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


  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, unconfiding 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 confidences.

  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 naiveté. 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 her:—

  “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.”

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