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   Chapter 2 THE DAYS OF THE ENGAGEMENT

Memories of Hawthorne By Rose Hawthorne Lathrop Characters: 30433

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The engagement of Hawthorne to his future wife was now a fact, but it was not spoken of except to one or two persons. Sophia had slipped away for a visit to friends in Boston; but as Elizabeth was at present in Newton, her letters to the latter continued as follows:-

WEST STREET, BOSTON, May 19, 1839.

DEAREST LIZZIE,-Two days ago Mr. Hawthorne came. He said that there was nothing to which he could possibly compare his surprise, to find that the bird had flown when he went to our house. He said he sat for half an hour in the parlor before he knocked to announce his presence, feeling sure I would know he was there, and descend,-till at last he was 'tired of waiting. "Oh, it was terrible to find you gone," he said. And it was such a loss, to be sure, to me not to see him. I am glad you enjoyed his visit so much. He told me he should be at the picture-gallery the next morning [Sophia went very early to avoid the crowd], and there I found him at eight o'clock. He came home with me through a piercing east wind, which he was sure would 'make me ill for a week. In the evening he came to see if it had given me a cold, but it had not. Caroline [Tappan] was busy with her children, and did not come down for half an hour. When she did, she was very agreeable, and so was Mr. Hawthorne. She admired him greatly. He said he should be at the gallery this morning, if possible. I went before eight, and found the room empty, except for Mr. William Russell. Mr. IT. arrived at nine, for, as it was cloudy weather until then, he thought I would not be there, and he came with the sunshine. At ten it began to grow crowded, and we went out. He peremptorily declared I should ride.

Washington Allston had a great regard for Sophia's talent in art.

Elizabeth refers to it in a letter written while visiting the

Emersons:-

CONCORD, MASS., June 23, 1839.

Here I am on the Mount of Transfiguration, but very much in the condition of the disciples when they were prostrate in the dust. I got terribly tired in Boston. I went to the Athenaeum Gallery on Monday morning, and in the evening Hawthorne came and said that he went to the Allston gallery on Saturday afternoon. I went to Allston's on Tuesday evening. He was in delightful spirits, but soft as a summer evening. He seemed transported with delight on hearing of your freedom from pain, and was eager to know what you were going to paint. I said you had several things a-going, but did not like to tell of your plans. He said, then you would be more likely to execute them, and that it was a good thing to have several paintings at once, because that would save time, as you could rest yourself by change. I carried to him a volume of "Twice-Told Tales," to exchange for mine. He said he thirsted for imaginative writing, and all the family had read the book with great delight. I am really provoked that I did not bring "The Token" with me, so as to have "The Mermaid" and "The Haunted Mind" to read to people. I was hardly seated here, after tea yesterday, before Mr. Emerson asked me what I had to say of Hawthorne, and told me that Mr. Bancroft said that Hawthorne was the most efficient and best of the Custom House officers. Pray tell that down in Herbert Street. Mr. Emerson seemed all congenial about him, but has not yet read his writings. He is in a good mood to do so, however, and I intend to bring him to his knees in a day or two, so that he will read the book, and all that Hawthorne has written. He is in a delightful state of mind; not yet rested from last winter's undue labors, but keenly industrious. He has uttered no heresies about Mr. Allston, but only beautiful things,-dwelling, however, on his highest merits least. He says Very forbids all correcting of his verses; but nevertheless he [Emerson] selects and combines with sovereign will, "and shall," he says, "make out quite a little gem of a volume." "But," says he, "Hawthorne says he [Very] is always vain. I find I cannot forget that dictum which you repeated; but it is continually confirmed by himself, amidst all his sublimities." And then he repeated some of Very's speeches, and told how he dealt with him. I am very stupid. I have been awake for about two months! Mr. Emerson is very luminous, and wiser than ever. Oh, he is beautiful, and good, and great! Your sister, E.

Sophia, once more in Salem, replies:-

June 29, 1839.

I am very sorry you were disappointed by not meeting Mr. Hawthorne at the galleries. But I am delighted that you saw Mr. Allston. How kind and inspiring is his interest about my health. I am rejoiced that Mr. Emerson has uttered no heresies about our High Priest of Nature. For him to think that because a man is born to-day instead of yesterday he cannot move the soul seems quite inconsistent with his proclamation that "the sun shines to-day, also!"

