visits to Concord.
Je n'ai point rencontre, dans ma vie, de femme plus noble; ayant autant de sympathie pour ses semblables, et dont l'esprit fut plus vivifiant.
Je me suis tout de suite sentie attiree par elle.
Quand je fis sa connoissance, j'ignorais que ce fut une femme remarquable.
Extract from a letter from Madame Arconati to R W. Emerson,
I became acquainted with Margaret in 1835.
Perhaps it was a year earlier that Henry Hedge
, who had long been her friend, told me of her genius and studies, and loaned me her manuscript translation of Goethe
I was afterwards still more interested in her, by the warm praises of Harriet Martineau
, who had become acquainted with her at Cambridge
, and who, finding Margaret's fancy for seeing me, took a generous interest in bringing us together.
I remember, during a week in the winter of 1835-6, in which Miss Martineau
was my guest, she returned again and again to the topic of Margaret's excelling genius and conversation, and enjoined it on me to seek her acquaintance; which I willingly promised.
I am not sure that it was not in Miss Martineau
's company, a little earlier, that I first saw her. And I find a memorandum, in her own journal, of a visit, made by my brother Charles and myself, to Miss Martineau
, at Mrs. Farrar
's. It was not, however, till the next July, after a little diplomatizing in billets by the ladies, that her first visit to our house was arranged, and she came to spend
a fortnight with my wife.
I still remember the first half.
hour of Margaret's conversation.
She was then twentysix years old. She had a face and frame that would indicate fulness and tenacity of life.
She was rather under the middle height; her complexion was fair, with strong fair hair.
She was then, as always, carefully and becomingly dressed, and of ladylike self-possession.
For the rest, her appearance had nothing prepossessing.
Her extreme plainness,—a trick of incessantly opening and shutting her eyelids,—the nasal tone of her voice,— all repelled; and I said to myself, we shall never get far. It is to be said, that Margaret made a disagreeable first impression on most persons, including those who became afterwards her best friends, to such an extreme that they did not wish to be in the same room with her. This was partly the effect of her manners, which expressed an overweening sense of power, and slight esteem of others, and partly the prejudice of her fame.
She had a dangerous reputation for satire, in addition to her great scholarship.
The men thought she carried too many guns, and the women did not like one who despised them.
I believe I fancied her too much interested in personal history; and her talk was a comedy in which dramatic justice was done to everybody's foibles.
I remember that she made me laugh more than I liked; for I was, at that time, an eager scholar of ethics, and had tasted the sweets of solitude and stoicism, and I found something profane in the hours of amusing gossip into which she drew me, and, when I returned to my library, had much to think of the crackling of thorns under a pot. Margaret, who had stuffed me out as a philosopher, in her own fancy, was too intent on establishing a good footing between us, to omit any art of
She studied my tastes, piqued and amused me, challenged frankness by frankness, and did not conceal the good opinion of me she brought with her, nor her wish to please.
She was curious to know my opinions and experiences.
Of course, it was impossible long to hold out against such urgent assault.
She had an incredible variety of anecdotes, and the readiest wit to give an absurd turn to whatever passed; and the eyes, which were so plain at first, soon swam with fun and drolleries, and the very tides of joy and superabundant life.
This rumor was much spread abroad, that she was sneering, scoffing, critical, disdainful of humble people, and of all but the intellectual.
1 had heard it whenever she was named.
It was a superficial judgment.
Her satire was only the pastime and necessity of her talent, the play of superabundant animal spirits.
And it will be seen, in the sequel, that her mind presently disclosed many moods and powers, in successive platforms or terraces, each above each, that quite effaced this first impression, in the opulence of the following pictures.
Let us hear what she has herself to say on the subject of tea-table-talk, in a letter to a young lady, to whom she was already much attached:—
I am repelled by your account of your party.
It is beneath you to amuse yourself with active satire, with what is vulgarly called quizzing.
When such a person as ——chooses to throw himself in your way, I sympathize with your keen perception of his ridiculous points.
But to laugh a whole evening at vulgar nondescripts,—is that an employment for one who was born passionately to love, to admire, to sustain truth?
This would be much
more excusable in a chameleon like me. Yet, whatever may be the vulgar view of my character, I can truly say, I know not the hour in which I ever looked for the ridiculous.
It has always been forced upon me, and is the accident of my existence.
I would not want the sense of it when it comes, for that would show an obtuseness of mental organization; but, on peril of my soul, I would not move an eyelash to look for it.
When she came to Concord
, she was already rich in friends, rich in experiences, rich in culture.
She was well read in French
, and German literature.
She had learned Latin and a little Greek
But her English reading was incomplete; and, while she knew Moliere
, and Rousseau
, and any quantity of French letters, memoirs, and novels, and was a dear student of Dante
and Petrarca, and knew German books more cordially than any other person, she was little read in Shakspeare
; and I believe I had the pleasure of making her acquainted with Chaucer
, with Ben Jonson
, with Herbert
, with Bacon
, and Sir Thomas Browne
I was seven years her senior, and had the habit of idle reading in old English books, and, though not much versed, yet quite enough to give me the right to lead her. She fancied that her sympathy and taste had led her to an exclusive culture of southern European
She had large experiences.
She had been a precocious scholar at Dr. Park
's school; good in mathematics and in languages.
Her father, whom she had recently lost, had been proud of her, and petted her. She had drawn, at Cambridge
, numbers of lively young men about her. She had had a circle of young women who were devoted
to her, and who described her as ‘a wonder of intellect, who had yet no religion.’
She had drawn to her every superior young man or young woman she had met, and whole romances of life and love had been confided, counselled, thought, and lived through, in her cognizance and sympathy.
