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Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 438 Volume 17, New Series, May 22, 1852
CHAMBERS' EDINBURGH JOURNAL

CONDUCTED BY WILLIAM AND ROBERT CHAMBERS, EDITORS OF 'CHAMBERS'S
INFORMATION FOR THE PEOPLE,' 'CHAMBERS'S EDUCATIONAL COURSE,' &c.


No. 438. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, MAY 22, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2_d._




PHILOSOPHY OF LAUGHTER.


From the time of King Solomon downwards, laughter has been the subject
of pretty general abuse. Even the laughers themselves sometimes
vituperate the cachinnation they indulge in, and many of them

----'laugh in such a sort,
As if they mocked themselves, and scorned the spirit
That could be moved to laugh at anything.'

The general notion is, that laughter is childish, and unworthy the
gravity of adult life. Grown men, we say, have more to do than to
laugh; and the wiser sort of them leave such an unseemly contortion of
the muscles to babes and blockheads.

We have a suspicion that there is something wrong here--that the world
is mistaken not only in its reasonings, but its facts. To assign
laughter to an early period of life, is to go contrary to observation
and experience. There is not so grave an animal in this world as the
human baby. It will weep, when it has got the length of tears, by the
pailful; it will clench its fists, distort its face into a hideous
expression of anguish, and scream itself into convulsions. It has not
yet come up to a laugh. The little savage must be educated by
circumstances, and tamed by the contact of civilisation, before it
rises to the greater functions of its being. Nay, we have sometimes
received the idea from its choked and tuneless screams, that _they_
were imperfect attempts at laughter. It feels enjoyment as well as
pain, but has only one way of expressing both.

Then, look at the baby when it has turned into a little boy or girl,
and come up in some degree to the cachinnation. The laughter is still
only rudimental: it is not genuine laughter. It expresses triumph,
scorn, passion--anything but a feeling of natural amusement. It is
provoked by misfortune, by bodily infirmities, by the writhings of
agonised animals; and it indicates either a sense of power or a
selfish feeling of exemption from suffering. The 'light-hearted laugh
of children!' What a mistake! Observe the gravity of their sports.
They are masters or mistresses, with the care of a family upon their
hands; and they take especial delight in correcting their children
with severity. They are washer-women, housemaids, cooks; soldiers,
policemen, postmen; coach, horsemen, and horses, by turns; and in all
these characters they scour, sweep, fry, fight, pursue, carry, whirl,
ride, and are ridden, without changing a muscle.

At the games of the young people there is much shouting, argument,
vituperation--but no laughter. A game is a serious business with a
boy, and he derives from it excitement, but no amusement. If he laughs
at all, it is at something quite distinct from the purpose of the
sport: for instance, when one of his comrades has his nose broken by
the ball, or when the feet of another make off from him on the ice,
and he comes down upon his back like a thunderbolt. On such occasions,
the laugh of a boy puts us in mind of the laugh of a hyæna: it is, in
fact, the broken, asthmatic roar of a beast of prey.

It would thus appear that the common charge brought against laughter,
of being something babyish, or childish, or boyish--something properly
appertaining to early life--is unfounded. But we of course must not be
understood to speak of what is technically called giggling, which
proceeds more from a looseness of the structures than from any
sensation of amusement. Many young persons are continually on the
giggle till their muscles strengthen; and indeed, when a company of
them are met together, the affection, aggravated by emulation,
acquires the loudness of laughter, when it may be likened, in
Scripture phrase, to the crackling of thorns. What we mean is a
regular guffaw; that explosion of high spirits, and the feeling of
joyous excitement, which is commonly written ha! ha! ha! This is
altogether unknown in babyhood; in boyhood, it exists only in its
rudiments; and it does not reach its full development till adolescence
ripens into manhood.

