Life Without and Life Within
Category: Ideas
Level 8.31 14:25 h
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 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.

Whoever looks into the history of his youth, will be struck by a peculiar force with which all things worked together to prepare him for his office of artist-critic to the then chaotic world of thought in his country. What an unusually varied scene of childhood and of youth! What endless change and contrast of circumstances and influences! Father and mother, life and literature, world and nature, — playing into one another’s hands, always by antagonism! Never was a child so carefully guarded by fate against prejudice, against undue bias, against any engrossing sentiment. Nature having given him power of poetical sympathy to know every situation, would not permit him to make himself at home in any. And how early what was most peculiar in his character manifested itself, may be seen in these anecdotes related by his mother to Bettina.

Of Gœthe’s childhood. — “He was not willing to play with other little children, unless they were very fair. In a circle he began suddenly to weep, screaming, ‘Take away the black, ugly child; I cannot bear to have it here.’ He could not be pacified; they were obliged to take him home, and there the mother could hardly console him for the child’s ugliness. He was then only three years old.”

“His mother was surprised, that when his brother Jacob died, who had been his playmate, he shed no tear, but rather seemed annoyed by the lamentations of those around him. But afterwards, when his mother asked whether he had not loved his brother, he ran into his room and brought from under his bed a bundle of papers, all written over, and said he had done all this for Jacob.”

Even so in later years, had he been asked if he had not loved his country and his fellow-men, he would not have answered by tears and vows, but pointed to his works.

In the first anecdote is observable that love of symmetry in external relations which, in manhood, made him give up the woman he loved, because she would not have been in place among the old-fashioned furniture of his father’s house; and dictated the course which, at the crisis of his life, led him to choose an outward peace rather than an inward joy. In the second, he displays, at the earliest age, a sense of his vocation as a recorder, the same which drew him afterwards to write his life into verse, rather than clothe it in action. His indirectness, his aversion to the frankness of heroic meetings, is repulsive and suspicious to generous and flowing natures; yet many of the more delicate products of the mind seem to need these sheaths, lest bird and insect rifle them in the bud.

And if this subtlety, isolation, and distance be the dictate of nature, we submit, even as we are not vexed that the wild bee should hide its honey in some old moss-grown tree, rather than in the glass hives of our gardens. We believe it will repay the pains we take in seeking for it, by some peculiar flavor from unknown flowers. Was Gœthe the wild bee? We see that even in his boyhood he showed himself a very Egyptian, in his love for disguises; forever expressing his thought in roundabout ways, which seem idle mummery to a mind of Spartan or Roman mould. Had he some simple thing to tell his friend, he read it from the newspaper, or wrote it into a parable. Did he make a visit, he put on the hat or wig of some other man, and made his bow as Schmidt or Schlosser, that they might stare, when he spoke as Gœthe. He gives as the highest instance of passionate grief, that he gave up for one day watching the tedious ceremonies of the imperial coronation. In daily life many of these carefully recorded passages have an air of platitude, at which no wonder the Edinburgh Review laughed. Yet, on examination, they are full of meaning. And when we see the same propensity writing itself into Ganymede, Mahomet’s song, the Bayadere, and Faust, telling all Gœthe’s religion in Mignon and Makana, all his wisdom in the Western-Eastern Divan, we respect it, accept, all but love it.

This theme is for a volume, and I must quit it now. A brief summary of what Gœthe was suffices to vindicate his existence, as an agent in history and a part of nature, but will not meet the objections of those who measure him, as they have a right to do, by the standard of ideal manhood.

Most men, in judging another man, ask, Did he live up to our standard?

But to me it seems desirable to ask rather, Did he live up to his own?

So possible is it that our consciences may be more enlightened than that of the Gentile under consideration. And if we can find out how much was given him, we are told, in a pure evangelium, to judge thereby how much shall be required.

Now, Gœthe has given us both his own standard and the way to apply it. “To appreciate any man, learn first what object he proposed to himself; next, what degree of earnestness he showed with regard to attaining that object.”

And this is part of his hymn for man made in the divine image, “The Godlike.”

“Hail to the Unknown, the
Higher Being
Felt within us!

As nature,
Still shineth the sun
Over good and evil;
And on the sinner,
Smile as on the best,
Moon and stars.
Fate too, &c.

“There can none but man
Perform the Impossible.
He understandeth,
Chooseth, and judgeth;
He can impart to the
Moment duration.

“He alone may
The good reward,
The guilty punish,
Mend and deliver;
All the wayward, anomalous
Bind in the useful.

“And the Immortals,
Them we reverence
As if they were men, and
Did, on a grand scale,
What the best man in little
Does, or fain would do.

