Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli Vol. 2
Category: History
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Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli (May 23, 1810 – July 19, 1850) was an American journalist, editor, critic, translator, and women's rights advocate associated with the American transcendentalism movement. She was the first American female war correspondent and full-time book reviewer in journalism. Her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century is considered the first major feminist work in the United States.

Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, Vol. II

Margaret Fuller Ossoli

Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli Vol. 2

Jamaica Plain

By W.
H. Channing.

Lo raggio della grazia, onde s’accende
Verace amore, e che poi cresce amando,
Multiplicato in tè tanto risplende,
Che ti conduce su per quella scala,
U’ senza risalir nessun discende,
Qual ti negasse ‘l vin della sua fiàla
Por la tua sete, in libertà non fôra,
Se non com’ acqua oh’ al mar non si cala.”


“Weite Welt und breites Leben,
Langer Jahre redlich Streben,
Stets geforscht und stets gegründet,
Nie geschlossen, oft geründet,
Aeltestes bewahrt mit Treue,
Freundlich aufgefasstes Neue,
Heitern Sinn und reine Zwecke:
Nun! man kommt wohl eine Strecke.”


“My purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles.”


“Remember how august the heart is. It contains the temple not only of Love but of Conscience; and a whisper is heard from the extremity of one to the extremity of the other.”


“If all the gentlest-hearted friends I knew
Concentred in one heart their gentleness,
That still grew gentler till its pulse was less
For life than pity, — I should yet be slow
To bring my own heart nakedly below
The palm of such a friend, that he should press
My false, ideal joy and fickle woe
Out to full light and knowledge.”

Elizabeth Barrett.

Jamaica Plain

First Impressions

It was while Margaret was residing at Jamaica Plain, in the summer of 1839, that we first really met as friends, though for several years previous we had been upon terms of kindest mutual regard. And, as the best way of showing how her wonderful character opened upon me, the growth of our acquaintance shall be briefly traced.

The earliest recollection of Margaret is as a schoolmate of my sisters, in Boston. At that period she was considered a prodigy of talent and accomplishment; but a sad feeling prevailed, that she had been overtasked by her father, who wished to train her like a boy, and that she was paying the penalty for undue application, in nearsightedness, awkward manners, extravagant tendencies of thought, and a pedantic style of talk, that made her a butt for the ridicule of frivolous companions. Some seasons later, I call to mind seeing, at the “Commencements” and “Exhibitions” of Harvard University, a girl, plain in appearance, but of dashing air, who was invariably the centre of a listening group, and kept their merry interest alive by sparkles of wit and incessant small-talk. The bystanders called her familiarly, “Margaret,” “Margaret Fuller;” for, though young, she was already noted for conversational gifts, and had the rare skill of attracting to her society, not spirited collegians only, but men mature in culture and of established reputation. It was impossible not to admire her fluency and fun; yet, though curiosity was piqued as to this entertaining personage, I never sought an introduction, but, on the contrary, rather shunned encounter with one so armed from head to foot in saucy sprightliness.

About 1830, however, we often met in the social circles of Cambridge, and I began to observe her more nearly. At first, her vivacity, decisive tone, downrightness, and contempt of conventional standards, continued to repel. She appeared too intense in expression, action, emphasis, to be pleasing, and wanting in that retenue which we associate with delicate dignity. Occasionally, also, words flashed from her of such scathing satire, that prudence counselled the keeping at safe distance from a body so surcharged with electricity. Then, again, there was an imperial — shall it be said imperious? — air, exacting deference to her judgments and loyalty to her behests, that prompted pride to retaliatory measures. She paid slight heed, moreover, to the trim palings of etiquette, but swept through the garden-beds and into the doorway of one’s confidence so cavalierly, that a reserved person felt inclined to lock himself up in his sanctum. Finally, to the coolly-scanning eye, her friendships wore a look of such romantic exaggeration, that she seemed to walk enveloped in a shining fog of sentimentalism. In brief, it must candidly be confessed, that I then suspected her of affecting the part of a Yankee Corinna.