This train of thought was suggested to us a few evenings ago, by the
conduct of a party of eight or ten individuals, who meet periodically
for the purpose of philosophical inquiry. Their subject is a very
grave one. Their object is to mould into a science that which as yet
is only a vague, formless, and obscure department of knowledge; and
they proceed in the most cautious manner from point to point, from
axiom to axiom--debating at every step, and coming to no decision
without unanimous conviction. Some are professors of the university,
devoted to abstruse studies; some are clergymen; and some authors and
artists. Now, at the meeting in question--which we take merely as an
example, for all are alike--when the hour struck which terminates
their proceedings for the evening, the jaded philosophers retired to
the refreshment-room; and here a scene of remarkable contrast
occurred. Instead of a single deep, low, earnest voice, alternating
with a profound silence, an absolute roar of merriment began, with the
suddenness of an explosion of gunpowder. Jests, bon-mots, anecdotes,
barbarous plays upon words--the more atrocious the better--flew round
the table; and a joyous and almost continuous ha! ha! ha! made the
ceiling ring. This, we venture to say it, _was_ laughter--genuine,
unmistakable laughter, proceeding from no sense of triumph, from no
self-gratulation, and mingled with no bad feeling of any kind. It was
a spontaneous effort of nature, coming from the head as well as the
heart: an unbending of the bow, a reaction from study, which study
alone could occasion, and which could occur only in adult life.

There are some people who cannot laugh, but these are not necessarily
either morose or stupid. They may laugh in their heart, and with their
eyes, although by some unlucky fatality, they have not the gift of
oral cachinnation. Such persons are to be pitied; for laughter in
grown people is a substitute devised by nature for the screams and
shouts of boyhood, by which the lungs are strengthened and the health
preserved. As the intellect ripens, that shouting ceases, and we learn
to laugh as we learn to reason. The society we have mentioned studied
the harder the more they laughed, and they laughed the more the harder
they studied. Each, of course, to be of use, must be in its own place.
A laugh in the midst of the study would have been a profanation; a
grave look in the midst of the merriment would have been an insult to
the good sense of the company.

If there are some people who cannot laugh, there are others who will
not. It is not, however, that they are ashamed of being grown men, and
want to go back to babyhood, for by some extraordinary perversity,
they fancy unalterable gravity to be the distinguishing characteristic
of wisdom. In a merry company, they present the appearance of a Red
Indian whitewashed, and look on at the strange ways of their
neighbours without betraying even the faintest spark of sympathy or
intelligence. These are children of a larger growth, and have not yet
acquired sense enough to laugh. Like the savage, they are afraid of
compromising their dignity, or, to use their own words, of making
fools of themselves. For our part, we never see a man afraid of making
a fool of himself at the right season, without setting him down as a
fool ready made.

A woman has no natural grace more bewitching than a sweet laugh. It is
like the sound of flutes on the water. It leaps from her heart in a
clear, sparkling rill; and the heart that hears it feels as if bathed
in the cool, exhilarating spring. Have you ever pursued an unseen
fugitive through the trees, led on by her fairy laugh; now here, now
there--now lost, now found? We have. And we are pursuing that
wandering voice to this day. Sometimes it comes to us in the midst of
care, or sorrow, or irksome business; and then we turn away, and
listen, and hear it ringing through the room like a silver bell, with
power to scare away the ill spirits of the mind. How much we owe to
that sweet laugh! It turns the prose of our life into poetry; it
flings showers of sunshine over the darksome wood in which we are
travelling; it touches with light even our sleep, which is no more the
image of death, but gemmed with dreams that are the shadows of
immortality.

But our song, like Dibdin's, 'means more than it says;' for a man, as
we have stated, may laugh, and yet the cachinnation be wanting. His
heart laughs, and his eyes are filled with that kindly, sympathetic
smile which inspires friendship and confidence. On the sympathy
within, these external phenomena depend; and this sympathy it is which
keeps societies of men together, and is the true freemasonry of the
good and wise. It is an imperfect sympathy that grants only
sympathetic tears: we must join in the mirth as well as melancholy of
our neighbours. If our countrymen laughed more, they would not only be
happier, but better; and if philanthropists would provide amusements
for the people, they would be saved the trouble and expense of their
fruitless war against public-houses. This is an indisputable
proposition. The French and Italians, with wine growing at their
doors, and spirits almost as cheap as beer in England, are sober
nations. How comes this? The laugh will answer that leaps up from
group after group--the dance on the village-green--the family dinner
under the trees--the thousand merry-meetings that invigorate industry,
by serving as a relief to the business of life. Without these,
business is care; and it is from care, not from amusement, men fly to
the bottle.

The common mistake is to associate the idea of amusement with error of
every kind; and this piece of moral asceticism is given forth as true
wisdom, and, from sheer want of examination, is very generally
received as such. A place of amusement concentrates a crowd, and
whatever excesses may be committed, being confined to a small space,
stand more prominently forward than at other times. This is all. The
excesses are really fewer--far fewer--in proportion to the number
assembled, than if no gathering had taken place. How can it be
otherwise? The amusement is itself the excitement which the wearied
heart longs for; it is the reaction which nature seeks; and in the
comparatively few instances of a coarser intoxication being
superadded, we see only the craving of depraved habit--a habit
engendered, in all probability, by the _want_ of amusement.

