Margaret Fuller Ossoli.

Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, Volume I online

. (page 6 of 24)
Online LibraryMargaret Fuller OssoliMemoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, Volume I → online text (page 6 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

worldly interest, but the instinct of self-preservation,)
may be lightly broken by a chance touch. I speak not in
misanthropy, I believe

"Die Zeit ist schlecht, doch giebts noch grosse Herzen."

'Surely I maybe pardoned for aiming at the same results with
the chivalrous "gift of the Gods." I cannot endure to be one
of those shallow beings who can never get beyond the primer of
experience, - who are ever saying, -

"Ich habe geglaubt, _nun glaube ich erst recht_,
Und geht es auch wunderlich, geht es auch schlecht,
Ich bleibe in glaubigen Orden."

Yet, when you write, write freely, and if I don't like what
you say, let me say so. I have ever been frank, as if I
expected to be intimate with you good three-score years and
ten. I am sure we shall always esteem each other. I have that
much faith.'

* * * * *

'_Jan_. 1832. - All that relates to - must be interesting to
me, though I never voluntarily think of him now. The apparent
caprice of his conduct has shaken my faith, but not destroyed
my hope. That hope, if I, who have so mistaken others, may
dare to think I know myself, was never selfish. It is painful
to lose a friend whose knowledge and converse mingled so
intimately with the growth of my mind, - an early friend to
whom I was all truth and frankness, seeking nothing but equal
truth and frankness in return. But this evil may be borne; the
hard, the lasting evil was to learn to distrust my own heart,
and lose all faith in my power of knowing others. In this
letter I see again that peculiar pride, that contempt of the
forms and shows of goodness, that fixed resolve to be anything
but "like unto the Pharisees," which were to my eye such happy
omens. Yet how strangely distorted are all his views! The
daily influence of his intercourse with me was like the breath
he drew; it has become a part of him. Can he escape from
himself? Would he be unlike all other mortals? His feelings
are as false as those of Alcibiades. He influenced me, and
helped form me to what I am. Others shall succeed him. Shall
I be ashamed to owe anything to friendship? But why do I
talk? - a child might confute him by defining the term _human
being_. He will gradually work his way into light; if too late
for our friendship, not, I trust, too late for his own peace
and honorable well-being. I never insisted on being the
instrument of good to him. I practised no little arts, no!
not to effect the good of the friend I loved. I have prayed to
Heaven, (surely we are sincere when doing that,) to guide him
in the best path for him, however far from me that path might
lead. The lesson I have learned may make me a more useful
friend, a more efficient aid to others than I could be to him;
yet I hope I shall not be denied the consolation of knowing
surely, one day, that all which appeared evil in the companion
of happy years was but error.'

* * * * *

'I think, since you have seen so much of my character, that
you must be sensible that any reserves with those whom I call
my friends, do not arise from duplicity, but an instinctive
feeling that I could not be understood. I can truly say that I
wish no one to overrate me; undeserved regard could give me no
pleasure; nor will I consent to practise charlatanism, either
in friendship or anything else.'

* * * * *

'You ought not to think I show a want of generous confidence,
if I sometimes try the ground on which I tread, to see if
perchance it may return the echoes of hollowness.'

* * * * *

'Do not cease to respect me as formerly. It seems to me that I
have reached the "parting of the ways" in my life, and all the
knowledge which I have toiled to gain only serves to show me
the disadvantages of each. None of those who think themselves
my friends can aid me; each, careless, takes the path to which
present convenience impels; and all would smile or stare,
could they know the aching and measureless wishes, the sad
apprehensiveness, which make me pause and strain my almost
hopeless gaze to the distance. What wonder if my present
conduct should be mottled by selfishness and incertitude?
Perhaps you, who _can_ make your views certain, cannot
comprehend me; though you showed me last night a penetration
which did not flow from sympathy. But this I may say - though
the glad light of hope and ambitious confidence, which has
vitalized my mind, should be extinguished forever, I will not
in life act a mean, ungenerous, or useless part. Therefore,
let not a slight thing lessen your respect for me. If you feel
as much pain as I do, when obliged to diminish my respect for
any person, you will be glad of this assurance. I hope you
will not think this note in the style of a French novel.'

