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


  Margaret’s Providence journals are made extremely piquant and entertaining, by her life-like portraiture of people and events; and every page attests the scrupulous justice with which she sought to penetrate through surfaces to reality, and, forgetting personal prejudices, to apply universally the test of truth. A few sketches of public characters may suffice to show with what sagacious, all-observing eyes, she looked about her.

  ‘At the whig caucus, I heard TRISTAN BURGESS,—“The old bald Eagle!” His baldness increases the fine effect of his appearance, for it seems as if the locks had retreated, that the contour of his very strongly marked head might be revealed to every eye. His personnel, as well as I could see, was fitted to command respect rather than admiration. He is a venerable, not a beautiful old man.

  He is a rhetorician,—if I could judge from this sample; style in woven and somewhat ornate, matter frequently wrought up to a climax, manner rather declamatory, though strictly that of a gentleman and a scholar. One art in his oratory was, no doubt, very effective, before he lost force and distinctness of voice. I allude to his way,—after having reasoned a while, till he has reached the desired conclusion,—of leaning forward, with hands reposing but figure very earnest, and communicating, confidentially as it were, the result to the audience. The impression produced in former days, when those low, emphatic passages could be distinctly heard, must have been very strong. Yet there is too much apparent trickery in this, to bear frequent repetition. His manner is well adapted for argument, and for the expression either of satire or of chivalric sentiment.’

  ‘Mr. JOHN NEAL addressed my girls on the destiny and vocation of Woman in this country. He gave, truly, a manly view, though not the view of common men, and it was pleasing to watch his countenance, where energy is animated by genius. He then spoke to the boys, in the most noble and liberal spirit, on the exercise of political rights. If there is one among them who has the germ of a truly independent man, too generous to become a party tool, and with soul enough to think, as well as feel, for himself, those words were not spoken in vain. He was warmed up into giving a sketch of his boyhood. It was an eloquent narrative, and is ineffaceably impressed on my memory, with every look and gesture of the speaker. What gave chief charm to this history was its ·fearless ingenuousness. It was delightful to note the impression produced by his magnetic genius and independent character.

  In the evening we had a long conversation upon Woman, Whigism, modern English Poets, Shakspeare,—and, in particular, Richard the Third,—about which we had actually a fight. Mr. Neal does not argue quite fairly, for he uses reason while it lasts, and then helps himself out with wit, sentiment and assertion. I should quarrel with his definitions upon almost every subject, but his fervid eloquence, brilliancy, endless resource, and ready tact, give him great advantage. There was a sort of exaggeration and coxcombry in his talk; but his lion-heart, and keen sense of the ludicrous, alike in himself as in others, redeem them. I should not like to have my motives scrutinized as he would scrutinize them, for I prefer rather to disclose them myself than to be found out; but I was dissatisfied in parting from this remarkable man before having seen him more thoroughly.’

  ‘Mr. WHIPPLE addressed the meeting at length. His presence is not imposing, though his face is intellectual. It is difficult to look at him, for you cannot be taken prisoner by his eye, while, en revanche, he can look at you as long as he pleases; and, as usual, with one who can get the better of his auditors, he does not call out the best in them. His gestures are remarkably fine, free, graceful, and expressive. He has no natural advantages of voice,—for it is without compass, depth, sweetness,—and has none of the winning tones which reach the inmost soul, and none of the tones of passionate energy, which raise you out of your own world into the speaker’s. But his modulation is smooth, measured, dignified, though occasionally injured by too elaborate a swell, and his enunciation is admirable.

  His theme was one which has been so thoroughly; discussed that novelty was not to be looked for; but his method and arrangement were excellent, though parts were too much expanded, and the whole might well have been condensed. There were many felicitous popular hits. The humorous touches were skilful, and the illustrations on a broad scale good, though in single images he failed. Altogether, there was a pervading air of ease and mastery, which showed him fit to be a leader of the flock. Though not a man of the Webster class, he is among the first of the second class of men who apply their powers to practical purposes,-and that is saying much.’

