps, and beset with circumstances the most unsuited to make me sympathize with the prayer —
‘“Pardonnez la gaieté
De ma philosophie;”
‘yet I am not quite insensible to their wit, high sentiment, and spontaneous grace. A wit that sparkles all over the ocean of life, a sentiment that never puts the best foot forward, but prefers the tone of delicate humor, to the mouthings of tragedy; a grace so aerial, that it nowhere requires the aid of a thought, for in the light refrains of these productions, the meaning is felt as much as in the most pointed lines. Thus, in “Les Mirmidons,” the refrain —
‘“Mirmidons, race féconde,
Enfin nous commandons,
Jupiter livre le monde,
Aux mirmidons, aux mirmidons, (bis,)”
‘The swarming of the insects about the dead lion is expressed as forcibly as in the most sarcastic passage of the chanson. In “La Faridondaine” every sound is a witticism, and levels to the ground a bevy of what Byron calls “garrison people.” “Halte là! ou la système des interpretations” is equally witty, though there the form seems to be as much in the saying, as in the comic melody of sound.
‘In “Adieux à la Campagne,” “Souvenirs du Peuple,” “La Déesse de la Liberté,” “La Convoi de David,” a melancholy pathos breathes, which touches the heart the more that it is so unpretending. “Ce n’est plus Lisette,” “Mon Habit,” “L’Indépendant,” “Vous vieillirez, O ma belle Maîtresse,” a gentle graceful sadness wins us. In “Le Dieu des Bonnes Gens,” “Les Etoiles qui filent,” “Les Conseils de Lise,” “Treize à Table,” a noble dignity is admired, while such as “La Fortune” and “La Métempsycose” are inimitable in their childlike playfulness. “Ma Vocation” I have had and admired for many years. He is of the pure ore, a darling fairy changling of great mother Nature; the poet of the people, and, therefore, of all in the upper classes sufficiently intelligent and refined to appreciate the wit and sentiment of the people. But his wit is so truly French in its lightness and sparkling, feathering vivacity, that one like me, accustomed to the bitterness of English tonics, suicidal November melancholy, and Byronic wrath of satire, cannot appreciate him at once. But when used to the gentler stimuli, we like them best and we also would live awhile in the atmosphere of music and mirth, content if we have “bread for to-day, and hope for to-morrow.”
‘There are fine lines in his “Cinq Mai;” the sentiment is as grand as Manzoni’s, though not sustained by the same majestic sweep of diction, as, —
‘“Ce rocher repousse l’espérance,
L’Aigle n’est plus dans le secret des dieux,
Il fatiguait la victoire à le suivre,
Elle était lasse: il ne l’attendit pas.”
‘And from “La Gérontocratie, ou les infiniment petits:”
‘“Combien d’imperceptibles êtres,
De petits jésuites bilieux!
De milliers d’autres petits prêtres,
Lui portent de petits bons dieux.”
‘But wit, poet, man of honor, tailor’s grandson and fairy’s favorite, he must speak for himself, and the best that can be felt or thought of him cannot be said in the way of criticism. I will copy and keep a few of his songs. I should like to keep the whole collection by me, and take it up when my faith in human nature required the gentlest of fortifying draughts.
‘How fine his answer to those who asked about the “de” before his name! —
|‘“Je suis vilain,|
|Vilain, vilain,” &c.|
|‘“J’honore une race commune,|
|Car, sensible, quoique malin,|
|Je n’ai flatté que l’infortune.”|
‘In a note to “Couplets on M. Laisney, imprimeur à Peronne,” he says: “It was in his printing-house that I was put to prentice; not having been able to learn orthography, he imparted to me the taste for poetry, gave me lessons in versification, and corrected my first essays.”’
‘Of Bonaparte, —
‘“Un conquérant, dans sa fortune altière,
Se fit un jeu des sceptres et des lois,
Et de ses pieds on peut voir la poussière
Empreinte encore sur le bandeau deg rois.”
‘I admire, also, “Le Violon brisé,” for its grace and sweetness. How fine Béranger on Waterloo! —
‘“Its name shall never sadden verse of mine.”’
TO R. W. E.
‘Niagara, 1st June, 1843. — I send you a token, made by the hands of some Seneca Indian lady. If you use it for a watch-pocket, hang it, when you travel, at the head of your bed, and you may dream of Niagara. If you use it for a purse, you can put in it alms for poets and artists, and the subscription-money you receive for Mr. Carlyle’s book. His book, as it happened, you gave me as a birthday gift, and you may take this as one to you; for, on yours, was W.’s birthday, J.’s wedding-day, and the day of ——’s death, and we set out on this journey, Perhaps there is something about it on the purse. The “number five which nature loves.” is repeated on it.
‘Carlyle’s book I have, in some sense, read. It is witty, full of pictures, as usual. I would have gone through with it, if only for the sketch of Samson, and two or three bits of fun which happen to please me. No doubt it may be of use to rouse the unthinking to a sense of those great dangers and sorrows. But how open is he to his own assault. He rails himself out of breath at the short-sighted, and yet sees scarce a step before him. There is no valuable doctrine in his book, except the Goethean, Do to-day the nearest duty. Many are ready for that, could they but find the way. This he does not show. His proposed measures say nothing. Educate the people. That cannot be done by books, or voluntary effort, under these paralyzing circumstances. Emigration! According to his own estimate of the increase of population, relief that way can have very slight effect. He ends as he began; as he did in Chartism. Everything is very bad. You are fools and hypocrites, or you would make it better. I cannot but sympathize with him about hero-worship; for I, too, have had my fits of rage at the stupid irreverence of little minds, which also is made a parade of by the pedantic and the worldly. Yet it is a good sign. Democracy is the way to the new aristocracy, as irreligion to religion. By and by, if there are great men, they will not be brilliant exceptions, redeemers, but favorable samples of their kind.
‘Mr. C’s tone is no better than before. He is not loving, nor large; but he seems more healthy and gay.
‘We have had bad weather here, bitterly cold. The place is what I expected: it is too great and beautiful to agitate or surprise: it satisfies: it does not excite thought, but fully occupies. All is calm; even the rapids do not hurry, as we see them in smaller streams. The sound, the sight, fill the senses and the mind.
‘At Buffalo, some ladies called on us, who extremely regretted they could not witness our emotions, on first seeing Niagara. “Many,” they said, “burst into tears; but with those of most sensibility, the hands become cold as ice, and they would not mind if buckets of cold water were thrown over them!”’
Margaret’s love of beauty made her, of course, a votary of nature, but rather for pleasurable excitement than with a deep poetic feeling. Her imperfect vision and her bad health were serious impediments to intimacy with woods and rivers. She had never paid, — and it is a little remarkable, — any attention to natural sciences. She neither botanized, nor geologized, nor dissected. Still she delighted in short country rambles, in the varieties of landscape, in pastoral country, in mountain outlines, and, above all, in the sea-shore. At Nantasket Beach, and at Newport, she spent a month or two of many successive summers. She paid homage to rocks, woods, flowers, rivers, and the moon. She spent a good deal of time out of doors, sitting, perhaps, with a book in some sheltered recess commanding a landscape. She watched, by day and by night, the skies and the earth, and believed she knew all their expressions. She wrote in her journal, or in her correspondence, a series of “moonlights,” in which she seriously attempts to describe the light and scenery of successive nights of the summer moon. Of course, her raptures must appear sickly and superficial to an observer, who, with equal feeling, had better powers of observation.
Nothing is more rare than a talent to describe landscape, and, especially, skyscape, or cloudscape, although a vast number of letters, from correspondents between the ages of twenty and thirty, are filled with experiments in this kind. Margaret, in her turn, made many vain attempts, and, to a lover of nature, who knows that every day has new and inimitable lights and shades, one of these descriptions is as vapid as the raptures of a citizen arrived at his first meadow. Of course, he is charmed, but, of course, he cannot tell what he sees, or what pleases him. Yet Margaret often speaks with a certain tenderness and beauty of the impressions made upon her.
‘Fishkill, 25 Nov., 1844. — You would have been happy as I have been in the company of the mountains. They are companions both bold and calm. They exhilarate and they satisfy. To live, too, on the bank of the great river so long, has been the realization of a dream. Though I have been reading and thinking, yet this has been my life.’
‘After they were all in bed,’ she writes from the “Manse,” in Concord, ‘I went out, and walked till near twelve. The moonlight filled my heart. These embowering elms stood in solemn black, the praying monastics of this holy night; full of grace, in every sense; their life so full, so hushed; not a leaf stirred.’
‘You say that nature does not keep her promise; but, surely, she satisfies us now and then for the time. The drama is always in progress, but here and there she speaks out a sentence, full in its cadence, complete in its structure; it occupies, for the time, the sense and the thought. We have no care for promises. Will you say it is the superficialness of my life, that I have known hours with men and nature, that bore their proper fruit,—all present ate and were filled, and there were taken up of the fragments twelve baskets full? Is it because of the superficial rind, or the believing heart, that I can say this?’
‘Only through emotion do we know thee, Nature! We lean upon thy breast, and feel its pulses vibrate to our own. That is knowledge, for that is love. Thought will never reach it.’
There are persons to whom a gallery is everywhere a home. In this country, the antique is known only by plaster casts, and by drawings. The Boston Athenæum, — on whose sunny roof and beautiful chambers may the benediction of centuries of students rest with mine! — added to its library, in 1823, a small, but excellent museum of the antique sculpture, in plaster; — the selection being dictated, it is said, by no less an adviser than Canova. The Apollo, the Laocoon, the Venuses, Diana, the head of the Phidian Jove, Bacchus, Antinous, the Torso Hercules, the Discobolus, the Gladiator Borghese, the Apollino, — all these, and more, the sumptuous gift of Augustus Thorndike. It is much that one man should have power to confer on so many, who never saw him, a benefit so pure and enduring.
