Cut off from access to the scholars, libraries, lectures, galleries of art, museums of science, antiquities, and historic scenes of Europe, Margaret bent her powers to use such opportunities of culture as she could command in her solitary country-home. Journals and letters thus bear witness to her zeal:—
I am having one of my “intense” times, devouring book after book. I never stop a minute, except to talk with mother, having laid all little duties on the shelf for a few days. Among other things, I have twice read through the life of Sir J. Mackintosh; and it has suggested so much to me, that I am very sorry I did not talk it over with you. It is quite gratifying, after my late chagrin, to find Sir James, with all his metaphysical turn, and ardent desire to penetrate it, puzzling so over the German philosophy, and particularly what I was myself troubled about, at Cambridge,—Jacobi’s letters to Fichte.
Few things have ever been written more discriminating or more beautiful than his strictures upon the Hindoo character, his portrait of Fox, and his second letter to Robert Hall, after his recovery from derangement. Do you remember what he says of the want of brilliancy in Priestley’s moral sentiments? Those remarks, though slight, seem to me to show the quality of his mind more decidedly than anything in the book. That so much learning, benevolence, and almost unparalleled fairness of mind, should be in a great measure lost to the world, for want of earnestness of purpose, might impel us to attach to the latter attribute as much importance as does the wise uncle in Wilhelm Meister.
As to what you say of Shelley, it is true that the unhappy influences of early education prevented his ever attaining clear views of God, life, and the soul. At thirty, he was still a seeker,—an experimentalist. But then his should not be compared with such a mind as ——’s, which, having no such exuberant fancy to tame, nor various faculties to develop, naturally comes to maturity sooner. Had Shelley lived twenty years longer, I have no doubt he would have become a fervent Christian, and thus have attained that mental harmony which was necessary to him. It is true, too, as you say, that we always feel a melancholy imperfection in what he writes. But I love to think of those other spheres in which so pure and rich a being shall be perfected; and I cannot allow his faults of opinion and sentiment to mar my enjoyment of the vast capabilities, and exquisite perception of beauty, displayed everywhere in his poems.’
March 17, 1836.—I think Herschel will be very valuable to me, from the slight glance I have taken of it, and I thank Mr. F.; but do not let him expect anything of me because I have ventured on a book so profound as the Novum Organ um. I have been examining myself with severity, intellectually as well as morally, and am shocked to find how vague and superficial is all my knowledge. I am no longer surprised that I should have appeared harsh and arrogant in my strictures to one who, having a better-disciplined mind, is more sensible of the difficulties in the way of really knowing and doing anything, and who, having more Wisdom, has more Reverence too. All that passed at your house will prove very useful to me; and I trust that I am approximating somewhat to that genuine humility which is so indispensable to true regeneration. But do not speak of this to ——, for I am not yet sure of the state of my mind.
1836.—I have, for the time, laid aside De Stael and Bacon, for Martineau and Southey. I find, with delight, that the former has written on the very subjects I wished most to talk out with her, and probably I shall receive more from her in this way than by personal intercourse,—for I think more of her character when with her, and am stimulated through my affections. As to Southey, I am steeped to the lips in enjoyment. I am glad I did not know this poet earlier; for I am now just ready to receive his truly exalting influences in some degree. I think, in reading, I shall place him next to Wordsworth. I have finished Herschel, and really believe I am a little wiser. I have read, too, Heyne’s letters twice, Sartor Resartus once, some of Goethe’s late diaries, Coleridge’s Literary Remains, and drank a great deal from Wordsworth. By the way, do you know his “Happy Warrior”? I find my insight of this sublime poet perpetually deepening.
Mr. —— says the Wanderjahre is “wise.” It must be presumed so; and yet one is not satisfied. I was perfectly so with my manner of interpreting the Lehrjahre; but this sequel keeps jerking my clue, and threatens to break it. I do not know our Goethe yet. I have changed my opinion about his religious views many times. Sometimes I am tempted to think that it is only his wonderful knowledge of human nature which has excited in me such reverence for his philosophy, and that no worthy fabric has been elevated on this broad foundation. Yet often, when suspecting that I have found a huge gap, the next turning it appears that it was but an air-hole, and there is a brick all ready to stop it. On the whole, though my enthusiasm for the Goetherian philosophy is checked, my admiration for the genius of Goethe is in nowise lessened, and I stand in a sceptical attitude, ready to try his philosophy, and, if needs must, play the Eclectic.
Did I write that a kind-hearted neighbor, fearing I might be dull, sent to offer me the use of a book-caseful of Souvenirs, Gems, and such-like glittering ware? I took a two or three year old “Token,” and chanced on a story, called the “Gentle Boy,” which I remembered to have heard was written by somebody in Salem. It is marked by so much grace and delicacy of feeling, that I am very desirous to know the author, whom I take to be a lady. * *
With regard to what you say about the American Monthly, my answer is, I would gladly sell some part of my mind for lucre, to get the command of time; but I will not sell my soul: that is, I am perfectly willing to take the trouble of writing for money to pay the seamstress; but I am not willing to have what I write mutilated, or what I ought to say dictated to suit the public taste. You speak of my writing about Tieck. It is my earnest wish to interpret the German authors of whom I am most fond to such Americans as are ready to receive. Perhaps some might sneer at the notion of my becoming a teacher; but where I love so much, surely I might inspire others to love a little; and I think this kind of culture would be precisely the counterpoise required by the utilitarian tendencies of our day and place. My very imperfections may be of value. While enthusiasm is yet fresh, while I am still a novice, it may be more easy to communicate with those quite uninitiated, than when I shall have attained to a higher and calmer state of knowledge. I hope a periodical may arise, by and by, which may think me worthy to furnish a series of articles on German literature, giving room enough and perfect freedom to say what I please. In this case, I should wish to devote at least eight numbers to Tieck, and should use the Garden of Poesy, and my other translations.
I have sometimes thought of translating his Little Red Riding Hood, for children. If it could be adorned with illustrations, like those in the “Story without an End,” it would make a beautiful little book; but I do not know that this could be done in Boston. There is much meaning that children could not take in; but, as they would never discover this till able to receive the whole, the book corresponds exactly with my notions of what a child’s book should be.
I should like to begin the proposed series with a review of Heyne’s letters on German Literature, which afford excellent opportunity for some preparatory hints. My plans are so undecided for several coming months, that I cannot yet tell whether I shall have the time and tranquillity needed to write out the whole course, though much tempted by the promise of perfect liberty. I could engage, however, to furnish at least two articles on Novalis and Korner. I trust you will be interested in my favorite Korner. Great is my love for both of them. But I wish to write something which shall not only be free from exaggeration, but which shall seem so, to those unacquainted with their works.
I have so much reading to go through with this month, that I have but few hours for correspondents. I have already discussed five volumes in German, two in French, three in English, and not without thought and examination. * *
Tell —— that I read “Titan” by myself, in the afternoons and evenings of about three weeks. She need not be afraid to undertake it. Difficulties of detail may, perhaps, not be entirely conquered without a master or a good commentary, but she could enjoy all that is most valuable alone. I should be very unwilling to read it with a person of narrow or unrefined mind; for it is a noble work, and fit to raise a reader into that high serene of thought where pedants cannot enter.
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