Life Without and Life Within, Margaret Fuller Ossoli
Life Without and Life Within
Margaret Fuller Ossoli
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Life Without and Life Within or, Reviews, Narratives, Essays, and Poems is an 1851 book by Margaret Fuller Ossoli, featuring essays on various topics and reviews of writers, as well as Fuller's ideas and thoughts.

Life Without and Life Within

Reviews, Narratives, Essays, and Poems

Margaret Fuller Ossoli

Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli


Every person, who can be said to really live at all, leads two lives during this period of mortal existence. The one life is outward; it is passed in reading the thoughts of others; in contemplating the struggles, the defeats, the victories, the virtues, the sins, in fine, all things which make the history of those who surround us; and in gazing upon the structures which Art has reared, or paintings which she hath inscribed on the canvas; or looking upon the grand temple of the material universe, and beholding scenes painted by a hand more skilled, more wondrous, in its creative power, than ever can be human hand. The life passed in examining what other minds have produced, or living other men’s lives by looking at their deeds, or in any way discerning what addresses the bodily eye or the physical ear, — this is often wise and well; essential, indeed, to any inner life; but it is outward, not self-centred, not the product of our own individual natures.

But the thought of others suggests or develops thought of our own — the history of other men, as it is writing itself imperishably every day upon their souls, or already has written itself in letters of living light or lines of gloomy blackness — gives rise to internal sympathy or abhorrence on the part of us who look on and read what is thus writing and written. Our own spirits are stirred within us: our passions, which have been sleeping lions, our affections and aspirations, before angels with folded wings, — these are awakened by what others are doing, and then we struggle with the bad or yield to it; we obey or disobey the good, and our internal moral life begins; the outward universe or the Great Spirit in our hearts speaks to our souls, leading first to inward dissatisfaction, then to aspiration for and attainment of holiness, and now the inner spiritual life, which shall transfigure all outward life, and throw its own light and give its own hue to all the outward universe, has begun. These two lives are parallel streams; often they mingle their waters, and each imparts its own hue and characteristic to the other. Sometimes the outer life is the main stream; men live only in other men’s thoughts and deeds — look only upon the material universe, and retire but seldom within: the inner life is but a silver thread — a little rill, scarce discoverable save by the eye of God. Again, with many the outer life is but little; the passing scene, the din of the battle which humanity is ever waging, the one scarce is gazed upon or the other heard by those who retire much from the outward world, and live almost exclusively upon their own thoughts, and in an ideal realm of fancy, or a real one of internal conflict, which is hidden from the outer vision. Better is it when the stream of outward and inner life are both full and broad — when the glories of the material universe attract the gaze, the realm of literature and learning invite the willing feet to wander in paths where poetry has planted many flowers, philosophy many a sturdy oak of truth, which centuries cannot overthrow — and when, on the other hand, men do not forget to retire often within, and find their own minds kingdoms, where many a noble thought spontaneously grows; their own souls heavens, where, the busy world withdrawn, they commune much with their own aspirations, fight many a noble battle with whatever hinders their spiritual peace, and where they commune yet more with that Comforter, the Divine Spirit, and Christ, that Friend and Helper of all who are seeking to make the life of thought and desire, as well as outward word and deed, high and holy.

It is not a brother’s part to pass critical judgment upon a sister’s literary attainments, or mental and spiritual gifts, nor is it needful in reference to Madame Ossoli. The world never has questioned her great learning or rich and varied culture; these have been uniformly acknowledged. As a keen and sagacious critic of literature, as an admirer of whatever was noble, an abhorrer of all low and mean, this she was early, and is, so far as we know, without any question regarded. That her judgments have always been acquiesced in is far from true; but the public has ever believed them alike sincere and fearless. The life without, — that of culture and intelligent, careful observation, — all know that stream to have been full to overflowing.

More and more, too, every year, the public are beginning to recognize and appreciate the richness and the beauty of her inner life. The very keenness of her critical acumen, — the very boldness of her rebuke of all she deemed petty and base — the very truthfulness of her conformity to her own standard — her very abhorrence of all cant and mere conformity, long prevented, and even yet somewhat hinder, many from adequately recognizing the loving spirit, the sympathetic nature, the Christian faith, and spiritual devoutness which made her domestic and social life, her action amid her own kindred and nation, and in Rome, for those not allied to her by birth and lineage, at once kindly, noble, and full of holy self-sacrifice. Yet continually the world is learning these things: the history of her life, as her memoirs reveal it, the testimony of so many witnesses here and in other lands, a more careful study and a wider reading of her works, are leading, perhaps rapidly enough, to a true appreciation of the spiritual beauty of her soul, and men see that the waters of her inner life form a stream at once clear and pure, deep and broad.

In presenting to the public the last volume of Margaret Fuller’s works, the Editor is encouraged to hope for them a candid, cordial reception. It has been a work of love on his part, for which he has ever felt inadequate, and from it for a time shrunk. But each volume has had a wider and more cordial welcome than its predecessor, and works received by the great public almost with coldness when first published, have, when republished, had a large and cheering circulation, and, what is far better, a kindly appreciation not only by the few, but even by the many. This is evidence enough that the progress of time has brought the public and my sister into closer sympathy and agreement, and a better understanding on its part of her true views and character.

