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

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쎸Atlantic 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 death, tears must follow it, and the sense of void left by the loss of a true friend, noble and
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