January 2, 2014

Botta: How good and how happy we ought to be!

Some thoughts for the new year from Anne Charlotte Lynch Botta, January 2, 1853:

How good and how happy we ought to be! But how impossible it seems for a human being to be really happy. Every new possession seems to bring a new want. This utter insufficiency of everything human and earthly, to satisfy the soul, seems one of the strongest proofs of its immortality.

I once thought of writing a kind of fairy tale, in which the hero should by some supernatural aid have all his wishes gratified. He should desire wealth, fame, love, power, and each in turn should fail to satisfy. At last, in despair, he should resign his supernatural power of accomplishing his wishes, and seek from the guardian spirit who attended him the secret of that happiness he had failed to secure. He now learns for the first time that "the Kingdom of Heaven is within him." That he carries it with him and diffuses it around. That it is in seeking the happiness and good of others that he is to find his own, rather than in the pursuit of selfish ends. How do you like the plot?

The Vermont-born Botta became better known as a social hostess for literary salons than for her own writing. Her welcoming personality enamored her to many, from fellow writers to political figures. She apparently never wrote the "fairy tale" she outlined above. Her writings, however, express similar sentiments of optimism in a cynical world, usually guided by her faith. She often compared life to a battle, one which is led by a perfect deity, yet which sees us struggle in our attempts to achieve perfection. Perhaps no short poem of hers better displays her outlook than one simply titled "To --" (1849):

In the noble army of Reform
     Thou art a pioneer
And bravely wields thy good right arm,
     The broadsword and the spear.

Thou may'st not see the battle's close,
     The victory may'st not win:
But the scars upon thy spirit prove,
     Thou hast not lived in vain.

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