From: At Home and Abroad, or Things and Thoughts in Europe (1856)
Author: Margaret Fuller Ossoli
Published: and Company 1856 Boston
WE crossed the moorland in a heavy rain, and reached Newcastle late at night. Next day we descended into a coal-mine; it was quite an odd sensation to be taken off one’s feet and dropped down into darkness by the bucket. The stables under ground had a pleasant Gil-Blas air, though the poor horses cannot like it much; generally they see the light of day no more after they have once been let down into these gloomy recesses, but pass their days in dragging cars along the rails of the narrow passages, and their nights in eating hay and dreaming of grass!! When we went down, we meant to go along the gallery to the place where the miners were then at work, but found this was a walk of a mile and a half, and, beside the weariness of picking one’s steps slowly along by the light of a tallow candle, too wet and dirty as enterprise to be undertaken by way of amusement; so after proceeding half a mile or so, we begged to be restored to our accustomed level, and reached it with minds slightly edified and face and heads much blackened.
Passing thence we saw York with its Minster, that dream of beauty realized. From its roof I saw two rainbows, overarching that lovely country. Through its aisles I heard grand music pealing. But how sorrowfully bare is the interior of such a cathedral, despoiled of the statues, the paintings, and the garlands that belong to the Catholic religion! The eye aches for them. Such a church is ruined by Protestantism; its admirable exterior seems that of a sepulchre; there is no correspondent life within.
Within the citadel, a tower half ruined and ivy-clad, is life that has been growing up while the exterior bulwarks of the old feudal time crumbled to ruin. George Fox, while prisoner at York for obedience to the dictates of his conscience, planted here a walnut and the tall tree that grew from it still “bears testimony” to his living presence on that spot. The tree is old, but still bears nuts; one of them was taken away by my companions, and may perhaps be the parent of a tree somewhere in America, that shall shade those who inherit the spirit, if they do not attach importance to the etiquettes, of Quakerism.
In Sheffield I saw the sooty servitors tending their furnaces. I saw them also on Saturday night, after their work was done, going to receive its poor wages, looking pallid and dull, as if they had spent on tempering the steel that vital force that should have tempered themselves to manhood.
We saw, also, Chatsworth, with its park and mock wilderness, and immense conservatory, and really splendid fountains and wealth of marbles. It is a fine expression of modern luxury and splendor, but did not interest me; I found little there of true beauty or grandeur.
Warwick Castle is a place entirely to my mind, a real representative of the English aristocracy in the day of its nobler life. The grandeur of the pile itself, and its beauty of position, introduce you fitly to the noble company with which the genius of Vandyke has peopled its walls. But a short time was allowed to look upon these nobles, warriors, statesmen and ladies, who gaze upon us in turn with such a majesty of historic association, yet I was very well satisfied. It is not difficult to see men through the eyes of Vandyke. His way of viewing character seems superficial, though commanding; he sees the man in his action on the crowd, not in his hidden life; he does not, like some painters, amaze and engross us by his revelations as to the secret springs of conduct. I know not by what hallucination I forebore to look at the picture I most desired to see,—that of Lucy, Countess of Carlisle. I was looking at something else, and when the fat, pompous butler announced her, I did not recognize her name from his mouth. Afterward it flashed across me, that I had really been standing before her and forgotten to look. But repentance was too late. I had passed the castle gate to return no more.
Pretty Leamington and Stratford are hackneyed ground. Of the latter I only observed what, if I knew, I had forgotten, that the room where Shakespeare was born has been an object of devotion only for forty years. England has learned much of her appreciation of Shakespeare from the Germans. In the days of innocence, I fondly supposed that every one who could understand English, and was not a cannibal, adored Shakespeare and read him on Sundays always for an hour or more, and on week days a considerable portion of the time. But I have lived to know some hundreds of persons in my native land, without finding ten who had any direct acquaintance with their greatest benefactor, and I dare say in England as large an experience would not end more honorably to its subjects. So vast a treasure is left untouched, while men are complaining of being poor, because they have not toothpicks exactly to their mind.
At Stratford I handled, too, the poker used to such good purpose by Geoffrey Crayon. The muse had fled, the fire was out, and the poker rusty, yet a pleasant influence lingered even in that cold little room, and seemed to lend a transient glow to the poker under the influence of sympathy.
In Birmingham I heard two discourses from one of the rising lights of England, George Dawson, a young man of whom I had earlier heard much in praise. He is a friend of the people, in the sense of brotherhood, not of social convenience or patronage; in literature catholic; in matters of religion antisectarian, seeking truth in aspiration and love. He is eloquent, with good method in his discourse, fire and dignity when wanted, with a frequent homeliness in enforcement and illustration which offends the etiquettes of England, but fits him the better for the class he has to address. His powers are uncommon and unfettered in their play; his aim is worthy. He is fulfilling and will fulfil and important task as an educator of the people, if all be not marred by a taint of self-love and arrogance now obvious in his discourse. This taint is not surprising in one so young, who has done so much, and in order to do it has been compelled to great self-confidence and light heed of the authority of other minds, and who is surrounded almost exclusively by admirers; neither is it, at present, a large speck; it may be quite purged from him by the influence of nobler motives and the rise of his ideal standard; but, on the other hand, should it spread, all must be vitiated. Let us hope for the best, for he is one that would ill be spared from the band who have taken up the cause of Progress in England.
In this connection I may as well speak of James Martineau, whom I heard in Liverpool, and W.J. Fox, whom I heard in London.
Mr. Martineau looks like the over-intellectual, the partially developed man, and his speech confirms this impression. He is sometimes conservative, sometimes reformer, not in the sense of eclecticism, but because his powers and views do not find a true harmony. On the conservative side he is scholarly, acute,—on the other, pathetic, pictorial, generous. He is no prophet and no sage, yet a man full of fine affections and thoughts, always suggestive, sometimes satisfactory, he is well adapted to the wants of that class, a large one in the present day, who love the new wine, but do not feel that they can afford to throw away all their old bottles.
Mr. Fox is the reverse of all this; he is homogenous in his materials and harmonious in the results he produces. He has great persuasive power; it is the persuasive power of a mind warmly engaged in seeking truth for itself. He sometimes carries homeward convictions with great energy, driving in the thought as with golden nails. A glow of kindly human sympathy enlivens his argument, and the whole presents thought in a well-proportioned, animated body. But I am told he is far superior in speech on political or social problems, than on such as I heard him discuss.
I was reminded, in hearing all three, of men similarly engaged in our own country, W.H. Channing and Theodore Parker. None of them compare in the symmetrical arrangement of extempore discourse, or in pure eloquence and communication of spiritual beauty, with Channing, nor in fulness and sustained flow with Parker, but, in power of practical and homely adaptation of their thought to common wants, they are superior to the former, and all have more variety, finer perceptions and are more powerful in single passages than Parker.
And now my pen has run to 1st October, and still I have such notabilities as fell to my lot to observe while in London, and these that are thronging upon me here in Paris to record for you. I am sadly in arrears, but ‘t is comfort to think that such meats as I have to serve up are as good cold as hot. At any rate, it is just impossible to do any better, and I shall comfort myself, as often before, with the triplet which I heard in childhood from a sage (if only sages wear wigs!):—
What can a man do,
More than he can do?”
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