When some other callers had departed, came Mr. Hawthorne. It was a powerful east wind, and he would not let me go out; but we were both so virtuous that he went alone to Miss Burley's. You never can know what a sacrifice that was! If you could, you would never again accuse either of us of disregard of the claims of others. I told him what Mr. Bancroft said, and he blushed deeply, and replied, "What fame!" After he went away, I read "Bettina von Arnim." She is not to be judged; she is to be received and believed. She is genius, life, love, inspiration. If anybody undertakes to criticise her before me, I intend to vanish, if it is from a precipice into the sea. Tuesday, my Demon called upon me to draw some of the Auxiliary Verbs. . . .

July 5. Yesterday was the great day, and this wretched town made no appropriations for celebrating it-not even for the ringing of bells. So the people in wrath hung flags at half-mast, and declared they would toll the bells. Then it was granted that there should be joyful ringing at noon and sunset. They pealed forth jubilantly, and I heard the clash of cymbals in the afternoon. Every soul in America should thrill on the anniversary of the most illustrious event in all history; and as some souls sleep, these should be stirred with bells, trumpets, and eloquence.

To-day the Demon demanded the completion of St. George and Una; and, alternating with my music, I drew all the morning. A horse has leaped out of my mind. I wonder what those learned in horses would say to him. George says he is superb. My idea was to have St. George's whole figure express the profoundest repose, command, and self-involvedness, while the horse should be in most vivid action and motion, the glory of his nostrils terrible, "as much disdaining to the curb to yield." The foam of power, and the stillness of power. You must judge if I have succeeded. The figure of Una is now far better than the first one. You cannot imagine with what ease I draw; I feel as if I could and might do anything, now. Next week, if Outlines do not prevail, I shall begin again with oils. I feel on a height. Oh, I am so happy! But I have not ridden horse-back since Tuesday on account of the weather. Is it not well that I kept fast hold of the white hand of Hope, dear Betty? For behold where she has led me! My wildest imaginations, during my hours of sickness in the past, never could have compassed such a destiny. All my life long my word has been, "This is well, and to-morrow it will be better; and God knows when to bring that morrow." You mistake me if you thought I ever believed that we should not be active for others. That is of course. With regard to our own minds, it seems to me we should take holy care of the present moment, and leave the end to God.

Now I am indeed made deeply conscious of what it is to be loved. Most tunefully sweet is this voice which affirms ever, for negation belongs to this world only. Its breath so informs the natural body that the spiritual body begins to plume its wings within, and I seem appareled in celestial light.

A few paragraphs from letters written by Hawthorne follow:-

Six o'clock, P. M.

What a wonderful vision that is-the dream-angel. I do esteem it almost a miracle that your pencil should unconsciously have produced it; it is as much an apparition of an ethereal being as if the heavenly face and form had been shadowed forth in the air, instead of upon paper. It seems to me that it is our guardian angel, who kneels at the footstool of God, and is pointing to us upon earth, and asking earthly and heavenly blessings for us,-entreating that we may not be much longer divided, that we may sit by our own fire-side. . . .

BOSTON, September 9, half past eight P. M., 1839.

I was not at the end of Long Wharf to-day, but in a distant region; my authority having been put in requisition to quell a rebellion of the captain and "gang" of shovelers aboard a coal-vessel. . . . Well-I have conquered the rebels, and proclaimed an amnesty; so to-morrow I shall return to that Paradise of Measures, the end of Long Wharf. Not to my former salt-ship, she being now discharged; but to another, which will probably employ me wellnigh a fortnight longer. The salt is white and pure-there is something holy in salt.

BOSTON, 1839.

Your wisdom is not of the earth; it has passed through no other mind, but gushes fresh and pure from your own, and therefore I deem myself the safer when I receive your outpourings as a revelation from Heaven. Not but what you have read, and tasted deeply, no doubt, of the thoughts of other minds; but the thoughts of other minds make no change in your essence, as they do in almost everybody else's essence. You are still sweet Sophie Hawthorne, and still your soul and intellect breathe forth an influence like that of wildflowers, to which God, not man, gives all their sweetness. . . . If the whole world had been ransacked for a name, I do not think that another could have been found to suit you half so well. It is as sweet as a wildflower. You ought to have been born with that very name-only then I should have done you an irreparable injury by merging it in my own.

