W1125 MARGARETTE BARKER LERNED: SCHOOL ESSAY, THE LOVE OF THE BEAUTIFUL.
Jan 1 1824
To: Margarette Barker Lerned [McQuesten]1
The Love of the Beautiful3
The love of the beautiful is one of those finer susceptibilities of our nature which is bestowed on individuals in very unequal degrees. 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.4 The enthusiasm with which one would [gaze?] on the exquisite tints, delicate pencillings of a flower, the glories of a sunset sky, the pensive delight with which he strolls forth 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 indication of puerility or weakness, or at best, be ascribed to imagination induced perchance, by an affection of the heart which, from time immemorial has led its virtuous to the soothing influences of parting streams and shady nooks, & moonlight groves. Susceptibility to beauty is supposed to be a general principle. It is difficult for us to conceive how refined a sentiment can find a lodgement in the mind of a Hollander or 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 springing up like a beautiful flower in the desert (cast in nature's finest mould) in the midst of poverty and degradation: but such are easily blighted by the contaminated atmosphere which they are compelled to breathe, & 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 are screened with from [sic] contact with the vulgar and unrefined whose feelings & pursuits are nevertheless low & grovelling; who are utterly incapable of those pure emotions & elevated enjoyments which a taste for the beautiful inspires. The mind is moulded by the objects it contemplates. "By contemplating beauty the character becomes beautiful."5
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).
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 The Whitehern archive contains three essays on Beauty written by Margarette B. Lerned (W1109, W1125, & W1137); however this and one other (W1109) are mostly illegible. W1109 is named: "A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever," and opens with: "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 admiration and delight, would by another be regarded with indifference, or entirely escape observation."
The most legible of this series of essays, W1137, is a complete essay extolling the vices and virtues of beauty.
4 A polished version of this essay appears at W1109. Slight differences appear between the two documents, such as this sentence which reads as follows at W1109: "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."
5 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.