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


  May, 1833.—As to German, I have done less than I hoped, so much had the time been necessarily broken up. I have with me the works of Goethe which I have not yet read, and am now engaged upon “Kunst and Alterthum,” and “Campagne in Frankreich.” I still prefer Goethe to any one, and, as I proceed, find more and more to learn, and am made to feel that my general notion of his mind is most imperfect, and needs testing and sifting.

  I brought your beloved Jean Paul with me, too. I cannot yet judge well, but think we shall not be intimate. His infinitely variegated, and certainly most exquisitely colored, web fatigues attention. I prefer, too, wit to humor, and daring imagination to the richest fancy. Besides, his philosophy and religion seem to be of the sighing sort, and, having some tendency that way myself, I want opposing force in a favorite author. Perhaps I have spoken unadvisedly; if so, I shall recant on further knowledge.

  And thus recant she did, when familiar acquaintance with the genial and sagacious humorist had won for him her reverent love.

Poet of Nature! Gentlest of the wise,
Most airy of the fanciful, most keen
Of satirists!—thy thoughts, like butterflies,
Still near the sweetest scented flowers have been
With Titian’s colors thou canst sunset point,
With Raphael’s dignity, celestial love;
With Hogarth’s pencil, each deceit and feint
Of meanness and hypocrisy reprove;
Canst to devotion’s highest flight sublime
Exalt the mind, by tenderest pathos’ art,
Dissolve, in purifying tears, the heart,
Or bid it, shuddering, recoil at crime;
The fond illusions of the youth and maid,
At which so many world-formed sages sneer,
When by thy altar-lighted torch displayed,
Our natural religion must appear.
All things in thee tend to one polar star,
Magnetic all thy influences are!

  Some murmur at the “want of system” in Richter’s writings.

A labyrinth! a flowery wilderness!
Some in thy “slip-boxes” and “honey-moons”
Complain of—want of order, I confess,
But not of system in its highest sense.
Who asks a guiding clue through this wide mind,
In love of Nature such will surely find.
In tropic climes, live like the tropic bird,
Whene’er a spice-fraught grove may tempt thy stay;
Nor be by cares of colder climes disturbed—
No frost the summer’s bloom shall drive away
Nature’s wide temple and the azure dome
Have plan enough for the free spirit’s home!

  Your Schiller has already given me great pleasure. I have been reading the “Revolt in the Netherlands” with intense interest, and have reflected much upon it. The volumes are numbered in my little book-case, and as the eye runs over them, I thank the friendly heart that put all this genius and passion within my power.

  I am glad, too, that you thought of lending me “Bigelow’s Elements.” I have studied the Architecture attentively, till I feel quite mistress of it all. But I want more engravings, Vitruvius, Magna Græcia, the Ionian Antiquities, &c. Meanwhile, I have got out all our tours in Italy. Forsyth, a book I always loved much, I have re-read with increased pleasure, by this new light. Goethe, too, studied architecture while in Italy; so his books are full of interesting information; and Madame De Stael, though not deep, is tasteful.

  American History! Seriously, my mind is regenerating as to my country, for I am beginning to appreciate the United States and its great men. The violent antipathies,—the result of an exaggerated love for, shall I call it by so big a name as the “poetry of being?”—and the natural distrust arising from being forced to hear the conversation of half-bred men, all whose petty feelings were roused to awkward life by the paltry game of local politics,—are yielding to reason and calmer knowledge. Had I but been educated in the knowledge of such men as Jefferson, Franklin, Rush! I have learned now to know them partially. And I rejoice, if only because my father and I can have so much in common on this topic. All my other pursuits have led me away from him; here he has much information and ripe judgment. But, better still, I hope to feel no more that sometimes despairing, sometimes insolently contemptuous, feeling of incongeniality with my time and place. Who knows but some proper and attainable object of pursuit may present itself to the cleared eye? At any rate, wisdom is good, if it brings neither bliss nor glory.

  March, 1834.—Four pupils are a serious and fatiguing charge for one of my somewhat ardent and impatient disposition. Five days in the week I have given daily lessons in three languages, in Geography and History, besides many other exercises on alternate days. This has consumed often eight, always five hours of my day. There has been, also, a great deal of needle-work to do, which is now nearly finished, so that I shall not be obliged to pass my time about it when everything looks beautiful, as I did last summer. We have had very poor servants, and, for some time past, only one. My mother has been often ill. My grandmother, who passed the winter with us, has been ill. Thus, you may imagine, as I am the only grown-up daughter, that my time has been considerably taxed.

  But as, sad or merry, I must always be learning, I laid down a course of study at the beginning of winter, comprising certain subjects, about which I had always felt deficient. These were the History and Geography of modern Europe, beginning the former in the fourteenth century; the Elements of Architecture; the works of Alfieri, with his opinions on them; the historical and critical works of Goethe and Schiller, and the outlines of history of our own country.

  I chose this time as one when I should have nothing to distract or dissipate my mind. I have nearly completed this course, in the style I proposed,—not minute or thorough, I confess,—though I have had only three evenings in the week, and chance hours in the day, for it. I am very glad I have undertaken it, and feel the good effects already. Occasionally, I try my hand at composition, but have not completed anything to my own satisfaction. I have sketched a number of plans, but if ever accomplished, it must be in a season of more joyful energy, when my mind has been renovated, and refreshed by change of scene or circumstance. My translation of Tasso cannot be published at present, if it ever is.

  My object is to examine thoroughly, as far as my time and abilities will permit, the evidences of the Christian Religion. I have endeavored to get rid of this task as much and as long as possible; to be content with superficial notions, and, if I may so express it, to adopt religion as a matter of taste. But I meet with infidels very often; two or three of my particular friends are deists; and their arguments, with distressing sceptical notions of my own, are haunting me forever. I must satisfy myself; and having once begun, I shall go on as far as I can.

  My mind often swells with thoughts on these subjects, which I long to pour out on some person of superior calmness and strength, and fortunate in more accurate knowledge. I should feel such a quieting reaction. But, generally, it seems best that I should go through these conflicts alone. The process will be slower, more irksome, more distressing, but the results will be my own, and I shall feel greater confidence in them.

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