You are fitly expressed to my soul's apprehension by those two magic words-Sophia Hawthorne! I repeat them to myself sometimes; and always they have a new charm. I am afraid I do not write very clearly, having been pretty hard at work since sunrise. You are wiser than I, and will know what I have tried to say. . . . NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE.

Their engagement was not announced for about a year, because it was expected that it would be a very long one; and also to avoid, for as great an interval as possible, causing consternation in Herbert Street, since there, the approach of any permanent change on Hawthorne's part from a quiet sojourn under shadows and through enchantingly mellowed lights was looked upon as a Waterloo.

I go back a little from the last date to give the following fragment of a diary, contained in a small leather-bound memorandum-book, marked on the cover "Scrap-Book, 1839." The period covered is a brief portion of Hawthorne's service as weigher and ganger in the Boston Custom House, a position to which he was appointed by George Bancroft, at that time collector of the port.

February 7, 1839. Yesterday and day before, measuring a load of coal from the schooner Thomas Lowder, of St. John, N. B. A little, black, dirty vessel. The coal stowed in the hold, so as to fill the schooner full, and make her a solid mass of black mineral. The master, Best, a likely young man; his mate a fellow jabbering in some strange gibberish, English I believe-or nearer that than anything else-but gushing out all together-whole sentences confounded into one long, unintelligible word. Irishmen shoveling the coal into the two Custom House tubs, to be craned out of the hold, and others wheeling it away in barrows, to be laden into wagons. The first day, I walked the wharf, suffering not a little from cold; yesterday, I sat in the cabin whence I could look through the interstices of the bulkhead, or whatever they call it, into the hold. My eyes, what a cabin! Three paces would more than measure it in any direction, and it was filled with barrels, not clean and new, but black, and containing probably the provender of the vessel; jugs, firkins, the cook's utensils and kitchen furniture-everything grimy and sable with coal dust. There were two or three tiers of berths; and the blankets, etc., are not to be thought of. A cooking stove, wherein was burning some of the coal-excellent fuel, burning as freely as wood, and without the bituminous melting of Newcastle coal. The cook of the vessel, a grimy, unshaven, middle-aged man, trimming the fire at need, and sometimes washing his dishes in water that seemed to have cleansed the whole world beforehand-the draining of gutters, or caught at sink-spouts. In the cessations of labor, the Irishmen in the hold would poke their heads through the open space into the cabin and call "Cook!"-for a drink of water or a pipe-whereupon Cook would fill a short black pipe, put a coal into it, and stick it into the Irishman's mouth. Here sat I on a bench before the fire, the other guests of the cabin being the stevedore, who takes the job of getting the coal ashore, and the owner of the horse that raised the tackle-the horse being driven by a boy. The cabin was lined with slabs-the rudest and dirtiest hole imaginable, yet the passengers had been accommodated here in the trip from New Brunswick. The bitter zero atmosphere came down the companion-way, and threw its chill over me sometimes, but I was pretty comfortable-though, on reaching home, I found that I had swaggered through several thronged streets with coal streaks on my visage.

The wharfinger's office is a general resort and refuge for people who have business to do on the wharf, in the spaces before work is commenced, between the hours of one and two, etc. A salamander stove-a table of the signals, wharves, and agent of packets plying to and from Boston-a snuff-box-a few chairs-etc., constituting the furniture. A newspaper.

February 11. Talk at the Custom House on Temperance. Gibson gives an account of his brother's sore leg, which was amputated. Major Grafton talks of ancestors settling early in Salem-in 1632. Of a swallow's nest, which he observed, year after year, on revisiting his boyhood's residence in Salem, for thirty years. It was so situated under the eaves of the house, that he could put his hand in and feel the young ones. At last, he found the nest gone, and was grieved thereby. Query, whether the descendants of the original builders of the nest inhabited it during the whole thirty years. If so, the family might vie for duration with the majority of human families.

