Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fuller on Carlyle

[Margaret Fuller to Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Paris, Dec., 1846.

. . . Accustomed to the infinite wit and exuberant richness of his [Carlyle's] writings, his talk is still an amazement and a splendor scarcely to be faced with steady eyes. He does not converse;---only harangues. It is the usual misfortune of such marked men,--happily not one invariable or inevitable,--that they cannot allow other minds room to breathe, and show themselves in their atmosphere, and thus miss the refreshment and instruction which the greatest never cease to need from the experience of the humblest. Carlyle allows no one a chance, but bears down all opposition, not only by his wit and onset of words, resistless in their sharpness as so many bayonets, but by actual physical superiority,--raising his voice, and rushing on his opponent with a torrent of sound. This is not in the least from unwillingness to allow freedom to others. On the contrary, no man would more enjoy a manly resistance to his thought. But it is the habit of a mind accustomed to follow out its own impulse, as the hawk its prey, and which knows not how to stop in the chase. Carlyle, indeed, is arrogant and overbearing; but in his arrogance there is no littleness,--no self-love. It is the heroic arrogance of some old Scandinavian conqueror;--it is his nature, and the untamable energy that has given him power to crush the dragons. . . . He sings, rather than talks. He pours upon you a kind of satirical, heroical, critical poem, with regular cadences, and generally, near the beginning hits upon some singular epithet, which serves as a refrain when his song is full, or with which, as with a knitting needle, he catches up the stitches, if he has chanced, now and then, to let fall a row. For the higher kinds of poetry he has no sense, and his talk on that subject is delightfully and gorgeously absurd. He sometimes stops a minute to laugh at himself, then begins anew with fresh vigor; for all the spirits he is driving before him seem to him as Fata Morgana, ugly masks, in fact, if he can but make them turn about; but he laughs that they seem to others such dainty Ariels. His talk, like his books, is full of pictures; his critical strokes masterly. Allow for his point of view, and his survey is admirable. He is a large subject. I cannot speak more or wiselier of him now,--the Siegfried of England,--great and powerful, if not quite invulnerable, and of a might rather to destroy evil, than legislate for good. . . .

-from The Friendly Craft: a Collection of American Letters edited by Elizabeth Deering Hanscom, Ph.D. (New York: Macmillan, 1908) p. 160-162.

No comments: