Spiritual Life.

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


  You question me as to the nature of the benefits conferred upon me by Mr. E.’s preaching. I answer, that his influence has been more beneficial to me than that of any American, and that from him I first learned what ill meant by an inward life. Many other springs have since fed the stream of living waters, but he first opened the fountain. That the “mind is its own place,” was a dead phrase to me, till he cast light upon my mind. Several of his sermons stand apart in memory, like landmarks of my spiritual history. It would take a volume to tell what this one influence did for me. But perhaps I shall some time see that it was best for me to be forced to help myself.

  Some remarks which I made last night trouble me, and I cannot fix my attention upon other things till I have qualified them. I suffered myself to speak in too unmeasured terms, and my expressions were fitted to bring into discredit the religious instruction which has been given me, or which I have sought.

  I do not think “all men are born for the purpose of unfolding beautiful ideas;” for the vocation of many is evidently the culture of affections by deeds of kindness. But I do think that the vocations of men and women differ, and that those who are forced to act out of their sphere are shorn of inward and outward brightness.

  For myself, I wish to say, that, if I am in a mood of darkness and despondency, I nevertheless consider such a mood unworthy of a Christian, or indeed of any one who believes in the immortality of the soul. No one, who had steady faith in this and in the goodness of God, could be otherwise than cheerful. I reverence the serenity of a truly religious mind so much, that I think if I live, I may some time attain to it.

  Although I do not believe in a Special Providence regulating outward events, and could not reconcile such a belief with what I have seen of life, I do not the less believe in the paternal government of a Deity. That He should visit the souls of those who seek Him seems to me the nobler way to conceive of his influence. And if there were not some error in my way of seeking: I do not believe I should suffer from languor or deadness on spiritual subjects, at the time when I have most need to feel myself at home there. To find this error is my earnest wish; and perhaps I am now travelling to that end, though by a thorny road. It is a mortification to find so much yet to do; for at one time the scheme of things seemed so clear, that, with Cromwell, I might say, “I was once in grace.” With my mind I prize high objects as much as then: it is my heart which is cold. And sometimes I fear that the necessity of urging them on those under my care dulls my sense of their beauty. It is so hard to prevent one’s feelings from evaporating in words.

  “The faint sickness of a wounded heart.” How frequently do these words of Beckford recur to my mind! His prayer, imperfect as it is, says more to me than many a purer aspiration. It breathes such an experience of impassioned anguish. He had everything,—health, personal advantages, almost boundless wealth, genius, exquisite taste, culture; he could, in some way, express his whole being. Yet well-nigh he sank beneath the sickness of the wounded heart; and solitude, “country of the unhappy,” was all he craved at last.

  Goethe, too, says he has known, in all his active, wise, and honored life, no four weeks of happiness. This teaches me on the other side; for, like Goethe, I have never given way to my feelings, but have lived active, thoughtful, seeking to be wise. Yet I have long days and weeks of heartache; and at those times, though I am busy every moment, and cultivate every pleasant feeling, and look always upwards to the pure ideal region, yet this ache is like a bodily wound, whose pain haunts even when it is not attended to, and disturbs the dreams of the patient who has fallen asleep from exhaustion.

  There is a German in Boston, who has a wound in his breast, received in battle long ago. It never troubles him, except when he sings, and then, if he gives out his voice with much expression, it opens, and cannot, for a long time, be stanched again. So with me: when I rise into one of those rapturous moods of thought, such as I had a day or two since, my wound opens again, and all I can do is to be patient, and let it take its own time to skin over. I see it will never do more. Sometime ago I thought the barb was fairly out; but no, the fragments rankle there still, and will, while there is any earth attached to my spirit. Is it not because, in my pride, I held the mantle close, and let the weapon, which some friendly physician might have extracted, splinter in the wound?

  Sunday, July, 1838.—I partook, for the first time, of the Lord’s Supper. I had often wished to do so, but had not been able to find a clergyman,—from whom I could be willing to receive it,-willing to admit me on my own terms. Mr. H— did so; and I shall ever respect and value him, if only for the liberality he displayed on this occasion. It was the Sunday after the death of his wife, a lady whom I truly honored, and should, probably, had we known one another longer, have also loved. She was the soul of truth and honor; her mind was strong, her reverence for the noble and beautiful fervent, her energy in promoting the best interests of those who came under her influence unusual. She was as full of wit and playfulness a1 of goodness. Her union with her husband was really one of mind and heart, of mutual respect and tenderness; likeness in unlikeness made it strong. I wished particularly to share in this rite on an occasion so suited to bring out its due significance.

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