To these were soon added a heroic line of antique busts, and, at last, by Horatio Greenough, the Night and Day of Michel Angelo. Here was old Greece and old Italy brought bodily to New England, and a verification given to all our dreams and readings. It was easy to collect, from the drawing-rooms of the city, a respectable picture-gallery for a summer exhibition. This was also done, and a new pleasure was invented for the studious, and a new home for the solitary. The Brimmer donation, in 1838, added a costly series of engravings, chiefly of the French and Italian museums, and the drawings of Guercino, Salvator Rosa, and other masters. The separate chamber in which these collections were at first contained, made a favorite place of meeting for Margaret and a few of her friends, who were lovers of these works.
First led perhaps by Goethe, afterwards by the love she herself conceived for them, she read everything that related to Michel Angelo and Raphael. She read, pen in hand, Quatremère de Quincy’s lives of those two painters, and I have her transcripts and commentary before me. She read Condivi, Vasari, Benvenuto Cellini, Duppa, Fuseli, and Von Waagen, — great and small. Every design of Michel, the four volumes of Raphael’s designs, were in the rich portfolios of her most intimate friend. ‘I have been very happy,’ she writes, ‘with four hundred and seventy designs of Raphael in my possession for a week.’
These fine entertainments were shared with many admirers, and, as I now remember them, certain months about the years 1839, 1840, seem colored with the genius of these Italians. Our walls were hung with prints of the Sistine frescoes; we were all petty collectors; and prints of Correggio and Guercino took the place, for the time, of epics and philosophy.
Tn the summer of 1839, Boston was still more rightfully adorned with the Alston Gallery; and the sculptures of our compatriots Greenough, and Crawford, and Powers, were brought hither. The following lines were addressed by Margaret to the Orpheus: —
‘Each Orpheus must to the abyss descend,
For only thus the poet can be wise, —
Must make the sad Persephone his friend,
And buried love to second life arise;
Again his love must lose, through too much love,
Must lose his life by living life too true;
For what he sought below has passed above,
Already done is all that he would do;
Must tune all being with his single lyre;
Must melt all rocks free from their primal pain;
Must search all nature with his one soul’s fire;
Must bind anew all forms in heavenly chain:
If he already sees what he must do,
Well may he shade his eyes from the far-shining view.’
Margaret's love of art, like that of most cultivated persons in this country, was not at all technical, but truly a sympathy with the artist, in the protest which his work pronounced on the deformity of our daily manners; her co-perception with him of the eloquence of form; her aspiration with him to a fairer life. As soon as her conversation ran into the mysteries of manipulation and artistic effect, it was less trustworthy. I remember that in the first times when I chanced to see pictures with her, I listened reverently to her opinions, and endeavored to see what she saw. But, on several occasions, finding myself unable to reach it, I came to suspect my guide, and to believe, at last, that her taste in works of art, though honest, was not on universal, but on idiosyncratic, grounds. As it has proved one of the most difficult problems of the practical astronomer to obtain an achromatic telescope, so an achromatic eye, one of the most needed, is also one of the rarest instruments of criticism.
She was very susceptible to pleasurable stimulus, took delight in details of form, color, and sound. Her fancy and imagination were easily stimulated to genial activity, and she erroneously thanked the artist for the pleasing emotions and thoughts that rose in her mind. So that, though capable of it, she did not always bring that highest tribunal to a work of art, namely, the calm presence of greatness, which only greatness in the object can satisfy. Yet the opinion was often well worth hearing on its own account, though it might be wide of the mark as criticism. Sometimes, too, she certainly brought to beautiful objects a fresh and appreciating love; and her written notes, especially on sculpture, I found always original and interesting. Here are some notes on the Athenæum Gallery of Sculpture, in August, 1840, which she sent me in manuscript: —
‘Here are many objects worth study. There is Thorwaldsen’s Byron. This is the truly beautiful, the ideal Byron. This head is quite free from the got-up, caricatured air of disdain, which disfigures most likenesses of him, as it did himself in real life; yet sultry, stern, all-craving, all-commanding. Even the heavy style of the hair, too closely curled for grace, is favorable to the expression of concentrated life. While looking at this head, you learn to account for the grand failure in the scheme of his existence. The line of the cheek and chin are here, as usual, of unrivalled beauty.
‘The bust of Napoleon is here also, and will naturally be named, in connection with that of Byron, since the one in letters, the other in arms, represented more fully than any other the tendency of their time; more than any other gave it a chance for reaction. There was another point of resemblance in the external being of the two, perfectly corresponding with that of the internal, a sense of which peculiarity drew on Byron some ridicule. I mean that it was the intention of nature, that neither should ever grow fat, but remain a Cassius in the commonwealth. And both these heads are taken while they were at an early age, and so thin as to be still beautiful. This head of Napoleon is of a stern beauty. A head must be of a style either very stern or very chaste, to make a deep impression on the beholder; there must be a great force of will and withholding of resources, giving a sense of depth below depth, which we call sternness; or else there must be that purity, flowing as from an inexhaustible fountain through every lineament, which drives far off or converts all baser natures. Napoleon’s head is of the first description; it is stern, and not only so, but ruthless. Yet this ruthlessness excites no aversion; the artist has caught its true character, and given us here the Attila, the instrument of fate to serve a purpose not his own. While looking on it, came full to mind the well-known lines, —
‘“Speak gently of his crimes:
Who knows, Scourge of God, but in His eyes, those crimes
His brows are tense and damp with the dews of thought. In that head you see the great future, careless of the black and white stones; and even when you turn to the voluptuous beauty of the mouth, the impression remains so strong, that Russia’s snows, and mountains of the slain, seem the tragedy that must naturally follow the appearance of such an actor. You turn from him, feeling that he is a product not of the day, but of the ages, and that the ages must judge him.
‘Near him is a head of Ennius, very intellectual; self-centred and self-fed; but wrung and gnawed by unceasing thoughts.
‘Yet, even near the Ennius and Napoleon, our American men look worthy to be perpetuated in marble or bronze, if it were only for their air of calm, unpretending sagacity. If the young American were to wall up an avenue lined with such effigies, he might not feel called to such greatness as the strong Roman wrinkles tell of, but he must feel that he could not live an idle life, and should nerve himself to lift an Atlas weight without repining or shrinking.
‘The busts of Everett and Allston, though admirable as every-day likenesses, deserved a genius of a different order from Clevenger. Clevenger gives the man as he is at the moment, but does not show the possibilities of his existence. Even thus seen, the head of Mr. Everett brings back all the age of Pericles, so refined and classic is its beauty. The two busts of Mr. Webster, by Clevenger and Powers, are the difference between prose, — healthy and energetic prose, indeed, but still prose, — and poetry. Clevenger’s is such as we see Mr. Webster on any public occasion, when his genius is not called forth. No child could fail to recognize it in a moment. Powers’ is not so good as a likeness, but has the higher merit of being an ideal of the orator and statesman at a great moment. It is quite an American Jupiter in its eagle calmness of conscious power.
‘A marble copy of the beautiful Diana, not so spirited as the Athenæum cast. S. C—— thought the difference was one of size. This work may be seen at a glance; yet does not tire one after survey. It has the freshness of the woods, and of morning dew. I admire those long lithe limbs, and that column of a throat. The Diana is a woman’s ideal of beauty; its elegance, its spirit, its graceful, peremptory air, are what we like in our own sex: the Venus is for men. The sleeping Cleopatra cannot be looked at enough; always her sleep seems sweeter and more graceful, always more wonderful the drapery. A little Psyche, by a pupil of Bartolini, pleases us much thus far. The forlorn sweetness with which she sits there, crouched down like a bruised butterfly, and the languid tenacity of her mood, are very touching. The Mercury and Ganymede with the Eagle, by Thorwaldsen, are still as fine as on first acquaintance. Thorwaldsen seems the grandest and simplest of modern sculptors. There is a breadth in his thought, a freedom in his design, we do not see elsewhere.
‘A spaniel, by Gott, shows great talent, and knowledge of the animal. The head is admirable; it is so full of playfulness and of doggish knowingness.’
I am tempted, by my recollection of the pleasure it gave her, to insert here a little poem, addressed to Margaret by one of her friends, on the beautiful imaginative picture in the gallery of 1840, called “The Dream.”
“A youth, with gentle brow and tender cheek,
Dreams in a place so silent, that no bird,
No rustle of the leaves his slumbers break;
Only soft tinkling from the stream is heard,
As in bright little waves it comes to greet
The beauteous One, and play upon his feet.
“On a low bank, beneath the thick shade thrown,
Soft gleams over his brown hair are flitting,
His golden plumes, bending, all lovely shone;
It seemed an angel’s home where he was sitting;
Erect, beside, a silver lily grew,
And over all the shadow its sweet beauty threw.
“Dreams he of life? O, then a noble maid
Toward him floats, with eyes of starry light,
In richest robes all radiantly arrayed,
To be his ladye and his dear delight.
Ah no! the distance shows a winding stream;
No lovely ladye moves, no starry eyes do gleam.
“Cold is the air, and cold the mountains blue;
The banks are brown, and men are lying there,
Meagre and old; O, what have they to do
With joyous visions of youth so fair?
