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


“Friends she must have, but in no one could find
A tally fitted to so large a mind.”

  It is certain that Margaret, though unattractive in person, and assuming in manners, so that the girls complained that “she put upon them,” or, with her burly masculine existence, quite reduced them to satellites, yet inspired an enthusiastic attachment. I hear from one witness, as early as 1829, that “all the girls raved about Margaret Fuller,” and the same powerful magnetism wrought, as she went on, from year to year, on all ingenuous natures. The loveliest and the highest endowed women were eager to lay their beauty, their grace, the hospitalities of sumptuous homes, and their costly gifts, at her feet. When I expressed, one day, many years afterwards, to a lady who knew her well, some surprise at the homage paid her by men in Italy,—offers of marriage having there been made her by distinguished parties,—she replied: “There is nothing extraordinary in it. Had she been a man, any one of those fine girls of sixteen, who surrounded her here, would have married her: they were all in love with her, she understood them so well.’’ She had seen many persons, and had entire confidence in her own discrimination of characters. She saw and foresaw all in the first interview. She had certainly made her own selections with great precision, and had not been disappointed. When pressed for a reason, she replied, in one instance, ‘I have no good reason to give for what I think of ——. It is a dæmoniacal intimation. Everybody at ——, praised her, but their account of what she said gave me the same unfavorable feeling. This is the first instance in which I have not had faith, if you liked a person. Perhaps I am wrong now; perhaps, if I saw her, a look would give me a needed clue to her character, and I should change my feeling. Yet I have never been mistaken in these intimations, as far as I recollect. I hope I am now.

  I am to add, that she gave herself to her friendships with an entireness not possible to any but a woman, with a depth possible to few women. Her friendships, as a girl with girls, as a woman with women, were not unmingled with passion, and had passages of romantic sacrifice and of ecstatic fusion, which I have heard with the ear, but could not trust my profane pen to report. There were, also, the ebbs and recoils from the other party,—the mortal unequal to converse with an immortal,—ingratitude, which was more truly incapacity, the collapse of overstrained affections and powers. At all events, it is clear that Margaret, later, grew more strict, and values herself with her friends on having the tie now “redeemed from all search after Eros.” So much, however, of intellectual aim and activity mixed with her alliances, as to breathe a certain dignity and myrrh through them all. She and her friends are fellow-students with noblest moral aims. She is there for help and for counsel. ‘Be to the best thou knowest ever true!’ is her language to one. And that was the effect of her presence. Whoever conversed with her felt challenged by the strongest personal influence to a bold and generous life. To one she wrote,—‘Could a word from me avail you, I would say, that I have firm faith that nature cannot be false to her child, who has shown such an unalterable faith in her piety towards her.’

  ‘These tones of my dear ——’s lyre are of the noblest. Will they sound purely through her experiences? Will the variations be faithful to the theme? Not always do those who most devoutly long for the Infinite, know best how to modulate their finite into a fair passage of the eternal Harmony.

  How many years was it the cry of my spirit,—

“Give, give, ye mighty Gods!
Why do ye thus hold back?”—

and, I suppose, all noble young persons think for the time that they would have been more generous than the Olympians. But when we have learned the high lesson to deserve,—that boon of manhood,—we see they esteemed us too much, to give what we had not earned.’

  The following passages from her journal and her letters are sufficiently descriptive, each in its way, of her strong affections.

  ‘At Mr. G.’s we looked over prints, the whole evening, in peace. Nothing fixed my attention so much as a large engraving of Madame Recamier in her boudoir. I have so often thought over the intimacy between her and Madame De Stael.

  ‘It is so true that a woman may be in love with a woman, and a man with a man. l like to be sure of it, for it is the same love which angels feel, where—

“Sie fragen nicht nach Mann und Weib.”

  ‘It is regulated by the same law as that of love between persons of different sexes; only it is purely intellectual and spiritual. Its law is the desire of the spirit to realize a whole, which makes it seek in another being what it finds not in itself. Thus the beautiful seek the strong, and the strong the beautiful; the mute seeks the eloquent, &c.; the butterfly settles always on the dark flower. Why did Socrates love Alcibiades? Why did Korner love Schneider? How natural is the love of Wallenstein for Max; that of De Stael for De Recamier; mine for ——. I loved —— for a time, with as much passion as I was then strong enough to feel. Her face was always gleaming before me; her voice was always echoing in my ear; all poetic thoughts clustered round the dear image. This love was a key which unlocked for me many a treasure which I still possess; it was the carbuncle which cast light into many of the darkest caverns of human nature. She loved me, too, though not so much, because her nature was “less high, less grave, less large, less deep.” But she loved more tenderly, less passionately. She loved me, for I well remember her suffering when she first could feel my faults, and knew one part of the exquisite veil rent away; how she wished to stay apart, and weep the whole day.’

