MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI.
* * * * *
Only a learned and a manly soul I purposed her, that should with even powers The rock, the spindle, and the shears control Of Destiny, and spin her own free hours.
Pero che ogni diletto nostro e doglia Sta in si e no saper, voler, potere; Adunque quel sol puo, che col dovere Ne trae la ragion fuor di sua soglia.
Adunque tu, lettor di queste note, S'a te vuoi esser buono, e agli altri caro, Vogli sempre poter quel che tu debbi.
LEONARDO DA VINCI.
BOSTON: PHILLIPS, SAMPSON AND COMPANY. MDCCCLVII.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1851,
BY R.F. FULLER, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts
Stereotyped by HOBART & ROBBINS; NEW ENGLAND TYPE AND STEREOTYPE FOUNDRY; BOSTON.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
VI. JAMAICA PLAIN, By W.H. Channing FIRST IMPRESSIONS A CLUE TRANSCENDENTALISM GENIUS THE DIAL THE WOMAN THE FRIEND SOCIALISM CREDO SELF-SOVEREIGNTY
VII. NEW YORK. JOURNALS, LETTERS, &c. LEAVING HOME THE HIGHLANDS WOMAN THE TRIBUNE AND HORACE GREELEY SOCIETY
VIII. EUROPE. LETTERS LONDON EDINBURGH.—DE QUINCEY CHALMERS A NIGHT ON BEN LOMOND JOANNA BAILLIE.—HOWITTS.—SMITH CARLYLE PARIS RACHEL FOURIER,—ROUSSEAU ROME AMERICANS IN ITALY THE WIFE AND MOTHER THE PRIVATE MARRIAGE AQUILA AND RIETI CALM AFTER STORM MARGARET AND HER PEERS FLORENCE
IX. HOMEWARD By W.H. Channing SPRING-TIME OMENS THE VOYAGE THE WRECK
BY W.H. CHANNING.
* * * * *
"Quando Lo raggio della grazia, onde s'accende Verace amore, e che poi cresce amando, Multiplicato in te tanto risplende, Che ti conduce su per quella scala, U' senza risalir nessun discende, Qual ti negasse 'l vin della sua fiala Por la tua sete, in liberta non fora, Se non com' acqua oh' al mar non si cala."
"Weite Welt und breites Leben, Langer Jahre redlich Streben, Stets geforscht und stets gegruendet, Nie geschlossen, oft geruendet, Aeltestes bewahrt mit Treue, Freundlich aufgefasstes Neue, Heitern Sinn und reine Zwecke: Nun! man kommt wohl eine Strecke."
"My purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down; It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles."
"Remember how august the heart is. It contains the temple not only of Love but of Conscience; and a whisper is heard from the extremity of one to the extremity of the other."
"If all the gentlest-hearted friends I knew Concentred in one heart their gentleness, That still grew gentler till its pulse was less For life than pity,—I should yet be slow To bring my own heart nakedly below The palm of such a friend, that he should press My false, ideal joy and fickle woe Out to full light and knowledge."
* * * * *
It was while Margaret was residing at Jamaica Plain, in the summer of 1839, that we first really met as friends, though for several years previous we had been upon terms of kindest mutual regard. And, as the best way of showing how her wonderful character opened upon me, the growth of our acquaintance shall be briefly traced.
The earliest recollection of Margaret is as a schoolmate of my sisters, in Boston. At that period she was considered a prodigy of talent and accomplishment; but a sad feeling prevailed, that she had been overtasked by her father, who wished to train her like a boy, and that she was paying the penalty for undue application, in nearsightedness, awkward manners, extravagant tendencies of thought, and a pedantic style of talk, that made her a butt for the ridicule of frivolous companions. Some seasons later, I call to mind seeing, at the "Commencements" and "Exhibitions" of Harvard University, a girl, plain in appearance, but of dashing air, who was invariably the centre of a listening group, and kept their merry interest alive by sparkles of wit and incessant small-talk. The bystanders called her familiarly, "Margaret," "Margaret Fuller;" for, though young, she was already noted for conversational gifts, and had the rare skill of attracting to her society, not spirited collegians only, but men mature in culture and of established reputation. It was impossible not to admire her fluency and fun; yet, though curiosity was piqued as to this entertaining personage, I never sought an introduction, but, on the contrary, rather shunned encounter with one so armed from head to foot in saucy sprightliness.
About 1830, however, we often met in the social circles of Cambridge, and I began to observe her more nearly. At first, her vivacity, decisive tone, downrightness, and contempt of conventional standards, continued to repel. She appeared too intense in expression, action, emphasis, to be pleasing, and wanting in that retenue which we associate with delicate dignity. Occasionally, also, words flashed from her of such scathing satire, that prudence counselled the keeping at safe distance from a body so surcharged with electricity. Then, again, there was an imperial—shall it be said imperious?—air, exacting deference to her judgments and loyalty to her behests, that prompted pride to retaliatory measures. She paid slight heed, moreover, to the trim palings of etiquette, but swept through the garden-beds and into the doorway of one's confidence so cavalierly, that a reserved person felt inclined to lock himself up in his sanctum. Finally, to the coolly-scanning eye, her friendships wore a look of such romantic exaggeration, that she seemed to walk enveloped in a shining fog of sentimentalism. In brief, it must candidly be confessed, that I then suspected her of affecting the part of a Yankee Corinna.
But soon I was charmed, unaware, with the sagacity of her sallies, the profound thoughts carelessly dropped by her on transient topics, the breadth and richness of culture manifested in her allusions or quotations, her easy comprehension of new views, her just discrimination, and, above all, her truthfulness. "Truth at all cost," was plainly her ruling maxim. This it was that made her criticism so trenchant, her contempt of pretence so quick and stern, her speech so naked in frankness, her gaze so searching, her whole attitude so alert. Her estimates of men, books, manners, events, art, duty, destiny, were moulded after a grand ideal; and she was a severe judge from the very loftiness of her standard. Her stately deportment, border though it might on arrogance, but expressed high-heartedness. Her independence, even if haughty and rash, was the natural action of a self-centred will, that waited only fit occasion to prove itself heroic. Her earnestness to read the hidden history of others was the gauge of her own emotion. The enthusiasm that made her speech so affluent, when measured by the average scale, was the unconscious overflow of a poetic temperament. And the ardor of her friends' affection proved the faithfulness of her love. Thus gradually the mist melted away, till I caught a glimpse of her real self. We were one evening talking of American literature,—she contrasting its boyish crudity, half boastful, half timid, with the tempered, manly equipoise of thorough-bred European writers, and I asserting that in its mingled practicality and aspiration might be read bright auguries; when, betrayed by sympathy, she laid bare her secret hope of what Woman might be and do, as an author, in our Republic. The sketch was an outline only, and dashed off with a few swift strokes, but therein appeared her own portrait, and we were strangers no more.
It was through the medium of others, however, that at this time I best learned to appreciate Margaret's nobleness of nature and principle. My most intimate friend in the Theological School, James Freeman Clarke, was her constant companion in exploring the rich gardens of German literature; and from his descriptions I formed a vivid image of her industry, comprehensiveness, buoyancy, patience, and came to honor her intelligent interest in high problems of science, her aspirations after spiritual greatness, her fine aesthetic taste, her religiousness. By power to quicken other minds, she showed how living was her own. Yet more near were we brought by common attraction toward a youthful visitor in our circle, the untouched freshness of whose beauty was but the transparent garb of a serene, confiding, and harmonious soul, and whose polished grace, at once modest and naive, sportive and sweet, fulfilled the charm of innate goodness of heart. Susceptible in temperament, anticipating with ardent fancy the lot of a lovely and refined woman, and morbidly exaggerating her own slight personal defects, Margaret seemed to long, as it were, to transfuse with her force this nymph-like form, and to fill her to glowing with her own lyric fire. No drop of envy tainted the sisterly love, with which she sought by genial sympathy thus to live in another's experience, to be her guardian-angel, to shield her from contact with the unworthy, to rouse each generous impulse, to invigorate thought by truth incarnate in beauty, and with unfelt ministry to weave bright threads in her web of fate. Thus more and more Margaret became an object of respectful interest, in whose honor, magnanimity and strength I learned implicitly to trust.