No, good friends, let us laugh sometimes, if you love us. A dangerous
character is of another kidney, as Cæsar knew to his cost:--

'He loves no plays,
As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music;
Seldom he laughs;'

and when he does, it is on the wrong side of his mouth.

Let us be wiser. Let us laugh in fitting time and place, silently or
aloud, each after his nature. Let us enjoy an innocent reaction rather
than a guilty one, since reaction there must be. The bow that is
always bent loses its elasticity, and becomes useless.




MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI.[1]


The authoress of _Woman in the Nineteenth Century_, known also in this
country by her _Papers on Literature and Art_, occupied among her own
people a station as notable as that of De Staël among the French, or
of Rahel von Ense in Germany. Mystic and transcendental as she was,
her writings teem with proof of original power, and are the expression
of a thoughtful and energetic, if also a wayward and undisciplined,
mind. One of the two compilers of these Memoirs (Emerson and W. H.
Channing) observes, that his first impression of her was that of a
'Yankee Corinna;' and such is not unlikely to be the last impression
of ordinary readers, ourselves among the number. In a letter, dated
1841, we find her saying: 'I feel all Italy glowing beneath the Saxon
crust'--an apt illustration of her mental structure and tone of
sentiment, compounded of New Worldedness, as represented by Margaret
Fuller, and of the feelings of Southern Europe, as embodied in the
Marchesa Ossoli. Without at this time pausing to review her literary
position, and her influence upon contemporary minds, we proceed to
draw from these interesting, but frequently eccentric and
extravagantly worded Memoirs, a sketch of her remarkable life-history.

Margaret Fuller was born at Cambridge-Port, Massachusetts, in May
1810. Her father was a shrewd, practical, hard-headed lawyer, whose
love for his wife 'was the green spot on which he stood apart from the
commonplaces of a mere bread-winning, bread-bestowing existence.' That
wife is described as a fair and flower-like nature, bound by one law
with the blue sky, the dew, and the frolic birds. 'Of all persons whom
I have known, she had in her most of the angelic--of that spontaneous
love for every living thing, for man, and beast, and tree, which
restores the Golden Age.'[2] Mr Fuller, in undertaking the education
of his daughter, committed the common error of excessive
stimulation--thinking to gain time by forwarding the intellect as
early as possible. He was himself a scholar, and hoped to make her the
heir of all he knew, and of as much more as might be elsewhere
attained. He was a severe and exacting disciplinarian, and permanently
marred the nervous system of his child by the system he adopted of
requiring her to recite her tasks on his return home at night, which
was frequently very late. Hence a premature development of the brain,
which, while it made her a youthful prodigy by day--one such youthful
prodigy, it has been justly said, is often the pest of a whole
neighbourhood--rendered her the nightly victim of spectral illusions,
somnambulism, &c.; checked her growth; and eventually brought on
continual headaches, weakness, and various nervous affections. As soon
as the light was removed from her chamber at night, this ill-tended
girl was haunted by colossal faces, that advanced slowly towards her,
the eyes dilating, and each feature swelling loathsomely as they came;
till at last, when they were about to close upon her, she started up
with a shriek, which drove them away, but only to return when she lay
down again. 'No wonder the child arose and walked in her sleep,
moaning all over the house, till once, when they heard her, and came
and waked her, and she told what she had dreamed, her father sharply
bade her "leave off thinking of such nonsense, or she would be
crazy"--never knowing that he was himself the cause of all these
horrors of the night.' Her home seems to have been deficient in the
charms and associations appropriate to childhood. Finding no relief
from without, her already overexcited mind was driven for refuge from
itself to the world of books. She tells us she was taught Latin and
English grammar at the same time; in Latin, which she began to read at
six years old, her father, and subsequently a tutor, trained her to a
high degree of precision, expecting her to understand the mechanism of
the language thoroughly, and to translate it tersely and
unhesitatingly, with the definite clearness of one perfectly _au fait_
in the philosophy of the classics. Thus she became imbued with an
abiding interest in the genius of old Rome--'the power of will, the
dignity of a fixed purpose'--where man takes a 'noble bronze in camps
and battle-fields,' his brow well furrowed by the 'wrinkles of
council,' and his eye 'cutting its way like the sword;' and thence she
loved to escape, at Ovid's behest, to the enchanted gardens of the
Greek mythology, to the gods and nymphs born of the sunbeam, the wave,
the shadows on the hill--delighted to realise in those Greek forms the
faith of a refined and intense childhood. Reading was now to her a
habit and a passion. Its only rival attraction was the 'dear little
garden' behind the house, where the best hours of her lonely
child-life were spent. Within the house, everything, she says, was
socially utilitarian; her books told of a proud world, but in another
temper were the teachings of the little garden, where her thoughts
could lie callow in the nest, and only be fed and kept warm, not
called to fly or sing before the time. A range of blue hills, at about
twelve miles' distance, allured her to reverie, and bred within her
thoughts _not_ too deep for tears. The books which exercised most
power over her at this period were Shakspeare, Cervantes, and
Molière--all three students of the 'natural history of man,' and
inspired by fact, not fancy; reconstructing the world from materials
which they collected on every side, not spinning from the desires of
their own special natures; and accordingly teaching her, their
open-eyed disciple, to distrust all invention which is not based on a
wide experience, but, as she confesses, also doing her harm, since the
child, fed with meat instead of milk, becomes too soon mature. For a
few months, this bookish life was interrupted, or varied, by the
presence of an English lady, whom Margaret invested with ideal
perfections as her 'first friend,' and whom she worshipped as a star
from the east--a morning-star; and at whose departure she fell into a
profound depression. Her father sought to dispel this rooted
melancholy, by sending her to school--a destiny from which her whole
nature revolted, as something alien to its innermost being and
cherished associations. To school, however, she went, and at first
captivated, and then scandalised her fellow-pupils by her strange
ways. Now, she surprised them by her physical faculty of rivalling the
spinning dervishes of the East--now, by declaiming verses, and acting
a whole _répertoire_ of parts, both laughter-raising and
tear-compelling--now, by waking in the night, and cheating her
restlessness by inventions that alternately diverted and teased her
companions. She was always devising means to infringe upon the
school-room routine. This involved her at last in a trouble, from
which she was only extricated by the judicious tenderness of her
teacher--the circumstances attending which 'crisis' are detailed at
length in her story of 'Mariana.'