But soon I was charmed, unaware, with the sagacity of her sallies, the profound thoughts carelessly dropped by her on transient topics, the breadth and richness of culture manifested in her allusions or quotations, her easy comprehension of new views, her just discrimination, and, above all, her truthfulness. “Truth at all cost,” was plainly her ruling maxim. This it was that made her criticism so trenchant, her contempt of pretence so quick and stern, her speech so naked in frankness, her gaze so searching, her whole attitude so alert. Her estimates of men, books, manners, events, art, duty, destiny, were moulded after a grand ideal; and she was a severe judge from the very loftiness of her standard. Her stately deportment, border though it might on arrogance, but expressed high-heartedness. Her independence, even if haughty and rash, was the natural action of a self-centred will, that waited only fit occasion to prove itself heroic. Her earnestness to read the hidden history of others was the gauge of her own emotion. The enthusiasm that made her speech so affluent, when measured by the average scale, was the unconscious overflow of a poetic temperament. And the ardor of her friends’ affection proved the faithfulness of her love. Thus gradually the mist melted away, till I caught a glimpse of her real self. We were one evening talking of American literature, — she contrasting its boyish crudity, half boastful, half timid, with the tempered, manly equipoise of thorough-bred European writers, and I asserting that in its mingled practicality and aspiration might be read bright auguries; when, betrayed by sympathy, she laid bare her secret hope of what Woman might be and do, as an author, in our Republic. The sketch was an outline only, and dashed off with a few swift strokes, but therein appeared her own portrait, and we were strangers no more.

It was through the medium of others, however, that at this time I best learned to appreciate Margaret’s nobleness of nature and principle. My most intimate friend in the Theological School, James Freeman Clarke, was her constant companion in exploring the rich gardens of German literature; and from his descriptions I formed a vivid image of her industry, comprehensiveness, buoyancy, patience, and came to honor her intelligent interest in high problems of science, her aspirations after spiritual greatness, her fine æsthetic taste, her religiousness. By power to quicken other minds, she showed how living was her own. Yet more near were we brought by common attraction toward a youthful visitor in our circle, the untouched freshness of whose beauty was but the transparent garb of a serene, confiding, and harmonious soul, and whose polished grace, at once modest and naïve, sportive and sweet, fulfilled the charm of innate goodness of heart. Susceptible in temperament, anticipating with ardent fancy the lot of a lovely and refined woman, and morbidly exaggerating her own slight personal defects, Margaret seemed to long, as it were, to transfuse with her force this nymph-like form, and to fill her to glowing with her own lyric fire. No drop of envy tainted the sisterly love, with which she sought by genial sympathy thus to live in another’s experience, to be her guardian-angel, to shield her from contact with the unworthy, to rouse each generous impulse, to invigorate thought by truth incarnate in beauty, and with unfelt ministry to weave bright threads in her web of fate. Thus more and more Margaret became an object of respectful interest, in whose honor, magnanimity and strength I learned implicitly to trust.

Separation, however, hindered our growing acquaintance, as we both left Cambridge, and, with the exception of a few chance meetings in Boston and a ramble or two in the glens and on the beaches of Rhode Island, held no further intercourse till the summer of 1839, when, as has been already said, the friendship, long before rooted, grew up and leafed and bloomed.

A Clue

I have no hope of conveying to readers my sense of the beauty of our relation, as it lies in the past with brightness falling on it from Margaret’s risen spirit. It would be like printing a chapter of autobiography, to describe what is so grateful in memory, its influence upon one’s self. And much of her inner life, as confidentially disclosed, could not be represented without betraying a sacred trust. All that can be done is to open the outer courts, and give a clue for loving hearts to follow. To such these few sentences may serve as a guide.

‘When I feel, as I do this morning, the poem of existence, I am repaid for all trial. The bitterness of wounded affection, the disgust at unworthy care, the aching sense of how far deeds are transcended by our lowest aspirations, pass away as I lean on the bosom of Nature, and inhale new life from her breath. Could but love, like knowledge, be its own reward!’

‘Oftentimes I have found in those of my own sex more gentleness, grace, and purity, than in myself; but seldom the heroism which I feel within my own breast. I blame not those who think the heart cannot bleed because it is so strong; but little they dream of what lies concealed beneath the determined courage. Yet mine has been the Spartan sternness, smiling while it hides the wound. I long rather for the Christian spirit, which even on the cross prays, “Father, forgive them,” and rises above fortitude to heavenly satisfaction.’