  ‘I went to hear JOSEPH JOHN GURNEY, one of the most distinguished and influential, it is said, of the English Quakers. He is a thick-set, beetle-browed man, with a well-to-do-in-the-world air of pious stolidity. I was grievously disappointed; for Quakerism has at times looked lovely to me, and I had expected at least a spiritual exposition of its doctrines from the brother of Mrs. Fry. But his manner was as wooden as his matter, and had no merit but that of distinct elocution. His sermon was a tissue of texts, illy selected, and worse patched together, in proof of the assertion that a belief in the Trinity is the one thing needful, and that reason, unless manacled by a creed, is the one thing dangerous. His figures were paltry, his thoughts narrowed down, and his very sincerity made corrupt by spiritual pride. One could not but pity his notions of the Holy Ghost, and his bat-like fear of light. His Man-God seemed to be the keeper of a mad-house, rather than the informing Spirit of all spirits. After finishing his discourse, Mr. G. sang a prayer, in a tone of mingled shout and whine, and then requested his audience to sit a while in devout meditation. For one, I passed the interval in praying for him, that the thick film of self-complacency might be removed from the eyes of his spirit, so that he might no more degrade religion.’

  ‘Mr. HAGUE is of the Baptist persuasion, and is very popular with his own sect. He is small, and carries his head erect; he has a high and intellectual, though not majestic, forehead; his brows are lowering and, when knit in indignant denunciation, give a thunderous look to the countenance, and beneath them flash, sparkle, and flame,—for all that may be said of light in rapid motion is true of them,—his dark eyes. Hazel and blue eyes with their purity, steadfastness, subtle penetration and radiant hope, may persuade and win, but black is the color to command. His mouth has an equivocal expression, but as an orator perhaps he gains power by the air of mystery this gives.

  He has a very active intellect, sagacity and elevated sentiment; and, feeling strongly that God is love, can never preach without earnestness. His power comes first from his glowing vitality of temperament. While speaking, his every muscle is in action, and all his action is towards one object. There is perfect abandon. He is permeated, overborne, by his thought. This lends a charm above grace, though incessant nervousness and heat injure his manner. He is never violent, though often vehement; pleading tones in his voice redeem him from coarseness, even when most eager; and he throws himself into the hearts of his hearers, not in weak need of sympathy, but in the confidence of generous emotion. His second attraction is his individuality. He speaks direct from the conviction of his spirit, without temporizing, or artificial method. His is the “unpremeditated art,” and therefore successful. He is full of intellectual life; his mind has not been fettered by dogmas, and the worship of beauty finds a place there. I am much interested in this truly animated being.’

  ‘Mr. R. H. DANA has been giving us readings in The English dramatists, beginning with Shakspeare. The introductory was beautiful. After assigning to literature its high place in the education of the human soul, he announced his own view in giving these readings: that he should never pander to a popular love of excitement, but quietly, without regard to brilliancy or effect, would tell what had struck him in these poets; that he had no belief in artificial processes of acquisition or communication, and having never learned anything except through love, he had no hope of teaching any but loving spirits, &c. All this was arrayed in a garb of most delicate grace; but a man of such genuine refinement undervalues the cannon-blasts and rockets which are needed to rouse the attention of the vulgar. His naïve gestures, the rapt expression of his face, his introverted eye, and the almost childlike simplicity of his pathos, carry one back into a purer atmosphere, to live over again youth’s fresh emotions. I greatly enjoyed his readings in Hamlet, and have reviewed in connection what Goethe and Coleridge have said. Both have successfully seized on the main points in the character of Hamlet, and Mr. D. took nearly the same range. His views of Ophelia, however, are unspeakably more just than are those of Serio in Wilhelm Meister. I regret that the whole course is not to be on Shakspeare, for I should like to read with him all the plays.

  I never have met with a person of finer perceptions. He leaves out nothing; though he over-refines on some passages. He has the most exquisite taste, and freshens the souls of his hearers with ever new beauty. He is greatly indebted to the delicacy of his physical organization for the delicacy of his mental appreciation. But when he has told you what he likes, the pleasure of intercourse is over; for he is a man of prejudice more than of reason, and though he can make a lively expose of his thoughts and feelings, he does not justify them. In a word, Mr. Dana has the charms and the defects of one whose object in life has. been to preserve his individuality unprofaned.’

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