|Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:|
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
|By William Henry Channing (18101884)|
[Born in Boston, Mass., 1810. Died in London, England, 1884. Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli. 1852.]
AS, leaning on one arm, she poured out her stream of thought, turning now and then her eyes full upon me, to see whether I caught her meaning, there was leisure to study her thoroughly. Her temperament was predominantly what the physiologists would call nervous sanguine; and the gray eye, rich brown hair, and light complexion, with the muscular and well-developed frame, bespoke delicacy balanced by vigor. Here was a sensitive yet powerful being, fit at once for rapture or sustained effort, intensely active, prompt for adventure, firm for trial. She certainly had not beauty, yet the high arched dome of the head, the changeful expressiveness of every feature, and her whole air of mingled dignity and impulse, gave her a commanding charm. Especially characteristic were two physical traits. The first was a contraction of the eyelids almost to a point,a trick caught from near-sightedness,and then a sudden dilation, till the iris seemed to emit flashes;an effect, no doubt, dependent on her highly magnetized condition. The second was a singular pliancy of the vertebræ and muscles of the neck, enabling her by a mere movement to denote each varying emotion; in moments of tenderness, or pensive feeling, its curves were swan-like in grace, but when she was scornful or indignant it contracted, and made swift turns like that of a bird of prey. Finally, in the animation, yet abandon, of Margarets attitude and look, were rarely blended the fiery force of northern, and the soft languor of southern races.
| Meantime, as I was thus, through her physiognomy, tracing the outlines of her spiritual form, she was narrating chapters from the book of experience. How superficially, heretofore, had I known her. We had met chiefly as scholars. But now I saw before me one whose whole life had been a poem,of boundless aspiration and hope almost wild in its daring,of indomitable effort amidst poignant disappointment,of widest range, yet persistent unity. Yes, here was a poet indeed, a true worshipper of Apollo, who had steadfastly striven to brighten and make glad existence, to harmonize all jarring and discordant strings, to fuse most hard conditions and cast them in a symmetric mould, to piece fragmentary fortunes into a mosaic symbol of heavenly order. Here was one, fond as a child of joy, eager as a native of the tropics for swift transition from luxurious rest to passionate excitement, prodigal to pour her mingled force of will, thought, sentiment, into the life of the moment, all radiant with imagination, longing for communion with artists of every age in their inspired hours, fitted by genius and culture to mingle as an equal in the most refined circles of Europe, and yet her youth and early womanhood had passed away amid the very decent, yet drudging, descendants of the prim Puritans. Trained among those who could have discerned her peculiar power, and early fed with the fruits of beauty for which her spirit pined, she would have developed into one of the finest lyrists, romancers, and critics, that the modern literary world has seen. This she knew; and this tantalization of her fate she keenly felt.|| 2|
| But the tragedy of Margarets history was deeper yet. Behind the poet was the woman,the fond and relying, the heroic and disinterested woman. The very glow of her poetic enthusiasm was but an outflush of trustful affection; the very restlessness of her intellect was the confession that her heart had found no home. A bookworm, a dilettante, a pedant, I had heard her sneeringly called; but now it was evident that her seeming insensibility was virgin pride, and her absorption in study the natural vent of emotions, which had met no object worthy of lifelong attachment. At once, many of her peculiarities became intelligible. Fitfulness, unlooked-for changes of mood, misconceptions of words and actions, substitution of fancy for fact,which had annoyed me during the previous season, as inconsistent in a person of such capacious judgment and sustained self-government,were now referred to the morbid influence of affections pent up to prey upon themselves. And, what was still more interesting, the clue was given to a singular credulousness, by which, in spite of her unusual penetration, Margaret might be led away blindfold. As this revelation of her ardent nature burst upon me, and as, rapidly recalling the past, I saw how faithful she had kept to her high purposes,how patient, gentle, and thoughtful for others, how active in self-improvement and usefulness, how wisely dignified she had been,I could not but bow to her in reverence.|| 3|
| We walked back to the house amid a rosy sunset, and it was with no surprise that I heard her complain of an agonizing nervous headache, which compelled her at once to retire and call for assistance. As for myself, while going homeward, I reflected with astonishment on the unflagging spiritual energy with which, for hour after hour, she had swept over lands and seas of thought, and, as my own excitement cooled, I became conscious of exhaustion, as if a weeks life had been concentrated in a day.|| 4|
| The interview, thus hastily sketched, may serve as a fair type of our usual intercourse. Always I found her open-eyed to beauty, fresh for wonder, with wings poised for flight, and fanning the coming breeze of inspiration. Always she seemed to see before her|
Yet more and more distinctly did I catch a plaintive tone of sorrow in her thought and speech, like the wail of an Æolian harp heard at intervals from some upper window. She had never met one who could love her as she could love; and in the orange-grove of her affections the white, perfumed blossoms and golden fruit wasted away unclaimed. Through the mask of slight personal defects and ungraceful manners, of superficial hauteur and egotism, and occasional extravagance of sentiment, no equal had recognized the rare beauty of her spirit. She was yet alone.
| ||A shape all light, which with one hand did fling|
| Dew on the earth, us if she were the dawn,|
|And the invisible rain did ever sing|
| A silver music on the mossy lawn.|| 5|