Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 8, No. 49, November, 1861

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Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 8, Issue 49,
November, 1861

The Project Gutenberg eBook, Atlantic Monthly, Volume 8, Issue 49,
November, 1861, by Various
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Title: Atlantic Monthly, Volume 8, Issue 49, November, 1861
Author: Various
Release Date: March 3, 2004 [eBook #11415]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
E-text prepared by Joshua Hutchinson, Tonya Allen, and Project
Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders


"Deduci superbo Non humilis mulier triumpho."
These words are applied by Horace to the great Cleopatra, whose
heroic end he celebrates, even while exulting in her overthrow. We
apply them to another woman of royal soul, who, capitulating with the
world of her contemporaries, does not allow them the ignoble triumph

of plundering the secrets of her life. They have long clamored at its
gates, long shouted at its windows, in defamation and in glorification.
Ready now for their admission, she lets the eager public in; but what
they were most intent to find still eludes them. In the "Histoire de ma
Vie" are the records of her parentage, birth, education. Here are
detailed the subtile influences that aided or hindered Nature in one of
her most lavish pieces of work; here are study, religion, marriage,
maternity, authorship, friendship, travel, litigation: but the passionate
loving woman, and whom she loved, are not here. To the world's
triumph they belong not, and we honor the decency and self-respect
which consign them to oblivion. Nor shall we endeavor to lift the veil
which she has thus thrown over the most intimate portion of her private
life. We will not ask any _Chronique Scandaleuse_, of which there are
plenty, to supply any hiatus in the dramatis personae of her life. We
shall take her as she gives herself to us, bringing out the full
significance of what she says, but not interpolating with it what other
people say. For she has been generous in telling us all that it imports us
most to know. The itching curiosity of the spiteful or the vicious must
seek its gratification at other hands than ours: we will not be its
ministers. With all this, we are not obliged to shut our eyes to the true
significance of what she tells us, or to assume that in the account she
gives us of herself there is necessarily less self-deception than
self-judgment generally exhibits. If she mistakes the selfish for the
heroic, exalts a gratification into a duty, and preaches to her sex as from
the standpoint of a morality superior to theirs, we shall set it down as it
seems to us. But, for the sake of manhood as well as of womanhood,
we would not that any mean or malignant hand should endeavor to
show where she failed, and how.
Was she not to all of us, in our early years, a name of doubt, dread, and
enchantment? Did not all of us feel, in our young admiration for her,
something of the world's great struggle between conservative discipline
and revolutionary inspiration? We knew our parents would not have us
read her, if they knew. We knew they were right. Yet we read her at
stolen hours, with waning and still entreated light; and as we read, in a
dreary wintry room, with the flickering candle warning us of late hours
and confiding expectations, the atmosphere grew warm and glorious
about us,--a true human company, a living sympathy crept near us,--the

very world seemed not the same world after as before. She had given us
a real gift; no criticism could take it away. The hands might be sinful,
but the box they broke contained an exceeding precious ointment.
At a later day we saw these things rather differently. The electric
intoxication over, which book or being gives but once to the same
person, its elements were viewed with some distrust. Passing from ideal
to real life, as all pass, who live on, we shook our heads over the books,
sighed, ceased to read them. Grown mothers ourselves, we quietly
removed them as far as possible from the young hands about us, and
would rather have deprived them of the noble French language
altogether than have allowed it to bring them such lessons as Jacques
and Valentine. Yet we retain the old love for her; the world of literature
still seems brighter for her footsteps; and should we live to learn her
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