This catching at straws of coincidence, where all is geometrical, seems the necessity of certain natures. It is true, that, in every good work, the particulars are right, and, that every spot of light on the ground, under the trees, is a perfect image of the sun. Yet, for astronomical purposes, an observatory is better than an orchard; and in a universe which is nothing but generations, or an unbroken suite of cause and effect, to infer Providence, because a man happens to find a shilling on the pavement just when he wants one to spend, is puerile, and much as if each of us should date his letters and notes of hand from his own birthday, instead of from Christ’s or the king’s reign, or the current Congress. These, to be sure, are also, at first, petty and private beginnings, but, by the world of men, clothed with a social and cosmical character.
It will be seen, however, that this propensity Margaret held with certain tenets of fate, which always swayed her, and which Goethe, who had found room and fine names for all this in his system, had encouraged; and, I may add, which her own experiences, early and late, seemed strangely to justify.
Some extracts, from her letters to different persons will show how this matter lay in her mind.
December 17, 1829.一The following instance of beautiful credulity, in Rousseau, has taken my mind greatly. This remote seeking for the decrees of fate, this feeling of a destiny, casting its shadows from the very morning of thought, is the most beautiful species of idealism in our day. ‘Tis finely manifested in Wallenstein, where the two common men sum up their superficial observations on the life and doings of Wallenstein, and show that, not until this agitating crisis, have they caught any idea of the deep thoughts which shaped that hero, who has without their feeling it, moulded their existence.
“Tasso,” says Rousseau, “has predicted my misfortunes. Have you remarked that Tasso has this peculiarity, that you cannot take from his work a single strophe, nor from any strophe a single line, nor from any line a single word, without disarranging the whole poem? Very well! take away the strophe I speak of, the stanza has no connection with those that precede or follow it; it is absolutely useless. Tasso probably wrote it involuntarily, and without comprehending it himself.”
As to the impossibility of taking from Tasso without disarranging the poem, &c., I dare say ‘tis not one whit more justly said of his, than of any other narrative poem. Mais, n’ importe, ‘tis sufficient if Rousseau believed this. I found the stanza in question; admire its meaning beauty.
I hope you have Italian enough to appreciate the singular perfection in expression. If not, look to Fairfax’s Jerusalem Delivered, Canto 12, Stanza 77; but Rousseau says these lines have no connection with what goes before or after; they are preceded, stanza 76, by these three lines, which he does not think fit to mention.
Misero mostro a cui sol pena è degna
Dell’ immensa impietà, la vita indegna.”
“Vivrò fra i miei tormenti e fra le cure,
Mie giuste furie, forsennato errante.
Paventerò l’ombre solinghe e scure,
Che l’primo error mirecheranno avante:
E del sol che scoprì le mie sventure,
A schivo ed in orrore avrò il sembiante.
Temerò memedesmo; e da me stesso
Sempre fuggendo, avrò me sempre appresso.”
LA GERUSALEMME LIBERATA, C. XII. 76, 77.
Dec. 12, 1843.一When Goethe received a letter from Zelter, with a handsome superscription, he said, “Lay that aside; it is Zelter’s true hand-writing. Every man has a dӕmon, who is busy to confuse and limit his life. No way is the action of this power more clearly shown, than in the hand-writing. On this occasion, the evil influences have been evaded; the mood, the hand, the pen and paper have conspired to let our friend write truly himself.”
You may perceive, I quote from memory, as the sentences are anything but Goethean; but I think often of this little passage. Whit me, for weeks and months, the dӕmon works his will. Nothing succeeds with me. I fall ill, or am otherwise interrupted. At these times, whether of frost, or sultry weather, I would gladly neither plant nor reap,一wait for the better times, which sometimes come, when I forget that sickness is ever possible; when all interruptions are upborne like straws on the full stream of my life, and the words that accompany it are as much in harmony as sedges murmuring near the bank. Not all, yet not unlike. But it often happens, that something presents itself, and must be done, in the bad time; nothing presents itself in the good: so I, like the others, seem worse and poorer than I am.
In another letter to an earlier friend, she expatiates a little.
As to the Dӕmoniacal, I know not that I can say to you anything more precise than you find from Goethe. There are no precise terms for such thoughts. The word instinctive indicates their existence. I intimated it in the little piece on the Drachenfels. It may be best understood, perhaps, by a symbol. As the sun shines from the serene heavens, dispelling noxious exhalations, and calling forth exquisite thoughts on the surface of earth in the shape of shrub or flower, so gnome-like works the fire within the hidden caverns and secret veins of earth, fashioning existences which have a longer share in time, perhaps, because they are not immortal in though. Love, beauty, wisdom, goodness are intelligent, but this power moves only to seize its prey. It is not necessarily either malignant or the reverse, but it has no scope beyond demonstrating its existence. When conscious, self-asserting, it becomes (as power working for its own sake, unwilling to acknowledge love for its superior, must) the devil. That is the legend of Lucifer, the star that would not own its centre. Yet, while it is unconscious, it is not devilish, only dӕmoniac. In nature, we trace it in all volcanic workings, in a boding position of lights, in whispers of the wind, which has no pedigree; in deceitful invitations of the water, in the sullen rock, which never shall find a voice, and in the shapes of all those beings who go about seeking what they may devour. We speak of a mystery, a dread; we shudder, but we approach still nearer, and a part of our nature listens, sometimes answers to this influence, which, if not indestructible, is at least indissolubly linked with the existence of matter.
In genius, and in character, it works, as you say, instinctively; it refuses to be analyzed by the understanding, and is most of all inaccessible to the person who possesses it. We can only say, I have it, he has it. You have seen it often in the eyes of those Italian faces you like. It is most obvious in the eye. As we look on such eyes, we think on the tiger, the serpent, beings who lurk, glide, fascinate, mysteriously control. For it is occult by its nature, and if it could meet you on the highway, and be familiarly known as an acquaintance, could not exist. The angels of light do not love, yet they do not insist on exterminating it.
It has given rise to the fables of wizard, enchantress, and the like; these beings are scarcely good, yet not necessarily bad. Power tempts them. They draw their skills from the dead, because their being is coeval with that of matter, and matter is the mother of death.
In later days, she allowed herself sometimes to dwell sadly on the resistances which she called her fate, and remarked, that ‘all life that has been or could be natural to me, is invariably denied.’
She wrote long afterwards:一
My days at Milan were not unmarked. I have known some happy hours, but they all lead to sorrow, and not only the cups of wine, but of milk, seems drugged with poison, for me. It does not seem to be my fault, this destiny. I do not court these things,一they come. I am a poor magnet, with power to be wounded by the bodies I attract.
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