Separation, however, hindered our growing acquaintance, as we both left Cambridge, and, with the exception of a few chance meetings in Boston and a ramble or two in the glens and on the beaches of Rhode Island, held no further intercourse till the summer of 1839, when, as has been already said, the friendship, long before rooted, grew up and leafed and bloomed.
* * * * *
I have no hope of conveying to readers my sense of the beauty of our relation, as it lies in the past with brightness falling on it from Margaret's risen spirit. It would be like printing a chapter of autobiography, to describe what is so grateful in memory, its influence upon one's self. And much of her inner life, as confidentially disclosed, could not be represented without betraying a sacred trust. All that can be done is to open the outer courts, and give a clue for loving hearts to follow. To such these few sentences may serve as a guide.
'When I feel, as I do this morning, the poem of existence, I am repaid for all trial. The bitterness of wounded affection, the disgust at unworthy care, the aching sense of how far deeds are transcended by our lowest aspirations, pass away as I lean on the bosom of Nature, and inhale new life from her breath. Could but love, like knowledge, be its own reward!'
'Oftentimes I have found in those of my own sex more gentleness, grace, and purity, than in myself; but seldom the heroism which I feel within my own breast. I blame not those who think the heart cannot bleed because it is so strong; but little they dream of what lies concealed beneath the determined courage. Yet mine has been the Spartan sternness, smiling while it hides the wound. I long rather for the Christian spirit, which even on the cross prays, "Father, forgive them," and rises above fortitude to heavenly satisfaction.'
* * * * *
'Remember that only through aspirations, which sometimes make me what is called unreasonable, have I been enabled to vanquish unpropitious circumstances, and save my soul alive.'
* * * * *
'All the good I have ever done has been by calling on every nature for its highest. I will admit that sometimes I have been wanting in gentleness, but never in tenderness, nor in noble faith.'
* * * * *
'The heart which hopes and dares is also accessible to terror, and this falls upon it like a thunderbolt. It can never defend itself at the moment, it is so surprised. There is no defence but to strive for an equable temper of courageous submission, of obedient energy, that shall make assault less easy to the foe.
'This is the dart within the heart, as well as I can tell it:—At moments, the music of the universe, which daily I am upheld by hearing, seems to stop. I fall like a bird when the sun is eclipsed, not looking for such darkness. The sense of my individual law—that lamp of life—flickers. I am repelled in what is most natural to me. I feel as, when a suffering child, I would go and lie with my face to the ground, to sob away my little life.'
* * * * *
'In early years, when, though so frank as to the thoughts of the mind, I put no heart confidence in any human being, my refuge was in my journal. I have burned those records of my youth, with its bitter tears, and struggles, and aspirations. Those aspirations were high, and have gained only broader foundations and wider reach. But the leaves had done their work. For years to write there, instead of speaking, had enabled me to soothe myself; and the Spirit was often my friend, when I sought no other. Once again I am willing to take up the cross of loneliness. Resolves are idle, but the anguish of my soul has been, deep. It will not be easy to profane life by rhetoric.'
* * * * *
'I woke thinking of the monks of La Trappe;—how could they bear their silence? When the game of life was lost for me, in youthful anguish I knew well the desire for that vow; but if I had taken it, my heart would have burned out my physical existence long ago.'
* * * * *
'Save me from plunging into the depths to learn the worst, or from being led astray by the winged joys of childish feeling. I pray for truth in proportion as there is strength to receive.'
* * * * *
'My law is incapable of a charter. I pass all bounds, and cannot do otherwise. Those whom it seems to me I am to meet again in the Ages, I meet, soul to soul, now. I have no knowledge of any circumstances except the degree of affinity.'
* * * * *
'I feel that my impatient nature needs the dark days. I would learn the art of limitation, without compromise, and act out my faith with a delicate fidelity. When loneliness becomes too oppressive, I feel Him drawing me nearer, to be soothed by the smile of an All-Intelligent Love. He will not permit the freedom essential to growth to be checked. If I can give myself up to Him, I shall not be too proud, too impetuous, neither too timid, and fearful of a wound or cloud.'
* * * * *
The summer of 1839 saw the full dawn of the Transcendental movement in New England. The rise of this enthusiasm was as mysterious as that of any form of revival; and only they who were of the faith could comprehend how bright was this morning-time of a new hope. Transcendentalism was an assertion of the inalienable integrity of man, of the immanence of Divinity in instinct. In part, it was a reaction against Puritan Orthodoxy; in part, an effect of renewed study of the ancients, of Oriental Pantheists, of Plato and the Alexandrians, of Plutarch's Morals, Seneca and Epictetus; in part, the natural product of the culture of the place and time. On the somewhat stunted stock of Unitarianism,—whose characteristic dogma was trust in individual reason as correlative to Supreme Wisdom,—had been grafted German Idealism, as taught by masters of most various schools,—by Kant and Jacobi, Fichte and Novalis, Schelling and Hegel, Schleiermacher and De Wette, by Madame de Stael, Cousin, Coleridge, and Carlyle; and the result was a vague yet exalting conception of the godlike nature of the human spirit. Transcendentalism, as viewed by its disciples, was a pilgrimage from the idolatrous world of creeds and rituals to the temple of the Living God in the soul. It was a putting to silence of tradition and formulas, that the Sacred Oracle might be heard through intuitions of the single-eyed and pure-hearted. Amidst materialists, zealots, and sceptics, the Transcendentalist believed in perpetual inspiration, the miraculous power of will, and a birthright to universal good. He sought to hold communion face to face with the unnameable Spirit of his spirit, and gave himself up to the embrace of nature's beautiful joy, as a babe seeks the breast of a mother. To him the curse seemed past; and love was without fear. "All mine is thine" sounded forth to him in ceaseless benediction, from flowers and stars, through the poetry, art, heroism of all ages, in the aspirations of his own genius, and the budding promise of the time. His work was to be faithful, as all saints, sages, and lovers of man had been, to Truth, as the very Word of God. His maxims were,—"Trust, dare and be; infinite good is ready for your asking; seek and find. All that your fellows can claim or need is that you should become, in fact, your highest self; fulfil, then, your ideal." Hence, among the strong, withdrawal to private study and contemplation, that they might be "alone with the Alone;" solemn yet glad devotedness to the Divine leadings in the inmost will; calm concentration of thought to wait for and receive wisdom; dignified independence, stern yet sweet, of fashion and public opinion; honest originality of speech and conduct, exempt alike from apology or dictation, from servility or scorn. Hence, too, among the weak, whimsies, affectation, rude disregard of proprieties, slothful neglect of common duties, surrender to the claims of natural appetite, self-indulgence, self-absorption, and self-idolatry.
By their very posture of mind, as seekers of the new, the Transcendentalists were critics and "come-outers" from the old. Neither the church, the state, the college, society, nor even reform associations, had a hold upon their hearts. The past might be well enough for those who, without make-belief, could yet put faith in common dogmas and usages; but for them the matin-bells of a new day were chiming, and the herald-trump of freedom was heard upon the mountains. Hence, leaving ecclesiastical organizations, political parties, and familiar circles, which to them were brown with drought, they sought in covert nooks of friendship for running waters, and fruit from the tree of life. The journal, the letter, became of greater worth than the printed page; for they felt that systematic results were not yet to be looked for, and that in sallies of conjecture, glimpses and flights of ecstasy, the "Newness" lifted her veil to her votaries. Thus, by mere attraction of affinity, grew together the brotherhood of the "Like-minded," as they were pleasantly nicknamed by outsiders, and by themselves, on the ground that no two were of the same opinion. The only password of membership to this association, which had no compact, records, or officers, was a hopeful and liberal spirit; and its chance conventions were determined merely by the desire of the caller for a "talk," or by the arrival of some guest from a distance with a budget of presumptive novelties. Its "symposium" was a pic-nic, whereto each brought of his gains, as he felt prompted, a bunch of wild grapes from the woods, or bread-corn from his threshing-floor. The tone of the assemblies was cordial welcome for every one's peculiarity; and scholars, farmers, mechanics, merchants, married women, and maidens, met there on a level of courteous respect. The only guest not tolerated was intolerance; though strict justice might add, that these "Illuminati" were as unconscious of their special cant as smokers are of the perfume of their weed, and that a professed declaration of universal independence turned out in practice to be rather oligarchic.