[Footnote A: According to Dryden's beautiful statement -

'For as high turrets, in their airy sweep
Require foundations, in proportion deep
And lofty cedars as far upward shoot
As to the nether heavens they drive the root;
So low did her secure foundation lie,
She was not humble, but humility.']


'Do you remember a conversation we had in the garden, one
starlight evening, last summer, about the incalculable power
which outward circumstances have over the character? You would
not sympathize with the regrets I expressed, that mine had not
been formed amid scenes and persons of nobleness and beauty,
eager passions and dignified events, instead of those secret
trials and petty conflicts which make my transition state so
hateful to my memory and my tastes. You then professed the
faith which I resigned with such anguish, - the faith which
a Schiller could never attain, - a faith in the power of the
human will. Yet now, in every letter, you talk to me of the
power of circumstances. You tell me how changed you are. Every
one of your letters is different from the one preceding, and
all so altered from your former self. For are you not leaving
all our old ground, and do you not apologize to me for all
your letters? Why do you apologize? I think I know you very,
very well; considering that we are both human, and have the
gift of concealing our thoughts with words. Nay, further - I do
not believe you will be able to become anything which I cannot
understand. I know I can sympathize with all who feel and
think, from a Dryfesdale up to a Max Piccolomini. You say,
you have become a machine. If so, I shall expect to find you a
grand, high-pressure, wave-compelling one - requiring plenty
of fuel. You must be a steam-engine, and move some majestic
fabric at the rate of thirty miles an hour along the broad
waters of the nineteenth century. None of your pendulum
machines for me! I should, to be sure, turn away my head if I
should hear you tick, and mark the quarters of hours; but the
buzz and whiz of a good large life-endangerer would be
music to mine ears. Oh, no! sure there is no danger of your
requiring to be set down quite on a level, kept in a still
place, and wound up every eight days. Oh no, no! you are not
one of that numerous company, who

- "live and die,
Eat, drink, wake, sleep between,
Walk, talk like clock-work too,
So pass in order due,
Over the scene,
To where the past - _is_ past,
The future - nothing yet," &c. &c.

But we must all be machines: you shall be a
steam-engine; - shall be a mill, with extensive
water-privileges, - and I will be a spinning jenny. No!
upon second thoughts, I will not be a machine. I will be an
instrument, not to be confided to vulgar hands, - for instance,
a chisel to polish marble, or a whetstone to sharpen steel!'

In an unfinished tale, Margaret has given the following studies of
character. She is describing two of the friends of the hero of her
story. Unquestionably the traits here given were taken from life,
though it might not be easy to recognize the portrait of any
individual in either sketch. Yet we insert it here to show her own
idea of this relation, and her fine feeling of the action and reaction
of these subtle intimacies.

'Now, however, I found companions, in thought, at least One,
who had great effect on my mind, I may call Lytton. He was
as premature as myself; at thirteen a man in the range of his
thoughts, analyzing motives, and explaining principles, when
he ought to have been playing cricket, or hunting in the
woods. The young Arab, or Indian, may dispense with mere play,
and enter betimes into the histories and practices of manhood,
for all these are, in their modes of life, closely connected
with simple nature, and educate the body no less than the
mind; but the same good cannot be said of lounging lazily
under a tree, while mentally accompanying Gil Blas through his
course of intrigue and adventure, and visiting with him the
impure atmosphere of courtiers, picaroons, and actresses.
This was Lytton's favorite reading; his mind, by nature subtle
rather than daring, would in any case have found its food in
the now hidden workings of character and passion, the by-play
of life, the unexpected and seemingly incongruous relations
to be found there. He loved the natural history of man, not
religiously, but for entertainment. What he sought, he found,
but paid the heaviest price. All his later days were poisoned
by his subtlety, which made it impossible for him to look at
any action with a single and satisfied eye. He tore the buds
open to see if there were no worm sheathed in the blushful
heart, and was so afraid of overlooking some mean possibility,
that he lost sight of virtue. Grubbing like a mole beneath
the surface of earth, rather than reading its living language
above, he had not faith enough to believe in the flower,
neither faith enough to mine for the gem, and remains at
penance in the limbo of halfnesses, I trust not forever.
Then all his characteristics wore brilliant hues. He was very
witty, and I owe to him the great obligation of being the
first and only person who has excited me to frequent and
boundless gayety. The sparks of his wit were frequent, slight
surprises; his was a slender dart, and rebounded easily to
the hand. I like the scintillating, arrowy wit far better than
broad, genial humor. The light metallic touch pleases me.
When wit appears as fun and jollity, she wears a little of the
Silenus air; - the Mercurial is what I like.

