From: Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli (1874).
Author: R.W. Emerson, W.H. Channing, J.F. Clarke
Published: Roberts Brothers 1874 Boston


“Friendly love perfecteth mankind.’


“To have found favor in thy sight
Will still remain
A river of thought, that full of light
Divides the plain.”


“Cui potest vita esse vitalis, (ut ait Ennius,) quæ non in amici mutata benevolentia requiescat?”



  IT was while living at Cambridge that Margaret commenced several of those friendships which lasted through her life, and which were the channels for so large a part of her spiritual activity. In giving some account of her in these relations, there is only the alternative of a prudent reserve which omits whatever is liable to be misunderstood, or a frank utterance which confides in the good sense and right feeling of the reader. By the last course, we run the risk of allowing our friend to be misunderstood; but by the first we make it certain that the most important part of her character shall not be understood at all. I have, therefore, thought it best to follow, as far as I can, her own ideas on this subject, which I find in two of her letters to myself. The first is dated, Groton, Jan. 8th, 1839. I was at that time editing a theological and literary magazine, in the West, and this letter was occasioned by my asking her to allow me to publish therein certain poems, and articles of hers, which she had given me to read.

  And I wish now, as far as I can, to give my reasons for what you consider absurd squeamishness in me. You may not acquiesce in my view, but I think you will respect it as mine, and be willing to act upon it so far as I am concerned.

  Genius seems to me excusable in taking the public for a confidant. Genius is universal, and can appeal to the common heart of man. But even here I would not have it too direct. I prefer to see the thought or feeling made universal. How different the confidence of Goethe, for instance, from that of Byron!

  But for us lesser people, who write verses merely as vents for the overflowings of a personal experience, which in every life of any value craves occasionally the accompaniment of the lyre, it seems to me that all the value of this utterance is destroyed by a hasty or indiscriminate publicity. The moment I lay open my heart, and tell the fresh feeling to any one who chooses to hear, I feel profaned.

  When it has passed into experience, when the flower has gone to seed, I don’t care who knows it, or whither they wander. I am no longer it, -”I stand on it. I do not know whether this is peculiar to me, or not, but I am sure the moment I cease to have any reserve or delicacy about a feeling, it is on the wane.

  About putting beautiful verses in your Magazine, I have no feeling except what I should have about furnishing a room. I should not put a dressing-case into a parlor, or a book-case into a dressing-room, because, however good things in their place, they were not in place there. And this, not in consideration of the public, but of my own sense of fitness and harmony.

  The next extract is from a letter written to me in 1842, after a journey which we had taken to the White Mountains, in the company of my sister, and Mr. and Mrs. Farrar. During this journey Margaret had conversed with me concerning some passages of her private history and experience, and in this letter she asks me to be prudent in speaking of it, giving her reasons as follows:—

  Cambridge, July 31, 1842.—** I said I was happy in having no secret. It is my nature, and has been the tendency of my life, to wish that all my thoughts and deeds might lie, as the “open secrets” of Nature, free to all who are able to understand them. I have no reserves, except intellectual reserves; for to speak of things to those who cannot receive them is stupidity, rather than frankness. Bnt in this case, I alone am not concerned. Therefore, dear James, give heed to the subject. You have received a key to what was before unknown of your friend; yon have made use of it, now let it be buried with the past, over whose passages profound and sad, yet touched with heaven-born beauty, “let silence stand sentinel.”

  I shall endeavor to keep true to the spirit of these sentences in speaking of Margaret’s friendships. Yet not to speak of them in her biography would be omitting the most striking feature of her character. It would be worse than the play of Hamlet with Hamlet omitted. Henry the Fourth without Sully, Gustavus Adolphus without Oxenstiern, Napoleon without his marshals, Socrates without his scholars, would be more complete than Margaret without her friends. So that, in touching on these private relations, we must be everywhere “bold,” yet not “too bold.” The extracts will be taken indiscriminately from letters written to many friends.

  The insight which Margaret displayed in finding her friends, the magnetism by which she drew them toward herself, the catholic range of her intimacies, the influence which she exercised to develop the latent germ of every character, the constancy with which she clung to each when she had once given and received confidence, the delicate justice which kept every intimacy separate, and the process of transfiguration which took place when she met any one on this mountain of Friendship, giving a dazzling lustre to the details of common life,—all these should be at least touched upon and illustrated, to give any adequate view of her in these relations.

  Such a prejudice against her had been created by her faults of manner, that the persons she might most wish to know often retired from her and avoided her. But she was “sagacious of her quarry,” and never suffered herself to be repelled by this. She saw when any one belonged to her, and never rested till she came into possession of her property. I recollect a lady who thus fled from her for several years, yet, at last, became most nearly attached to her. This “wise sweet” friend, as Margaret characterized her in two words, a flower hidden in the solitude of deep woods, Margaret saw and appreciated from the first.