*    *    *    *    *

  ‘I do not love her now with passion, but I still feel towards her as I can to no other woman. I thought of all this as I looked at Madame Recamier.’

TO R. W. E.

  7th Feb., 1843.—I saw the letter of your new friend, and liked it much; only, at this distance, one could not be sure whether it was the nucleus or the train of a comet, that lightened afar. The dæmons are not busy enough at the births of most men. They do not give them individuality deep enough for truth to take root in. Such shallow natures cannot resist a strong head; its influence goes right through them. It is not stopped and fermented long enough. But I do not understand this hint of hesitation, because you have many friends already. We need not economize, we need not hoard these immortal treasures. Love and thought are not diminished by diffusion. In the widow’s cruse is oil enough to furnish light for all the world.

TO R. W. E.

  15th March, 1842.—It is to be hoped, my best one, that the experiences of life will yet correct your vocabulary, and that you will not always answer the burst of frank affection by the use of such a word as “flattery.”

  Thou knowest, O all-seeing Truth! whether that hour is base or unworthy thee, in which the· heart turns tenderly towards some beloved object, whether stirred by an apprehension of its needs, or of its present beauty, or of its great promise; when it would lay before it all the flowers of hope and love, would soothe its weariness as gently as might the sweet south, and flatter it by as fond an outbreak of pride and devotion as is seen on the sunset clouds. Thou knowest whether these promptings, whether these longings, be not truer than intellectual scrutiny of the details of character; than cold distrust of the exaggerations even of heart. What we hope, what we think of those we love, is true, true as the fondest dream of love and friendship that ever shone upon the childish heart.

  The faithful shall yet meet a full-eyed love, ready as profound, that never needs turn the key on its retirement, or arrest the stammering of an overweening trust.

TO ——.

  I wish I could write you often, to bring before you the varied world-scene you cannot so well go out to unfold for yourself. But it was never permitted me, even where I wished it most. But the forest leaves fall unseen, and make a soil on which shall be reared the growths and fabrics of a nobler era. This thought rounds off each day. Your letter was a little golden key to a whole volume of thoughts and feelings. I cannot make the one bright drop, like champagne in ice, but must pour a full gush, if I speak at all, and not think whether the water is clear either.

  With this great heart, and these attractions, it was easy to add daily to the number of her friends. With her practical talent, her counsel and energy, she was pretty sure to find clients and sufferers enough, who wished to be guided and supported. ‘Others,’ she said, ‘lean on this arm, which I have found so frail. Perhaps it is strong enough to have drawn a sword, but no better suited to be used as a bolt, than that of Lady Catharine Douglas, of loyal memory.’ She could not make a journey, or go to an evening party, without meeting a new person, who wished presently to impart his history to her. Very early, she had written to ——, ‘My museum is so well furnished, that I grow lazy about collecting new specimens of human nature.’ She had soon enough examples of the historic development of rude intellect under the first rays of culture. But, in a thousand individuals, the process is much the same; and, like a professor too long pent in his college, she rejoiced in encountering persons of untutored grace and strength, and felt no wish to prolong the intercourse when culture began to have its effect. I find in her journal a characteristic note, on receiving a letter on books and speculations, from one whom she had valued for his heroic qualities in a life of adventure:—

  ‘These letters of —— are beautiful, and moved me deeply. It looks like the birth of a soul. But I loved thee, fair, rich earth,—and all that is gone forever. This that comes now, we know in much farther stages. Yet there is silver sweet in the tone, generous nobility in the impulses.

  Poor Tasso in the play offered his love and service too officiously to all. They all rejected it, and declared him mad, because he made statements too emphatic of his feelings. If I wanted only ideal figures to think about, there are those in literature I like better than any of your living ones. But I want far more. I want habitual intercourse, cheer, inspiration, tenderness. I want these for myself; I want to impart them. I have done as Timon did, for these last eight years. My early intercourses were more equal, because more natural. Since I took on me the vows of renunciation, I have acted like a prodigal. Like Timon, I have loved to give, perhaps not from beneficence, but from restless love. Now, like Fortunatus, I find my mistresses will not thank me for fires made of cinnamon; rather they run from too rich an odor. What shall I do? not curse, like him, (oh base!) nor dig my grave in the marge of the salt tide. Give -an answer to my questions, dæmon! Give a rock for my feet, a bird of peaceful and sufficient song within my breast! I return to thee, my Father, from the husks that have been offered me. But I return as one who meant not to leave Thee.’