Of the class of persons most frequently found at these meetings Margaret has left the following sketch:—
'"I am not mad, most noble Festus," was Paul's rejoinder, as he turned upon his vulgar censor with the grace of a courtier, the dignity of a prophet, and the mildness of a saint. But many there are, who, adhering to the faith of the soul with that unusual earnestness which the world calls "mad," can answer their critics only by the eloquence of their characters and lives. Now, the other day, while visiting a person whose highest merit, so far as I know, is to save his pennies, I was astounded by hearing him allude to some of most approved worth among us, thus: "You know we consider those men insane."
'What this meant, I could not at first well guess, so completely was my scale of character turned topsy-turvy. But revolving the subject afterward, I perceived that WE was the multiple of Festus, and THOSE MEN of Paul. All the circumstances seemed the same as in that Syrian hall; for the persons in question were they who cared more for doing good than for fortune and success,—more for the one risen from the dead than for fleshly life,—more for the Being in whom we live and move than for King Agrippa.
'Among this band of candidates for the mad-house, I found the young poet who valued insight of nature's beauty, and the power of chanting to his fellow-men a heavenly music, above the prospect of fortune, political power, or a standing in fashionable society. At the division of the goods of this earth, he was wandering like Schiller's poet. But the difference between American and German regulations would seem to be, that in Germany the poet, when not "with Jove," is left at peace on earth; while here he is, by a self-constituted police, declared "mad."
'Another of this band was the young girl who, early taking a solemn view of the duties of life, found it difficult to serve an apprenticeship to its follies. She could not turn her sweetness into "manner," nor cultivate love of approbation at the expense of virginity of heart. In so called society she found no outlet for her truest, fairest self, and so preferred to live with external nature, a few friends, her pencil, instrument, and books. She, they say, is "mad."
'And he, the enthusiast for reform, who gives away fortune, standing in the world, peace, and only not life, because bigotry is now afraid to exact the pound of flesh as well as the ducats,—he, whose heart beats high with hopes for the welfare of his race, is "mad."
'And he, the philosopher, who does not tie down his speculation to the banner of the day, but lets the wings of his thought upbear him where they will, as if they were stronger and surer than the balloon let off for the amusement of the populace,—he must be "mad." Off with him to the moon! that paradise of noble fools, who had visions of possibilities too grand and lovely for this sober earth.
'And ye, friends, and lovers, who see, through all the films of human nature, in those you love, a divine energy, worthy of creatures who have their being in very God, ye, too, are "mad" to think they can walk in the dust, and yet shake it from their feet when they come upon the green. These are no winged Mercuries, no silver-sandalled Madonnas. Listen to "the world's" truth and soberness, and we will show you that your heart would be as well placed in a hospital, as in these air-born palaces.
'And thou, priest, seek thy God among the people, and not in the shrine. The light need not penetrate thine own soul. Thou canst catch the true inspiration from the eyes of thy auditors. Not the Soul of the World, not the ever-flowing voice of nature, but the articulate accents of practical utility, should find thy ear ever ready. Keep always among men, and consider what they like; for in the silence of thine own breast will be heard the voices that make men "mad." Why shouldst thou judge of the consciousness of others by thine own? May not thine own soul have been made morbid, by retiring too much within? If Jesus of Nazareth had not fasted and prayed so much alone, the devil could never have tempted him; if he had observed the public mind more patiently and carefully, he would have waited till the time was ripe, and the minds of men prepared for what he had to say. He would thus have escaped the ignominious death, which so prematurely cut short his "usefulness." Jewry would thus, gently, soberly, and without disturbance, have been led to a better course.
'"Children of this generation!"—ye Festuses and Agrippas!—ye are wiser, we grant, than "the children of light;" yet we advise you to commend to a higher tribunal those whom much learning, or much love, has made "mad." For if they stay here, almost will they persuade even you!'
Amidst these meetings of the Transcendentalists it was, that, after years of separation, I again found Margaret. Of this body she was member by grace of nature. Her romantic freshness of heart, her craving for the truth, her self-trust, had prepared her from childhood to be a pioneer in prairie-land; and her discipline in German schools had given definite form and tendency to her idealism. Her critical yet aspiring intellect filled her with longing for germs of positive affirmation in place of the chaff of thrice-sifted negation; while her aesthetic instinct responded in accord to the praise of Beauty as the beloved heir of Good and Truth, whose right it is to reign. On the other hand, strong common-sense saved her from becoming visionary, while she was too well-read as a scholar to be caught by conceits, and had been too sternly tried by sorrow to fall into fanciful effeminacy. It was a pleasing surprise to see how this friend of earlier days was acknowledged as a peer of the realm, in this new world of thought. Men,—her superiors in years, fame and social position,—treated her more with the frankness due from equal to equal, than the half-condescending deference with which scholars are wont to adapt themselves to women. They did not talk down to her standard, nor translate their dialect into popular phrase, but trusted to her power of interpretation. It was evident that they prized her verdict, respected her criticism, feared her rebuke, and looked to her as an umpire. Very observable was it, also, how, in side-talks with her, they became confidential, seemed to glow and brighten into their best mood, and poured out in full measure what they but scantily hinted in the circle at large.
* * * * *
It was quite a study to watch the phases through which Margaret passed, in one of these assemblies. There was something in the air and step with which she chose her place in the company, betokening an instinctive sense, that, in intellect, she was of blood royal and needed to ask no favors. And then she slowly gathered her attention to take in the significance of the scene. Near-sighted and habitually using an eye-glass, she rapidly scanned the forms and faces, pausing intently where the expression of particular heads or groups suggested thought, and ending her survey with some apt home-thrust to her next neighbors, as if to establish full rapport, and so to become a medium for the circulating life. Only when thus in magnetic relations with all present, by a clear impress of their state and place, did she seem prepared to rise to a higher stage of communion. Then she listened, with ear finely vibrating to every tone, with all capacities responsive in sympathy, with a swift and ductile power of appreciation, that made her feel to the quick the varying moods of different speakers, and yet the while with coolest self-possession. Now and then a slight smile, flickering over her countenance, as lightning plays on the surface of a cloud, marked the inward process whereby she was harmonizing in equilibrium opposing thoughts. And, as occasion offered, a felicitous quotation, pungent apothegm, or symbolic epithet, dropped unawares in undertone, showed how swiftly scattered rays were brought in her mind to a focus.
When her turn came, by a graceful transition she resumed the subject where preceding speakers had left it, and, briefly summing up their results, proceeded to unfold her own view. Her opening was deliberate, like the progress of some massive force gaining its momentum; but as she felt her way, and moving in a congenial element, the sweep of her speech became grand. The style of her eloquence was sententious, free from prettiness, direct, vigorous, charged with vitality. Articulateness, just emphasis and varied accent, brought out most delicate shades and brilliant points of meaning, while a rhythmical collocation of words gave a finished form to every thought. She was affluent in historic illustration and literary allusion, as well as in novel hints. She knew how to concentrate into racy phrases the essential truth gathered from wide research, and distilled with patient toil; and by skilful treatment she could make green again the wastes of common-place. Her statements, however rapid, showed breadth of comprehension, ready memory, impartial judgment, nice analysis of differences, power of penetrating through surfaces to realities, fixed regard to central laws and habitual communion with the Life of life. Critics, indeed, might have been tempted to sneer at a certain oracular grandiloquence, that bore away her soberness in moments of elation; though even the most captious must presently have smiled at the humor of her descriptive touches, her dexterous exposure of folly and pretension, the swift stroke of her bright wit, her shrewd discernment, promptitude, and presence of mind. The reverential, too, might have been pained at the sternness wherewith popular men, measures, and established customs, were tried and found guilty, at her tribunal; but even while blaming her aspirations as rash, revolutionary and impractical, no honest conservative could fail to recognize the sincerity of her aim. And every deep observer of character would have found the explanation of what seemed vehement or too high-strung, in the longing of a spirited woman to break every trammel that checked her growth or fettered her movement.