“Let noble man
Be helpful and good;
Ever creating
The Right and the Useful;
Type of those loftier
Beings of whom the heart whispers.”

This standard is high enough. It is what every man should express in action, the poet in music!

And this office of a judge, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and of a sacred oracle, to whom other men may go to ask when they should choose a friend, when face a foe, this great genius does not adequately fulfil. Too often has the priest left the shrine to go and gather simples by the aid of spells whose might no pure power needs. Glimpses are found in his works of the highest spirituality, but it is blue sky seen through chinks in a roof which should never have been builded. He has used life to excess. He is too rich for his nobleness, too judicious for his inspiration, too humanly wise for his divine mission. He might have been a priest; he is only a sage.

An Epicurean sage, say the multitude. This seems to me unjust. He is also called a debauchee. There may be reason for such terms, but it is partial, and received, as they will be, by the unthinking, they are as false as Menzel’s abuse, in the impression they convey. Did Gœthe value the present too much? It was not for the Epicurean aim of pleasure, but for use. He, in this, was but an instance of reaction, in an age of painful doubt and restless striving as to the future. Was his private life stained by profligacy? That far largest portion of his life, which is ours, and which is expressed in his works, is an unbroken series of efforts to develop the higher elements of our being. I cannot speak to private gossip on this subject, nor even to well-authenticated versions of his private life. Here are sixty volumes, by himself and others, which contain sufficient evidence of a life of severe labor, steadfast forbearance, and an intellectual growth almost unparalleled. That he has failed of the highest fulfilment of his high vocation is certain, but he was neither Epicurean nor sensualist, if we consider his life as a whole.

Yet he had failed to reach his highest development; and how was it that he was so content with this incompleteness, nay, the serenest of men? His serenity alone, in such a time of scepticism and sorrowful seeking, gives him a claim to all our study. See how he rides at anchor, lordly, rich in freight, every white sail ready to be unfurled at a moment’s warning! And it must be a very slight survey which can confound this calm self-trust with selfish indifference of temperament. Indeed, he, in various ways, lets us see how little he was helped in this respect by temperament. But we need not his declaration, — the case speaks for itself. Of all that perpetual accomplishment, that unwearied constructiveness, the basis must be sunk deeper than in temperament. He never halts, never repines, never is puzzled, like other men; that tranquillity, full of life, that ceaseless but graceful motion, “without haste, without rest,” for which we all are striving, he has attained. And is not his love of the noblest kind? Reverence the highest, have patience with the lowest. Let this day’s performance of the meanest duty be thy religion. Are the stars too distant, pick up that pebble that lies at thy foot, and from it learn the all. Go out like Saul, the son of Kish, look earnestly after the meanest of thy father’s goods, and a kingdom shall be brought thee. The least act of pure self-renunciation hallows, for the moment, all within its sphere. The philosopher may mislead, the devil tempt, yet innocence, though wounded and bleeding as it goes, must reach at last the holy city. The power of sustaining himself and guiding others rewards man sufficiently for the longest apprenticeship. Is not this lore the noblest?

Yes, yes, but still I doubt. ’Tis true, he says all this in a thousand beautiful forms, but he does not warm, he does not inspire me. In his certainty is no bliss, in his hope no love, in his faith no glow. How is this?

A friend, of a delicate penetration, observed, “His atmosphere was so calm, so full of light, that I hoped he would teach me his secret of cheerfulness. But I found, after long search, that he had no better way, if he wished to check emotion or clear thought, than to go to work. As his mother tells us, ‘My son, if he had a grief, made it into a poem, and so got rid of it.’ This mode is founded in truth, but does not involve the whole truth. I want the method which is indicated by the phrase, ‘Perseverance of the saints.’”

This touched the very point. Gœthe attained only the perseverance of a man. He was true, for he knew that nothing can be false to him who is true, and that to genius nature has pledged her protection. Had he but seen a little farther, he would have given this covenant a higher expression, and been more deeply true to a diviner nature.

In another article on Gœthe, I shall give some account of that period, when a too determined action of the intellect limited and blinded him for the rest of his life; I mean only in comparison with what he should have been. Had it been otherwise, what would he not have attained, who, even thus self-enchained, rose to Ulyssean stature. Connected with this is the fact, of which he spoke with such sarcastic solemnity to Eckermann — “My works will never be popular.”

I wish, also, to consider the Faust, Elective Affinities, Apprenticeship and Pilgrimages of Wilhelm Meister, and Iphigenia, as affording indications of the progress of his genius here, of its wants and prospects in future spheres of activity. For the present I bid him farewell, as his friends always have done, in hope and trust of a better meeting.


“Nemo contra Deum nisi Deus ipse.”