‘Remember that only through aspirations, which sometimes make me what is called unreasonable, have I been enabled to vanquish unpropitious circumstances, and save my soul alive.’

‘All the good I have ever done has been by calling on every nature for its highest. I will admit that sometimes I have been wanting in gentleness, but never in tenderness, nor in noble faith.’

‘The heart which hopes and dares is also accessible to terror, and this falls upon it like a thunderbolt. It can never defend itself at the moment, it is so surprised. There is no defence but to strive for an equable temper of courageous submission, of obedient energy, that shall make assault less easy to the foe.

This is the dart within the heart, as well as I can tell it: — At moments, the music of the universe, which daily I am upheld by hearing, seems to stop. I fall like a bird when the sun is eclipsed, not looking for such darkness. The sense of my individual law — that lamp of life — flickers. I am repelled in what is most natural to me. I feel as, when a suffering child, I would go and lie with my face to the ground, to sob away my little life.’

‘In early years, when, though so frank as to the thoughts of the mind, I put no heart confidence in any human being, my refuge was in my journal. I have burned those records of my youth, with its bitter tears, and struggles, and aspirations. Those aspirations were high, and have gained only broader foundations and wider reach. But the leaves had done their work. For years to write there, instead of speaking, had enabled me to soothe myself; and the Spirit was often my friend, when I sought no other. Once again I am willing to take up the cross of loneliness. Resolves are idle, but the anguish of my soul has been, deep. It will not be easy to profane life by rhetoric.’

‘I woke thinking of the monks of La Trappe; — how could they bear their silence? When the game of life was lost for me, in youthful anguish I knew well the desire for that vow; but if I had taken it, my heart would have burned out my physical existence long ago.’

‘Save me from plunging into the depths to learn the worst, or from being led astray by the winged joys of childish feeling. I pray for truth in proportion as there is strength to receive.’

‘My law is incapable of a charter. I pass all bounds, and cannot do otherwise. Those whom it seems to me I am to meet again in the Ages, I meet, soul to soul, now. I have no knowledge of any circumstances except the degree of affinity.’

‘I feel that my impatient nature needs the dark days. I would learn the art of limitation, without compromise, and act out my faith with a delicate fidelity. When loneliness becomes too oppressive, I feel Him drawing me nearer, to be soothed by the smile of an All-Intelligent Love. He will not permit the freedom essential to growth to be checked. If I can give myself up to Him, I shall not be too proud, too impetuous, neither too timid, and fearful of a wound or cloud.’


The summer of 1839 saw the full dawn of the Transcendental movement in New England. The rise of this enthusiasm was as mysterious as that of any form of revival; and only they who were of the faith could comprehend how bright was this morning-time of a new hope. Transcendentalism was an assertion of the inalienable integrity of man, of the immanence of Divinity in instinct. In part, it was a reaction against Puritan Orthodoxy; in part, an effect of renewed study of the ancients, of Oriental Pantheists, of Plato and the Alexandrians, of Plutarch’s Morals, Seneca and Epictetus; in part, the natural product of the culture of the place and time. On the somewhat stunted stock of Unitarianism, — whose characteristic dogma was trust in individual reason as correlative to Supreme Wisdom, — had been grafted German Idealism, as taught by masters of most various schools, — by Kant and Jacobi, Fichte and Novalis, Schelling and Hegel, Schleiermacher and De Wette, by Madame de Stael, Cousin, Coleridge, and Carlyle; and the result was a vague yet exalting conception of the godlike nature of the human spirit. Transcendentalism, as viewed by its disciples, was a pilgrimage from the idolatrous world of creeds and rituals to the temple of the Living God in the soul. It was a putting to silence of tradition and formulas, that the Sacred Oracle might be heard through intuitions of the single-eyed and pure-hearted. Amidst materialists, zealots, and sceptics, the Transcendentalist believed in perpetual inspiration, the miraculous power of will, and a birthright to universal good. He sought to hold communion face to face with the unnameable Spirit of his spirit, and gave himself up to the embrace of nature’s beautiful joy, as a babe seeks the breast of a mother. To him the curse seemed past; and love was without fear. “All mine is thine” sounded forth to him in ceaseless benediction, from flowers and stars, through the poetry, art, heroism of all ages, in the aspirations of his own genius, and the budding promise of the time. His work was to be faithful, as all saints, sages, and lovers of man had been, to Truth, as the very Word of God. His maxims were, — “Trust, dare and be; infinite good is ready for your asking; seek and find. All that your fellows can claim or need is that you should become, in fact, your highest self; fulfil, then, your ideal.” Hence, among the strong, withdrawal to private study and contemplation, that they might be “alone with the Alone;” solemn yet glad devotedness to the Divine leadings in the inmost will; calm concentration of thought to wait for and receive wisdom; dignified independence, stern yet sweet, of fashion and public opinion; honest originality of speech and conduct, exempt alike from apology or dictation, from servility or scorn. Hence, too, among the weak, whimsies, affectation, rude disregard of proprieties, slothful neglect of common duties, surrender to the claims of natural appetite, self-indulgence, self-absorption, and self-idolatry.