He must not over sleep as they are sleeping,
Onward through life he must be ever sweeping.
“Let the pale glimmering distance pass away;
Why in the twilight art thou slumbering there?
Wake, and come forth into triumphant day;
Thy life and deeds must all be great and fair,
Canst thou not from the lily learn true glory,
Pure, lofty, lowly? — such should be thy story.
“But no! thou lovest the deep-eyed Past,
And thy heart clings to sweet remembrances;
In dim cathedral aisles thou ’It linger last,
And fill thy mind with flitting fantasies.
But know, dear One, the world is rich to-day,
And the unceasing God gives glory forth alway.”
I have said she was never weary of studying Michel Angelo and Raphael; and here are some manuscript “notes,” which she sent me one day, containing a clear expression of her feeling toward each of these masters, after she had become tolerably familiar with their designs, as far as prints could carry her: —
‘On seeing such works as these of Michel Angelo, we feel the need of a genius scarcely inferior to his own, which should invent some word, or some music, adequate to express our feelings, and relieve us from the Titanic oppression.
‘“Greatness,” “majesty,” “strength,” — to these words we had before thought we attached their proper meaning. But now we repent that they ever passed our lips. Created anew by the genius of this man, we would create language anew, and give him a word of response worthy his sublime profession of faith. Could we not at least have reserved “godlike” for him? For never till now did we appreciate the primeval vigor of creation, the instant swiftness with which thought can pass to deed; never till now appreciate the passage, “Let there be light, and there was light,” which, be grateful, Michel! was clothed in human word before thee.
‘One feels so repelled and humbled, on turning from Raphael to his contemporary, that I could have hated him as a Gentile Choragus might hate the prophet Samuel. Raphael took us to his very bosom, as if we had been fit for disciples, —
‘“Parting with smiles the hair upon the brow,
And telling me none ever was preferred.”
This man waves his serpent wand over me, and beauty’s self seems no better than a golden calf!
‘I could not bear M. De Quincey for intimating that the archangel Michel could be jealous; yet I can easily see that he might have given cause, by undervaluing his divine contemporary. Raphael was so sensuous, so lovely and loving. All undulates to meet the eye, glides or floats upon the soul’s horizon, as soft as is consistent with perfectly distinct and filled-out forms. The graceful Lionardo might see his pictures in moss; the beautiful Raphael on the cloud, or wave, or foliage; but thou, Michel, didst look straight upwards to the heaven, and grasp and bring thine down from the very sun of invention.
‘How Raphael revels in the image! His life is all reproduced; nothing was abstract or conscious. Pantheism, Polytheism, Greek god of Beauty, Apollo Musagetes, — what need of life beyond the divine work? “I paint,” said he, “from an idea that comes into my mind.”
‘But thou, Michel, didst not only feel but see the divine Ideal. Thine is the conscious monotheism of Jewry. Like thy own Moses, even on the mount of celestial converse, thou didst ask thy God to show now his face, and didst write his words, not in the alphabet of flowers, but on stone tables.
‘It is, indeed, the two geniuses of Greece and Jewry, which are reproduced in these two men. Thaumaturgus nature saw fit to wait but a very few years before using these moulds again, in smaller space. Would you read the Bible aright? look at Michel; the Greek Mythology? look at Raphael. Would you know how the sublime coëxists with the beautiful, or the beautiful with the sublime? would you see power and truth regnant on the one side, with beauty and love harmonious and ministrant, but subordinate; or would you look at the other aspect of Deity? — study here. Would you open all the founts of marvel, admiration, and tenderness? — study both.
‘One is not higher than the other; yet I am conscious of a slight rebuke from Michel, for having so poured out my soul at the feet of his brother angel. He seems to remind of Mr. E.’s view, and ask, “Why did you not question whether there was not aught else? why not reserve some inaccessible stronghold for me? why did you unlock the floodgates of the mind to such tides of emotion?” But there is no reality or permanence in this; it is only a reminder that the feminine part of human nature must not be dominant.
‘The prophets of Michel Angelo excite all my admiration at the man capable of giving to such a physique an expression which commands it. The soul is worthily lodged in these powerful frames; and she has the ease and dignity of one accustomed to command, and to command servants able to obey her hests. Who else could have so animated such forms, that they are imposing, but never heavy? The strong man is made so majestic by his office, that you scarcely feel how strong he is. The wide folds of the drapery, the breadth of light and shade, are great as anything in
“the large utterance of the early gods.”
‘How they read, — these prophets and sibyls! Never did the always-baffled, always reäspiring hope of the finite to compass the infinite find such expression, except in the sehnsucht of music. They are buried in the volume. They cannot believe that it has not somewhere been revealed, the word of enigma, the link between the human and divine, matter and spirit. Evidently, they hope to find it on the very next page. I have always thought, that clearly enough did nature and the soul’s own consciousness respond to the craving for immortality. I have thought it great weakness to need the voucher of a miracle, or of any of those direct interpositions of a divine power, which, in common parlance, are alone styled revelation. When the revelations of nature seemed to me so clear, I had thought it was the weakness of the heart, or the dogmatism of the understanding, which had such need of a book. But in these figures of Michel, the highest power seizes upon a scroll, hoping that some other mind may have dived to the depths of eternity for the desired pearl, and enable him, without delay, consciously to embrace the Everlasting Now.
‘How fine the attendant intelligences! So youthful and fresh, yet so strong. Some merely docile and reverent, others eager for utterance before the thought be known, — so firm is the trust in its value, so great the desire for sympathy. Others so brilliant in the attention of the inquiring eye, so intelligent in every feature, that they seem to divine the whole, before they hear it.
‘Zachariah is much the finer of the two prophets.
‘Of the sibyls, the Cumæa would be disgusting, from her overpowering strength in the feminine form, if genius had not made her tremendous. Especially the bosom gives me a feeling of faintness and aversion I cannot express. The female breast looks made for the temple of sweet and chaste thoughts, while this is so formed as to remind you of the lioness in her lair, and suggest a word which I will not write.
‘The Delphica is even beautiful, in Michel’s fair, calm, noble style, like the mother and child asleep in the Persica, and Night in the casts I have just seen.
‘The Libica is also more beautiful than grand. Her adjuncts are admirable. The elder figure, in the lowest pannel, — with what eyes of deep experience, and still unquenched enthusiasm, he sits meditating on the past! The figures at top are fiery with genius, especially the melancholy one, worthy to lift any weight, if he did but know how to set about it. As it is, all his strength may be wasted, yet he no whit the less noble,
‘But the Persica is my favorite above all. She is the true sibyl. All the grandeur of that wasted frame comes from within. The life of thought has wasted the fresh juices of the body, and hardened the sere leaf of her cheek to parchment; every lineament is sharp, every tint tarnished; her face is seamed with wrinkles, — usually as repulsive on a woman's face as attractive on a man. We usually feel, on looking at a woman, as if Nature had given them their best dower, and Experience could prove little better than a step-dame. But here, her high ambition and devotion to the life of thought gives her the masculine privilege of beauty in advancing years. Read on, hermitess of the world! what thou seekest is not there, yet thou dost not seek in vain.
‘The adjuncts to this figure are worthy of it. On the right, below, those two divine sleepers, redeeming human nature, and infolding expectation in a robe of pearly sheen. Here is the sweetness of strength, — honey to the valiant; on the other side, its awfulness, — meat to the strong man. His sleep is more powerful than the waking of myriads of other men. What will he do when he has recruited his strength in this night’s slumber? What wilt thou sing of it, wild-haired child of the lyre?
‘I admire the heavy fall of the sleeper’s luxuriant hair, which reminds one of the final shutting down of night upon a sullen twilight.
‘The other figures, too, are full of augury, sad but life-like, in its poetry. On the shield, how perfectly is the expression of being struck home to the heart given! I wish I could have that shield, in some shape. Only a single blow was needed; the hand was sure, the breast shrinking, but unresisting. Die, child of my affection, child of my old age! Let the blood follow to the hilt, for it is the sword of the Lord!
‘In looking again, this shield is on the Libica, and that of the Persica represents conquest, not sacrifice.
‘Over all these figures broods the spirit of prophecy. You see their sternest deed is under the theocratic form. There is pride in action, but no selfism in these figures.
‘When I first came to Michel, I clung to the beautiful Raphael, and feared his Druidical axe. But now, after the sibyls of Michel, it is unsafe to look at these of Raphael; for they seem weak, which is not so, only seems so, beside the sterner ideal.
‘The beauty of composition here is great, and you feel that Michel’s works are looked at fragment-wise in comparison. Here the eye glides along so naturally, does so easily justice to each part.’
I fear the remark already made on that susceptibility to details in art and nature which precluded the exercise of Margaret’s sound catholic judgment, must be extended to more than her connoisseurship. She had a sound judgment, on which, in conversation, she could fall back, and anticipate and speak the best sense of the largest company. But, left to herself, and in her correspondence, she was much the victim of Lord Bacon’s idols of the cave, or self-deceived by her own phantasms. I have looked over volumes of her letters to me and others. They are full of probity, talent, wit, friendship, charity, and high aspiration. They are tainted with a mysticism, which to me appears so much an affair of constitution, that it claims no more respect than the charity or patriotism of a man who has dined well, and feels better for it. One sometimes talks with a genial bon vivant, who looks as if the omelet and turtle have got into his eyes. In our noble Margaret, her personal feeling colors all her judgment of persons, of books, of pictures, and even of the laws of the world. This is easily felt in ordinary women, and a large deduction is civilly made on the spot by whosoever replies to their remark. But when the speaker has such brilliant talent and literature as Margaret, she gives so many fine names to these merely sensuous and subjective phantasms, that the hearer is long imposed upon, and thinks so precise and glittering nomenclature cannot be of mere muscae volitantes, phœnixes of the fancy, but must be of some real ornithology, hitherto unknown to him. his mere feeling exaggerates a host of trifles into a dazzling mythology. But when one goes to sift it, and find if there be a real meaning, it eludes search. Whole sheets of warm, florid writing are here, in which the eye is caught by “sapphire,” “heliotrope,” “dragon,” “aloes,” “Magna Dea,” “limboes,” “stars,” and “purgatory,” but can connect all this, or any part of it, with no universal experience.