In conversations like these, one saw that the richness of Margaret's genius resulted from a rare combination of opposite qualities. To her might have been well applied the words first used as describing George Sand: "Thou large-brained Woman, and large-hearted Man." She blended in closest union and swift interplay feminine receptiveness with masculine energy. She was at once impressible and creative, impulsive and deliberate, pliant in sympathy yet firmly self-centred, confidingly responsive while commanding in originality. By the vivid intensity of her conceptions, she brought out in those around their own consciousness, and, by the glowing vigor of her intellect, roused into action their torpid powers. On the other hand, she reproduced a truth, whose germ had just been imbibed from others, moulded after her own image and quickened by her own life, with marvellous rapidity. And the presence of congenial minds so stimulated the prolific power of her imagination, that she was herself astonished at the fresh beauty of her new-born thoughts. 'There is a mortifying sense,' she writes,
'of having played the Mirabeau after a talk with a circle of intelligent persons. They come with a store of acquired knowledge and reflection, on the subject in debate, about which I may know little, and have reflected less; yet, by mere apprehensiveness and prompt intuition, I may appear their superior. Spontaneously I appropriate all their material, and turn it to my own ends, as if it was my inheritance from a long train of ancestors. Rays of truth flash out at the moment, and they are startled by the light thrown over their familiar domain. Still they are gainers, for I give them new impulse, and they go on their way rejoicing in the bright glimpses they have caught. I should despise myself, if I purposely appeared thus brilliant, but I am inspired as by a power higher than my own.'
All friends will bear witness to the strict fidelity of this sketch. There were seasons when she seemed borne irresistibly on to the verge of prophecy, and fully embodied one's notion of a sibyl.
Admirable as Margaret appeared in public, I was yet more affected by this peculiar mingling of impressibility and power to influence, when brought within her private sphere. I know not how otherwise to describe her subtle charm, than by saying that she was at once a clairvoyante and a magnetizer. She read another's bosom-secret, and she imparted of her own force. She interpreted the cipher in the talisman of one's destiny, that he had tried in vain to spell alone; by sympathy she brought out the invisible characters traced by experience on his heart; and in the mirror of her conscience he might see the image of his very self, as dwarfed in actual appearance, or developed after the divine ideal. Her sincerity was terrible. In her frank exposure no foible was spared, though by her very reproof she roused dormant courage and self-confidence. And so unerring seemed her insight, that her companion felt as if standing bare before a disembodied spirit, and communicated without reserve thoughts and emotions, which, even to himself, he had scarcely named.
This penetration it was that caused Margaret to be so dreaded, in general society, by superficial observers. They, who came nigh enough to test the quality of her spirit, could not but perceive how impersonal was her justice; but, contrasted with the dead flat of conventional tolerance, her candor certainly looked rugged and sharp. The frivolous were annoyed at her contempt of their childishness, the ostentatious piqued at her insensibility to their show, and the decent scared lest they should be stripped of their shams; partisans were vexed by her spurning their leaders; and professional sneerers,—civil in public to those whom in private they slandered,—could not pardon the severe truth whereby she drew the sting from their spite. Indeed, how could so undisguised a censor but shock the prejudices of the moderate, and wound the sensibilities of the diffident; how but enrage the worshippers of new demi-gods in literature, art and fashion, whose pet shrines she demolished; how but cut to the quick, alike by silence or by speech, the self-love of the vain, whose claims she ignored? So gratuitous, indeed, appeared her hypercriticism, that I could not refrain from remonstrance, and to one of my appeals she thus replied:
'If a horror for the mania of little great men, so prevalent in this country,—if aversion to the sentimental exaggerations to which so many minds are prone,—if finding that most men praise, as well as blame, too readily, and that overpraise desecrates the lips and makes the breath unworthy to blow the coal of devotion,—if rejection of the ——s and ——s, from a sense that the priestess must reserve her paeans for Apollo,—if untiring effort to form my mind to justice and revere only the superlatively good, that my praise might be praise; if this be to offend, then have I offended.'
* * * * *
Several talks among the Transcendentalists, during the autumn of 1839, turned upon the propriety of establishing an organ for the expression of freer views than the conservative journals were ready to welcome. The result was the publication of the "Dial," the first number of which appeared early in the summer of 1840, under the editorship of Margaret, aided by R.W. Emerson and George Ripley. How moderate were her own hopes, in regard to this enterprise, is clearly enough shown by passages from her correspondence.
'Jamaica Plain, 22d March, 1840. * * * I have a great deal written, but, as I read it over, scarce a word seems pertinent to the place or time. When I meet people, it is easy to adapt myself to them; but when I write, it is into another world,—not a better one, perhaps, but one with very dissimilar habits of thought to this wherein I am domesticated. How much those of us, who have been formed by the European mind, have to unlearn, and lay aside, if we would act here! I would fain do something worthily that belonged to the country where I was born, but most times I fear it may not be.
'What others can do,—whether all that has been said is the mere restlessness of discontent, or there are thoughts really struggling for utterance,—will be tested now. A perfectly free organ is to be offered for the expression of individual thought and character. There are no party measures to be carried, no particular standard to be set up. A fair, calm tone, a recognition of universal principles, will, I hope, pervade the essays in every form. I trust there will be a spirit neither of dogmatism nor of compromise, and that this journal will aim, not at leading public opinion, but at stimulating each man to judge for himself, and to think more deeply and more nobly, by letting him see how some minds are kept alive by a wise self-trust. We must not be sanguine as to the amount of talent which will be brought to bear on this publication. All concerned are rather indifferent, and there is no great promise for the present. We cannot show high culture, and I doubt about vigorous thought. But we shall manifest free action as far as it goes, and a high aim. It were much if a periodical could be kept open, not to accomplish any outward object, but merely to afford an avenue for what of liberal and calm thought might be originated among us, by the wants of individual minds.' * *
* * * * *
'April 19, 1840.—Things go on pretty well, but doubtless people will be disappointed, for they seem to be looking for the Gospel of Transcendentalism. It may prove as Jouffroy says it was with the successive French ministries: "The public wants something positive, and, seeing that such and such persons are excellent at fault-finding, it raises them to be rulers, when, lo! they have no noble and full Yea, to match their shrill and bold Nay, and so are pulled down again." Mr. Emerson knows best what he wants; but he has already said it in various ways. Yet, this experiment is well worth trying; hearts beat so high, they must be full of something, and here is a way to breathe it out quite freely. It is for dear New England that I want this review. For myself, if I had wished to write a few pages now and then, there were ways and means enough of disposing of them. But in truth I have not much to say; for since I have had leisure to look at myself, I find that, so far from being an original genius, I have not yet learned to think to any depth, and that the utmost I have done in life has been to form my character to a certain consistency, cultivate my tastes, and learn to tell the truth with a little better grace than I did at first. For this the world will not care much, so I shall hazard a few critical remarks only, or an unpretending chalk sketch now and then, till I have learned to do something. There will be beautiful poesies; about prose we know not yet so well. We shall be the means of publishing the little Charles Emerson left as a mark of his noble course, and, though it lies in fragments, all who read will be gainers.'
* * * * *
'1840.—Since the Revolution, there has been little, in the circumstances of this country, to call out the higher sentiments. The effect of continued prosperity is the same on nations as on individuals,—it leaves the nobler faculties undeveloped. The need of bringing out the physical resources of a vast extent of country, the commercial and political fever incident to our institutions, tend to fix the eyes of men on what is local and temporary, on the external advantages of their condition. The superficial diffusion of knowledge, unless attended by a correspondent deepening of its sources, is likely to vulgarize rather than to raise the thought of a nation, depriving them of another sort of education through sentiments of reverence, and leading the multitude to believe themselves capable of judging what they but dimly discern. They see a wide surface, and forget the difference between seeing and knowing. In this hasty way of thinking and living they traverse so much ground that they forget that not the sleeping railroad passenger, but the botanist, the geologist, the poet, really see the country, and that, to the former, "a miss is as good as a mile." In a word, the tendency of circumstances has been to make our people superficial, irreverent, and more anxious to get a living than to live mentally and morally. This tendency is no way balanced by the slight literary culture common here, which is mostly English, and consists in a careless reading of publications of the day, having the same utilitarian tendency with our own proceedings. The infrequency of acquaintance with any of the great fathers of English lore marks this state of things.
'New England is now old enough,—some there have leisure enough,—to look at all this; and the consequence is a violent reaction, in a small minority, against a mode of culture that rears such fruits. They see that political freedom does not necessarily produce liberality of mind, nor freedom in church institutions—vital religion; and, seeing that these changes cannot be wrought from without inwards, they are trying to quicken the soul, that they may work from within outwards. Disgusted with the vulgarity of a commercial aristocracy, they become radicals; disgusted with the materialistic working of "rational" religion, they become mystics. They quarrel with all that is, because it is not spiritual enough. They would, perhaps, be patient if they thought this the mere sensuality of childhood in our nation, which it might outgrow; but they think that they see the evil widening, deepening,—not only debasing the life, but corrupting the thought, of our people, and they feel that if they know not well what should be done, yet that the duty of every good man is to utter a protest against what is done amiss.