The present volume is less than any of its predecessors a republication. Only one of its articles has ever appeared before in book form. As a book, it is, then, essentially new, though some of its reviews and essays have appeared in the columns of the Tribune and Dial. A large portion of it has never appeared at all in print, especially its poetical portions. The work of collecting these essays, reviews, and poems has been a difficult one, much more than attended the preparation of the previous volumes. Unable, of course, to consult their author as to any of them, the revision I have given is doubtless very imperfect, and requires large allowance. It is even possible that among the poems one or more written by friends and sent her, or copied from some other author, may have crept in unawares; but this all possible pains have been taken to prevent. Such as it is, the volume is now before the public; it truly reveals her inner and outer life, and is doubtless the last of the volumes containing the writings of Margaret Fuller Ossoli.

Part I

Menzel’s View of Gœthe

Menzel’s view of Gœthe is that of a Philistine, in the least opprobrious sense of the term. It is one which has long been applied in Germany to petty cavillers and incompetent critics. I do not wish to convey a sense so disrespectful in speaking of Menzel. He has a vigorous and brilliant mind, and a wide, though imperfect, culture. He is a man of talent, but talent cannot comprehend genius. He judges of Gœthe as a Philistine, inasmuch as he does not enter into Canaan, and read the prophet by the light of his own law, but looks at him from without, and tries him by a rule beneath which he never lived. That there was something Menzel saw; what that something was not he saw, but what it was he could not see; none could see; it was something to be felt and known at the time of its apparition, but the clear sight of it was reserved to a day far enough removed from its sphere to get a commanding point of view. Has that day come? A little while ago it seemed so; certain features of Gœthe’s personality, certain results of his tendency, had become so manifest. But as the plants he planted mature, they shed a new seed for a yet more noble growth. A wider experience, a deeper insight, make rejected words come true, and bring a more refined perception of meaning already discerned. Like all his elder brothers of the elect band, the forlorn hope of humanity, he obliges us to live and grow, that we may walk by his side; vainly we strive to leave him behind in some niche of the hall of our ancestors; a few steps onward and we find him again, of yet serener eye and more towering mien than on his other pedestal. Former measurements of his size have, like the girdle bound by the nymphs round the infant Apollo, only served to make him outgrow the unworthy compass. The still rising sun, with its broader light, shows us it is not yet noon. In him is soon perceived a prophet of our own age, as well as a representative of his own; and we doubt whether the revolutions of the century be not required to interpret the quiet depths of his Saga.

Sure it is that none has yet found Gœthe’s place, as sure that none can claim to be his peer, who has not some time, ay, and for a long time, been his pupil!

Yet much truth has been spoken of him in detail, some by Menzel, but in so superficial a spirit, and with so narrow a view of its bearings, as to have all the effect of falsehood. Such denials of the crown can only fix it more firmly on the head of the “Old Heathen.” To such the best answer may be given in the words of Bettina Brentan: “The others criticise thy works; I only know that they lead us on and on till we live in them.” And thus will all criticism end in making more men and women read these works, and “on and on,” till they forget whether the author be a patriot or a moralist, in the deep humanity of the thought, the breathing nature of the scene. While words they have accepted with immediate approval fade from memory, these oft-denied words of keen, cold truth return with ever new force and significance.

Men should be true, wise, beautiful, pure, and aspiring. This man was true and wise, capable of all things. Because he did not in one short life complete his circle, can we afford to lose him out of sight? Can we, in a world where so few men have in any degree redeemed their inheritance, neglect a nature so rich and so manifestly progressive?

Historically considered, Gœthe needs no apology. His so-called faults fitted him all the better for the part he had to play. In cool possession of his wide-ranging genius, he taught the imagination of Germany, that the highest flight should be associated with the steady sweep and undazzled eye of the eagle. Was he too much the connoisseur, did he attach too great an importance to the cultivation of taste, where just then German literature so much needed to be refined, polished, and harmonized? Was he too sceptical, too much an experimentalist, — how else could he have formed himself to be the keenest, and, at the same time, most nearly universal of observers, teaching theologians, philosophers, and patriots that nature comprehends them all, commands them all, and that no one development of life must exclude the rest? Do you talk, in the easy cant of the day, of German obscurity, extravagance, pedantry, and bad taste, — and will you blame this man, whose Greek, English, Italian, German mind steered so clear of these rocks and shoals, clearing, adjusting, and calming on each side, wherever he turned his prow? Was he not just enough of an idealist, just enough of a realist, for his peculiar task? If you want a moral enthusiast, is not there Schiller? If piety, of purest, mystic sweetness, who but Novalis? Exuberant sentiment, that treasures each withered leaf in a tender breast, look to your Richter. Would you have men to find plausible meaning for the deepest enigma, or to hang up each map of literature, well painted and dotted on its proper roller, — there are the Schlegels. Men of ideas were numerous as migratory crows in autumn, and Jacobi wrote the heart into philosophy, as well as he could. Who could fill Gœthe’s place to Germany, and to the world, of which she is now the teacher? His much-reviled aristocratic turn was at that time a reconciling element. It is plain why he was what he was, for his country and his age.

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