By their very posture of mind, as seekers of the new, the Transcendentalists were critics and “come-outers” from the old. Neither the church, the state, the college, society, nor even reform associations, had a hold upon their hearts. The past might be well enough for those who, without make-belief, could yet put faith in common dogmas and usages; but for them the matin-bells of a new day were chiming, and the herald-trump of freedom was heard upon the mountains. Hence, leaving ecclesiastical organizations, political parties, and familiar circles, which to them were brown with drought, they sought in covert nooks of friendship for running waters, and fruit from the tree of life. The journal, the letter, became of greater worth than the printed page; for they felt that systematic results were not yet to be looked for, and that in sallies of conjecture, glimpses and flights of ecstasy, the “Newness” lifted her veil to her votaries. Thus, by mere attraction of affinity, grew together the brotherhood of the “Like-minded,” as they were pleasantly nicknamed by outsiders, and by themselves, on the ground that no two were of the same opinion. The only password of membership to this association, which had no compact, records, or officers, was a hopeful and liberal spirit; and its chance conventions were determined merely by the desire of the caller for a “talk,” or by the arrival of some guest from a distance with a budget of presumptive novelties. Its “symposium” was a pic-nic, whereto each brought of his gains, as he felt prompted, a bunch of wild grapes from the woods, or bread-corn from his threshing-floor. The tone of the assemblies was cordial welcome for every one’s peculiarity; and scholars, farmers, mechanics, merchants, married women, and maidens, met there on a level of courteous respect. The only guest not tolerated was intolerance; though strict justice might add, that these “Illuminati” were as unconscious of their special cant as smokers are of the perfume of their weed, and that a professed declaration of universal independence turned out in practice to be rather oligarchic.

Of the class of persons most frequently found at these meetings
Margaret has left the following sketch: —

‘“I am not mad, most noble Festus,” was Paul’s rejoinder, as he turned upon his vulgar censor with the grace of a courtier, the dignity of a prophet, and the mildness of a saint. But many there are, who, adhering to the faith of the soul with that unusual earnestness which the world calls “mad,” can answer their critics only by the eloquence of their characters and lives. Now, the other day, while visiting a person whose highest merit, so far as I know, is to save his pennies, I was astounded by hearing him allude to some of most approved worth among us, thus: “You know we consider those men insane.”

‘What this meant, I could not at first well guess, so completely was my scale of character turned topsy-turvy. But revolving the subject afterward, I perceived that WE was the multiple of Festus, and THOSE MEN of Paul. All the circumstances seemed the same as in that Syrian hall; for the persons in question were they who cared more for doing good than for fortune and success, — more for the one risen from the dead than for fleshly life, — more for the Being in whom we live and move than for King Agrippa.

‘Among this band of candidates for the mad-house, I found the young poet who valued insight of nature’s beauty, and the power of chanting to his fellow-men a heavenly music, above the prospect of fortune, political power, or a standing in fashionable society. At the division of the goods of this earth, he was wandering like Schiller’s poet. But the difference between American and German regulations would seem to be, that in Germany the poet, when not “with Jove,” is left at peace on earth; while here he is, by a self-constituted police, declared “mad.”