February 15. At the Custom House, Mr. Pike told a story of a human skeleton without a head being discovered in High Street, Salem, about eight years ago-I think in digging the foundations of a building. It was about four feet below the surface. He sought information about the mystery of an old traditionary woman of eighty, resident in the neighborhood. She, coming to the spot where the bones were, lifted up her hands and cried out, "So! they 've found the rest of the poor Frenchman's bones at last!" Then, with gre

at excitement, she told the bystanders how, some seventy-five years before, a young Frenchman had come from over-seas with a Captain Tanent, and had resided with him in Salem. He was said to be very wealthy, and was gayly appareled in the fashion of those times. After a while the Frenchman disappeared and Captain Tanent gave out that he had gone to some other place, and been killed there. After two or three years, it was found that the Captain had grown rich; but he squandered his money in dissipated habits, died poor-and there are now none left of the race. Many years afterwards, digging near his habitation, the workmen found a human skull; and it was supposed to be that of the young Frenchman, who was all along supposed to have been murdered by the Captain. They did not seek for the rest of the skeleton; and no more was seen of it till Mr. Pike happened to be present at the discovery. The bone first found was that of the leg. He described it as lying along horizontally, so that the head was under the corner of the house; and now I recollect that they were digging a post-hole when the last discovery was made, and at that of the head they were digging the foundation of the house. The bones did not adhere together, though the shape of a man was plainly discernible. There were no remnants of clothing.

Mr. Pike told furthermore how a lady of truth and respectability-a church member-averred to him that she had seen a ghost. She was 'sitting with an old gentleman, who was engaged in reading the newspaper; and she saw the figure of a woman advance behind him and look over his shoulder. The narrator then called to the old gentleman to look around. He did so rather pettishly, and said, "Well, what do you want me to look round for?" The figure either vanished or went out of the room, and he resumed the reading of his newspaper. Again the narrator saw the same figure of a woman come in and look over his shoulder, bending forward her head. This time she did not speak, but hemmed so as to attract the old gentleman's attention; and again the apparition vanished. But a third time it entered the room, and glided behind the old gentleman's chair, as before, appearing, I suppose, to glance at the newspaper; and this time, if I mistake not, she nodded or made some sort of sign to the woman. How the ghost vanished, I do not recollect; but the old gentleman, when told of the matter, answered very scornfully. Nevertheless, it turned out that his wife had died precisely, allowing for the difference of time caused by distance of place, at the time when this apparition had made its threefold visit.

Mr. Pike is not an utter disbeliever in ghosts, and has had some singular experiences himself:-for instance, he saw, one night, a boy's face, as plainly as ever he saw anything in his life, gazing at him. Another time-or, as I think, two or three other times-he saw the figure of a man standing motionless for half an hour in Norman Street, where the headless ghost is said to walk.

February 19. Mr. Pike is a shortish man, very stoutly built, with a short neck-an apoplectic frame. His forehead is marked, but not expansive, though large-I mean, it has not a broad, smooth quietude. His face dark and sallow-ugly, but with a pleasant, kindly, as well as strong and thoughtful expression. Stiff, black hair, which starts bushy and almost erect from his forehead-a heavy, yet very intelligent countenance. He is subject to the asthma, and moreover to a sort of apoplectic fit, which compels [him] to sleep almost as erect as he sits; and if he were to lie down horizontally in bed, he would feel almost sure of one of these fits. When they seize him, he awakes feeling as if [his] head were swelled to enormous size, and on the point of bursting-with great pain. He has his perfect consciousness, but is unable to call for assistance, or make any noise except by blowing forcibly with his mouth, and unless this brings help, he must die. When shaken violently, and lifted to a sitting posture, he recovers. After a fit, he feels a great horror of going to bed again. If one were to seize him at his boarding-house, his chance would be bad, because if any heard his snortings, they would not probably know what was the matter. These two afflictions might seem enough to make one man miserable, yet he appears in pretty fair spirits.

He is a Methodist, has occasionally preached, and believes that he has an assurance of salvation immediate from the Deity. Last Sunday, he says, he gave religious instruction to a class in the State's Prison.

Speaking of his political hostilities, he said that he never could feel ill will against a person when he personally met him, that he was not capable of hatred, but of strong affection,-that he always remembered that "every man once had a mother, and she loved him." A strong, stubborn, kindly nature this.