'Is this protest undiscriminating? are these opinions crude? do these proceedings threaten to sap the bulwarks on which men at present depend? I confess it all, yet I see in these men promise of a better wisdom than in their opponents. Their hope for man is grounded on his destiny as an immortal soul, and not as a mere comfort-loving inhabitant of earth, or as a subscriber to the social contract. It was not meant that the soul should cultivate the earth, but that the earth should educate and maintain the soul. Man is not made for society, but society is made for man. No institution can be good which does not tend to improve the individual. In these principles I have confidence so profound, that I am not afraid to trust those who hold them, despite their partial views, imperfectly developed characters, and frequent want of practical sagacity. I believe, if they have opportunity to state and discuss their opinions, they will gradually sift them, ascertain their grounds and aims with clearness, and do the work this country needs. I hope for them as for "the leaven that is hidden in the bushel of meal, till all be leavened." The leaven is not good by itself, neither is the meal; let them combine, and we shall yet have bread.
'Utopia it is impossible to build up. At least, my hopes for our race on this one planet are more limited than those of most of my friends. I accept the limitations of human nature, and believe a wise acknowledgment of them one of the best conditions of progress. Yet every noble scheme, every poetic manifestation, prophesies to man his eventual destiny. And were not man ever more sanguine than facts at the moment justify, he would remain torpid, or be sunk in sensuality. It is on this ground that I sympathize with what is called the "Transcendental party," and that I feel their aim to be the true one. They acknowledge in the nature of man an arbiter for his deeds,—a standard transcending sense and time,—and are, in my view, the true utilitarians. They are but at the beginning of their course, and will, I hope, learn how to make use of the past, as well as to aspire for the future, and to be true in the present moment.
'My position as a woman, and the many private duties which have filled my life, have prevented my thinking deeply on several of the great subjects which these friends have at heart. I suppose, if ever I become capable of judging, I shall differ from most of them on important points. But I am not afraid to trust any who 'are true, and in intent noble, with their own course, nor to aid in enabling them to express their thoughts, whether I coincide with them or not.
'On the subject of Christianity, my mind is clear. If Divine, it will stand the test of any comparison. I believe the reason it has so imperfectly answered to the aspirations of its Founder is, that men have received it on external grounds. I believe that a religion, thus received, may give the life an external decorum, but will never open the fountains of holiness in the soul.
'One often thinks of Hamlet as the true representative of idealism in its excess. Yet if, in his short life, man be liable to some excess, should we not rather prefer to have the will palsied like Hamlet, by a deep-searching tendency and desire for poetic perfection, than to have it enlightened by worldly sagacity, as in the case of Julius Caesar, or made intense by pride alone, as in that of Coriolanus?
'After all, I believe it is absurd to attempt to speak on these subjects within the limits of a letter. I will try to say what I mean in print some day. Yet one word as to "the material," in man. Is it not the object of all philosophy, as well as of religion and poetry, to prevent its prevalence? Must not those who see most truly be ever making statements of the truth to combat this sluggishness, or worldliness? What else are sages, poets, preachers, born to do? Men go an undulating course,—sometimes on the hill, sometimes in the valley. But he only is in the right who in the valley forgets not the hill-prospect, and knows in darkness that the sun will rise again. That is the real life which is subordinated to, not merged in, the ideal; he is only wise who can bring the lowest act of his life into sympathy with its highest thought. And this I take to be the one only aim of our pilgrimage here. I agree with those who think that no true philosophy will try to ignore or annihilate the material part of man, but will rather seek to put it in its place, as servant and minister to the soul.'
* * * * *
In 1839 I had met Margaret upon the plane of intellect. In the summer of 1840, on my return from the West, she was to be revealed in a new aspect.
It was a radiant and refreshing morning, when I entered the parlor of her pleasant house, standing upon a slope beyond Jamaica Plain to the south. She was absent at the moment, and there was opportunity to look from the windows on a cheerful prospect, over orchards and meadows, to the wooded hills and the western sky. Presently Margaret appeared, bearing in her hand a vase of flowers, which she had been gathering in the garden. After exchange of greetings, her first words were of the flowers, each of which was symbolic to her of emotion, and associated with the memory of some friend. I remember her references only to the Daphne Odora, the Provence Rose, the sweet-scented Verbena, and the Heliotrope; the latter being her chosen emblem, true bride of the sun that it is.
From flowers she passed to engravings hanging round the room. 'Here,' said she, 'are Dante and Beatrice.
"Approach, and know that I am Beatrice. The power of ancient love was strong within me."
'She is beautiful enough, is not she, for that higher moment? But Dante! Yet who could paint a Dante,—and Dante in heaven? They give but his shadow, as he walked in the forest-maze of earth. Then here is the Madonna del Pesce; not divine, like the Foligno, not deeply maternal, like the Seggiola, not the beaetified "Mother of God" of the Dresden gallery, but graceful, and "not too bright and good for human nature's daily food." And here is Raphael himself, the young seer of beauty, with eyes softly contemplative, yet lit with central fires,' &c.
There were gems, too, and medallions and seals, to be examined, each enigmatical, and each blended by remembrances with some fair hour of her past life.
Talk on art led the way to Greece and the Greeks, whose mythology Margaret was studying afresh. She had been culling the blooms of that poetic land, and could not but offer me leaves from her garland. She spoke of the statue of Minerva-Polias, cut roughly from an olive-tree, yet cherished as the heaven-descended image of the most sacred shrine, to which was due the Panathenaic festival.
'The less ideal perfection in the figure, the greater the reverence of the adorer. Was not this because spiritual imagination makes light of results, and needs only a germ whence to unfold Olympic splendors?'
She spoke of the wooden column, left standing from the ruins of the first temple to Juno, amidst the marble walls of the magnificent fane erected in its place:—
'This is a most beautiful type, is not it, of the manner in which life's earliest experiences become glorified by our perfecting destiny?'
'In the temple of Love and the Graces, one Grace bore a rose, a second a branch of myrtle, a third dice;—who can read that riddle?
'"Better is it," said Appollonius, "on entering a small shrine to find there a statue of gold and ivory, than in a large temple to behold only a coarse figure of terra cotta." How often, after leaving with disgust the so-called great affairs of men, do we find traces of angels' visits in quiet scenes of home.
'The Hours and the Graces appear as ornaments on all thrones and shrines, except those of Vulcan and Pluto. Alas for us, when we become so sunk in utilitarian toil as to be blind to the beauty with which even common cares are daily wreathed!'
And so on and on, with myth and allusion.
Next, Margaret spoke of the friends whose generosity had provided the decorations on her walls, and the illustrated books for her table,—friends who were fellow-students in art, history, or science,—friends whose very life she shared. Her heart seemed full to overflow with sympathy for their joys and sorrows, their special trials and struggles, their peculiar tendencies of character and respective relations. The existence of each was to her a sacred process, whose developments she watched with awe, and whose leadings she reverently sought to aid. She had scores of pretty anecdotes to tell, sweet bowers of sentiment to open, significant lessons of experience to interpret, and scraps of journals or letters to read aloud, as the speediest means of introducing me to her chosen circle. There was a fascinating spell in her piquant descriptions, and a genial glow of sympathy animated to characteristic movement the figures, who in varying pantomime replaced one another on the theatre of her fancy. Frost-bound New England melted into a dreamland of romance beneath the spice-breeze of her Eastern narrative. Sticklers for propriety might have found fault at the freedom with which she confided her friends' histories to one who was a comparative stranger to them; but I could not but note how conscientiousness reined in her sensibilities and curbed their career, as they reached the due bounds of privacy. She did but realize one's conception of the transparent truthfulness that will pervade advanced societies of the future, where the very atmosphere shall be honorable faith.
Nearer and nearer Margaret was approaching a secret throned in her heart that day; and the preceding transitions were but a prelude of her orchestra before the entrance of the festal group. Unconsciously she made these preparations for paying worthy honors to a high sentiment. She had lately heard of the betrothal of two of her best-loved friends; and she wished to communicate the graceful story in a way that should do justice to the facts and to her own feelings. It was by a spontaneous impulse of her genius, and with no voluntary foreshaping, that she had grouped the previous tales; but no drama could have been more artistically constructed than the steps whereby she led me onward to the denouement; and the look, tone, words, with which she told it, were fluent with melody as the song of an improvisatrice.