Her personal appearance at this time, and for some following years, is
described by one of her friends as being that of a blooming girl of a
florid complexion and vigorous health, with a tendency to robustness,
which she unwisely endeavoured to suppress or conceal at the price of
much future suffering. With no pretensions to beauty then, or at any
time, her face was one that attracted, but baffled physiognomical art.
'She escaped the reproach of positive plainness, by her blond and
abundant hair, by her excellent teeth, by her sparkling, busy eyes,
which, though usually half-closed from near-sightedness, shot piercing
glances at those with whom she conversed, and, most of all, by the
very peculiar and graceful carriage of her head and neck.' In
conversation she was already distinguished, though addicted to
'quizzing'--the not unreasonable ground of unpopularity with her
female friends. Emerson alludes to her dangerous reputation for
satire, which, in addition to her great scholarship, made the women
dislike one who despised them, and the men cavil at her as 'carrying
too many guns.' A fragment from a letter in her sixteenth year will
illustrate her pursuits at that period:--'I rise a little before five,
walk an hour, and then practise on the piano till seven, when we
breakfast. Next, I read French--Sismondi's _Literature of Southern
Europe_--till eight; then, two or three lectures in Brown's
_Philosophy_. About half-past nine, I go to Mr Perkins's school, and
study Greek till twelve, when, the school being dismissed, I recite,
go home, and practise again till dinner, at two. Sometimes, if the
conversation is very agreeable, I lounge for half an hour over the
dessert, though rarely so lavish of time. Then, when I can, I read two
hours in Italian, but I am often interrupted. At six, I walk, or take
a drive. Before going to bed, I play or sing, for half an hour or so,
to make all sleepy, and, about eleven, retire to write a little while
in my journal, exercises on what I have read, or a series of
characteristics which I am filling up according to advice.' Greek,
French, Italian, metaphysics, and private authorship--pretty well for
a miss in her teens, and surely a promissory-note on the _bas bleu_
joint-stock company!--a note which she discharged in full when it
became due. Next year (1826), we find her studying Mme de Staël,
Epictetus, Milton, Racine, and Spanish ballads, 'with great delight.'
Anon she is engrossed with the elder Italian poets, from Berni down to
Pulci and Politian; then with Locke and the ontologists; then with the
_opera omnia_ of Sir William Temple. She pursued at this time no
systematic study, but 'read with the heart, and was learning more
from social experience than from books.' The interval of her life,
between sixteen and twenty-five, is characterised by one of her
biographers as a period of 'preponderating sentimentality, of romance
and dreams, of yearning and of passion.' While residing at Cambridge,
she suffered from profound despondency--conscious of the want of a
home for her heart. A sterner schooling awaited her at Groton, whither
her father removed in 1833. Here he died suddenly of cholera in 1835.
Now she was taught the miserable perplexities of a family that has
lost its head, and was called to tread a path for which, as she says,
she had no skill and no call, except that it must be trodden by some
one, and she alone was ready. In 1836 she went to Boston, to teach
Latin and French in an academy of local repute; and in the ensuing
year she accepted a 'very favourable offer,' to become 'lady-superior'
in an educational institution at Providence, where she seems to have
exercised an influence analogous to that of Dr Arnold at
Rugby--treating her pupils as ladies, and thus making them anxious to
prove that they deserved to be so treated.

