Part 5 out of 6
'Among his poems, La Fregate, La Serieuse, 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
'"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 passe
Quand les branches des arbres sont noires,
Quand la neige est essaisse, et charge un sol glace,
Quand seul dans un ciel pale un peuplier s'elance,
Quand sous le manteau blanc qui vient de le cacher
L'immobile corbeau sur l'arbre se balance
Comme la girouette au bout du 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
'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 Beranger'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 gaiete
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 feconde,
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 la! ou la systeme 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 a la Campagne," "Souvenirs du Peuple," "La Deesse
de la Liberte," "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'Independant," "Vous vieillirez, O ma belle Maitresse," a
gentle graceful sadness wins us. In "Le Dieu des Bonnes Gens,"
"Les Etoiles qui filent," "Les Conseils de Lise," "Treize a
Table," a noble dignity is admired, while such as "La Fortune"
and "La Metempsycose" 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
'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'esperance,
L'Aigle n'est plus dans le secret des dieux,
Il fatiguait la victoire a le suivre,
Elle etait lasse: il ne l'attendit pas."
'And from "La Gerontocratie, ou les infiniment petits:"
'"Combien d'imperceptibles etres,
De petits jesuites bilieux!
De milliers d'autres petits pretres,
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
'"Je suis vilain,
Vilain, vilain," &c.
J'honore une race commune,
Car, sensible, quoique malin,
Je n'ai flatte que l'infortune."
'In a note to "Couplets on M. Laisney, _imprimeur a 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."
'"Un conquerant, dans sa fortune altiere,
Se fit un jeu des sceptres et des lois,
Et de ses pieds on peut voir la poussiere
Empreinte encore sur le bandeau des rois."
'I admire, also, "Le Violon brise," for its grace and
sweetness. How fine Beranger on Waterloo!--
'"Its name shall never sadden verse of mine."'
'_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
'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
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 mind, 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 ATHENAEUM,--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, Quatremere 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.
In the summer of 1839, Boston was still more rightfully adorned with
the Allston 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 Athenaeum 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 walk 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 Athenaeum 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 a youth so fair?
He must not ever 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'lt 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 Quincy 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 coexists 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 reaespiring 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
'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 _Cumaea_ 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
'I admire the heavy fall of the sleeper's luxuriant hair,
which reminds one of the final shutting down of night upon a
'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
'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 those of Raphael;
for they seem weak, which is not so, only seems so, beside the
'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
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_,
phoenixes of the fancy, but must be of some real ornithology, hitherto
unknown to him. This 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
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 daemoniacal 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 Koerner 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.'
* * * * *
'_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 daemons are not busy enough at the births
of most men. They do not give them individuality deep enough
for truth to take root 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.'
* * * * *
'_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, be 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
'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, daemon! 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 common-sense, and let us speak in the
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 _soupcon_ 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:---
* * * * *
'_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 down 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
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
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
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
"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 quicker, and have not on them the taint of earthly
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 personae_' 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
* * * * *
'_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
* * * * *
'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
* * * * *
'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_.'
'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
* * * * *
'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
'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 in humanity? 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 fall.
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
'I have the satisfaction of knowing, that, in my counsels, I
have given myself no air of being better than I am.'
'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
'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
* * * * *
'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
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
'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
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 ambitious 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, _un_confiding 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
* * * * *
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
naivete. 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
"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."
CONVERSATIONS IN BOSTON.
BY R.W. EMERSON.
"Do not scold me; they are guests of my eyes. Do not frown,--they want
no bread; they are guests of my words."
CONVERSATIONS IN BOSTON.
* * * * *
In the year 1839, Margaret removed from Groton, and, with her mother
and family, took a house at Jamaica Plain, five miles from Boston. In
November of the next year the family removed to Cambridge, and rented
a house there, near their old home. In 1841, Margaret took rooms for
the winter in town, retaining still the house in Cambridge. And from
the day of leaving Groton, until the autumn of 1844, when she removed
to New York, she resided in Boston, or its immediate vicinity. Boston
was her social centre. There were the libraries, galleries, and
concerts which she loved; there were her pupils and her friends; and
there were her tasks, and the openings of a new career.
I have vaguely designated some of the friends with whom she was on
terms of intimacy at the time when I was first acquainted with her.
But the range of her talents required an equal compass in her society;
and she gradually added a multitude of names to the list. She knew
already all the active minds at Cambridge; and has left a record of
one good interview she had with Allston. She now became intimate
with Doctor Channing, and interested him to that point in some of her
studies, that, at his request, she undertook to render some selections
of German philosophy into English for him. But I believe this attempt
was soon abandoned. She found a valuable friend in the late Miss Mary