In short, Margaret often loses herself in sentimentalism. That dangerous vertigo nature in her case adopted, and was to make respectable. As it sometimes happens that a grandiose style, like that of the Alexandrian Platonists, or like Macpherson’s Ossian, is more stimulating to the imagination of nations, than the true Plato, or than the simple poet, so here was a head so creative of new colors, of wonderful gleams, — so iridescent, that it piqued curiosity, and stimulated thought, and communicated mental activity to all who approached her; though her perceptions were not to be compared to her fancy, and she made numerous mistakes. Her integrity was perfect, and she was led and followed by love, and was really bent on truth, but too indulgent to the meteors of her fancy.
“Friends she must have, but in no one could find
A tally fitted to so large a mind.”
It is certain that Margaret, though unattractive in person, and assuming in manners, so that the girls complained that “she put upon them,” or, with her burly masculine existence, quite reduced them to satellites, yet inspired an enthusiastic attachment. I hear from one witness, as early as 1829, that “all the girls raved about Margaret Fuller,” and the same powerful magnetism wrought, as she went on, from year to year, on all ingenuous natures. The loveliest and the highest endowed women were eager to lay their beauty, their grace, the hospitalities of sumptuous homes, and their costly gifts, at her feet. When I expressed, one day, many years afterwards, to a lady who knew her well, some surprise at the homage paid her by men in Italy, — offers of marriage having there been made her by distinguished parties, — she replied: “There is nothing extraordinary in it. Had she been a man, any one of those fine girls of sixteen, who surrounded her here, would have married her: they were all in love with her, she understood them so well.” She had seen many persons, and had entire confidence in her own discrimination of characters. She saw and foresaw all in the first interview. She had certainly made her own selections with great precision, and had not been disappointed. When pressed for a reason, she replied, in one instance, ‘I have no good reason to give for what I think of ——. It is a demoniacal intimation. Everybody at —— praised her, but their account of what she said gave me the same unfavorable feeling. This is the first instance in which I have not had faith, if you liked a person. Perhaps I am wrong now; perhaps, if I saw her, a look would give me a needed clue to her character, and I should change my feeling. Yet I have never been mistaken in these intimations, as far as I recollect. I hope I am now.’
I am to add, that she gave herself to her friendships with an entireness not possible to any but a woman, with a depth possible to few women. Her friendships, as a girl with girls, as a woman with women, were not unmingled with passion, and had passages of romantic sacrifice and of ecstatic fusion, which I have heard with the ear, but could not trust my profane pen to report. There were, also, the ebbs and recoils from the other party, — the mortal unequal to converse with an immortal, — ingratitude, which was more truly incapacity, the collapse of overstrained affections and powers. At all events, it is clear that Margaret, later, grew more strict, and values herself with her friends on having the tie now “redeemed from all search after Eros.” So much, however, of intellectual aim and activity mixed with her alliances, as to breathe a certain dignity and myrrh through them all, She and her friends are fellow-students with noblest moral aims. She is there for help and for counsel. ‘Be to the best thou knowest ever true!’ is her language to one. And that was the effect of her presence. Whoever conversed with her felt challenged by the strongest personal influence to a bold and generous life. To one she wrote, — ‘Could a word from me avail you, I would say, that I have firm faith that nature cannot be false to her child, who has shown such an unalterable faith in her piety towards her.’
‘These tones of my dear ——’s lyre are of the noblest. Will they sound purely through her experiences? Will the variations be faithful to the theme? Not always do those who most devoutly long for the Infinite, know best how to modulate their finite into a fair passage of the eternal Harmony.
‘How many years was it the cry of my spirit, —
‘“Give, give, ye mighty Gods!
Why do ye thus hold back?” —
‘and, I suppose, all noble young persons think for the time that they would have been more generous than the Olympians. But when we have learned the high lesson to deserve, — that boon of manhood, — we see they esteemed us too much, to give what we had not earned.’
The following passages from her journal and her letters are sufficiently descriptive, each in its way, of her strong affections.
‘At Mr. G.'s we looked over prints, the whole evening, in peace. Nothing fixed my attention so much as a large engraving of Madame Recamier in her boudoir. I have so often thought over the intimacy between her and Madame De Stael.
‘It is so true that a woman may be in love with a woman, and a man with a man. I like to be sure of it, for it is the same love which angels feel, where —
‘“Sie fragen nicht nach Mann und Weib.”
‘It is regulated by the same law as that of love between persons of different sexes; only it is purely intellectual and spiritual. Its law is the desire of the spirit to realize a whole, which makes it seek in another being what it finds not in itself. Thus the beautiful seek the strong, and the strong the beautiful; the mute seeks the eloquent, &c.; the butterfly settles always on the dark flower. Why did Socrates love Alcibiades? Why did Körner love Schneider? How natural is the love of Wallenstein for Max; that of De Stael for De Recamier; mine for ——. I loved ——, for a time, with as much passion as I was then strong enough to feel. Her face was always gleaming before me; her voice was always echoing in my ear; all poetic thoughts clustered round the dear image. This love was a key which unlocked for me many a treasure which I still possess; it was the carbuncle which cast light into many of the darkest caverns of human nature. She loved me, too, though not so much, because her nature was “less high, less grave, less large, less deep.” But she loved more tenderly, less passionately. She loved me, for I well remember her suffering when she first could feel my faults, and knew one part of the exquisite veil rent away; how she wished to stay apart, and weep the whole day.
‘I do not love her now with passion, but I still feel towards her as I can to no other woman. I thought of all this as I looked at Madame Recamier.’
TO R. W. E.
‘7th Feb., 1843. — I saw the letter of your new friend, and liked it much; only, at this distance, one could not be sure whether it was the nucleus or the train of a comet, that lightened afar. The demons are not busy enough at the births of most men. They do not give them individuality deep enough for truth to take rest in. Such shallow natures cannot resist a strong head; its influence goes right through them. It is not stopped and fermented long enough. But I do not understand this hint of hesitation, because you have many friends already. We need not economize, we need not hoard these immortal treasures. Love and thought are not diminished by diffusion. In the widow's cruse is oil enough to furnish light for all the world.’
TO R. W. E.
‘15th March, 1842. — It is to be hoped, my best one, that the experiences of life will yet correct your vocabulary, and that you will not always answer the burst of frank affection by the use of such a word as “flattery.”
‘Thou knowest, O all-seeing Truth! whether that hour is base or unworthy thee, in which the heart turns tenderly towards some beloved object, whether stirred by an apprehension of its needs, or of its present beauty, or of its great promise; when it would lay before it all the flowers of hope and love, would soothe its weariness as gently as might the sweet south, and flatter it by as fond an outbreak of pride and devotion as is seen on the sunset clouds. Thou knowest whether these promptings, whether these longings, he not truer than intellectual scrutiny of the details of character; than cold distrust of the exaggerations even of heart. What we hope, what we think of those we love, is true, true as the fondest dream of love and friendship that ever shone upon the childish heart.
‘The faithful shall yet meet a full-eyed love, ready as profound, that never needs turn the key on its retirement, or arrest the stammering of an overweening trust.’
‘I wish I could write you often, to bring before you the varied world-scene you cannot so well go out to unfold for yourself. But it was never permitted me, even where I wished it most. But the forest leaves fall unseen, and make a soil on which shall be reared the growths and fabrics of a nobler era. This thought rounds off each day. Your letter was a little golden key to a whole volume of thoughts and feelings. I cannot make the one bright drop, like champagne in ice, but must pour a full gush, if I speak at all, and not think whether the water is clear either.’
With this great heart, and these attractions, it was easy to add daily to the number of her friends. With her practical talent, her counsel and energy, she was pretty sure to find clients and sufferers enough, who wished to be guided and supported. ‘Others,’ she said, ‘lean on this arm, which I have found so frail. Perhaps it is strong enough to have drawn a sword, but no better suited to be used as a bolt, than that of Lady Catharine Douglas, of loyal memory.’ She could not make a journey, or go to an evening party, without meeting a new person, who wished presently to impart his history to her. Very early, she had written to ——, ‘My museum is so well furnished, that I grow lazy about collecting new specimens of human nature.’ She had soon enough examples of the historic development of rude intellect under the first rays of culture. But, in a thousand individuals, the process is much the same; and, like a professor too long pent in his college, she rejoiced in encountering persons of untutored grace and strength, and felt no wish to prolong the intercourse when culture began to have its effect. I find in her journal a characteristic note, on receiving a letter on books and speculations, from one whom she had valued for his heroic qualities in a life of adventure: —
‘These letters of —— are beautiful, and moved me deeply. It looks like the birth of a soul. But I loved thee, fair, rich earth, — and all that is gone forever. This that comes now, we know in much farther stages. Yet there is silver sweet in the tone, generous nobility in the impulses.’