By this time, she had attracted around her many and devoted friends.
Her conversational powers were of a high order, by common consent. Mr
Hedge describes her speech as remarkably fluent and correct; but
deriving its strength not from fluency, choice diction, wit, or
sentiment, but from accuracy of statement, keen discrimination, and a
certain weight of judgment; together with rhetorical finish, it had an
air of spontaneity which made it seem the grace of the moment: so that
he says, 'I do not remember that the vulgar charge of talking "like a
book" was ever fastened upon her, although, by her precision, she
might seem to have incurred it.' The excitement of the presence of
living persons seems to have energised her whole being. 'I need to be
called out,' are her words, 'and never think alone, without imagining
some companion. It is my habit, and bespeaks a second-rate mind.' And
again: 'After all, this writing,' she says in a letter, 'is mighty
dead. Oh, for my dear old Greeks, who talked everything--not to shine
as in the Parisian saloons, but to learn, to teach, to vent the heart,
to clear the head!' Mr Alcott of Boston considered her the most
brilliant talker of the day. Miss Martineau was fascinated by the same
charm. It is thus characterised by the author of _Representative Men_:
'Talent, memory, wit, stern introspection, poetic play, religion, the
finest personal feeling, the aspects of the future, each followed each
in full activity, and left me, I remember, enriched and sometimes
astonished by the gifts of my guest.' Her self-complacency staggered
many at first--as when she spoke, in the quietest manner, of the girls
she had formed, the young men who owed everything to her, the fine
companions she had long ago exhausted. 'I now know,' she has been
heard to say in the coolest style, 'all the people worth knowing in
America, and I find no intellect comparable to my own.' Well may Mr
Emerson talk of her letting slip phrases that betrayed the presence of
'a rather mountainous ME.' Such phrases abound in her conversation and
correspondence--mountainous enough to be a hill of offence to the
uninitiated and untranscendental. At anyrate, there was no affectation
in this; she thoroughly believed in her own superiority; her
subscription to _that_ creed was implicit and _ex animo_. Nor do we
detect affectation in her most notable vagaries and crotchets. She
loved the truth, and spoke it out--we were about to write, manfully;
and why not? At heart, she was, to use the words of an intimate and
discerning friend, a right brave and heroic woman--shrinking from no
duty because of feeble nerves. Numerous illustrations of this occur in
the volumes before us. Thus we find her going from a bridal of passing
joyfulness to attend a near relative during a formidable surgical
operation--or drawing five hundred dollars to bestow, on a New-York
'ne'er-do-weel,' half-patriot, half-author, always in such depths of
distress, and with such squadrons of enemies that no charity could
relieve, no intervention save him.

In 1839, she removed from Groton, with her mother and family, to
Jamaica Plain, a few miles from Boston; and thence, shortly, to
Cambridge and New York. Boston, however, was her _point d'appui_, and
in it she formed acquaintances of every class, the most utilitarian
and the most idealistic. In 1839, she published a translation of
Goethe's Conversations with Eckermann; in 1841, the Letters of
Bettina; in 1843, the _Summer on the Lakes_--a narrative of her tour
to Lake Superior and Michigan. During the same period she was editor
of the _Dial_, since conducted by Emerson and Ripley, and in which
appeared her papers on Goethe and Beethoven, the Rhine, the Romaic
Ballads, John Sterling's Poems, &c.