The City-Crier, talking in a familiar style to his auditors- delivering various messages to them, intermixed with his own remarks. He then runs over his memory to see whether he has omitted anything, and recollects a lost child-"We've lost a child," says he; as if, in his universal sympathy for all who have wants, and seek the gratification of them through his medium, he were one with the parents of the child. He then tells the people, whenever they find lost children, not to keep them overnight, but to bring them to his office. "For it is a cruel thing"-to keep them; and at the conclusion of his lecture, he tells them that he has already worn out his lungs, talking to them of these things. He completely personifies the public, and considers it as an individual with whom he holds converse,-he being as important on his side, as they on theirs.

An old man fishing on Long Wharf with a pole three or four feet long-just long enough to clear the edge of the wharf. Patched clothes, old, black coat-does not look as if he fished for what he might catch, but as a pastime, yet quite poor and needy looking. Fishing all the afternoon, and takes nothing but a plaice or two, which get quite sun-dried. Sometimes he hauls up his line, with as much briskness as he can, and finds a sculpin on the hook. The boys come around him, and eye his motions, and make pitying or impertinent remarks at his ill-luck-the old man answers not, but fishes on imperturbably. Anon, he gathers up his clams or worms, and his one sun-baked flounder-you think he is going home-but no, he is merely going to another corner of the wharf, where he throws his line under a vessel's counter, and fishes on with the same deathlike patience as before. He seems not quiet so much as torpid,-not kindly nor unkindly feeling-but not to have anything to do with the rest of the world. He has no business, no amusement, but just to crawl to the end of Long Wharf, and throw his line over. He has no sort of skill in fishing, but a peculiar clumsiness.

Objects on a wharf-a huge pile of cotton bales, from a New Orleans ship, twenty or thirty feet high, as high as a house. Barrels of molasses, in regular ranges; casks of linseed oil. Iron in bars landing from a vessel, and the weigher's scales standing conveniently. To stand on the elevated deck or rail of a ship, and look up the wharf, you see the whole space of it thronged with trucks and carts, removing the cargoes of vessels, or taking commodities to and from stores. Long Wharf is devoted to ponderous, evil-smelling, inelegant necessaries of life-such as salt, salt-fish, oil, iron, molasses, etc.

Near the head of Long Wharf there is an old sloop, which has been converted into a store for the sale of wooden ware, made at Hingham. It is afloat, and is sometimes moored close to the wharf;-or, when another vessel wishes to take its place, midway in the dock. It has been there many years. The storekeeper lives and sleeps on board.

Schooners more than any other vessels seem to have such names as Betsey, Emma-Jane, Sarah, Alice,-being the namesakes of the owner's wife, daughter, or sweet-heart. They are a sort of domestic concern, in which all the family take an interest. Not a cold, stately, unpersonified thing, like a merchant's tall ship, perhaps one of half a dozen, in which he takes pride, but which he does not love, nor has a family feeling for. Now Betsey, or Sarah-Ann, seems like one of the family-something like a cow.

Long flat-boats, taking in salt to carry it up the Merrimack canal, to Concord, in New Hampshire. Contrast and similarities between a stout, likely country fellow, aboard one of these, to whom the scenes of a sea-port are entirely new, but who is brisk, ready, and shrewd in his own way, and the mate of a ship, who has sailed to every port. They talk together, and take to each other.

The brig Tiberius, from an English port, with seventy or thereabouts factory girls, imported to work in our factories. Some pale and delicate-looking; others rugged and coarse. The scene of landing them in boats, at the wharf-stairs, to the considerable display of their legs;-whence they are carried off to the Worcester railroad in hacks and omnibuses. Their farewells to the men-Good-by, John, etc.,-with wavings of handkerchiefs as long as they were in sight.

A pert, petulant young clerk, continually fooling with the mate, swearing at the stevedores and laboring men, who regard him not. Somewhat dissipated, probably.

The mate of a coal-vessel-a leathern belt round his waist, sustaining a knife in a leathern sheath. Probably he uses it to eat his dinner with; perhaps also as a weapon.

A young sailor, with an anchor handsomely traced on the back of his hand-a foul anchor-and perhaps other naval insignia on his wrists and breast. He wears a sky-blue silk short jacket, with velvet collar-a bosom-pin, etc.