‘Poor Tasso in the play offered his love and service too officiously to all. They all rejected it, and declared him mad, because he made statements too emphatic of his feelings. If I wanted only ideal figures to think about, there are those in literature I like better than any of your living ones. But I want far more. I want habitual intercourse, cheer, inspiration, tenderness. I want these for myself; I want to impart them. I have done as Timon did, for these last eight years. My early intercourses were more equal, because more natural. Since I took on me the vows of renunciation, I have acted like a prodigal. Like Timon, I have loved to give, perhaps not from beneficence, but from restless love. Now, like Fortunatus, I find my mistresses will not thank me for fires made of cinnamon; rather they run from too rich an odor. What shall I do? not curse, like him, (oh base!) nor dig my grave in the marge of the salt tide. Give an answer to my questions, dæmon! Give a rock for my feet, a bird of peaceful and sufficient song within my breast! I return to thee, my Father, from the husks that have been offered me. But I return as one who meant not to leave Thee.’
Of course, she made large demands on her companions, and would soon come to sound their knowledge, and guess pretty nearly the range of their thoughts. There yet remained to command her constancy, what she valued more, the quality and affection proper to each. But she could rarely find natures sufficiently deep and magnetic. With her sleepless curiosity, her magnanimity, and her diamond-ring, like Annie of Lochroyan’s, to exchange for gold or for pewter, she might be pardoned for her impatient questionings. To me, she was uniformly generous; but neither did I escape. Our moods were very different; and I remember, that, at the very time when I, slow and cold, had come fully to admire her genius, and was congratulating myself on the solid good understanding that subsisted between us, I was surprised with hearing it taxed by her with superficiality and halfness. She stigmatized our friendship as commercial. It seemed, her magnanimity was not met, but I prized her only for the thoughts and pictures she brought me; — so many thoughts, so many facts yesterday, — so many to-day; — when there was an end of things to tell, the game was up: that, I did not know, as a friend should know, to prize a silence as much as a discourse, — and hence a forlorn feeling was inevitable; a poor counting of thoughts, and a taking the census of virtues, was the unjust reception so much love found. On one occasion, her grief broke into words like these: ‘The religious nature remained unknown to you, because it could not proclaim itself, but claimed to be divined. The deepest soul that approached you was, in your eyes, nothing but a magic lantern, always bringing out pretty shows of life.’
But as I did not understand the discontent then, — of course, I cannot now. It was a war of temperaments, and could not be reconciled by words; but, after each party had explained to the uttermost, it was necessary to fall back on those grounds of agreement which remained, and leave the differences henceforward in respectful silence. The recital may still serve to show to sympathetic persons the true lines and enlargements of her genius. It is certain that this incongruity never interrupted for a moment the intercourse, such as it was, that existed between us.
I ought to add here, that certain mental changes brought new questions into conversation. In the summer of 1840, she passed into certain religious states, which did not impress me as quite healthy, or likely to be permanent; and I said, “I do not understand your tone; it seems exaggerated. You are one who can afford to speak and to hear the truth. Let us hold hard to the commonsense, and let us speak in the positive degree.”
And I find, in later letters from her, sometimes playful, sometimes grave allusions to this explanation.
‘Is —— there? Does water meet water? — no need of wine, sugar, spice, or even a soupçon of lemon to remind of a tropical climate? I fear me not. Yet, dear positives, believe me superlatively yours, Margaret.’
The following letter seems to refer, under an Eastern guise, and with something of Eastern exaggeration of compliment too, to some such native sterilities in her correspondent: —
TO R. W. E.
‘23d Feb., 1840. — I am like some poor traveller of the desert, who saw, at early morning, a distant palm, and toiled all day to reach it. All day he toiled. The unfeeling sun shot pains into his temples; the burning air, filled with sand, checked his breath; he had no water, and no fountain sprung along his path. But his eye was bright with courage, for he said, “When I reach the lonely palm, I will lie beneath its shade. I will refresh myself with its fruit. Allah has reared it to such a height, that it may encourage the wandering, and bless and sustain the faint and weary.” But when he reached it, alas! it had grown too high to shade the weary man at its foot. On it he saw no clustering dates, and its one draught of wine was far beyond his reach. He saw at once that it was so. A child, a bird, a monkey, might have climbed to reach it. A rude hand might have felled the whole tree; but the full-grown man, the weary man, the gentle-hearted, religious man, was no nearer to its nourishment for being close to the root; yet he had not force to drag himself further, and leave at once the aim of so many fond hopes, so many beautiful thoughts. So he lay dawn amid the inhospitable sands. The night dews pierced his exhausted frame; the hyena laughed, the lion roared, in the distance; the stars smiled upon him satirically from their passionless peace; and he knew they were like the sun, as unfeeling, only more distant. He could not sleep for famine. With the dawn he arose. The palm stood as tall, as inaccessible, as ever; its leaves did not so much as rustle an answer to his farewell sigh. On and on he went, and came, at last, to a living spring. The spring was encircled by tender verdure, wild fruits ripened near, and the clear waters sparkled up to tempt his lip. The pilgrim rested, and refreshed himself, and looked back with less pain to the unsympathizing palm, which yet towered in the distance.
‘But the wanderer had a mission to perform, which must have forced him to leave at last both palm and fountain. So on and on he went, saying to the palm, “Thou art for another;” and to the gentle waters, “I will return.”
‘Not far distant was he when the sirocco came, and choked with sand the fountain, and uprooted the fruit-trees. When years have passed, the waters will have forced themselves up again to light, and a new oasis will await a new wanderer. Thou, Sohrab, wilt, ere that time, have left thy bones at Mecca. Yet the remembrance of the fountain cheers thee as a blessing; that of the palm haunts thee as a pang.
‘So talks the soft spring gale of the Shah Nameh. Genuine Sanscrit I cannot write. My Persian and Arabic you love not. Why do I write thus to one who must ever regard the deepest tones of my nature as those of childish fancy or worldly discontent?’
PROBLEMS OF LIFE.
Already, too, at this time, each of the main problems of human life had been closely scanned and interrogated by her, and some of them had been much earlier settled. A worshipper of beauty, why could not she also have been beautiful?—of the most radiant sociality, why should not she have been so placed, and so decorated, as to have led the fairest and highest? In her journal is a bitter sentence, whose meaning I cannot mistake: ‘Of a disposition that requires the most refined, the most exalted tenderness, without charms to inspire it: — poor Mignon! fear not the transition through death; no penal fires can have in store worse torments than thou art familiar with already.’
In the month of May, she writes: — ‘When all things are blossoming, it seems so strange not to blossom too; that the quick thought within cannot remould its tenement. Man is the slowest aloes, and I am such a shabby plant, of such coarse tissue. I hate not to be beautiful, when all around is so.’
Again, after recording a visit to a family, whose taste and culture, united to the most liberal use of wealth, made the most agreeable of homes, she writes: ‘Looking out on the wide view, I felt the blessings of my comparative freedom. I stand in no false relations. Who else is so happy? Here are these fair, unknowing children envying the depth of my mental life. They feel withdrawn by sweet duties from reality. Spirit! I accept; teach me to prize and use whatsoever is given me.’
‘At present,’ she writes elsewhere, ‘it skills not. I am able to take the superior view of life, and my place in it. But I know the deep yearnings of the heart and the bafflings of time will be felt again, and then I shall long for some dear hand to hold. But I shall never forget that my curse is nothing, compared with that of those who have entered into those relations, but not made them real; who only seem husbands, wives, and friends.’
‘I remain fixed to be, without churlishness or coldness, as much alone as possible. It is best for me. I am not fitted to be loved, and it pains me to have close dealings with those who do not love, to whom my feelings are “strange.” Kindness and esteem are very well. I am willing to receive and bestow them; but these alone are not worth feelings such as mine. And I wish I may make no more mistakes, but keep chaste for mine own people.’
There is perhaps here, as in a passage of the same journal quoted already, an allusion to a verse in the ballad of the Lass of Lochroyan: —
“O yours was gude, and gude enough,
But aye the best was mine;
For yours was o’ the gude red gold,
But mine o’ the diamond fine.”
‘There is no hour of absolute beauty in all my past, though some have been made musical by heavenly hope, many dignified by intelligence. Long urged by the Furies, I rest again in the temple of Apollo. Celestial verities dawn constellated as thoughts in the heaven of my mind.
‘But, driven from home to home, as a renouncer, I get the picture and the poetry of each. Keys of gold, silver, iron, and lead, are in my casket. No one loves me; but I love many a good deal, and see, more or less, into their eventual beauty. Meanwhile, I have no fetter on me, no engagement, and, as I look on others, — almost every other, — can I fail to feel this a great privilege? I have nowise tied my hands or feet; yet the varied calls on my sympathy have been such, that I hope not to be made partial, cold, or ignorant, by this isolation. I have no child; but now, as I look on these lovely children of a human birth, what low and neutralizing cares they bring with them to the mother! The children of the muse come guicker, and have not on them the taint of earthly corruption.’
Practical questions in plenty the days and months brought her to settle, — questions requiring all her wisdom, and sometimes more than all. None recurs with more frequency, at one period, in her journals, than the debate with herself, whether she shall make literature a profession. Shall it be woman, or shall it be artist?
WOMAN, OR ARTIST?
Margaret resolved, again and again, to devote herself no more to these disappointing forms of men and women, but to the children of the muse. ‘The dramatis personæ,’ she said, ‘of my poems shall henceforth be chosen from the children of immortal Muse. I fix my affections no more on these frail forms.’ But it was vain; she rushed back again to persons, with a woman’s devotion.