Exhausted by continuous exertion in teaching and writing for the
press, Miss Fuller, in 1844, sought refreshment and health in change
of scene; and, desiring rather new employments than cessation from
work, she accepted a liberal offer from Mr Horace Greeley of New York,
to become a regular contributor to the _Tribune_; and for that purpose
to take up her abode in his house, first spending some time in the
Highlands of the Hudson. At New York, she took an active interest,
after Mrs Fry's manner, in the various benevolent institutions, and
especially the prisons on Blackwell's Island. For more than a year she
wrote regularly for the _Tribune_, 'always freshly, vigorously, but
not always clearly.' The notice attracted by her articles insured
fresh hosts of acquaintances, and she became a distinguished character
at Miss Lynch's réunions, and at literary soirées of a similar order.
In 1846, she left her native land--for ever, as the melancholy event
proved--to join Mr and Mrs Spring in a European tour. Her letters home
contain much pleasant gossip about some of the Old-World notabilities.
Thus she records her interviews with Wordsworth in his Rydal retreat,
with Dr Chalmers, Dr Andrew Combe, Mr De Quincey, the Howitts, &c. She
visited Paris in the winter, and became acquainted with Lamennais,
Béranger, Mme Dudevant, and others. Thence, in the spring of 1847, she
went to Italy, where she remained until she embarked in 1850 on board
that doomed ship, the _Elizabeth_. As a resident in Rome, her safety
was seriously imperiled during the French siege of 1849. She was
appointed by the 'Roman Commission for the succour of the wounded,' to
the superintendence of an hospital, and all along took the liveliest
interest in the fortunes of Mazzini and the republic. She was then a
wife and a mother, having been married privately to the Marquis
Ossoli, a Roman, 'of a noble but impoverished house,' whom she
described, in a letter to her mother, as 'not in any respect such a
person as people in general would expect to find with her,' being a
man 'absolutely ignorant of books, and with no enthusiasm of
character,' but endowed with excellent practical sense, a nice sense
of duty, native refinement, and much sweetness of temper. The peculiar
circumstances attending the marriage in that country, and at that
agitated crisis, involved Margaret in numerous afflictions, and taxed
her powers of endurance to the very uttermost.

She had to suffer compulsory separation from husband and child--the
one in hourly peril of a bloody death, the other neglected and pining
away in the hands of strangers: penury, loneliness, prostrating
sickness, and treachery on the part of those around her, were
meanwhile her own lot in the land of strangers. How this season of
trial affected her character, may be inferred from the remarks of her
friend Mrs Story, then sojourning in Italy, who says, that in Boston
she had regarded Margaret as a person on intellectual stilts, with a
large share of arrogance, and little sweetness of temper; and adds:
'How unlike to this was she now!--so delicate, so simple, confiding,
and affectionate; with a true womanly heart and soul, sensitive and
generous, and, what was to me a still greater surprise, possessed of
so broad a charity, that she could cover with its mantle the faults
and defects of all about her.' Her devotion to her husband, and her
passionate attachment to her little Angelo, were exhibited in the
liveliest colour: the influence she exercised, too, by love and
sympathy, over Italians of every class with whom she came in contact,
appears of a kind more tender, chastened, and womanly than that which
previously characterised her. When the republican cause at Rome left
no hope of present restoration, Margaret found a tranquil refuge in
Florence, devoting her mornings to literary labours, and her evenings
to social intercourse with cultivated natives and a few foreign
visitors, among whom the Brownings occupied a distinguished place.
Greatly straitened in means at this time, the repose she and her
husband enjoyed at Florence, in their small and scantily-furnished
room, seems to have been peculiarly grateful to both. Soon, however,
arrangements were made for their departure to the United States; for
Margaret was heart-weary at the political reaction in Europe, and the
pecuniary expediency of publishing to advantage her chronicles of the
revolution, seconded by a yearning to see her family and friends once
more, constrained to this step.