  See how, in the following passage, she describes to one of her friends her perception of character, and her power of attracting it, when only fifteen years old.

  Jamaica Plains, July, 1840.—Do you remember my telling you, at Cohasset, of a Mr. — staying with us, when I was fifteen, and all that passed? Well, I have not seen him since, till, yesterday, he came here. I was pleased to find, that, even at so early an age, I did not overrate those I valued. He was the same as in memory; the powerful eye dignifying an otherwise ugly face; the calm wisdom, and refined observation, the imposing manière d’être, which anywhere would give him an influence among men, without his taking any trouble, or making any sacrifice, and the great waves of feeling that seemed to rise as an attractive influence, and overspread his being. He said, nothing since his childhood had been so marked as his visit to our house; that it had d welt in his thoughts unchanged amid all changes. I could have wished he had never returned to change the picture. He looked at me continually, and said, again and again, he should have known me anywhere; but O how changed I must be since that epoch of pride and fulness! He had with him his son, a wild boy of five years old, all brilliant with health and energy, and with the same powerful eye. He said,—You know I am not one to confound acuteness and rapidity of intellect with real genius; but he is for those an extraordinary child. He would astonish you, but I look deep enough into the prodigy to see the work of an extremely nervous temperament, and I shall make him as dull as I can. “Margaret,” (pronouncing the name in the same deliberate searching way he used to do,) “I love him so well, I will try to teach him moderation. If I can help it, he shall not feed on bitter ashes, nor try these paths of avarice and ambition.” It made me feel very strangely to hear him talk so to my old self. What a gulf between! There is scarce a fibre left of the haughty, passionate, ambitious child he remembered and loved. I felt affection for him still; for his character was formed then, and had not altered, except by ripening and expanding! But thus, in other worlds, we shall remember our present selves.

  Margaret’s constancy to any genuine relation, once established, was surprising. If her friends’ aim changed, so as to take them out of her sphere, she was saddened by it, and did not let them go without a struggle. But wherever they continued “true to the original standard,” (as she loved to phrase it) her affectionate interest would follow them unimpaired through all the changes of life. The principle of this constancy she thus expresses in a letter to one of her brothers:—

  Great and even fatal errors (so far as this life is concerned) could not destroy my friendship for one in whom I am sure of the kernel of nobleness.

  She never formed a friendship until she had seen and known this germ of good; and afterwards judged conduct by this. To this germ of good, to this highest law of each individual, she held them true. But never did she act like those who so often judge of their friend from some report of his conduct, as if they had never known him, and allow the inference from a single act to alter the opinion formed by an induction from years of intercourse. From all such weakness Margaret stood wholly free.

  I have referred to the wide range of Margaret’s friendships. Even at this period this variety was very apparent. She was the centre of a group very different from each other, and whose only affinity consisted in their all being polarized by the strong attraction of her mind,- all drawn toward herself. Some of her friends were young, gay and beautiful; some old, sick or studious. Some were children of the world, others pale scholars. Some were witty, others slightly dull. But all, in order to be Margaret’s friends, must be capable of seeking something,—capable of some aspiration for the better. And how did she glorify life to all! all that was tame and common vanishing away in the picturesque light thrown over the most familiar things by her rapid fancy, her brilliant wit, her sharp insight, her creative imagination, by the inexhaustible resources of her knowledge, and the copious rhetoric which found words and images always apt and always ready. Even then she displayed almost the same marvellous gift of conversation which afterwards dazzled all who knew her, with more perhaps of freedom, since she floated on the flood of our warm sympathies. Those who know Margaret only by her published writings know her least; her notes and letters contain more of her mind; but it was only in conversation that she was perfectly free and at home.

  Margaret’s constancy in friendship caused her to demand it in others, and thus she was sometimes exacting. But the pure Truth of her character caused her to express all such feelings with that freedom and simplicity that they became only as slight clouds on a serene sky, giving it a tenderer beauty, and casting picturesque shades over the landscape below. From her letters to different friends I select a few examples of these feelings.

  The world turns round and round, and you too must needs be negligent and capricious. You have not answered my note; you have not given me what I asked. You do not come here. Do not you act so,—it is the drop too much. The world seems not only turning but tottering, when my kind friend plays such a part.

  You need not have delayed your answer so long; why not at once answer the question I asked 1 Faith is not natural to me; for the love I feel to others is not in the idleness of poverty, nor can I persist in believing the best, merely to save myself pain, or keep a leaning place for the weary heart. But I should believe you, because I have seen that your feelings are strong and constant; they have never disappointed me, when closely scanned.