'In later days, - for my intimacy with him lasted many
years, - he became the feeder of my intellect. He delighted to
ransack the history of a nation, of an art or a science, and
bring to me all the particulars. Telling them fixed them in
his own memory, which was the most tenacious and ready I
have ever known; he enjoyed my clear perception as to their
relative value, and I classified them in my own way. As he was
omnivorous, and of great mental activity, while my mind was
intense, though rapid in its movements, and could only give
itself to a few things of its own accord, I traversed on the
wings of his effort large demesnes that would otherwise have
remained quite unknown to me. They were not, indeed, seen to
the same profit as my own province, whose tillage I knew, and
whose fruits were the answer to my desire; but the fact of
seeing them at all gave a largeness to my view, and a candor
to my judgment. I could not be ignorant how much there was I
did not know, nor leave out of sight the many sides to every
question, while, by the law of affinity, I chose my own.

'Lytton was not loved by any one. He was not positively hated,
or disliked; for there was nothing which the general mind
could take firm hold of enough for such feelings. Cold,
intangible, he was to play across the life of others. A
momentary resentment was sometimes felt at a presence which
would not mingle with theirs; his scrutiny, though not
hostile, was recognized as unfeeling and impertinent, and his
mirth unsettled all objects from their foundations. But he
was soon forgiven and forgotten. Hearts went not forth to
war against or to seek one who was a mere experimentalist and
observer in existence. For myself, I did not love, perhaps,
but was attached to him, and the attachment grew steadily, for
it was founded, not on what I wanted of him, but on his truth
to himself. His existence was a real one; he was not without a
pathetic feeling of his wants, but was never tempted to supply
them by imitating the properties of any other character. He
accepted the law of his being, and never violated it. This
is next best to the nobleness which transcends it. I did not
disapprove, even when I disliked, his acts.

'Amadin, my other companion, was as slow and deep of feeling,
as Lytton was brilliant, versatile, and cold. His temperament
was generally grave, even to apparent dulness; his eye gave
little light, but a slow fire burned in its depths. His was a
character not to be revealed to himself, or others, except by
the important occasions of life. Though every day, no doubt,
deepened and enriched him, it brought little that he could
show or recall. But when his soul, capable of religion,
capable of love, was moved, all his senses were united in the
word or action that followed, and the impression made on you
was entire. I have scarcely known any capable of such true
manliness as he. His poetry, written, or unwritten, was the
experience of life. It lies in few lines, as yet, but not one
of them will ever need to be effaced.

'Early that serious eye inspired in me a trust that has never
been deceived. There was no magnetism in him, no lights
and shades that could stir the imagination; no bright ideal
suggested by him stood between the friend and his self. As the
years matured that self, I loved him more, and knew him as
he knew himself, always in the present moment; he could never
occupy my mind in absence.'

Another of her early friends, Rev. F.H. Hedge, has sketched his
acquaintance with her in the following paper, communicated by him for
these memoirs. Somewhat older than Margaret, and having enjoyed
an education at a German university, his conversation was full of
interest and excitement to her. He opened to her a whole world
of thoughts and speculations which gave movement to her mind in a
congenial direction.