From motives of economy, they took passage in a merchantman from
Leghorn, the _Elizabeth_, the expense being one-half what a return by
way of France would have been. The remonstrances of her acquaintance,
founded on the fatigues of a two months' voyage--the comparative
insecurity of such a bark--the exposed position of the cabin (on
deck)--and so on, were not unaided by Margaret's own presentiments.
Ossoli, when a boy, had been told by a fortune-teller, to 'beware of
the sea,' and this was the first ship he had ever set his foot in. In
a letter where she describes herself 'suffering, as never before, all
the horrors of indecision,' his wife expresses a fervent prayer that
it 'may not be my lot to lose my boy at sea, either by unsolaced
illness, or amid the howling waves; or if so, that Ossoli, Angelo, and
I may go together, and that the anguish may be brief.' That '_or if
so_' is affecting--and was realised, except, indeed, that the anguish
was _not_ brief, for it lasted twelve terrible hours--a long communion
face to face with Death! The bark sailed May 17, 1850. Captain Hasty,
'so fine a model of the New-England seaman,' inspired the passengers
with cheerful confidence, and for a few days all went prosperously.
But early in June, Captain Hasty died of confluent small-pox. The
child Angelino caught it, but recovered, and won all hearts by his
playful innocence, loving especially to be walked up and down in the
arms of the steward, who had just such a boy at home waiting his
arrival. On Thursday, July 15, the _Elizabeth_ was off the Jersey
coast: at evening-tide, a breeze sprang up, which by midnight had
become a hurricane. About four o'clock next morning, she struck on
Fire Island beach, and lay at the mercy of the maddened ocean. Mr
Channing's description of the wreck is a most picturesque narrative,
but too long for quotation. Very touching is the sketch of the Ossoli
group, remaining on board after nearly all the passengers and crew had
perished or escaped to land, which was distant only a few hundred
yards--the infant crying passionately, shivering in the wet, till
soothed and lullabied to sleep by his mother, a calm expectant of
death; and Ossoli tranquillising by counsel and prayer their
affrighted handmaid from Italy; all exchanging kindly partings, and
sending messages home, if any should survive to be their bearer.
Though persons were busy gathering into carts, on the shore, whatever
spoil was stranded, no life-boat appeared; and the few remaining on
the wreck were now fain to trust themselves to the rioting surf.
Margaret would not go alone. With her husband and attendant (Celeste),
she was just about to try the planks prepared by four seamen, and the
steward had just taken little Nino in his arms, pledged to save him or
die, 'when a sea struck the forecastle, and the foremast fell,
carrying with it the deck and all upon it. The steward and Angelino
were washed upon the beach, both dead, though warm, some twenty
minutes after. Celeste and Ossoli were caught for a moment by the
rigging, but the next wave swallowed them up. Margaret sank at once.
When last seen, she had been seated at the foot of the foremast, still
clad in her white night-dress, with her hair fallen loose upon her
shoulders.' No trace was found of her manuscript on Italy: her
love-correspondence with Ossoli was the only relic--the last memorial
of that howling hurricane, pitiless sea, wreck on a sand-bar, an idle
life-boat, beach-pirates, and not one friend!

With the exception of certain sections of laboured, writhing
wordiness, the feverish restlessness and hectic symptoms of which are
but too familiar to persons read in the literature of second-rate
transcendentalism, these volumes comprise a large amount of matter
that will well repay perusal, and portray a character of no ordinary
type--a 'large-brained woman and large-hearted man.'

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli. 3 vols. London: Bentley. 1852.

[2] Mr Fuller's Autobiography, which comprises the first sixty pages
of these Memoirs.




THE COUNTER-STROKE.


Just after breakfast one fine spring morning in 1837, an advertisement
in the _Times_ for a curate caught and fixed my attention. The salary
was sufficiently remunerative for a bachelor, and the parish, as I
personally knew, one of the most pleasantly situated in all
Somersetshire. Having said that, the reader will readily understand
that it could not have been a hundred miles from Taunton. I instantly
wrote, enclosing testimonials, with which the Rev. Mr Townley, the
rector, was so entirely satisfied, that the return-post brought me a
positive engagement, unclogged with the slightest objection to one or
two subsidiary items I had stipulated for, and accompanied by an
invitation to make the rectory my home till I could conveniently suit
myself elsewhere. This was both kind and handsome; and the next day
but one I took coach, with a light heart, for my new destination. It
thus happened that I became acquainted, and in some degree mixed up,
with the train of events it is my present purpose to relate.