‘Another of this band was the young girl who, early taking a solemn view of the duties of life, found it difficult to serve an apprenticeship to its follies. She could not turn her sweetness into “manner,” nor cultivate love of approbation at the expense of virginity of heart. In so called society she found no outlet for her truest, fairest self, and so preferred to live with external nature, a few friends, her pencil, instrument, and books. She, they say, is “mad.”

‘And he, the enthusiast for reform, who gives away fortune, standing in the world, peace, and only not life, because bigotry is now afraid to exact the pound of flesh as well as the ducats, — he, whose heart beats high with hopes for the welfare of his race, is “mad.”

‘And he, the philosopher, who does not tie down his speculation to the banner of the day, but lets the wings of his thought upbear him where they will, as if they were stronger and surer than the balloon let off for the amusement of the populace, — he must be “mad.” Off with him to the moon! that paradise of noble fools, who had visions of possibilities too grand and lovely for this sober earth.

‘And ye, friends, and lovers, who see, through all the films of human nature, in those you love, a divine energy, worthy of creatures who have their being in very God, ye, too, are “mad” to think they can walk in the dust, and yet shake it from their feet when they come upon the green. These are no winged Mercuries, no silver-sandalled Madonnas. Listen to “the world’s” truth and soberness, and we will show you that your heart would be as well placed in a hospital, as in these air-born palaces.

‘And thou, priest, seek thy God among the people, and not in the shrine. The light need not penetrate thine own soul. Thou canst catch the true inspiration from the eyes of thy auditors. Not the Soul of the World, not the ever-flowing voice of nature, but the articulate accents of practical utility, should find thy ear ever ready. Keep always among men, and consider what they like; for in the silence of thine own breast will be heard the voices that make men “mad.” Why shouldst thou judge of the consciousness of others by thine own? May not thine own soul have been made morbid, by retiring too much within? If Jesus of Nazareth had not fasted and prayed so much alone, the devil could never have tempted him; if he had observed the public mind more patiently and carefully, he would have waited till the time was ripe, and the minds of men prepared for what he had to say. He would thus have escaped the ignominious death, which so prematurely cut short his “usefulness.” Jewry would thus, gently, soberly, and without disturbance, have been led to a better course.

‘“Children of this generation!” — ye Festuses and Agrippas! — ye are wiser, we grant, than “the children of light;” yet we advise you to commend to a higher tribunal those whom much learning, or much love, has made “mad.” For if they stay here, almost will they persuade even you!’

Amidst these meetings of the Transcendentalists it was, that, after years of separation, I again found Margaret. Of this body she was member by grace of nature. Her romantic freshness of heart, her craving for the truth, her self-trust, had prepared her from childhood to be a pioneer in prairie-land; and her discipline in German schools had given definite form and tendency to her idealism. Her critical yet aspiring intellect filled her with longing for germs of positive affirmation in place of the chaff of thrice-sifted negation; while her æsthetic instinct responded in accord to the praise of Beauty as the beloved heir of Good and Truth, whose right it is to reign. On the other hand, strong common-sense saved her from becoming visionary, while she was too well-read as a scholar to be caught by conceits, and had been too sternly tried by sorrow to fall into fanciful effeminacy. It was a pleasing surprise to see how this friend of earlier days was acknowledged as a peer of the realm, in this new world of thought. Men, — her superiors in years, fame and social position, — treated her more with the frankness due from equal to equal, than the half-condescending deference with which scholars are wont to adapt themselves to women. They did not talk down to her standard, nor translate their dialect into popular phrase, but trusted to her power of interpretation. It was evident that they prized her verdict, respected her criticism, feared her rebuke, and looked to her as an umpire. Very observable was it, also, how, in side-talks with her, they became confidential, seemed to glow and brighten into their best mood, and poured out in full measure what they but scantily hinted in the circle at large.