An old seaman, seventy years of age-he has spent seven years in the British Navy (being of English birth) and nine in ours; has voyaged all over the world-for instance, I asked if he had ever been in the Red Sea, and he had, in the American sloop of war that carried General Eaton, in 1803. His hair is brown-without a single visible gray hair in it; and he would seem not much above fifty. He is of particularly quiet demeanor-but observant of all things, and reflective-a philosopher in a check shirt and sail-cloth trousers. Giving an impression of the strictest integrity-of inability not to do his duty, and his whole duty. Seemingly, he does not take a very strong interest in the world, being a widower without children; but he feels kindly towards it, and judges mildly of it; and enjoys it very tolerably well, although he has so slight a hold on it that it would not trouble him much to give it up. He said he hoped he should die at sea, because then it would be so little trouble to bury him. Me is a skeptic,-and when I asked him if he would not wish to live again, he spoke doubtfully and coldly. He said that he had been in England within two or three years-in his native county, Yorkshire-and finding his brother's children in very poor condition, he gave them sixty golden sovereigns. "I have always had too many poor friends," he said, "and that has kept me poor." This old man kept tally of the Alfred Tyler's cargo, on behalf of the Captain, diligently marking all day long, and calling "tally, Sir," to me at every sixth tub. Often would he have to attend to some call of the stevedores, or wheelers, or shovelers-now for a piece of spun-yarn-now for a handspike-now for a hammer, or some nails-now for some of the ship's molasses, to sweeten water-the which the Captain afterwards reprehended him for giving. These calls would keep him in about movement enough to give variety to his tallying-he moving quietly about the decks, as if he belonged aboard ship and nowhere else. Then sitting down he would converse (though by no means forward to talk) about the weather, about his recent or former voyages, etc., etc., etc., we dodging the intense sun round the main mast.

Sophia writes to Hawthorne from Milton:-

Sunday A. M., May 30, 1841.

DEAREST,-The chilling atmosphere keeps me from church to-day. . . . Since I saw you at the Farm, I wish far more than ever to have a home for you to come to, after associating with men at the Farm [Brook Farm] all day. A sacred retreat you should have, of all men. Most people would not desire or like it, but notwithstanding your exquisite courtesy and conformableness and geniality there, I could see very plainly that you were not leading your ideal life. Never upon the face of any mortal was there such a divine expression of sweetness and kindliness as I saw upon yours during the various transactions and witticisms of the excellent fraternity. Yet it was also the expression of a witness and hearer, rather than of comradeship. Had I perceived a particle of even the highest kind of pride in your manner, it would have spoiled the perfect beauty and fitness.

M. L. Sturgis, in a little note, gives a glimpse of Sophia's world at that date:-

"I have seen your 'Gentle Boy' to-night. I like it very much indeed. The boy I love already. Do you see Mr. Hawthorne often? It was a shame he did not talk more that night at the Farm. Just recall that beautiful moon over the water, and those dear trees!"

Ellen Hooper, when the engagement is known, shows how people felt about the new author:-

"Your note seems to require a mood quite apart from the 'every day' of one's life, wherein to be read and answered. . . . I do not know Mr. Hawthorne-and yet I do; and I love him with that eminently Platonic love which one has for a friend in black and white [print]. He seems very near to me, for he is not only a dreamer, but wakes now and then with a pleasant 'Good-morrow' for shabby human interests. I am glad to hear that he is healthful, for I profoundly admire this quality; and particularly in one who is not entitled to it on the ground of being stupid!"

Sophia's aptness for writing poetry led her to inclose this poem to her future husband in one of her letters:-

God granteth not to man a richer boon

Than tow'rd himself to draw the waiting soul,

Making it swift to pray this high control.

Would with according grace its jars attune.

And man on man the largest gift bestows

When from the vision-mount he sings aloud,

And pours upon the unascended crowd

Pure Order's heavenly stream that o'er him flows.

So thou, my friend, hast risen through thought supreme

To central insight of eternal law.

Thy golden-cadenced intuitions gleam

From that new heaven which John of Patmos saw;

And I my spirit lowly bend to thine,

In recognition of thy words divine.

From Salem she writes to Elizabeth, her summer jaunt being over:-

"I have not touched a pencil since I came home. I cannot be grateful enough that I can be hands and feet to the dearest mother in the world, who has all my life been all things to me, so delicate as I have been. There is pastime, pleasure, and a touch of the infinitely beautiful to me in what is generally considered drudgery; and I find there is nothing so inconsiderable in life that the moving of the spirit of love over it does not commute it into essential beauty."

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