Letters written to the beloved teacher, who so wisely befriended Margaret in her trial-hour, will best show how this high-spirited girl sought to enlarge and harmonize her powers.
Cambridge, July 11, 1825.—Having excused myself from accompanying my honored father to church, which I always do in the afternoon, when possible, I devote to you the hours which Ariosto and Helvetius ask of my eyes,—as, lying on my writing-desk, they put me in mind that they must return this week to their owner.
You keep me to my promise of giving you some sketch of my pursuits. I rise a little before five, walk an hour, and then practise on the piano, till seven, when we breakfast. Next I read French,—Sismondi’s Literature of the South of Europe,—till eight, then two or three lectures in Brown’s Philosophy. About half past nine I go to Mr. Perkins’s school and study Greek till twelve, when, the school being dismissed, I recite, go home, and practise again till dinner, at two. Some times, if the conversation is very agreeable, I lounge for half an hour over the dessert, though rarely so lavish of time. Then, when I can, I read two hours in Italian, but I am often interrupted. At six, I walk, or take a drive. Before going to bed, I play or sing, for half an hour or so, to make all sleepy, and, about eleven, retire to write a little while in my journal, exercises on what I have read, or a series of characteristics which I am filling up according to advice. Thus, you see, I am learning Greek, and making acquaintance with metaphysics, and French and Italian literature.
“How,” you will say, “can I believe that my indolent, fanciful, pleasure-loving pupil, perseveres in such a course? “I feel the power of industry growing every day, and, besides the all-powerful motive of ambition, and a new stimulus lately given through a friend, I have learned to believe that nothing, no! not perfection, is unattainable. I am determined on distinction, which formerly I thought to win at an easy rate; but now I see that long years of labor must be given to secure even the “succes de societe,”—which however; shall never content me. I see multitudes of examples of persons of genius, utterly deficient in grace and the power of pleasurable excitement. I wish to combine both. I know the obstacles in my way. I am wanting in that intuitive tact and polish, which nature has bestowed upon some, but which I must acquire. And, on the other hand, my powers of intellect, though sufficient, I suppose, are not well disciplined. Yet all such hindrances may be overcome by an ardent spirit. If I fail, my consolation shall be found in active employment.
Cambridge, March 5, 1826.—Duke Nicholas is to succeed the Emperor Alexander, thus relieving Europe from the sad apprehension of evil to be inflicted by the brutal Constantine, and yet depriving the Holy Alliance of its very soul. We may now hope more strongly for the liberties of unchained Europe; we look in anxious suspense for the issue of the struggle of Greece, the result of which seems to depend on the new autocrat. I have lately been reading Anastasius, the Greek Gil Blas which has excited and delighted me; but I do not think you like works of this cast. You did not like my somber and powerful Ormond,—though this is superior to Ormond in every respect; it translates you to another scene, hurls you into the midst of the burning passions of the East, whose vicissitudes are, however, interspersed by deep pauses of shadowy reflective scenes, which open upon you like the green watered little vales occasionally to be met with in the burning desert. There is enough of history to fix profoundly the attention, and prevent you from revolting from scenes profligate and terrific, and such characters as are never to be met with in our paler climes. How delighted am I to read a book which can absorb me to tears and shuddering,—not by individual traits of beauty, but by the spirit of adventure,—happiness which one seldom enjoys after childhood in this blest age, so philosophic, free, and enlightened to a miracle, but far removed from the ardent dreams and soft credulity of the world’s youth. Sometimes I think I would give all our gains for those times when young and old gathered in the feudal hall, listening with soul-absorbing transport to the romance of the minstrel, unrestrained and regard, less of criticism, and when they worshipped nature, not as high-dressed and pampered, but as just risen from the bath.
Cambridge, May 14, 1826.—I am studying Madame de Stael, Epictetus, Milton, Racine, and Castilian ballads, with great delight. There’s an assemblage for you. Now tell me, had yon rather be the brilliant De Stael or the useful Edgeworth?—though De Stael is useful too, but it is on the grand scale, on liberalizing, regenerating principles, and has not the immediate practical success that Edgeworth has. I met with a parallel the other day between Byron and Rousseau, and had a mind to send it to you, it was so excellent.
Cambridge, Jan. 10, 1827.—As to my studies, I am engrossed in reading the elder Italian poets, beginning with Berni, from whom I shall proceed to Pulci and Politian. I read very critically. Miss Francis* and I think of reading Locke, as introductory to a course of English metaphysics, and then De Stael on Locke’s system. Allow me to introduce this lady to you as a most interesting woman, in my opinion. She is a natural person,—a most rare thing in this age of cant and pretension. Her conversation is charming,-she brings all her powers to bear upon it; her style is varied, and she has a very pleasant and spirited way of thinking. I should judge, too, that she possesses peculiar purity of mind. I am going to spend this evening with her, and wish you were to be with us.
Cambridge, Jan. 3, 1828.—I am reading Sir William Temple’s works, with great pleasure. Such enlarged views are rarely to be found combined with such acuteness and discrimination. His style, though diffuse, is never verbose or overloaded, but beautifully expressive; tis English, too, though he was an accomplished linguist, and wrote much and well in French, Spanish, and Latin. The latter he used, as he says of the Bishop of Munster, (with whom he corresponded in that tongue,) more like a man of the court and of business than a scholar.” He affected not Augustan niceties, but his expressions are free and appropriate. I have also read a most entertaining book, which I advise you to read, (if you have not done so already,) Russell’s Tour in Germany. There you will find more intelligent and detailed accounts than I have seen anywhere of the state of the German universities, Viennese court, secret associations, Plica Polonica, and other very interesting matters. There is a minute account of the representative government given to his subjects by the Duke of Weimar. I have passed a luxurious afternoon, having been in bed from dinner till tea, reading Rammohun Roy’s book, and framing dialogues aloud, on every argument beneath the sun. Really, I have not had my mind so exercised for months; and I have felt a gladiatorial disposition lately, and don’t enjoy mere light conversation. The love of knowledge is prodigiously kindled within my soul of late; I study much and reflect more, and feel an aching wish for some person with whom I might talk fully and openly.
Did you ever read the letters and reflections of Prince de Ligne, the most agreeable man of his day? I have just had it, and if it is new to you, I recommend it as an agreeable book to read at night just before you go to bed. There is much curious matter concerning Catharine’s famous expedition into Taurida, which puts down some of the romantic stories prevalent on that score, but relates more surprising realities. Also it gives much interesting information about that noble philosopher, Joseph II., and about the Turkish tactics and national character.
Cambridge, Jan. 1830.—You need not fear to revive painful recollections. I often think of those sad experiences. True, they agitate me deeply. But it was best so. They have had a most powerful effect on my character. I tremble at whatever looks like dissimulation. The remembrance of that evening subdues every proud, passionate impulse. My beloved supporter in those sorrowful hours, your image shines as fair to my mind’s eye as it did in 1825, when I left you with my heart over flowing with gratitude for your singular and judicious tenderness. Can I ever forget that to your treatment in that crisis of youth I owe the true life,—the love of Truth and Honor?
* Lydia Marie Child.
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