It was quite a study to watch the phases through which Margaret passed, in one of these assemblies. There was something in the air and step with which she chose her place in the company, betokening an instinctive sense, that, in intellect, she was of blood royal and needed to ask no favors. And then she slowly gathered her attention to take in the significance of the scene. Near-sighted and habitually using an eye-glass, she rapidly scanned the forms and faces, pausing intently where the expression of particular heads or groups suggested thought, and ending her survey with some apt home-thrust to her next neighbors, as if to establish full rapport, and so to become a medium for the circulating life. Only when thus in magnetic relations with all present, by a clear impress of their state and place, did she seem prepared to rise to a higher stage of communion. Then she listened, with ear finely vibrating to every tone, with all capacities responsive in sympathy, with a swift and ductile power of appreciation, that made her feel to the quick the varying moods of different speakers, and yet the while with coolest self-possession. Now and then a slight smile, flickering over her countenance, as lightning plays on the surface of a cloud, marked the inward process whereby she was harmonizing in equilibrium opposing thoughts. And, as occasion offered, a felicitous quotation, pungent apothegm, or symbolic epithet, dropped unawares in undertone, showed how swiftly scattered rays were brought in her mind to a focus.

When her turn came, by a graceful transition she resumed the subject where preceding speakers had left it, and, briefly summing up their results, proceeded to unfold her own view. Her opening was deliberate, like the progress of some massive force gaining its momentum; but as she felt her way, and moving in a congenial element, the sweep of her speech became grand. The style of her eloquence was sententious, free from prettiness, direct, vigorous, charged with vitality. Articulateness, just emphasis and varied accent, brought out most delicate shades and brilliant points of meaning, while a rhythmical collocation of words gave a finished form to every thought. She was affluent in historic illustration and literary allusion, as well as in novel hints. She knew how to concentrate into racy phrases the essential truth gathered from wide research, and distilled with patient toil; and by skilful treatment she could make green again the wastes of common-place. Her statements, however rapid, showed breadth of comprehension, ready memory, impartial judgment, nice analysis of differences, power of penetrating through surfaces to realities, fixed regard to central laws and habitual communion with the Life of life. Critics, indeed, might have been tempted to sneer at a certain oracular grandiloquence, that bore away her soberness in moments of elation; though even the most captious must presently have smiled at the humor of her descriptive touches, her dexterous exposure of folly and pretension, the swift stroke of her bright wit, her shrewd discernment, promptitude, and presence of mind. The reverential, too, might have been pained at the sternness wherewith popular men, measures, and established customs, were tried and found guilty, at her tribunal; but even while blaming her aspirations as rash, revolutionary and impractical, no honest conservative could fail to recognize the sincerity of her aim. And every deep observer of character would have found the explanation of what seemed vehement or too high-strung, in the longing of a spirited woman to break every trammel that checked her growth or fettered her movement.

In conversations like these, one saw that the richness of Margaret’s genius resulted from a rare combination of opposite qualities. To her might have been well applied the words first used as describing George Sand: “Thou large-brained Woman, and large-hearted Man.” She blended in closest union and swift interplay feminine receptiveness with masculine energy. She was at once impressible and creative, impulsive and deliberate, pliant in sympathy yet firmly self-centred, confidingly responsive while commanding in originality. By the vivid intensity of her conceptions, she brought out in those around their own consciousness, and, by the glowing vigor of her intellect, roused into action their torpid powers. On the other hand, she reproduced a truth, whose germ had just been imbibed from others, moulded after her own image and quickened by her own life, with marvellous rapidity. And the presence of congenial minds so stimulated the prolific power of her imagination, that she was herself astonished at the fresh beauty of her new-born thoughts. ‘There is a mortifying sense,’ she writes,

‘of having played the Mirabeau after a talk with a circle of intelligent persons. They come with a store of acquired knowledge and reflection, on the subject in debate, about which I may know little, and have reflected less; yet, by mere apprehensiveness and prompt intuition, I may appear their superior. Spontaneously I appropriate all their material, and turn it to my own ends, as if it was my inheritance from a long train of ancestors. Rays of truth flash out at the moment, and they are startled by the light thrown over their familiar domain. Still they are gainers, for I give them new impulse, and they go on their way rejoicing in the bright glimpses they have caught. I should despise myself, if I purposely appeared thus brilliant, but I am inspired as by a power higher than my own.’

All friends will bear witness to the strict fidelity of this sketch. There were seasons when she seemed borne irresistibly on to the verge of prophecy, and fully embodied one’s notion of a sibyl.