* * * * *

"My acquaintance with Margaret commenced in the year 1823, at
Cambridge, my native place and hers. I was then a member of Harvard
College, in which my father held one of the offices of instruction,
and I used frequently to meet her in the social circles of which the
families connected with the college formed the nucleus. Her father, at
this time, represented the county of Middlesex in the Congress of the
United States.

"Margaret was then about thirteen, - a child in years, but so
precocious in her mental and physical developments, that she passed
for eighteen or twenty. Agreeably to this estimate, she had her place
in society, as a lady full-grown.

"When I recall her personal appearance, as it was then and for ten or
twelve years subsequent to this, I have the idea of a blooming girl
of a florid complexion and vigorous health, with a tendency to
robustness, of which she was painfully conscious, and which, with
little regard to hygienic principles, she endeavored to suppress or
conceal, thereby preparing for herself much future suffering. With
no pretensions to beauty then, or at any time, her face was one that
attracted, that awakened a lively interest, that made one desirous
of a nearer acquaintance. It was a face that fascinated, without
satisfying. Never seen in repose, never allowing a steady perusal
of its features, it baffled every attempt to judge the character by
physiognomical induction. You saw the evidence of a mighty force, but
what direction that force would assume, - whether it would determine
itself to social triumphs, or to triumphs of art, - it was impossible
to divine. Her moral tendencies, her sentiments, her true and
prevailing character, did not appear in the lines of her face. She
seemed equal to anything, but might not choose to put forth her
strength. You felt that a great possibility lay behind that brow, but
you felt, also, that the talent that was in her might miscarry through
indifference or caprice.

"I said she had no pretensions to beauty. Yet she was not plain. She
escaped the reproach of positive plainness, by her blond and abundant
hair, by her excellent teeth, by her sparkling, dancing, busy eyes,
which, though usually half closed from near-sightedness, shot piercing
glances at those with whom she conversed, and, most of all, by the
very peculiar and graceful carriage of her head and neck, which all
who knew her will remember as the most characteristic trait in her
personal appearance.

"In conversation she had already, at that early age, begun to
distinguish herself, and made much the same impression in society that
she did in after years, with the exception, that, as she advanced
in life, she learned to control that tendency to sarcasm, - that
disposition to 'quiz,' - which was then somewhat excessive. It
frightened shy young people from her presence, and made her, for a
while, notoriously unpopular with the ladies of her circle.

"This propensity seems to have been aggravated by unpleasant
encounters in her school-girl experience. She was a pupil of Dr. Park,
of Boston, whose seminary for young ladies was then at the height of a
well-earned reputation, and whose faithful and successful endeavors
in this department have done much to raise the standard of female
education among us. Here the inexperienced country girl was exposed
to petty persecutions from the dashing misses of the city, who pleased
themselves with giggling criticisms not inaudible, nor meant to be
inaudible to their subject, on whatsoever in dress and manner fell
short of the city mark. Then it was first revealed to her young heart,
and laid up for future reflection, how large a place in woman's world
is given to fashion and frivolity. Her mind reacted on these attacks
with indiscriminate sarcasms. She made herself formidable by her wit,
and, of course, unpopular. A root of bitterness sprung up in her which
years of moral culture were needed to eradicate.

"Partly to evade the temporary unpopularity into which she had fallen,
and partly to pursue her studies secure from those social avocations
which were found unavoidable in the vicinity of Cambridge and Boston,
in 1824 or 5 she was sent to Groton, where she remained two years in
quiet seclusion.

"On her return to Cambridge, in 1826, I renewed my acquaintance, and
an intimacy was then formed, which continued until her death. The
next seven years, which were spent in Cambridge, were years of
steady growth, with little variety of incident, and little that was
noteworthy of outward experience, but with great intensity of the
inner life. It was with her, as with most young women, and with most
young men, too, between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five, a period
of preponderating sentimentality, a period of romance and of dreams,
of yearning and of passion. She pursued at this time, I think, no
systematic study, but she read with the heart, and was learning more
from social experience than from books.

