Problems of Life.

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


  Already, too; at this time, each of the main problems of human life had been closely scanned and interrogated by her, and some of them had been much earlier settled. A worshipper of beauty, why could not she also have been beautiful?—of the most radiant sociality, why should not she have been so placed, and so decorated, as to have led the fairest and highest? In her journal is a bitter sentence, whose meaning I cannot mistake: ‘Of a disposition that requires the most refined, the most exalted tenderness, without charms to inspire it:—poor Mignon! fear not the transition through death; no penal fires can have in store worse torments than thou art familiar with already.’

  In the month of May, she writes:—‘When all things are blossoming, it seems so strange not to blossom too; that the quick thought within cannot remould its tenement. Man is the slowest aloes, and I am such a shabby plant, of such coarse tissue. I hate not to be beautiful, when all around is so.’

  Again, after recording a visit to a family, whose taste and culture, united to the most liberal use of wealth, made the most agreeable of homes, she writes: ‘Looking out on the wide view, I felt the blessings of my comparative freedom. I stand in no false relations. Who else is so happy? Here are these fair, unknowing children envying the depth of my mental life. They feel withdrawn by sweet duties from reality. Spirit! I accept; teach me to prize and use whatsoever is given me.’

  ‘At present,’ she writes elsewhere, ‘it skills not. I am able to take the superior view of life, and my place in it. But I know the deep yearnings of the heart and the bafflings of time will be felt again, and then I shall long for some dear hand to hold. But I shall never forget that my curse is nothing, compared with that of those who have entered into those relations, but not made them real; who only seem husbands, wives, and friends.’

  ‘I remain fixed to be, without churlishness or coldness, as much alone as possible. It ls best for me. I am not fitted to be loved, and it pains me to have close dealings with those who do not love, to whom my feelings are “strange.” Kindness and esteem are very well. I am willing to receive and bestow them; but these alone are not worth feelings such as mine. And I wish I may make no more mistakes, but keep chaste for mine own people.’

  There is perhaps here, as in a passage of the same journal quoted already, an allusion to a verse in the ballad of the Lass of Lochroyan:—

“O yours was gude, and gude enough,
But aye the best was mine;
For yours was o’ the gude red gold,
But mine o’ the diamond fine.”

  ‘There is no hour of absolute beauty in all my past, though some have been made musical by heavenly hope, many dignified by intelligence. Long urged by the Furies, I rest again in the temple of Apollo. Celestial verities dawn constellated as thoughts in the heaven of my mind.

  But, driven from home to home, as a renouncer, I get the picture and the poetry of each. Keys of gold, silver, iron, and lead, are in my casket. No one loves me; but I love many a good deal; and see, more or less, into their eventual beauty. Meanwhile, I have no fetter on me, no engagement, and, as I look on others,—almost every other,—can I fail to feel this a great privilege? I have nowise tied· my hands or feet; yet the varied calls on my sympathy have been such, that I hope not to be made partial, cold, or ignorant, by this isolation. I have no child; but now, as I look on these lovely children of a human birth, what low and neutralizing cares they bring with them to the mother! The children of the muse come quicker, and have not on them the taint of earthly corruption.’

  Practical questions in plenty the days and months brought her to settle,-questions requiring all her wisdom, and sometimes more than all. None recurs with more frequency, at one period, in her journals, than the debate with herself, whether she shall make literature a profession. Shall it be woman, or shall it be artist?

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