These histories are rapid, so that she had already beheld many times the youth, meridian, and old age of passion.
She had, besides, selected, from so many, a few eminent companions, and already felt that she was not likely to see anything more beautiful than her beauties, anything more powerful and generous than her youths.
She had found out her own secret by early comparison, and knew what power to draw confidence, what necessity to lead in every circle, belonged of right to her. Her powers were maturing, and nobler sentiments were subliming the first heats and rude experiments.
She had outward calmness and dignity.
She had come to the ambition to be filled with all nobleness.
Of the friends who surrounded her, at that period, it is neither easy to speak, nor not to speak.
A life of Margaret is impossible without them, she mixed herself so inextricably with her company; and when this little book was first projected, it was proposed to entitle it ‘Margaret and her Friends,’ the subject persisting to offer itself in the plural number.
But, on trial, that form proved impossible, and it only remained that the narrative, like a Greek tragedy, should suppose the chorus always on the stage, sympathizing and sympathized with by the queen of the scene.
Yet I remember these persons as a fair, commanding troop, every one of them adorned by some splendor of beauty, of grace, of talent, or of character, and comprising
in their band persons who have since disclosed sterling worth and elevated aims in the conduct of life.
Three beautiful women,—either of whom would have been the fairest ornament of Papanti
's Assemblies, but for the presence of the other,—were her friends.
One of these early became, and long remained, nearly the central figure in Margaret's brilliant circle, attracting to herself, by her grace and her singular natural eloquence, every feeling of affection, hope, and pride.
Two others I recall, whose rich and cultivated voices in song were,—one a little earlier, the other a little later,— the joy of every house into which they came; and, indeed, Margaret's taste for music was amply gratified in the taste and science which several persons among her intimate friends possessed.
She was successively intimate with two sisters, whose taste for music had been opened, by a fine and severe culture, to the knowledge and to the expression of all the wealth of the German masters.
I remember another, whom every muse inspired, skilful alike with the pencil and the pen, and by whom both were almost contemned for their inadequateness, in the height and scope of her aims.
I can talk of anything.
She is like me. She is able to look facts in the face.
We enjoy the clearest, widest, most direct communication.
She may be no happier than—, but she will know her own mind too clearly to make any great mistake in conduct, and will learn a deep meaning from her days.
It is not in the way of tenderness that I love——. I prize her always; and this is all the love some natures ever know.
And I also feel that I may always expect she will be with me. I delight to picture to
myself certain persons translated, illuminated.
There are a few in whom I see occasionally the future being piercing, promising,—whom I can strip of all that masks their temporary relations, and elevate to their natural position.
Sometimes I have not known these persons intimately,—oftener I have; for it is only in the deepest hours that this light is likely to break out. But some of those I have best befriended I cannot thus portray, and very few men I can. It does not depend at all on the beauty of their forms, at present; it is in the eye and the smile, that the hope shines through.
I can see exactly how——will look: not like this angel in the paper; she will not bring flowers, but a living coal, to the lips of the singer; her eyes will not burn as now with smothered fires, they will be ever deeper, and glow more intensely; her cheek will be smooth, but marble pale; her gestures nobly free, but few.
Another was a lady who was devoted to landscape-painting, and who enjoyed the distinction of being the only pupil of Allston
, and who, in her alliance with Margaret, gave as much honor as she received, by the security of her spirit, and by the heroism of her devotion to her friend.
Her friends called her ‘the perpetual peace-offering,’ and Margaret says of her,—
She is here, and her neighborhood casts the mildness and purity too of the moonbeam on the else parti-colored scene.
There was another lady, more late and reluctantly entering Margaret's circle, with a mind as high, and more mathematically exact, drawn by taste to Greek
, as Margaret to Italian
genius, tempted to do homage to Margaret's flowing expressive energy, but still more
inclined and secured to her side by the good sense and the heroism which Margaret disclosed, perhaps not a little by the sufferings which she addressed herself to alleviate, as long as Margaret lived.
Margaret had a courage in her address which it was not easy to resist.
She called all her friends by their Christian names.
In their early intercourse I suppose this lady's billets were more punctiliously worded than Margaret liked; so she subscribed herself, in reply, “Your affectionate ‘Miss Fuller
.’” When the difficulties were at length surmounted, and the conditions ascertained on which two admirable persons could live together, the best understanding grew up, and subsisted during her life.
In her journal is a note:—
Passed the morning in Sleepy Hollow, with——. What fine, just distinctions she made!
Worlds grew clearer as we talked.
I grieve to see her fine frame subject to such rude discipline.
But she truly said, ‘I am not a failed experiment; for, in the bad hours, I do not forget what I thought in the better.’
None interested her more at that time, and for many years after, than a youth with whom she had been acquainted in Cambridge
before he left the University
, and the unfolding of whose powers she had watched with the warmest sympathy.
He was an amateur, and, but for the exactions not to be resisted of an American
, that is to say, of a commercial, career,—his acceptance of which she never ceased to regard as an apostasy, —himself a high artist.
He was her companion, and, though much younger, her guide in the study of art. With him she examined, leaf by leaf, the designs of
Raphael, of Michel Angelo
, of Da Vinci, of Guercino, the architecture of the Greeks, the books of Palladio, the Ruins, and Prisons of Piranesi; and long kept up a profuse correspondence on books and studies in which they had a mutual interest.
And yet, as happened so often, these literary sympathies, though sincere, were only veils and occasions to beguile the time, so profound was her interest in the character and fortunes of her friend.
There was another youth, whom she found later, of invalid habit, which had infected in some degree the tone of his mind, but of a delicate and pervasive insight, and the highest appreciation for genius in letters, arts, and life.
his complexion as clear in its pallor, and his eye steady.