Scarcely had she finished, when, offering some light refreshment,—as it was now past noon,—she proposed a walk in the open air. She led the way to Bussey's wood, her favorite retreat during the past year, where she had thought and read, or talked with intimate friends. We climbed the rocky path, resting a moment or two at every pretty point, till, reaching a moss-cushioned ledge near the summit, she seated herself. For a time she was silent, entranced in delighted communion with the exquisite hue of the sky, seen through interlacing boughs and trembling leaves, and the play of shine and shadow over the wide landscape. But soon, arousing from her reverie, she took up the thread of the morning's talk. My part was to listen; for I was absorbed in contemplating this, to me, quite novel form of character. It has been seen how my early distaste for Margaret's society was gradually changed to admiration. Like all her friends, I had passed through an avenue of sphinxes before reaching the temple. But now it appeared that thus far I had never been admitted to the adytum.
As, leaning on one arm, she poured out her stream of thought, turning now and then her eyes full upon me, to see whether I caught her meaning, there was leisure to study her thoroughly. Her temperament was predominantly what the physiologists would call nervous-sanguine; and the gray eye, rich brown hair and light complexion, with the muscular and well-developed frame, bespoke delicacy balanced by vigor. Here was a sensitive yet powerful being, fit at once for rapture or sustained effort, intensely active, prompt for adventure, firm for trial. She certainly had not beauty; yet the high arched dome of the head, the changeful expressiveness of every feature, and her whole air of mingled dignity and impulse, gave her a commanding charm. Especially characteristic were two physical traits. The first was a contraction of the eyelids almost to a point,—a trick caught from near-sightedness,—and then a sudden dilation, till the iris seemed to emit flashes;—an effect, no doubt, dependent on her highly-magnetized condition. The second was a singular pliancy of the vertebrae and muscles of the neck, enabling her by a mere movement to denote each varying emotion; in moments of tenderness, or pensive feeling, its curves were swan-like in grace, but when she was scornful or indignant it contracted, and made swift turns like that of a bird of prey. Finally, in the animation, yet abandon of Margaret's attitude and look, were rarely blended the fiery force of northern, and the soft languor of southern races.
Meantime, as I was thus, through her physiognomy, tracing the outlines of her spiritual form, she was narrating chapters from the book of experience. How superficially, heretofore, had I known her! We had met chiefly as scholars. But now I saw before me one whose whole life had been a poem,—of boundless aspiration and hope almost wild in its daring,—of indomitable effort amidst poignant disappointment,—of widest range, yet persistent unity. Yes! here was a poet in deed, a true worshipper of Apollo, who had steadfastly striven to brighten and make glad existence, to harmonize all jarring and discordant strings, to fuse most hard conditions and cast them in a symmetric mould, to piece fragmentary fortunes into a mosaic symbol of heavenly order. Here was one, fond as a child of joy, eager as a native of the tropics for swift transition from luxurious rest to passionate excitement, prodigal to pour her mingled force of will, thought, sentiment, into the life of the moment, all radiant with imagination, longing for communion with artists of every age in their inspired hours, fitted by genius and culture to mingle as an equal in the most refined circles of Europe, and yet her youth and early womanhood had passed away amid the very decent, yet drudging, descendants of the prim Puritans. Trained among those who could have discerned her peculiar power, and early fed with the fruits of beauty for which her spirit pined, she would have developed into one of the finest lyrists, romancers and critics, that the modern literary world has seen. This she knew; and this tantalization of her fate she keenly felt.
But the tragedy of Margaret's history was deeper yet. Behind the poet was the woman,—the fond and relying, the heroic and disinterested woman. The very glow of her poetic enthusiasm was but an outflush of trustful affection; the very restlessness of her intellect was the confession that her heart had found no home. A "book-worm," "a dilettante," "a pedant," I had heard her sneeringly called; but now it was evident that her seeming insensibility was virgin pride, and her absorption in study the natural vent of emotions, which had met no object worthy of life-long attachment. At once, many of her peculiarities became intelligible. Fitfulness, unlooked-for changes of mood, misconceptions of words and actions, substitution of fancy for fact,—which had annoyed me during the previous season, as inconsistent in a person of such capacious judgment and sustained self-government,—were now referred to the morbid influence of affections pent up to prey upon themselves. And, what was still more interesting, the clue was given to a singular credulousness, by which, in spite of her unusual penetration, Margaret might be led away blindfold. As this revelation of her ardent nature burst upon me, and as, rapidly recalling the past, I saw how faithful she had kept to her high purposes,—how patient, gentle, and thoughtful for others, how active in self-improvement and usefulness, how wisely dignified she had been,—I could not but bow to her in reverence.
We walked back to the house amid a rosy sunset, and it was with no surprise that I heard her complain of an agonizing nervous headache, which compelled her at once to retire, and call for assistance. As for myself, while going homeward, I reflected with astonishment on the unflagging spiritual energy with which, for hour after hour, she had swept over lands and seas of thought, and, as my own excitement cooled, I became conscious of exhaustion, as if a week's life had been concentrated in a day.
The interview, thus hastily sketched, may serve as a fair type of our usual intercourse. Always I found her open-eyed to beauty, fresh for wonder, with wings poised for flight, and fanning the coming breeze of inspiration. Always she seemed to see before her,
"A shape all light, which with one hand did fling Dew on the earth, as if she were the dawn, And the invisible rain did ever sing A silver music on the mossy lawn."
Yet more and more distinctly did I catch a plaintive tone of sorrow in her thought and speech, like the wail of an AEolian harp heard at intervals from some upper window. She had never met one who could love her as she could love; and in the orange-grove of her affections the white, perfumed blossoms and golden fruit wasted away unclaimed. Through the mask of slight personal defects and ungraceful manners, of superficial hauteur and egotism, and occasional extravagance of sentiment, no equal had recognized the rare beauty of her spirit. She was yet alone.
Among her papers remains this pathetic petition:—
'I am weary of thinking. I suffer great fatigue from living. Oh God, take me! take me wholly! Thou knowest that I love none but Thee. All this beautiful poesy of my being lies in Thee. Deeply I feel it. I ask nothing. Each desire, each passionate feeling, is on the surface only; inmostly Thou keepest me strong and pure. Yet always to be thus going out into moments, into nature, and love, and thought! Father, I am weary! Reassume me for a while, I pray Thee. Oh let me rest awhile in Thee, Thou only Love! In the depth of my prayer I suffer much. Take me only awhile. No fellow-being will receive me. I cannot pause; they will not detain me by their love. Take me awhile, and again I will go forth on a renewed service. It is not that I repine, my Father, but I sink from want of rest, and none will shelter me. Thou knowest it all. Bathe me in the living waters of Thy Love.'
* * * * *
Yet, conscious as she was of an unfulfilled destiny, and of an undeveloped being, Margaret was no pining sentimentalist. The gums oozing from wounded boughs she burned as incense in her oratory; but in outward relations she was munificent with sympathy.
'Let me be, Theodora, a bearer of heavenly gifts to my fellows,'
is written in her journals, and her life fulfilled the aspiration. The more one observed her, the more surprising appeared the variety, earnestness, and constancy of her friendships. Far and wide reached her wires of communication, and incessant was the interchange of messages of good-will. She was never so preoccupied and absorbed as to deny a claimant for her affectionate interest; she never turned her visitors back upon themselves, mortified and vexed at being misunderstood. With delicate justice she appreciated the special form, force, tendency of utterly dissimilar characters and her heart responded to every appeal alike of humblest suffering or loftiest endeavor. In the plain, yet eloquent phrase of the backwoodsman, "the string of her door-latch was always out," and every wayfarer was free to share the shelter of her roof, or a seat beside her hearth-stone. Or, rather, it might be said, in symbol of her wealth of spirit, her palace, with its galleries of art, its libraries and festal-halls, welcomed all guests who could enjoy and use them.