Her pen was a non-conductor. She always took it up with some disdain, thinking it a kind of impiety to attempt to report a life so warm and cordial, and wrote on the fly-leaf of her journal, —
‘“Scrivo sol per sfogar’ l’interno.”’
‘Since you went away,’ she said, ‘I have thought of many things I might have told you, but I could not bear to be eloquent and poetical. It is a mockery thus to play the artist with life, and dip the brush in one’s own heart's blood. One would fain be no more artist, or philosopher, or lover, or critic, but a soul ever rushing forth in tides of genial life.’
‘26 Dec., 1842. — I have been reading the lives of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, and of Sir Kenelm Digby. These splendid, chivalrous, and thoughtful Englishmen are meat which my soul loveth, even as much as my Italians. What I demand of men, — that they could act out all their thoughts, — these have. They are lives; — and of such I do not care if they had as many faults as there are days in the year, — there is the energy to redeem them. Do you not admire Lord Herbert’s two poems on life, and the conjectures concerning celestial life? I keep reading them.’
‘When I look at my papers, I feel as if I had never had a thought that was worthy the attention of any but myself; and ’tis only when, on talking with people, I find I tell them what they did not know, that my confidence at all returns.’
‘My verses, — I am ashamed when I think there is scarce a line of poetry in them, — all rhetorical and impassioned, as Goethe said of De Stael. However, such as they are, they have been overflowing drops from the somewhat bitter cup of my existence.’
‘How can I ever write with this impatience of detail? I shall never be an artist; I have no patient love of execution; I am delighted with my sketch, but if I try to finish it, I am chilled. Never was there a great sculptor who did not love to chip the marble.’
‘I have talent and knowledge enough to furnish a dwelling for friendship, but not enough to deck with golden gifts a Delphi for the world.’
‘Then a woman of tact and brilliancy, like me, has an undue advantage in conversation with men. They are astonished at our instincts. They do not see where we got our knowledge; and, while they tramp on in their clumsy way, we wheel, and fly, and dart hither and thither, and seize with ready eye all the weak points, like Saladin in the desert. It is quite another thing when we come to write, and, without suggestion from another mind, to declare the positive amount of thought that is in us. Because we seemed to know all, they think we can tell all; and, finding we can tell so little, lose faith in their first opinion of us, which, nathless, was true.’
And again: ‘These gentlemen are surprised that I write no better, because I talk so well. But I have served a long apprenticeship to the one, none to the other. I shall write better, but never, I think, so well as I talk; for then I feel inspired. The means are pleasant; my voice excites me, my pen never. I shall not be discouraged, nor take for final what they say, but sift from it the truth, and use it. I feel the strength to dispense with all illusions. I will stand steady, and rejoice in the severest probations.’
‘What a vulgarity there seems in this writing for the multitude! We know not yet, have not made ourselves known to a single soul, and shall we address those still more unknown? Shall we multiply our connections, and thus make them still more superficial?
‘I would go into the crowd, and meet men for the day, to help them for the day, but for that intercourse which most becomes us. Pericles, Anaxagoras, Aspasia, Cleone, is circle wide enough for me. I should think all the resources of my nature, and all the tribute it could enforce from external nature, none too much to furnish the banquet for this circle.
‘But where to find fit, though few, representatives for all we value inhumanity? Where obtain those golden keys to the secret treasure-chambers of the soul? No samples are perfect. We must look abroad into the wide circle, to seek a little here, and a little there, to make up our company. And is not the “prent book” a good beacon-light to tell where we wait the bark? — a reputation, the means of entering the Olympic game, where Pindar may perchance be encountered?
‘So it seems the mind must reveal its secret; must reproduce. And I have no castle, and no natural circle, in which I might live, like the wise Makaria, observing my kindred the stars, and gradually enriching my archives. Makaria here must go abroad, or the stars would hide their light, and the archive remain a blank.
‘For all the tides of life that flow within me, I am dumb and ineffectual, when it comes to casting my thought into a form. No old one suits me. If I could invent one, it seems to me the pleasure of creation would make it possible for me to write. What shall I do, dear friend? I want force to be either a genius or a character. One should be either private or public. I love best to be a woman; but womanhood is at present too straitly-bounded to give me scope. At hours, I live truly as a woman; at others, I should stifle; as, on the other hand, I should palsy, when I would play the artist.’
These practical problems Margaret had to entertain and to solve the best way she could. She says truly, ‘there was none to take up her burden whilst she slept.’ But she was formed for action, and addressed herself quite simply to her part. She was a woman, an orphan, without beauty, without money; and these negatives will suggest what difficulties were to be surmounted where the tasks dictated by her talents required the good-will of “good society,” in the town where she was to teach and write. But she was even-tempered and erect, and, if her journals are sometimes mournful, her mind was made up, her countenance beamed courage and cheerfulness around her. Of personal influence, speaking strictly, — an efflux, that is, purely of mind and character, excluding all effects of power, wealth, fashion, beauty, or literary fame, — she had an extraordinary degree; I think more than any person I have known. An interview with her was a joyful event. Worthy men and women, who had conversed with her, could not forget her, but worked bravely on in the remembrance that this heroic approver had recognized their aims. She spoke so earnestly, that the depth of the sentiment prevailed, and not the accidental expression, which might chance to be common. Thus I learned, the other day, that, in a copy of Mrs. Jameson’s Italian Painters, against a passage describing Correggio as a true servant of God in his art, above sordid ambition, devoted to truth, “one of those superior beings of whom there are so few;” Margaret wrote on the margin, ‘And yet all might be such.’ The book lay long on the table of the owner, in Florence, and chanced to be read there by a young artist of much talent. “These words,” said he, months afterwards, “struck out a new strength in me. They revived resolutions long fallen away, and made me set my face like a flint.”
But Margaret’s courage was thoroughly sweet in its temper. She accused herself in her youth of unamiable traits, but, in all the later years of her life, it is difficult to recall a moment of malevolence. The friends whom her strength of mind drew to her, her good heart held fast; and few persons were ever the objects of more persevering kindness. Many hundreds of her letters remain, and they are alive with proofs of generous friendship given and received.
Among her early friends, Mrs. Farrar, of Cambridge, appears to have discovered, at a critical moment in her career, the extraordinary promise of the young girl, and some false social position into which her pride and petulance, and the mistakes of others, had combined to bring her, and she set herself, with equal kindness and address, to make a second home for Margaret in her own house, and to put her on the best footing in the agreeable society of Cambridge. She busied herself, also, as she could, in removing all superficial blemishes from the gem. In a well-chosen travelling party, made up by Mrs. Farrar, and which turned out to be the beginning of much happiness by the friendships then formed, Margaret visited, in the summer of 1835, Newport, New York, and Trenton Falls; and, in the autumn, made the acquaintance, at Mrs. F.’s house, of Miss Martineau, whose friendship, at that moment, was an important stimulus to her mind.
Mrs. Farrar performed for her, thenceforward, all the offices of an almost maternal friendship. She admired her genius, and wished that all should admire it. She counselled and encouraged her, brought to her side the else unsuppliable aid of a matron and a lady, sheltered her in sickness, forwarded her plans with tenderness and constancy, to the last. I read all this in the tone of uniform gratitude and love with which this lady is mentioned in Margaret's letters. Friendships like this praise both parties; and the security with which people of a noble disposition approached Margaret, indicated the quality of her own infinite tenderness. A very intelligent woman applied to her what Stilling said of Goethe: “Her heart, which few knew, was as great as her mind, which all knew;” and added, that, “in character, Margaret was, of all she had beheld, the largest woman, and not a woman who wished to be a man.” Another lady added, “She never disappointed you. To any one whose confidence she had once drawn out, she was thereafter faithful. She could talk of persons, and never gossip; for she had a fine instinct that kept her from any reality, and from any effect of treachery.” I was still more struck with the remark that followed. “Her life, since she went abroad, is wholly unknown to me; but I have an unshaken trust that what Margaret did she can defend.”
She was a right brave and heroic woman. She shrunk from no duty, because of feeble nerves. Although, after her father died, the disappointment of not going to Europe with Miss Martineau and Mrs. Farrar was extreme, and her mother and sister wished her to take her portion of the estate and go; and, on her refusal, entreated the interference of friends to overcome her objections; Margaret would not hear of it, and devoted herself to the education of her brothers and sisters, and then to the making a home for the family. She was exact and punctual in money matters, and maintained herself, and made her full contribution to the support of her family, by the reward of her labors as a teacher, and in her conversation classes. I have a letter from her at Jamaica Plain, dated November, 1840, which begins, —
‘This day I write you from my own hired house, and am full of the dignity of citizenship. Really, it is almost happiness. I retain, indeed, some cares and responsibilities; but these will sit light as feathers, for I can take my own time for them. Can it be that this peace will be mine for five whole months? At any rate, five days have already been enjoyed.’
Here is another, written in the same year: —
‘I do not wish to talk to you of my ill-health, except that I like you should know when it makes me do anything badly, since I wish you to excuse and esteem me. But let me say, once for all, in reply to your letter, that you are mistaken if you think I ever wantonly sacrifice my health. I have learned that we cannot injure ourselves without injuring others; and besides, that we have no right; for ourselves are all we know of heaven. I do not try to domineer over myself. But, unless I were sure of dying, I cannot dispense with making some exertion, both for the present and the future. There is no mortal, who, if I laid down my burden, would take care of it while I slept. Do not think me weakly disinterested, or, indeed, disinterested at all.’