“Wer Grosses will muss sich zusammen raffen;
In der Beschrankung zeigt sich erst der Meister,
Und der Gesetz nur Kann uns Freikeit geben.”

The first of these mottoes is that prefixed by Gœthe to the last books of “Dichtung und Wahrheit.” These books record the hour of turning tide in his life, the time when he was called on for a choice at the “Parting of the Ways.” From these months, which gave the sun of his youth, the crisis of his manhood, date the birth of Egmont, and of Faust too, though the latter was not published so early. They saw the rise and decline of his love for Lili, apparently the truest love he ever knew. That he was not himself dissatisfied with the results to which the decisions of this era led him, we may infer from his choice of a motto, and from the calm beauty with which he has invested the record.

The Parting of the Ways! The way he took led to court-favor, wealth, celebrity, and an independence of celebrity. It led to large performance, and a wonderful economical management of intellect. It led Faust, the Seeker, from the heights of his own mind to the trodden ways of the world. There, indeed, he did not lose sight of the mountains, but he never breathed their keen air again.

After this period we find in him rather a wide and deep Wisdom, than the inspiration of Genius. His faith, that all must issue well, wants the sweetness of piety, and the God he manifests to us is one of law or necessity, rather than of intelligent love. As this God makes because he must, so Gœthe, his instrument, observes and re-creates because he must, observing with minutest fidelity the outward exposition of Nature; never blinded by a sham, or detained by a fear, he yet makes us feel that he wants insight to her sacred secret. The calmest of writers does not give us repose, because it is too difficult to find his centre. Those flame-like natures, which he undervalues, give us more peace and hope, through their restless aspirations, than he with his hearth-enclosed fires of steady fulfilment. For, true as it is, that God is every where, we must not only see him, but see him acknowledged. Through the consciousness of man, “shall not Nature interpret God?” We wander in diversity, and with each new turning of the path, long anew to be referred to the One.

Of Gœthe, as of other natures, where the intellect is too much developed in proportion to the moral nature, it is difficult to speak without seeming narrow, blind, and impertinent. For such men see all that others live, and, if you feel a want of a faculty in them, it is hard to say they have it not, lest, next moment, they puzzle you by giving some indication of it. Yet they are not, nay, know not; they only discern. The difference is that between sight and life, prescience and being, wisdom and love. Thus with Gœthe. Naturally of a deep mind and shallow heart, he felt the sway of the affections enough to appreciate their workings in other men, but never enough to receive their inmost regenerating influence.

How this might have been had he ever once abandoned himself entirely to a sentiment, it is impossible to say. But the education of his youth seconded, rather than balanced, his natural tendency. His father was a gentlemanly martinet; dull, sour, well-informed, and of great ambition as to externals. His influence on the son was wholly artificial. He was always turning his powerful mind from side to side in search of information, for the attainment of what are called accomplishments. The mother was a delightful person in her way; open, genial, playful, full of lively talent, but without earnestness of soul. She was one of those charming, but not noble persons, who take the day and the man as they find them, seeing the best that is there already, but never making the better grow in its stead. His sister, though of graver kind, was social and intellectual, not religious or tender. The mortifying repulse of his early love checked the few pale buds of faith and tenderness that his heart put forth. His friends were friends of the intellect merely; altogether, he seemed led by destiny to the place he was to fill.

Pardon him, World, that he was too worldly. Do not wonder, Heart, that he was so heartless. Believe, Soul, that one so true, as far as he went, must yet be initiated into the deeper mysteries of Soul. Perhaps even now he sees that we must accept limitations only to transcend them; work in processes only to detect the organizing power which supersedes them; and that Sphinxes of fifty-five volumes might well be cast into the abyss before the single word that solves them all.

Now, when I think of Gœthe, I seem to see his soul, all the variegated plumes of knowledge, artistic form “und so weiter,” burnt from it by the fires of divine love, wingless, motionless, unable to hide from itself in any subterfuge of labor, saying again and again, the simple words which he would never distinctly say on earth — God beyond Nature — Faith beyond Sight — the Seeker nobler than the Meister.

For this mastery that Gœthe prizes seems to consist rather in the skilful use of means than in the clear manifestation of ends. His Master, indeed, makes acknowledgment of a divine order, but the temporal uses are always uppermost in the mind of the reader. But of this, more at large in reference to his works.

Apart from this want felt in his works, there is a littleness in his aspect as a character. Why waste his time in Weimar court entertainments? His duties as minister were not unworthy of him, though it would have been, perhaps, finer, if he had not spent so large a portion of that prime of intellectual life, from five and twenty to forty, upon them.

WholeReader. Empty coverWholeReader. Book is closedWholeReader. FilterWholeReader. Compilation cover