She was, indeed, The Friend. This was her vocation. She bore at her girdle a golden key to unlock all caskets of confidence. Into whatever home she entered she brought a benediction of truth, justice, tolerance, and honor; and to every one who sought her to confess, or seek counsel, she spoke the needed word of stern yet benignant wisdom. To how many was the forming of her acquaintance an era of renovation, of awakening from sloth, indulgence or despair, to heroic mastery of fate, of inward serenity and strength, of new-birth to real self-hood, of catholic sympathies, of energy consecrated to the Supreme Good. Thus writes to her one who stands among the foremost in his own department: "What I am I owe, in large measure, to the stimulus you imparted. You roused my heart with high hopes; you raised my aims from paltry and vain pursuits to those which tasked and fed the soul; you inspired me with a great ambition, and made me see the worth and meaning of life; you awakened in me confidence in my own powers, showed me my special and distinct ability, and quickened my individual consciousness by intelligent sympathy with tendencies and feelings which I but half understood; you gave me to myself. This is a most benign influence to exercise, and for it, above all other benefits, gratitude is due. Therefore have you an inexhaustible bank of gratitude to draw from. Bless God that he has allotted to you such a ministry."
The following extracts from her letters will show how profusely Margaret poured out her treasures upon her friends; but they reveal, too, the painful processes of alchemy whereby she transmuted her lead into gold.
'Your idea of friendship apparently does not include intellectual intimacy, as mine does, but consists of mutual esteem and spiritual encouragement. This is the thought represented, on antique gems and bas-reliefs, of the meeting between God and Goddess, I find; for they rather offer one another the full flower of being, than grow together. As in the figures before me, Jupiter, king of Gods and men, meets Juno, the sister and queen, not as a chivalric suppliant, but as a stately claimant; and she, crowned, pure, majestic, holds the veil aside to reveal herself to her august spouse.'
* * * * *
'How variously friendship is represented in literature! Sometimes the two friends kindle beacons from afar to apprize one another that they are constant, vigilant, and each content in his several home. Sometimes, two pilgrims, they go different routes in service of the same saint, and remember one another as they give alms, learn wisdom, or pray in shrines along the road. Sometimes, two knights, they bid farewell with mailed hand of truth and honor all unstained, as they ride forth on their chosen path to test the spirit of high emprise, and free the world from wrong,—to meet again for unexpected succor in the hour of peril, or in joyful surprise to share a frugal banquet on the plat of greensward opening from forest glades. Sometimes, proprietors of two neighboring estates, they have interviews in the evening to communicate their experiments and plans, or to study together the stars from an observatory; if either is engaged he simply declares it; they share enjoyments cordially; they exchange praise or blame frankly; in citizen-like good-fellowship they impart their gains.
'All these views of friendship are noble and beautiful, yet they are not enough for our manifold nature. Friends should be our incentives to Right, yet not only our guiding, but our prophetic stars. To love by sight is much, to love by faith is more; together they make up the entire love, without which heart, mind, and soul cannot be alike satisfied. Friends should love not merely for the absolute worth of each to the other, but on account of a mutual fitness of character. They are not merely one another's priests or gods, but ministering angels, exercising in their part the same function as the Great Soul does in the whole,—of seeing the perfect through the imperfect, nay, creating it there. Why am I to love my friend the less for any obstruction in his life? Is not that the very time for me to love most tenderly, when I must see his life in despite of seeming? When he shows it to me I can only admire; I do not give myself, I am taken captive.
'But how shall I express my meaning? Perhaps I can do so from the tales of chivalry, where I find what corresponds far more thoroughly with my nature, than in these stoical statements. The friend of Amadis expects to hear prodigies of valor of the absent Preux, but if he be mutilated in one of his first battles, shall he be mistrusted by the brother of his soul, more than if he had been tested in a hundred? If Britomart finds Artegall bound in the enchanter's spell, can she doubt therefore him whom she has seen in the magic glass? A Britomart does battle in his cause, and frees him from the evil power, while a dame of less nobleness might sit and watch the enchanted sleep, weeping night and day, or spur on her white palfrey to find some one more helpful than herself. These friends in chivalry are always faithful through the dark hours to the bright. The Douglas motto, "tender and true," seems to me most worthy of the strongest breast. To borrow again from Spencer, I am entirely satisfied with the fate of the three brothers. I could not die while there was yet life in my brother's breast. I would return from the shades and nerve him with twofold life for the fight. I could do it, for our hearts beat with one blood. Do you not see the truth and happiness of this waiting tenderness? The verse—
"Have I a lover Who is noble and free, I would he were nobler Than to love me,"—
does not come home to my heart, though this does:—
"I could not love thee, sweet, so much, Loved I not honor more."
* * * 'October 10th, 1840.—I felt singular pleasure in seeing you quote Hood's lines on "Melancholy." I thought nobody knew and loved his serious poems except myself, and two or three others, to whom I imparted them.[A] Do you like, also, the ode to Autumn, and—
"Sigh on, sad heart, for love's eclipse"?
It was a beautiful time when I first read these poems. I was staying in Hallowell, Maine, and could find no books that I liked, except Hood's poems. You know how the town is built, like a terraced garden on the river's bank; I used to go every afternoon to the granite quarry which crowns these terraces, and read till the sunset came casting its last glory on the opposite bank. They were such afternoons as those in September and October, clear, soft, and radiant. Nature held nothing back. 'Tis many years since, and I have never again seen the Kennebec, but remember it as a stream of noble character. It was the first river I ever sailed up, realizing all which that emblem discloses of life. Greater still would the charm have been to sail downward along an unknown stream, seeking not a home, but a ship upon the ocean.'
* * * * *
'Newbury, Oct. 18, 1840.—It rained, and the day was pale and sorrowful, the thick-fallen leaves even shrouded the river. We went out in the boat, and sat under the bridge. The pallid silence, the constant fall of the rain and leaves, were most soothing, life had been for many weeks so crowded with thought and feeling, pain and pleasure, rapture and care. Nature seemed gently to fold us in her matron's mantle. On such days the fall of the leaf does not bring sadness, only meditation. Earth seemed to loose the record of past summer hours from her permanent life, as lightly, and spontaneously, as the great genius casts behind him a literature,—the Odyssey he has outgrown. In the evening the rain ceased, the west wind came, and we went out in the boat again for some hours; indeed, we staid till the last clouds passed from the moon. Then we climbed the hill to see the full light in solemn sweetness over fields, and trees, and river.
'I never enjoyed anything more in its way than the three days alone with —— in her boat, upon the little river. Not without reason was it that Goethe limits the days of intercourse to three, in the Wanderjahre. If you have lived so long in uninterrupted communion with any noble being, and with nature, a remembrance of man's limitations seems to call on Polycrates to cast forth his ring. She seemed the very genius of the scene, so calm, so lofty, and so secluded. I never saw any place that seemed to me so much like home. The beauty, though so great, is so unobtrusive.
'As we glided along the river, I could frame my community far more naturally and rationally than ——. A few friends should settle upon the banks of a stream like this, planting their homesteads. Some should be farmers, some woodmen, others bakers, millers, &c. By land, they should carry to one another the commodities; on the river they should meet for society. At sunset many, of course, would be out in their boats, but they would love the hour too much ever to disturb one another. I saw the spot where we should discuss the high mysteries that Milton speaks of. Also, I saw the spot where I would invite select friends to live through the noon of night, in silent communion. When we wished to have merely playful chat, or talk on politics or social reform, we would gather in the mill, and arrange those affairs while grinding the corn. What a happy place for children to grow up in! Would it not suit little —— to go to school to the cardinal flowers in her boat, beneath the great oak-tree? I think she would learn more than in a phalanx of juvenile florists. But, truly, why has such a thing never been? One of these valleys so immediately suggests an image of the fair company that might fill it, and live so easily, so naturally, so wisely. Can we not people the banks of some such affectionate little stream? I distrust ambitious plans, such as Phalansterian organizations!
'—— is quite bent on trying his experiment. I hope he may succeed; but as they were talking the other evening, I thought of the river, and all the pretty symbols the tide-mill presents, and felt if I could at all adjust the economics to the more simple procedure, I would far rather be the miller, hoping to attract by natural affinity some congenial baker, "und so weiter." However, one thing seems sure, that many persons will soon, somehow, somewhere, throw off a part, at least, of these terrible weights of the social contract, and see if they cannot lie more at ease in the lap of Nature. I do not feel the same interest in these plans, as if I had a firmer hold on life, but I listen with much pleasure to the good suggestions.'