Every one of her friends knew assuredly that her sympathy and aid would not fail them when required. She went, from the most joyful of all bridals, to attend a near relative during a formidable surgical operation. She was here to help others. As one of her friends writes, ‘She helped whoever knew her.’ She adopted the interests of humble persons, within her circle, with heart-cheering warmth, and her ardor in the cause of suffering and degraded women, at Sing-Sing, was as irresistible as her love of books. She had, many years afterwards, scope for the exercise of all her love and devotion, in Italy, but she came to it as if it had been her habit and her natural sphere. The friends who knew her in that country, relate, with much surprise, that she, who had all her lifetime drawn people by her wit, should recommend herself so highly, in Italy, by her tenderness and large affection. Yet the tenderness was only a face of the wit; as before, the wit was raised above all other wit by the affection behind it. And, truly, there was an ocean of tears always, in her atmosphere, ready to fail.
There was, at New York, a poor adventurer, half patriot, half author, a miserable man, always in such depths of distress, with such squadrons of enemies, that no charity could relieve, and no intervention save him. He believed Europe banded for his destruction, and America corrupted to connive at it. Margaret listened to these woes with such patience and mercy, that she drew five hundred dollars, which had been invested for her in a safe place, and put them in those hapless hands, where, of course, the money was only the prey of new rapacity, to be bewailed by new reproaches. When one of her friends had occasion to allude to this, long afterwards, she replied: —
‘In answer to what you say of ——, I wish, indeed, the little effort I made for him had been wiselier applied. Yet these are not the things one regrets. It will not do to calculate too closely with the affectionate human impulse. We must consent to make many mistakes, or we should move too slow to help our brothers much. I am sure you do not regret what you spent on Miani, and other worthless people. As things looked then, it would have been wrong not to have risked the loss.’
But Margaret crowned all her talents and virtues with a love of truth, and the power to speak it. In great and in small matters, she was a woman of her word, and gave those who conversed with her the unspeakable comfort that flows from plain dealing. Her nature was frank and transparent, and she had a right to say, as she says in her journal: —
‘I have the satisfaction of knowing, that, in my counsels, I have given myself no air of being better than I am.’
And again: —
‘In the chamber of death, I prayed in very early years, “Give me truth; cheat me by no illusion.” O, the granting of this prayer is sometimes terrible to me! I walk over the burning ploughshares, and they sear my feet. Yet nothing but truth will do; no love will serve that is not eternal, and as large as the universe; no philanthropy in executing whose behests I myself become unhealthy; no creative genius which bursts asunder my life, to leave it a poor black chrysalid behind. And yet this last is too true of me.’
She describes a visit made in May, 1844, at the house of some valued friends in West Roxbury, and adds: ‘We had a long and deep conversation, happy in its candor. Truth, truth, thou art the great preservative! Let free air into the mind, and the pestilence cannot lurk in any corner.’
And she uses the following language in an earnest letter to another friend: —
‘My own entire sincerity, in every passage of life, gives me a right to expect that I shall be met by no unmeaning phrases or attentions.’
‘Reading to-day a few lines of ——, I thought with refreshment of such lives as T.’s, and V.’s, and W.’s, so private and so true, where each line written is really the record of a thought or a feeling. I hate poems which are a melancholy monument of culture for the sake of being cultivated, not of growing,’
Even in trifles, one might find with her the advantage and the electricity of a little honesty. I have had from an eye-witness a note of a little scene that passed in Boston, at the Academy of Music. A party had gone early, and taken an excellent place to hear one of Beethoven’s symphonies. Just behind them were soon seated a young lady and two gentlemen, who made an incessant buzzing, in spite of bitter looks cast on them by the whole neighborhood, and destroyed all the musical comfort. After all was over, Margaret leaned across one seat, and catching the eye of this girl, who was pretty and well-dressed, said, in her blandest, gentlest voice, “May I speak with you one moment?” “Certainly,” said the young lady, with a fluttered, pleased look, bending forward. “I only wish to say,” said Margaret, “that I trust, that, in the whole course of your life, you will not suffer so great a degree of annoyance as you have inflicted on a large party of lovers of music this evening.” This was said with the sweetest air, as if to a little child, and it was as good as a play to see the change of countenance which the young lady exhibited, who had no replication to make to so Christian a blessing.
On graver occasions, the same habit was only more stimulated; and I cannot remember certain passages which called it into play, without new regrets at the costly loss which our community sustains in the loss of this brave and eloquent soul.
People do not speak the truth, not for the want of not knowing and preferring it, but because they have not the organ to speak it adequately. It requires a clear sight, and, still more, a high spirit, to deal with falsehood in the decisive way. I have known several honest persons who valued truth as much as Peter and John, but, when they tried to speak it, they grew red and black in the face instead of Ananias, until, after a few attempts, they decided that aggressive truth was not their vocation, and confined themselves thenceforward to silent honesty, except on rare occasions, when either an extreme outrage, or a happier inspiration, loosened their tongue. But a soul is now and then incarnated, whom indulgent nature has not afflicted with any cramp or frost, but who can speak the right word at the right moment, qualify the selfish and hypocritical act with its real name, and, without any loss of serenity, hold up the offence to the purest daylight. Such a truth-speaker is worth more than the best police, and more than the laws or governors; for these do not always know their own side, but will back the crime for want of this very truth-speaker to expose them. That is the theory of the newspaper, — to supersede official by intellectual influence. But, though the apostles establish the journal, it usually happens that, by some strange oversight, Ananias slips into the editor’s chair. If, then, we could be provided with a fair proportion of truth-speakers, we could very materially and usefully contract the legislative and the executive functions. Still, the main sphere for this nobleness is private society, where so many mischiefs go unwhipped, being out of the cognizance of law, and supposed to be nobody’s business. And society is, at all times, suffering for want of judges and headsmen, who will mark and lop these malefactors.
Margaret suffered no vice to insult her presence, but called the offender to instant account, when the law of right or of beauty was violated. She needed not, of course, to go out of her way to find the offender, and she never did, but she had the courage and the skill to cut heads off which were not worn with honor in her presence. Others might abet a crime by silence, if they pleased; she chose to clear herself of all complicity, by calling the act by its name.
It was curious to see the mysterious provocation which the mere presence of insight exerts in its neighborhood. Like moths about a lamp, her victims voluntarily came to judgment; conscious persons, encumbered with egotism; vain persons, bent on concealing some mean vice; arrogant reformers, with some halting of their own; the compromisers, who wished to reconcile right and wrong; — all came and held out their palms to the wise woman, to read their fortunes, and they were truly told. Many anecdotes have come to my ear, which show how useful the glare of her lamp proved in private circles, and what dramatic situations it created. But these cannot be told. The valor for dragging the accused spirits among his acquaintance to the stake is not in the heart of the present writer. The reader must be content to learn that she knew how, without loss of temper, to speak with unmistakable plainness to any party, when she felt that the truth or the right was injured. For the same reason, I omit one or two letters, most honorable both to her mind and heart, in which she felt constrained to give the frankest utterance to her displeasure. Yet I incline to quote the testimony of one witness, which is so full and so pointed, that I must give it as I find it.
“I have known her, by the severity of her truth, mow down a crop of evil, like the angel of retribution itself, and could not sufficiently admire her courage. A conversation she had with Mr. ——, just before he went to Europe, was one of these things; and there was not a particle of ill-will in it, but it was truth which she could not help seeing and uttering, nor he refuse to accept.
“My friends told me of a similar verdict, pronounced upon Mr. ——, at Paris, which they said was perfectly tremendous. They themselves sat breathless; Mr. —— was struck dumb; his eyes fixed on her with wonder and amazement, yet gazing too with an attention which seemed like fascination. When she had done, he still looked to see if she was to say more, and when he found she had really finished, he arose, took his hat, said faintly, ‘I thank you,’ and left the room. He afterwards said to Mr. ——, ‘I never shall speak ill of her. She has done me good.’ And this was the greater triumph, for this man had no theories of impersonality, and was the most egotistical and irritable of self-lovers, and was so unveracious, that one had to hope in charity that his organ for apprehending truth was deficient.”
I have alluded to the fact, that, in the summer of 1840, Margaret underwent some change in the tone and the direction of her thoughts, to which she attributed a high importance. I remember, at an earlier period, when in earnest conversation with her, she seemed to have that height and daring, that I saw she was ready to do whatever she thought; and I observed that, with her literary riches, her invention and wit, her boundless fun and drollery, her light satire, and the most entertaining conversation in America, consisted a certain pathos of sentiment, and a march of character, threatening to arrive presently at the shores and plunge into the sea of Buddhism and mystical trances. The literature of asceticism and rapturous piety was familiar to her. The conversation of certain mystics, who had appeared in Boston about this time, had interested her, but in no commanding degree. But in this year, 1840, in which events occurred which combined great happiness and pain for her affections, she remained for some time in a sort of ecstatic solitude. She made many attempts to describe her frame of mind to me, but did not inspire me with confidence that she had now come to any experiences that were profound or permanent. She was vexed at the want of sympathy on my part, and I again felt that this craving for sympathy did not prove the inspiration. There was a certain restlessness and fever, which I did not like should deceive a soul which was capable of greatness. But jets of magnanimity were always natural to her; and her aspiring mind, eager for a higher and still a higher ground, made her gradually familiar with the range of the mystics, and, though never herself laid in the chamber called Peace, never quite authentically and originally speaking from the absolute or prophetic mount, yet she borrowed from her frequent visits to its precincts an occasional enthusiasm, which gave a religious dignity to her thought.