"I remember noting at this time a trait which continued to be a
prominent one through life, - I mean, a passionate love for the
beautiful, which comprehended all the kingdoms of nature and art. I
have never known one who seemed to derive such satisfaction from the
contemplation of lovely forms.

"Her intercourse with girls of her own age and standing was frank and
excellent. Personal attractions, and the homage which they received,
awakened in her no jealousy. She envied not their success, though
vividly aware of the worth of beauty, and inclined to exaggerate her
own deficiencies in that kind. On the contrary, she loved to draw
these fair girls to herself, and to make them her guests, and was
never so happy as when surrounded, in company, with such a bevy. This
attraction was mutual, as, according to Goethe, every attraction is.
Where she felt an interest, she awakened an interest. Without
flattery or art, by the truth and nobleness of her nature, she won
the confidence, and made herself the friend and intimate, of a large
number of young ladies, - the belles of their day, - with most of whom
she remained in correspondence during the greater part of her life.

"In our evening re-unions she was always conspicuous by the brilliancy
of her wit, which needed but little provocation to break forth in
exuberant sallies, that drew around her a knot of listeners, and made
her the central attraction of the hour. Rarely did she enter a company
in which she was not a prominent object.

"I have spoken of her conversational talent. It continued to develop
itself in these years, and was certainly her most decided gift.
One could form no adequate idea of her ability without hearing her
converse. She did many things well, but nothing so well as she talked.
It is the opinion of all her friends, that her writings do her very
imperfect justice. For some reason or other, she could never deliver
herself in print as she did with her lips. She required the stimulus
of attentive ears, and answering eyes, to bring out all her power. She
must have her auditory about her.

"Her conversation, as it was then, I have seldom heard equalled. It
was not so much attractive as commanding. Though remarkably fluent
and select, it was neither fluency, nor choice diction, nor wit, nor
sentiment, that gave it its peculiar power, but accuracy of statement,
keen discrimination, and a certain weight of judgment, which
contrasted strongly and charmingly with the youth and sex of the
speaker. I do not remember that the vulgar charge of talking 'like
a book' was ever fastened upon her, although, by her precision, she
might seem to have incurred it. The fact was, her speech, though
finished and true as the most deliberate rhetoric of the pen, had
always an air of spontaneity which made it seem the grace of the
moment, - the result of some organic provision that made finished
sentences as natural to her as blundering and hesitation are to
most of us. With a little more imagination, she would have made an
excellent improvisatrice.

"Here let me say a word respecting the character of Margaret's mind.
It was what in woman is generally called a masculine mind; that is,
its action was determined by ideas rather than by sentiments. And yet,
with this masculine trait, she combined a woman's appreciation of the
beautiful in sentiment and the beautiful in action. Her intellect was
rather solid than graceful, yet no one was more alive to grace. She
was no artist, - she would never have written an epic, or romance, or
drama, - yet no one knew better the qualities which go to the making
of these; and though catholic as to kind, no one was more rigorously
exacting as to quality. Nothing short of the best in each kind would
content her.

"She wanted imagination, and she wanted productiveness. She wrote with
difficulty. Without external pressure, perhaps, she would never have
written at all. She was dogmatic, and not creative. Her strength was
in characterization and in criticism. Her _critique_ on Goethe, in
the second volume of the Dial, is, in my estimation, one of the best
things she has written. And, as far as it goes, it is one of the best
criticisms extant of Goethe.

"What I especially admired in her was her intellectual sincerity. Her
judgments took no bribe from her sex or her sphere, nor from custom
nor tradition, nor caprice. She valued truth supremely, both for
herself and others. The question with her was not what should be
believed, or what ought to be true, but what _is_ true. Her yes and

Online LibraryMargaret Fuller OssoliMemoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, Volume I → online text (page 6 of 24)