Autobiography HTML version

existed with a highly reverential nature. In general spiritual characteristics, as well as in
temperament and organisation, I have often compared her, as she was at this time, to
Shelley: but in thought and intellect, Shelley, so far as his powers were developed in his
short life, was but a child compared with what she ultimately became. Alike in the
highest regions of speculation and in the smaller practical concerns of daily life, her mind
was the same perfect instrument, piercing to the very heart and marrow of the matter;
always seizing the essential idea or principle. The same exactness and rapidity of
operation, pervading as it did her sensitive as well as her mental faculties, would, with
her gifts of feeling and imagination, have fitted her to be a consummate artist, as her fiery
and tender soul and her vigorous eloquence would certainly have made her a great orator,
and her profound knowledge of human nature and discernment and sagacity in practical
life, would, in the times when such a carrière was open to women, have made her
eminent among the rulers of mankind. Her intellectual gifts did but minister to a moral
character at once the noblest and the best balanced which I have ever met with in life. Her
unselfishness was not that of a taught system of duties, but of a heart which thoroughly
identified itself with the feelings of others, and often went to excess in consideration for
them by imaginatively investing their feelings with the intensity of its own. The passion
of justice might have been thought to be her strongest feeling, but for her boundless
generosity, and a lovingness ever ready to pour itself forth upon any or all human beings
who were capable of giving the smallest feeling in return. The rest of her moral
characteristics were such as naturally accompany these qualities of mind and heart: the
most genuine modesty combined with the loftiest pride; a simplicity and sincerity which
were absolute, towards all who were fit to receive them; the utmost scorn of whatever
was mean and cowardly, and a burning indignation at everything brutal or tyrannical,
faithless or dishonourable in conduct and character, while making the broadest distinction
between mala in se and mere mala prohibita--between acts giving evidence of intrinsic
badness in feeling and character, and those which are only violations of conventions
either good or bad, violations which, whether in themselves right or wrong, are capable
of being committed by persons in every other respect lovable or admirable.
To be admitted into any degree of mental intercourse with a being of these qualities,
could not but have a most beneficial influence on my development; though the effect was
only gradual, and many years elapsed before her mental progress and mine went forward
in the complete companionship they at last attained. The benefit I received was far
greater than any which I could hope to give; though to her, who had at first reached her
opinions by the moral intuition of a character of strong feeling, there was doubtless help
as well as encouragement to be derived from one who had arrived at many of the same
results by study and reasoning: and in the rapidity of her intellectual growth, her mental
activity, which converted everything into knowledge, doubtless drew from me, as it did
from other sources, many of its materials. What I owe, even intellectually, to her, is in its
detail, almost infinite; of its general character a few words will give some, though a very
imperfect, idea.
With those who, like all the best and wisest of mankind, are dissatisfied with human life
as it is, and whose feelings are wholly identified with its radical amendment, there are
two main regions of thought. One is the region of ultimate aims; the constituent elements