  Of course, she made large demands on her companions, and would soon come to sound their knowledge, and guess pretty nearly the range of their thoughts. There yet remained to command her constancy, what she valued more, the quality and affection proper to each. But she could rarely find natures sufficiently deep and magnetic. With her sleepless curiosity, her magnanimity, and her diamond-ring, like Annie of Lochroyan’s, to exchange for gold or for pewter, she might be pardoned for her impatient questionings. To me, she was uniformly generous; but neither did I escape. Our moods were very different; and I remember, that, at the very time when I, slow and cold, had come fully to admire her genius, and was congratulating myself on the solid good understanding that subsisted between us, I was surprised with hearing it taxed by her with superficiality and halfness. She stigmatized our friendship as commercial. It seemed, her magnanimity was not met, but I prized her only for the thoughts and pictures she brought me;—so many thoughts, so many facts yesterday,—so many to-day;—when there was an end of things to tell, the game was up: that, I did not know, as a friend should know, to prize a silence as much as a discourse,—and hence a forlorn feeling was inevitable; a poor counting of thoughts, and a taking the census of virtues, was the unjust reception so much love found. On one occasion, her grief broke into words like these: ‘The religious nature remained unknown to you, because it could not proclaim itself, but claimed to be divined. The deepest soul that approached you was, in your eyes, nothing but a magic lantern, always bringing out pretty shows of life.’

  But as I did not understand the discontent then,—of course, I cannot now. It was a war of temperaments, and could not be reconciled by words; but, after each party had explained to the uttermost, it was necessary to fall back on those grounds of agreement which remained, and leave the differences henceforward in respectful silence. The recital may still serve to show to sympathetic persons the true lines and enlargements of her genius. It is certain that this incongruity never interrupted for a moment the intercourse, such as it was, that existed between us.

  I ought to add here, that certain mental changes brought new questions into conversation. In the summer of 1840, she passed into certain religious states, which did not impress me as quite healthy, or likely to be permanent; and I said, “I do not understand your tone; it seems exaggerated. You are one who can afford to speak and to hear the truth. Let us hold hard to the common-sense, and let us speak in the positive degree.”

  And I find, in later letters from her, sometimes playful, sometimes grave allusions to this explanation.

  ‘Is —— there? Does water meet water?—no need of wine, sugar, spice, or even a soupçon of lemon to remind of a tropical climate? I fear me not. Yet, dear positives, believe me superlatively yours, MARGARET.’

  The following letter seems to refer, under an Eastern guise, and with something of Eastern exaggeration of compliment too, to some such native sterilities in her correspondent:—

TO R. W. E.

  23d Feb., 1840.—I am like some poor traveller of the desert, who saw, at early morning, a distant palm, and toiled all day to reach it. All day he toiled. The unfeeling sun shot pains into his temples; the burning air, filled with sand, checked his breath; he had no water, and no fountain sprung along his path. But his eye was bright with courage, for he said, “When I reach the lonely palm, I will lie beneath its shade. I will refresh myself with its fruit. Allah has reared it to such a height, that it may encourage the wandering, and bless and sustain the faint and weary.” But when he reached it, alas! it had grown too high to shade the weary man at its foot. On it he saw no clustering dates, and its one draught of wine was far beyond his reach. He saw at once that it was so. A child, a bird, a monkey, might have climbed to reach it. A rude hand might have felled the whole tree; but the full-grown man, the weary man, the gentle-hearted, religious man, was no nearer to its nourishment for being close to the root; yet he had not force to drag himself further, and leave at once the aim of so many fond hopes, so many beautiful thoughts. So he lay down amid the inhospitable sands. The night dews pierced his exhausted frame; the hyena laughed, the lion roared, in the distance; the stars smiled upon him satirically from their passionless peace; and he knew they were like the sun, as unfeeling, only more distant. He could not sleep for famine. With the dawn he arose. The palm stood as tall, as inaccessible, as ever; its leaves did not so much as rustle an answer to his farewell sigh. On and on he went, and came, at last, to a living spring. The spring was encircled by tender verdure, wild fruits ripened near, and the clear waters sparkled up to tempt his lip. The pilgrim rested, and refreshed himself, and looked back with less pain to the unsympathizing palm, which yet towered in the distance.

  But the wanderer had a mission to perform, which must have forced him to leave at last both palm and fountain. So on and on he went, saying to the palm, “Thou art for another;” and to the gentle waters, “I will return.”

  Not far distant was he when the sirocco came, and choked with sand the fountain, and uprooted the fruit trees. When years have passed, the waters will have forced themselves up again to light, and a new oasis will await a new wanderer. Thou, Sohrab, wilt, ere that time, have left thy bones at Mecca. Yet the remembrance of the fountain cheers thee as a blessing; that of the palm haunts thee as a pang.

  So talks the soft spring gale of the Shah Nameh. Genuine Sanscrit I cannot write. My Persian and Arabic you love not. Why do I write thus to one who must ever regard the deepest tones of my nature as those of childish fancy or worldly discontent?

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