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To Mrs. S. B. Shaw

Wayland, March 23, 1856.
This winter has been the loneliest of my life. If you could know my situation you would pronounce it unendurable. I should have thought it so myself if I had had a foreshadowing of it a few years ago. But the human mind can get acclimated to anything. What with constant occupation and the happy consciousness of sustaining and cheering my poor old father in his descent into the grave, I am almost always in a state of serene contentment. In summer, my once extravagant love of beauty satisfies itself with watching the birds, the insects, and the flowers in my little patch of a garden. I have no room in which to put the vases and engravings and transparencies that friends have given me from time to time. But I keep them safely in a large chest, and when birds and flowers are gone I sometimes [76] take them out, as a child does its playthings, and sit down in the sunshine with them, dreaming how life would seem in such places, and how poets and artists came to imagine such images. This process sometimes gives rise to thoughts which float through the universe, though they began in a simple craving to look at something beautiful. A photograph of Raphael's Sibyls, given to me by Mrs. S., remarkably has this effect upon me. I don't know what it is that draws me so toward those ancient Grecians! I suppose this same attraction toward Grecian forms of art is what made me in love with Mendelssohn's music; because I felt (without understanding) its harmonious proportions, its Doric simplicity, its finished beauty. I recognize the superior originality and power of Beethoven; but he does not minister to my soul as he does to yours. He overpowers me,fills me with awe. His music makes me feel as if I were among huge black mountains, looking at a narrow strip of brilliant stars, seen through narrow clefts in the frowning rocks, in the far-off heaven. I --love best to hear the “Pastoral Symphony,” which is the least Beethovenish of all. The fact is, my nature has less affinity for grandeur and sublimity, than it has for grace and beauty. I never looked twice at engravings from Michael Angelo; while I dream away hours and hours over copies from Raphael.

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