* * * * *
'Oct. 19th, 1840. —— was here. Generally I go out of the room when he comes, for his great excitability makes me nervous, and his fondness for detail is wearisome. But to-night I was too much fatigued to do anything else, and did not like to leave mother; so I lay on the sofa while she talked with him.
'My mind often wandered, yet ever and anon, as I listened again to him, I was struck with admiration at the compensations of Nature. Here is a man, isolated from his kind beyond any I know, of an ambitious temper and without an object of tender affections and without a love or a friend. I don't suppose any mortal, unless it be his aged mother, cares more for him than we do,—scarce any value him so much. The disease, which has left him, in the eyes of men, a scathed and blighted tree, has driven him back to Nature, and she has not refused him sympathy. I was surprised by the refinement of his observations on the animals, his pets. He has carried his intercourse with them to a degree of perfection we rarely attain with our human friends. There is no misunderstanding between him and his dogs and birds; and how rich has been the acquaintance in suggestion! Then the flowers! I liked to hear him, for he recorded all their pretty ways,—not like a botanist, but a lover. His interview with the Magnolia of Lake Pontchartrain was most romantic. And what he said of the Yuca seems to me so pretty, that I will write it down, though somewhat more concisely than he told it:—
'"I had kept these plants of the Yuca Filamentosa six or seven years, though they had never bloomed. I knew nothing of them, and had no notion of what feelings they would excite. Last June I found in bud the one which had the most favorable exposure. A week or two after, another, which was more in the shade, put out flower-buds, and I thought I should be able to watch them, one after the other; but, no! the one which was most favored waited for the other, and both flowered together at the full of the moon. This struck me as very singular, but as soon as I saw the flower by moonlight I understood it. This flower is made for the moon, as the Heliotrope is for the sun, and refuses other influences or to display her beauty in any other light.
'"The first night I saw it in flower, I was conscious of a peculiar delight, I may even say rapture. Many white flowers are far more beautiful by day; the lily, for instance, with its firm, thick leaf, needs the broadest light to manifest its purity. But these transparent leaves of greenish white, which look dull in the day, are melted by the moon to glistening silver. And not only does the plant not appear in its destined hue by day, but the flower, though, as bell-shaped, it cannot quite close again after having once expanded, yet presses its petals together as closely as it can, hangs down its little blossoms, and its tall stalk seems at noon to have reared itself only to betray a shabby insignificance. Thus, too, with the leaves, which have burst asunder suddenly like the fan-palm to make way for the stalk,—their edges in the day time look ragged and unfinished, as if nature had left them in a hurry for some more pleasing task. On the day after the evening when I had thought it so beautiful, I could not conceive how I had made such a mistake.
'"But the second evening I went out into the garden again. In clearest moonlight stood my flower, more beautiful than ever. The stalk pierced the air like a spear, all the little bells had erected themselves around it in most graceful array, with petals more transparent than silver, and of softer light than the diamond. Their edges were clearly, but not sharply defined. They seemed to have been made by the moon's rays. The leaves, which had looked ragged by day, now seemed fringed by most delicate gossamer, and the plant might claim with pride its distinctive epithet of Filamentosa. I looked at it till my feelings became so strong that I longed to share it. The thought which filled my mind was that here we saw the type of pure feminine beauty in the moon's own flower. I have since had further opportunity of watching the Yuca, and verified these observations, that she will not flower till the full moon, and chooses to hide her beauty from the eye of day."
'Might not this be made into a true poem, if written out merely as history of the plant, and no observer introduced? How finely it harmonizes with all legends of Isis, Diana, &c.! It is what I tried to say in the sonnet,—
Woman's heaven, Where palest lights a silvery sheen diffuse.
'In tracing these correspondences, one really does take hold of a Truth, of a Divine Thought.' * *
* * * * *
'October 25th, 1840.—This week I have not read any book, nor once walked in the woods and fields. I meant to give its days to setting outward things in order, and its evenings to writing. But, I know not how it is, I can never simplify my life; always so many ties, so many claims! However, soon the winter winds will chant matins and vespers, which may make my house a cell, and in a snowy veil enfold me for my prayer. If I cannot dedicate myself this time, I will not expect it again. Surely it should be! These Carnival masks have crowded on me long enough, and Lent must be at hand. * *
'—— and —— have been writing me letters, to answer which required all the time and thought I could give for a day or two. ——'s were of joyful recognition, and so beautiful I would give much to show them to you. ——'s have singularly affected me. They are noble, wise, of most unfriendly friendliness. I don't know why it is, I always seem to myself to have gone so much further with a friend than I really have. Just as at Newport I thought —— met me, when he did not, and sang a joyful song which found no echo, so here —— asks me questions which I thought had been answered in the first days of our acquaintance, and coldly enumerates all the charming qualities which make it impossible for him to part with me! He scolds me, though in the sweetest and solemnest way. I will not quote his words, though their beauty tempts me, for they do not apply, they do not touch ME.
'Why is it that the religion of my nature is so much hidden from my peers? why do they question me, who never question them? why persist to regard as a meteor an orb of assured hope? Can no soul know me wholly? shall I never know the deep delight of gratitude to any but the All-Knowing? I shall wait for —— very peaceably, in reverent love as ever; but I cannot see why he should not have the pleasure of knowing now a friend, who has been "so tender and true."'
* * * * *
'—— was here, and spent twenty-four hours in telling me a tale of deepest tragedy. Its sad changes should be written out in Godwin's best manner: such are the themes he loved, as did also Rousseau. Through all the dark shadows shone a pure white ray, one high, spiritual character, a man, too, and of advanced age. I begin to respect men more,—I mean actual men. What men may be, I know; but the men of to-day have seemed to me of such coarse fibre, or else such poor wan shadows!
'—— had scarcely gone, when —— came and wished to spend a few hours with me. I was totally exhausted, but I lay down, and she sat beside me, and poured out all her noble feelings and bright fancies. There was little light in the room, and she gleamed like a cloud
—"of pearl and opal,"
and reminded me more than ever of
—"the light-haired Lombardess Singing a song of her own native land,"
to the dying Correggio, beside the fountain.
'I am astonished to see how much Bettine's book is to all these people. This shows how little courage they have had to live out themselves. She really brings them a revelation. The men wish they had been loved by Bettine; the girls wish to write down the thoughts that come, and see if just such a book does not grow up. ——, however, was one of the few who do not over-estimate her; she truly thought Bettine only publishes what many burn. Would not genius be common as light, if men trusted their higher selves?'
* * * * *
'I heard in town that —— is a father, and has gone to see his child. This news made me more grave even than such news usually does; I suppose because I have known the growth of his character so intimately. I called to mind a letter he had written me of what we had expected of our fathers. The ideal father, the profoundly wise, provident, divinely tender and benign, he is indeed the God of the human heart. How solemn this moment of being called to prepare the way, to make way for another generation! What fulfilment does it claim in the character of a man, that he should be worthy to be a father!—what purity of motive, what dignity, what knowledge! When I recollect how deep the anguish, how deeper still the want, with which I walked alone in hours of childish passion, and called for a Father, often saying the word a hundred times, till stifled by sobs, how great seems the duty that name imposes! Were but the harmony preserved throughout! Could the child keep learning his earthly, as he does his heavenly Father, from all best experience of life, till at last it were the climax: "I am the Father. Have ye seen me?—ye have seen the Father." But how many sons have we to make one father? Surely, to spirits, not only purified but perfected, this must appear the climax of earthly being,—a wise and worthy parentage. Here I always sympathize with Mr. Alcott. He views the relation truly.'
* * * * *
'Dec. 3, 1840. —— bids me regard her "as a sick child;" and the words recall some of the sweetest hours of existence. My brother Edward was born on my birth-day, and they said he should be my child. But he sickened and died just as the bud of his existence showed its first bright hues. He was some weeks wasting away, and I took care of him always half the night. He was a beautiful child, and became very dear to me then. Still in lonely woods the upturned violets show me the pleading softness of his large blue eyes, in those hours when I would have given worlds to prevent his suffering, and could not. I used to carry him about in my arms for hours; it soothed him, and I loved to feel his gentle weight of helpless purity upon my heart, while night listened around. At last, when death came, and the soul took wing like an overtasked bird from his sweet form, I felt what I feel now. Might I free ——, as that angel freed him!