The death of her father brought in its train a disappointment as keen as Margaret could well have been called on to bear. For two years and more she had been buoyed up to intense effort by the promise of a visit to Europe, for the end of completing her culture. And as the means of equitably remunerating her parents for the cost of such a tour, she had faithfully devoted herself to the teaching of the younger members of the family. Her honored friends, Professor and Mrs. Farrar, who were about visiting the Old World, had invited her to be their companion; and, as Miss Martineau was to return to England in the ship with them, the prospect before her was as brilliant with generous hopes as her aspiring imagination could conceive. But now, in her journal of January 1, 1836, she writes:—
The New-year opens upon me under circumstances inexpressibly sad. I must make the last great sacrifice, and, apparently, for evil to me and mine. Life, as I look forward, presents a scene of struggle and privation only. Yet “I bate not a jot of heart,” though much “of hope.” My difficulties are not to be compared with those over which many strong souls have triumphed. Shall I then despair? If I do, I am not a strong soul.
Margaret’s family treated her, in this exigency, with the grateful consideration due to her love, and urgently besought her to take the necessary means, and fulfil her father’s plan. But she could not make up her mind to forsake them, preferring rather to abandon her long-cherished literary designs. Her struggles and her triumph thus appear in her letters:—
January 30, 1836.—I was a great deal with Miss Martineau, while in Cambridge, and love her more than ever. She is to stay till August, and go to England with Mr. and Mrs. Farrar. If I should accompany them I shall be with her while in London, and see the best literary society. If I should go, you will be with mother the while, will not you?* Oh, dear E—, you know not how I fear and tremble to come to a decision. My temporal all seems hanging upon it, and the prospect is most alluring. A few thousand dollars would make all so easy, so safe. As it is, I cannot tell what is coming to us, for the estate will not be settled when I go. I pray to God ceaselessly that I may decide wisely.
April 17th, 1836.—If I am not to go with you I shall be obliged to tear my heart, by a violent effort, from it, present objects and natural desires. But I shall feel the necessity, and will do it if the life-blood follows through the rent. Probably, I shall not even think it best to correspond with you at all while you are in Europe. Meanwhile, let us be friends indeed. The generous and unfailing love which you have shown me during these three years, when I could be so little to you, your indulgence for my errors and fluctuations, your steady faith in my intentions, have done more to shield and sustain me than any other earthly influence. If I must now learn to dispense with feeling them constantly near me, at least their remembrance can never, never be less dear. I suppose I ought, instead of grieving that we are soon to be separated, now to feel grateful for an intimacy of extraordinary permanence, and certainly of unstained truth and perfect freedom on both sides.
As to my feelings, I take no pleasure in speaking of them; but I know not that I could give you a truer impression of them, than by these lines which I translate from the German of Uhland. They are entitled “JUSTIFICATION.”
The fairest visions would embrace;
These, with impetuous tears desired,
Float upward into starry space;
Heaven, upon the suppliant wild,
Smiles down a gracious No!—In vain
The strife! Yet be consoled, poor child,
For the wish passes with the pain.
But when from such idolatry
The heart has turned, and wiser grown,
In earnestness and purity
Would make a nobler plan its own,
Yet, after all its zeal and care,
Must of its chosen aim despair,—
Some bitter tears may be forgiven
By Man, at least,—we trust, by Heaven.”
* Her eldest brother.
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