Admirable as Margaret appeared in public, I was yet more affected by this peculiar mingling of impressibility and power to influence, when brought within her private sphere. I know not how otherwise to describe her subtle charm, than by saying that she was at once a clairvoyante and a magnetizer. She read another’s bosom-secret, and she imparted of her own force. She interpreted the cipher in the talisman of one’s destiny, that he had tried in vain to spell alone; by sympathy she brought out the invisible characters traced by experience on his heart; and in the mirror of her conscience he might see the image of his very self, as dwarfed in actual appearance, or developed after the divine ideal. Her sincerity was terrible. In her frank exposure no foible was spared, though by her very reproof she roused dormant courage and self-confidence. And so unerring seemed her insight, that her companion felt as if standing bare before a disembodied spirit, and communicated without reserve thoughts and emotions, which, even to himself, he had scarcely named.

This penetration it was that caused Margaret to be so dreaded, in general society, by superficial observers. They, who came nigh enough to test the quality of her spirit, could not but perceive how impersonal was her justice; but, contrasted with the dead flat of conventional tolerance, her candor certainly looked rugged and sharp. The frivolous were annoyed at her contempt of their childishness, the ostentatious piqued at her insensibility to their show, and the decent scared lest they should be stripped of their shams; partisans were vexed by her spurning their leaders; and professional sneerers, — civil in public to those whom in private they slandered, — could not pardon the severe truth whereby she drew the sting from their spite. Indeed, how could so undisguised a censor but shock the prejudices of the moderate, and wound the sensibilities of the diffident; how but enrage the worshippers of new demi-gods in literature, art and fashion, whose pet shrines she demolished; how but cut to the quick, alike by silence or by speech, the self-love of the vain, whose claims she ignored? So gratuitous, indeed, appeared her hypercriticism, that I could not refrain from remonstrance, and to one of my appeals she thus replied:

‘If a horror for the mania of little great men, so prevalent in this country, — if aversion to the sentimental exaggerations to which so many minds are prone, — if finding that most men praise, as well as blame, too readily, and that overpraise desecrates the lips and makes the breath unworthy to blow the coal of devotion, — if rejection of the — — s and — — s, from a sense that the priestess must reserve her pæans for Apollo, — if untiring effort to form my mind to justice and revere only the superlatively good, that my praise might be praise; if this be to offend, then have I offended.’

The Dial

Several talks among the Transcendentalists, during the autumn of 1839, turned upon the propriety of establishing an organ for the expression of freer views than the conservative journals were ready to welcome. The result was the publication of the “Dial,” the first number of which appeared early in the summer of 1840, under the editorship of Margaret, aided by R.W. Emerson and George Ripley. How moderate were her own hopes, in regard to this enterprise, is clearly enough shown by passages from her correspondence.

Jamaica Plain, 22d March, 1840. I have a great deal written, but, as I read it over, scarce a word seems pertinent to the place or time. When I meet people, it is easy to adapt myself to them; but when I write, it is into another world, — not a better one, perhaps, but one with very dissimilar habits of thought to this wherein I am domesticated. How much those of us, who have been formed by the European mind, have to unlearn, and lay aside, if we would act here! I would fain do something worthily that belonged to the country where I was born, but most times I fear it may not be.

‘What others can do, — whether all that has been said is the mere restlessness of discontent, or there are thoughts really struggling for utterance, — will be tested now. A perfectly free organ is to be offered for the expression of individual thought and character. There are no party measures to be carried, no particular standard to be set up. A fair, calm tone, a recognition of universal principles, will, I hope, pervade the essays in every form. I trust there will be a spirit neither of dogmatism nor of compromise, and that this journal will aim, not at leading public opinion, but at stimulating each man to judge for himself, and to think more deeply and more nobly, by letting him see how some minds are kept alive by a wise self-trust. We must not be sanguine as to the amount of talent which will be brought to bear on this publication. All concerned are rather indifferent, and there is no great promise for the present. We cannot show high culture, and I doubt about vigorous thought. But we shall manifest free action as far as it goes, and a high aim. It were much if a periodical could be kept open, not to accomplish any outward object, but merely to afford an avenue for what of liberal and calm thought might be originated among us, by the wants of individual minds.’

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