The rector I found to be a stout, portly gentleman, whose years
already reached to between sixty and seventy. So many winters,
although they had plentifully besprinkled his hair with gray, shone
out with ruddy brightness in his still handsome face, and keen,
kindly, bright-hazel eyes; and his voice, hearty and ringing, had not
as yet one quaver of age in it. I met him at breakfast on the morning
after my arrival, and his reception of me was most friendly. We had
spoken together but for a few minutes, when one of the French windows,
that led from the breakfast-room into a shrubbery and flower-garden,
gently opened and admitted a lady, just then, as I afterwards learned,
in her nineteenth spring. I use this term almost unconsciously, for I
cannot even now, in the glowing summer of her life, dissociate her
image from that season of youth and joyousness. She was introduced to
me, with old-fashioned simplicity, as 'My grand-daughter, Agnes
Townley.' It is difficult to look at beauty through other men's eyes,
and, in the present instance, I feel that I should fail miserably in
the endeavour to stamp upon this blank, dead paper, any adequate idea
of the fresh loveliness, the rose-bud beauty of that young girl. I
will merely say, that her perfectly Grecian head, wreathed with wavy
_bandeaux_ of bright hair, undulating with golden light, vividly
brought to my mind Raphael's halo-tinted portraitures of the
Virgin--with this difference, that in place of the holy calm and
resignation of the painting, there was in Agnes Townley a sparkling
youth and life, that even amidst the heat and glare of a crowded
ball-room or of a theatre, irresistibly suggested and recalled the
freshness and perfume of the morning--of a cloudless, rosy morning of
May. And, far higher charm than feature-beauty, however exquisite, a
sweetness of disposition, a kind gentleness of mind and temper, was
evidenced in every line of her face, in every accent of the
low-pitched, silver voice, that breathed through lips made only to
smile.

Let me own, that I was greatly struck by so remarkable a combination
of rare endowments; and this, I think, the sharp-eyed rector must have
perceived, or he might not perhaps have been so immediately
communicative with respect to the near prospects of his idolised
grandchild, as he was the moment the young lady, after presiding at
the breakfast-table, had withdrawn.

'We shall have gay doings, Mr Tyrrel, at the rectory shortly,' he
said. 'Next Monday three weeks will, with the blessing of God, be
Agnes Townley's wedding-day.'

'Wedding-day!'

'Yes,' rejoined the rector, turning towards and examining some flowers
which Miss Townley had brought in and placed on the table. 'Yes, it
has been for some time settled that Agnes shall on that day be united
in holy wedlock to Mr Arbuthnot.'

'Mr Arbuthnot of Elm Park?'

'A great match, is it not, in a worldly point of view?' replied Mr
Townley, with a pleasant smile at the tone of my exclamation. 'And
much better than that: Robert Arbuthnot is a young man of a high and
noble nature, as well as devotedly attached to Agnes. He will, I doubt
not, prove in every respect a husband deserving and worthy of her; and
that from the lips of a doting old grandpapa must be esteemed high
praise. You will see him presently.'

I did see him often, and quite agreed in the rector's estimate of his
future grandson-in-law. I have not frequently seen a finer-looking
young man--his age was twenty-six; and certainly one of a more
honourable and kindly spirit, of a more genial temper than he, has
never come within my observation. He had drawn a great prize in the
matrimonial lottery, and, I felt, deserved his high fortune.

They were married at the time agreed upon, and the day was kept not
only at Elm Park, and in its neighbourhood, but throughout 'our'
parish, as a general holiday. And, strangely enough--at least I have
never met with another instance of the kind--it was held by our entire
female community, high as well as low, that the match was a perfectly
equal one, notwithstanding that wealth and high worldly position were
entirely on the bridegroom's side. In fact, that nobody less in the
social scale than the representative of an old territorial family
ought, in the nature of things, to have aspired to the hand of Agnes
Townley, appeared to have been a foregone conclusion with everybody.
This will give the reader a truer and more vivid impression of the
bride, than any words or colours I might use.

The days, weeks, months of wedded life flew over Mr and Mrs Arbuthnot
without a cloud, save a few dark but transitory ones which I saw now
and then flit over the husband's countenance as the time when he
should become a father drew near, and came to be more and more spoken
of. 'I should not survive her,' said Mr Arbuthnot, one day in reply to
a chance observation of the rector's, 'nor indeed desire to do so.'
The gray-headed man seized and warmly pressed the husband's hand, and
tears of sympathy filled his eyes; yet did he, nevertheless, as in
duty bound, utter grave words on the sinfulness of despair under any
circumstances, and the duty, in all trials, however heavy, of patient
submission to the will of God.



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Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 438 Volume 17, New Series, May 22, 1852