  July 6, 1832.—I believe I behaved very badly the other evening. I did not think so yesterday. I had been too surprised and vexed to recover very easily, but to-day my sophistries have all taken wing, and I feel that nothing good could have made me act with such childish petulance and bluntness towards one who spoke from friendly emotions. Be at peace; I will astonish you by my repose, mildness, and self-possession. No, that is silly; but I believe it cannot be right to be on such terms with any one, that, on the least vexation, I indulge my feelings at his or her expense. We will talk less, but we shall be very good friends still, I hope. Shall not we?

  In the last extract, we have an example of that genuine humility, which, being a love of truth, underlaid her whole character, notwithstanding its seeming pride. She could not have been great as she was, without it.*

  December 19th, 1829,—I shall always be glad to have you come to me when saddened. The melancholic does not misbecome you. The lights of your character are wintry. They are generally inspiriting, life-giving, but, if perpetual, would glare too much on the tired sense; one likes sometimes a cloudy day, with its damp and warmer breath,—its gentle, down-looking shades. Sadness in some is intolerably ungraceful and oppressive; it affects one like a cold rainy day in June or September, when all pleasure departs with the sun; everything seems out of place and irrelative to the time; the clouds are fog, the atmosphere leaden,—but ‘tis not so with you.

  Of her own truthfulness to her friends, which led her frankly to speak to them of their faults or dangers, her correspondence gives constant examples.

  The first is from a letter of later date than properly belongs to this chapter, but is so wholly in her spirit of candor that I insert it here. It is from a letter written in 1843.

  I have been happy in the sight of your pure design, of the sweetness and serenity of your mind. In the inner sanctuary we met. But I shall say a few blunt words, such as were frequent in the days of intimacy, and, if they are needless, you will let them fall to the ground. Youth is past, with its passionate joys and griefs, its restlessness, its vague desires. You have chosen your path, you have rounded out your lot, your duties are before you. Now beware the mediocrity that threatens middle age, its limitation of thought and interest, its dulness of fancy, its too external life, and mental thinness. Remember the limitations that threaten every professional man, only to be guarded against by great earnestness and watchfulness. So take care of yourself, and let not the intellect more than the spirit be quenched.

  It is such a relief to me to be able to speak to you upon a subject which I thought would never lie open between us. Now there will be no place which does not lie open to the light. I can always say what I feel. And the way in which you took it, so like yourself, so manly and noble, gives me the assurance that I shall have the happiness of seeing in yon that symmetry, that conformity in the details of life with the highest aims, of which I have sometimes despaired. How much higher, dear friend, is “the mind, the music breathing from the” life, than anything we can say! Character is higher than intellect; this I have long felt to be true; may we both live as if we knew it.

  **I hope and believe we may be yet very much to each other. Imperfect as I am, I feel myself not unworthy to be a true friend. Neither of us is unworthy. In few natures does such love for the good and beautiful survive the ruin of all youthful hopes, the wreck of all illusions.

  I supposed our intimacy would terminate when I left Cambridge. Its continuing to subsist is a matter of surprise to me. And I expected, ere this, you would have found some Hersilia, or such-like, to console you for losing your Natalia. See, my friend, I am three and twenty. I believe in love and friendship, but I cannot but notice that circumstances have appalling power, and that those links which are not riveted by situation, by interest, (I mean, not mere 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 Hersen.”

  Surely I may be 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 m1g11t 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 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 yon 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.’


  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 the8e 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 con Id 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 him, self, 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, or. 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 tram 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 reunions 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 no were never conventional; and she often amazed people by a cool and unexpected dissent from the commonplaces of popular acceptation.”


  Margaret, we have said, saw in each of her friends the secret interior capability, which might become hereafter developed into some special beauty or power. By means of this penetrating, this prophetic insight, she gave each to himself, acted on each to draw out his best nature, gave him an ideal out of which he could draw strength and liberty hour by hour. Thus her influence was ever ennobling, and each felt that in her society he was truer, wiser, better, and yet more free and happy, than elsewhere. The “dry light” which Lord Bacon loved, she never knew; her light was life, was love, was warm with sympathy and a boundless energy of affection and hope. Though her love flattered and charmed her friends, it did not spoil them, for they knew her perfect truth. They knew that she loved them, not for what she imagined, but for what she saw, though she saw it only in the germ. But as the Greeks beheld a Persephone and Athene in the passing stranger, and ennobled humanity into ideal beauty, Margaret saw all her friends thus idealized. She was a balloon of inefficient power to take us all up with her into the serene depth of heaven, where she loved to float, far above the low details of earthly life. Earth lay beneath us as a lovely picture,—its sounds came up mellowed into music.

