W1109 SCHOOL ESSAY BY MARGARET BARKER LERNED [MCQUESTEN].
Jan 1 1824
To: Margarette Barker Lerned [McQuesten]1
From: Hopkinton New Hampshire
"A Thing of beauty is a joy forever"3
The Love of the Beautiful is one of those finer susceptibilities of our nature, which is bestowed on individuals in very unequal degrees. The view of an object, which, in one mind, would awaken the liveliest emotions of admirations and delight, would by another, be regarded with indifference, or entirely escape observation.4 The enthusiasm with which one would [gaze?] on the exquisite tints, and delicate pencillings of a flower, or the glories of a sunset sky; the pensive delight with which he strolls forth, on a summer evening, from the busy haunts of men, to enjoy the mild influence of communion with nature in the field, or grove, would by another be considered as indications of puerility or weakness; or, at best, ascribed to the influence of a disordered imagination, induced, perchance, by an affection of the heart, which, from time immemorial has led its virtuous to the soothing influence of parting streams, and shady nooks, and moonlight groves.
Susceptibility to beauty or the power of deriving pleasure from the contemplation of beautiful objects, is supposed, by some, to be an intuitive principle, possessed in some degree, by all. It is difficult for us to conceive how a sentiment so refined can find a lodgement in the mind of a Hollander or a New Zealander; or indeed in some of the lower specimens of humanity with which we meet in civilized society.
However that may be, it is evidently not the result of education, although, like every other mental faculty it is susceptible of high cultivation. We sometimes see an individual, cast in nature's finest mould, springing up, like a flower in the desert, in the midst of poverty and degradation. But such are easily blighted by the contaminated atmosphere they are compelled to breathe, and the kind hand of death transplants them, to expand and bloom in a more congenial clime. On the other hand, we sometimes meet with individuals who woke to being, in the midst of all that is beautiful in nature & in art, who have been screened with anxious care from all contact with the vulgar and unrefined; yet, whose feelings and pursuits are nevertheless low and grovelling; who are utterly incapable of those pure emotions and elevated engagements, which a taste for the beautiful inspires.
A person who possesses this in a high degree is incapable of anything meager [sic] or vulgar in thought or action. (By contemplating beauty the character becomes beautiful). It is never found combined with great moral obliquity. I believe they cannot exist in the same character. One who is keenly alive to the beauty of nature will be equally susceptible to impressions of moral beauty.
"The mind is moulded by the objects it contemplates" there is nothing better calculated to educate & expand the soul, to cultivate the best stead5 & inform the heart with the study of nature. What room will there be for dark & malignant thoughts & evil passions in a mind pre-occupied with images of beauty & the feelings of joy and admiration which these inspire; I can conceive no greater penalty which could be inflicted on such a person than to be compelled to live in daily contagion with one of those heartless beings who can perceive no beauty which is not combined with utility. What does he discern in this but simply light by which he sees to plod his way, plow day to day through his daily toil: what sees he of it [beauty] in this fine and beautiful earth, but a spot on which he is to dig for a handful of its yellow dust & food as [one?] would be likely to exclaim in view of that grandest of nature's mark "what a glorious place for washing, steep Niagara would be". Far does he dredge through life without tasting the thousand streams of pleasure which a kind Providence has offered all around him.
What though "Chords that vibrate sweetest pleasure
Thrill the deepest notes of woe."6
1 Margarette Barker Lerned (1809-41) lived in Hopkinton, N.H., and attended Adams Female Academy in 1824 and 1825. In 1824 she was fifteen years of age. When she graduated in 1825, she become a Primary School teacher until she married Dr. Calvin McQuesten at the age of twenty-two, in 1831. She died in 1841, at thirty-two years of age, just three days after the birth of her third child, who died six days later. Her only child to survive to maturity was Dr. Calvin Brooks McQuesten (1837-1912).
The Whitehern archive contains three essays on Beauty written by Margarette B. Lerned (W1109, W1125, & W1137). W1125 is named "The Love of the Beautiful," and it ends with: "The mind is moulded by the objects it contemplates. 'By contemplating beauty the character becomes beautiful.'" The most legible of this series of essays, W1137, is a complete essay extolling the vices and virtues of beauty.
In light of these essays on beauty and morality, we can ask ourselves: How many minds, through the years, have been molded by the beauty of Margarette's life writings? Her writings have been preserved after her death, through the two successive marriages of Dr. Calvin McQuesten and a total of three generations. When one considers the quality of her essays, and the tragedy of her short life, it is not surprising that Margarette's essays were carefully preserved by all who encountered them. Indeed, to touch her works is to be touched by them.
2 No dates appear on the original draft of this essay. As a result, we have attributed this essay to c.1824, the same year that Margarette completed another essay on a similar subject (W1137).
3 For the purposes of this essay, Margarette Lerned has borrowed the title from John Keats' 1818 poem, Endymion. It reads as follows:
A thing is beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
4 W1125 appears to be a previous draft of this same essay. In the draft, this sentence reads as: "The sight of an object, which in one mind would awaken the liveliest emotions of admiration delight, would by another be regarded with indifference or entirely escape his notice".
5 In this essay the term 'stead' is used to refer to advantage, specifically in terms of location. In the context of this essay, Margarette Lerned is referring to advantageous locations for contemplation and communion with nature.
6 Margarette has copied a sentence from Robert Burns's 1790 song, Sensibility how Charming. Her series of school essays (including those on Beauty at W1109, W1125 and W1137) contain numerous references to poetry, songs and literature from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Sensibility how charming,
Dearest Nancy, thou canst tell;
But distress with horrors arming,
Thou hast also known too well.
Fairest flower, behold the lily,
Blooming in the sunny ray:
Let the blast sweep o'er the valley,
See it prostrate on the clay.
Hear the woodlark charm the forest,
Telling o'er his little joys:
Hapless bird! a prey the surest
To each pirate of the skies.
Dearly bought the hidden treasure,
Finer Feelings can bestow:
Chords that vibrate sweetest pleasure,
Thrill the deepest notes of woe.