‘I have plagues about me, but they don’t touch me now. I thank nightly the benignant Spirit, for the unaccustomed serenity in which it enfolds me.
‘—— is very wretched; and once I could not have helped taking on me all his griefs, and through him the griefs of his class; but now I drink only the wormwood of the minute, and that has always equal parts, — a drop of sweet to a drop of bitter. But I shall never be callous, never unable to understand home-sickness. Am not I, too, one of the band who know not where to lay their heads? Am I wise enough to hear such things? Perhaps not; but happy enough, surely. For that Power which daily makes me understand the value of the little wheat amid the field of tares, and shows me how the kingdom of heaven is sown in the earth like a grain of mustard-seed, is good to me, and bids me call unhappiness happy.’
‘March, 1842.— My inward life has been more rich and deep, and of more calm and musical flow than ever before. It seems to me that Heaven, whose course has ever been to cross-bias me, as Herbert said, is no niggard in its compensations, I have indeed been forced to take up old burdens, from which I thought I had learned what they could teach; the pen has been snatched from my hand just as I most longed to use it; I have been forced to dissipate, when I most wished to concentrate; to feel the hourly presence of others’ mental wants, when, it seemed, I was just on the point of satisfying my own. But a new page is turned, and an era begun, from which I am not yet sufficiently remote to describe it as I would. I have lived a life, if only in the music I have heard, and one development seemed to follow another therein, as if bound together by destiny, and all things were done for me. All minds, all scenes, have ministered to me. Nature has seemed an ever-open secret; the Divine, a sheltering love; truth, an always-springing fountain; and my soul more alone, and less lonely, more hopeful, patient, and, above all, more gentle and humble in its living. New minds have come to reveal themselves to me, though I do not wish it, for I feel myself inadequate to the ties already formed. I have not strength or time to meet the thoughts of those I love already. But these new have come with gifts too fair to be refused, and which have cheered my passive mind.’
‘June, 1844. — Last night, in the boat, I could not help thinking, each has something, none has enough. I fear to want them all; and, through ages, if not forever, promises and beckons the life of reception, of renunciation. Passing every seven days from one region to the other, the maiden grows weary of packing the trunk, yet blesses Thee, O rich God!’
Her letters at this period betray a pathetic alternation of feeling, between her aspiring for a rest in the absolute Centre, and her necessity of a perfect sympathy with her friends. She writes to one of them: —
‘What I want, the word I crave, I do not expect to hear from the lips of man. I do not wish to be, I do not wish to have, a mediator; yet I cannot help wishing, when I am with you, that some tones of the longed-for music could be vibrating in the air around us. But I will not be impatient again; for, though I am but as I am, I like not to feel the eyes I have loved averted.’
I have separated and distributed as I could some of the parts which blended in the rich composite energy which Margaret exerted during the ten years over which my occasional interviews with her were scattered. It remains to say, that all these powers and accomplishments found their best and only adequate channel in her conversation; — a conversation which those who have heard it, unanimously, as far as I know, pronounced to be, in elegance, in range, in flexibility, and adroit transition, in depth, in cordiality, and in moral aim, altogether admirable; surprising and cheerful as a poem, and communicating its own civility and elevation like a charm to all hearers. She was here, among our anxious citizens, and frivolous fashionists, as if sent to refine and polish her countrymen, and announce a better day. She poured a stream of amber over the endless store of private anecdotes, of bosom histories, which her wonderful persuasion drew forth, and transfigured them into fine fables. Whilst she embellished the moment, her conversation had the merit of being solid and true. She put her whole character into it, and had the power to inspire. The companion was made a thinker, and went away quite other than he came. The circle of friends who sat with her were not allowed to remain spectators or players, but she converted them into heroes, if she could. The muse woke the muses, and the day grew bright and eventful. Of course, there must be, in a person of such sincerity, much variety of aspect, according to the character of her company. Only, in Margaret’s case, there is almost an agreement in the testimony to an invariable power over the minds of all. I conversed lately with a gentleman who has vivid remembrances of his interviews with her in Boston, many years ago, who described her in these terms: — “No one ever came so near. Her mood applied itself to the mood of her companion, point to point, in the most limber, sinuous, vital way, and drew out the most extraordinary narratives; yet she had a light sort of laugh, when all was said, as if she thought she could live over that revelation. And this sufficient sympathy she had for all persons indifferently, — for lovers, for artists, and beautiful maids, and ambitions young statesmen, and for old aunts, and coach-travellers. Ah! she applied herself to the mood of her companion, as the sponge applies itself to water.” The description tallies well enough with my observation. I remember she found, one day, at my house, her old friend Mr. ——, sitting with me. She looked at him attentively, and hardly seemed to know him. In the afternoon, he invited her to go with him to Cambridge. The next day she said to me, ‘You fancy that you know ——. It is too absurd; you have never seen him. When I found him here, sitting like a statue, I was alarmed, and thought him ill. You sit with courteous, unconfiding smile, and suppose him to be a mere man of talent. He is so with you. But the moment I was alone with him, he was another creature; his manner, so glassy and elaborate before, was full of soul, and the tones of his voice entirely different.’ And I have no doubt that she saw expressions, heard tones, and received thoughts from her companions, which no one else ever saw or heard from the same parties, and that her praise of her friends, which seemed exaggerated, was her exact impression. We were all obliged to recall Margaret’s testimony, when we found we were sad blockheads to other people.
I find among her letters many proofs of this power of disposing equally the hardest and the most sensitive people to open their hearts, on very short acquaintance. Any casual rencontre, in a walk, in a steamboat, at a concert, became the prelude to unwonted confidences.
1843. — ‘I believe I told you about one new man, a Philistine, at Brook Farm. He reproved me, as such people are wont, for my little faith. At the end of the first meeting in the hall, he seemed to me perfectly hampered in his old ways and technics, and I thought he would not open his mind to the views of others for years, if ever. After I wrote, we had a second meeting, by request, on personal relations; at the end of which, he came to me, and expressed delight, and a feeling of new light and life, in terms whose modesty might have done honor to the wisest.’
‘This afternoon we met Mr. —— in his wood; and he sat down and told us the story of his life, his courtship, and painted the portraits of his father and mother with most amusing naïveté. He says: — “How do you think I offered myself? I never had told Miss —— that I loved her; never told her she was handsome; and I went to her, and said, ‘Miss ——, I’ve come to offer myself; but first I’ll give you my character. I'm very poor; you'll have to work: I’m very cross and irascible; you'll have everything to bear: and I’ve liked many other pretty girls. Now what do you say?’ and she said, ‘I’ll have you:’ and she’s been everything to me.
‘“My mother was a Calvinist, very strict, but she was always reading ‘Abelard and Eloisa,’ and crying over it. At sixteen, I said to her: ‘Mother, you’ve brought me up well; you've kept me strict. Why don’t I feel that regeneration they talk of? why an’t I one of the elect?’ And she talked to me about the potter using his clay as he pleased; and I said: ‘Mother, God is not a potter: He’s a perfect being; and he can't treat the vessels he makes, anyhow, but with perfect justice, or he's no God. So I’m no Calvinist.’ ”’
Here is a very different picture: —
‘—— has infinite grace and shading in her character: a springing and tender fancy, a Madonna depth of meditative softness, and a purity which has been unstained, and keeps her dignified even in the most unfavorable circumstances. She was born for the love and ornament of life. I can scarcely forbear weeping sometimes, when I look on her, and think what happiness and beauty she might have conferred. She is as yet all unconscious of herself, and she rather dreads being with me, because I make her too conscious. She was on the point, at ——, of telling me all she knew of herself; but I saw she dreaded, while she wished, that I should give a local habitation and a name to what lay undefined, floating before her, the phantom of her destiny; or rather lead her to give it, for she always approaches a tragical clearness when talking with me.’
‘—— has been to see us. But it serves not to know such a person, who perpetually defaces the high by such strange mingling with the low. It certainly is not pleasant to hear of God and Miss Biddeford in a breath. To me, this hasty attempt at skimming from the deeps of theosophy is as unpleasant as the rude vanity of reformers. Dear Beauty! where, where, amid these morasses and pine barrens, shall we make thee a temple? where find a Greek to guard it, — clear-eyed, deep-thoughted, and delicate enough to appreciate the relations and gradations which nature always observes?’
An acute and illuminated woman, who, in this age of indifferentism, holds on with both hands to the creed of the Pilgrims, writes of Margaret, whom she saw but once: — “She looked very sensible, but as if contending with ill health and duties. She lay, all the day and evening, on the sofa, and catechized me, who told my literal traditions, like any old bobbin-woman.”
I add the testimony of a man of letters, and most competent observer, who had, for a long time, opportunities of daily intercourse with her: —
“When I knew Margaret, I was so young, and perhaps too much disposed to meet people on my own ground, that I may not be able to do justice to her. Her nature was so large and receptive, so sympathetic with youth and genius, so aspiring, and withal so womanly in her understanding, that she made her companion think more of himself, and of a common life, than of herself. She was a companion as few others, if indeed any one, have been. Her heart was underneath her intellectualness, her mind was reverent, her spirit devout; a thinker without dryness; a scholar without pedantry. She could appreciate the finest thoughts, and knew the rich soil and large fields of beauty that made the little vase of otto. With her unusual wisdom and religious spirit, she seemed like the priestess of the youth, opening to him the fields of nature; but she was more than a priestess, a companion also. As I recall her image, I think she may have been too intellectual, and too conscious of intellectual relation, so that she was not sufficiently self-centred on her own personality; and hence something of a duality: but I may not be correct in this impression.”