  Margaret was, to persons younger than herself, a Makaria and Natalia. She was wisdom and intellectual beauty, filling life with a charm and glory “known to neither sea nor land.” To those of her own age she was sibyl and seer,—a prophetess, revealing the future, pointing the path, opening their eyes to the great aims only worthy of pursuit in life. To those older than herself she was like the Euphorion in Goethe’s drama, child of Faust and Helen,—a wonderful union of exuberance and judgment, born of romantic fulness and classic limitation. They saw with surprise her clear good-sense balancing her flow of sentiment and ardent courage. They saw her comprehension of both sides of every question, and gave her their confidence, as to one of equal age, because of so ripe a judgment.

  But it was curious to see with what care and conscience she kept her friendships distinct. Her fine practical understanding, teaching her always the value of limits, enabled her to hold apart all her intimacies, nor did one ever encroach on the province of the other. Like a moral Paganini, she played always on a single string, drawing from each its peculiar music,—bringing wild beauty from the slender wire, no less than from the deep-sounding harp-string. Some of her friends had little to give her when compared with others; but I never noticed that she sacrificed in any respect the smaller faculty to the greater. She fully realized that the Divine·· Being makes each part of this creation divine, and that He dwells in the blade of grass as really if not as fully as in the majestic oak which has braved the storm for a hundred years. She felt in full the thought of a poem which she once copied for me from Barry Cornwall, which begins thus:—

“She was not fair, nor full of grace,
Nor crowned with thought, nor aught beside
No wealth had she of mind or face,
To win our love, or gain our pride,—
No lover’s thought her heart could touch,
No poet’s dream was round her thrown;
And yet we miss her—ah, so much!
Now—she has flown.”

  I will close this section of Cambridge Friendship with the two following passages, the second of which was written to some one unknown to me:

  Your letter was of cordial sweetness to me, as is ever the thought of our friendship, – that sober-suited friendship, of which the web was so deliberately and well woven, and which wears so well.

* * * * * *

  I want words to express the singularity of all my past relations; yet let me try.

  From a very early age I have felt that I was not born to the common womanly lot. I knew I should never find a being who could keep the key of my character; that there would be none on whom I could always lean, from whom I could always learn; that I should be a pilgrim and sojourner on earth, and that the birds and foxes would be surer of a place to lay the head than I. You understand me, of course; such beings can only find their homes in hearts. All material luxuries, all the arrangements of society, are mere conveniences to them.

  This thought, all whose bearings I did not, indeed, understand, affected me sometimes with sadness, sometimes with pride. I mourned that I never should have a thorough experience of life, never know the full riches of my being; I was proud that I was to test myself in the sternest way, that I was always to return to myself, to be my own priest, pupil, parent, child, husband, and wife. All this I did not understand as I do now; but this destiny of the thinker, and ( shall I dare to say it?) of the poetic priestess, sibylline, dwelling in the cave, or amid the Lybian sands, lay yet enfolded in my mind. Accordingly, I did not look on any of the persons, brought into relation with me, with common womanly eyes.

  Yet, as my character is, after all, still more feminine than masculine, it would sometimes happen that I put more emotion into a state than I myself knew. I really was capable of attachment, though it never seemed so till the hour of separation. And if a connexion was torn up by the roots, the soil of my existence showed an unsightly wound, which long refused to clothe itself in verdure.

  With regard to yourself, I was to you all that I wished to be. I knew that I reigned in your thoughts in my own way. And I also lived with you more truly and freely than with any other person. We were truly friends, but it was not friends as men are friends to one another, or as brother and sister. There was, also, that pleasure, which may, perhaps, be termed conjugal, of finding oneself in an alien nature. Is there any tinge of love in this? Possibly! At least, in comparing it with my relation to —, I find that was strictly fraternal. I valued him for himself. I did not care for an influence over him, and was perfectly willing to have one or fifty rivals in his heart. **

  ** I think I may say, I never loved. I but see my possible life reflected on the clouds. As in a glass darkly, I have seen what I might feel as child, wife, mother, but I have never really approached the close relations of life. A sister I have truly been to many,—a brother to more,—a fostering nurse to, oh how many! The bridal hour of many a spirit, when first it was wed, I have shared, but said adieu before the wine was poured out at the banquet. And there is one I always love in my poetic hour, as the lily looks up to the star from amid the waters; and another whom I visit as the bee visits the flower, when I crave sympathy. Yet those who live would scarcely consider that I am among the living,—and I am isolated, as you say.

  My dear —, all is well; all has helped me to decipher the great poem of the universe. I can hardly describe to you the happiness which floods my solitary hours. My actual life is yet much clogged and impeded, but I have at last got me an oratory, where I can retire and pray. With your letter, vanished a last regret. You did not act or think unworthily. It is enough. As to the cessation of our confidential intercourse, circumstances must have accomplished that long ago; my only grief was that you should do it with your own free will, and for reasons that I thought unworthy. I long to honor you, to be honored by you. Now we will have free and noble thoughts of one another, and all that is best of our friendship shall remain.

* 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.’

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