Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECOND PERIOD. TO THE AGE OF SEVENTEEN. - Harriet Martineau's Autobiography, vol. 1
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SECOND PERIOD. TO THE AGE OF SEVENTEEN. - Harriet Martineau, Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, vol. 1 
Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, ed. Maria Weston Chapman (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1877). 2 vols. Vol. 1.
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I think it could not have been long after that time that I took up a project which was of extraordinary use to me. My mind, considered dull and unobservant and unwieldy by my family, was desperately methodical. Every thing must be made tabular that would at all admit of it. Thus, I adopted in an immense hurry Dr. Franklin’s youthful and absurd plan of pricking down his day’s virtues and vices under heads. I found at once the difficulty of mapping out moral qualities, and had to give it up, — as I presume he had to. But I tried after something quite as foolish, and with immense perseverance. I thought it would be a fine thing to distribute scripture instructions under the heads of the virtues and vices, so as to have encouragement or rebuke always ready at hand. So I made (as on so many other occasions) a paper book, ruled and duly headed. With the Old Testament, I got on very well; but I was amazed at the difficulty with the New. I knew it to be of so much more value and importance than the Old, that I could not account for the small number of cut and dry commands. I twisted meanings and wordings, and made figurative things into precepts, at an unconscionable rate, before I would give up: but, after rivalling any old puritan preacher in my free use of scripture, I was obliged to own that I could not construct the system I wanted. Thus it was that I made out that great step in the process of thought and knowledge, — that whereas Judaism was a preceptive religion, Christianity was mainly a religion of principles, — or assumed to be so.
For many years past, my amazement has been continually on the increase that Unitarians can conceive that they are giving their children a Christian education in making their religious training what it is. Our family certainly insisted very strongly, and quite sincerely, on being Christians, while despising and pitying the orthodox as much as they could be despised and pitied in return; while yet, it must have been from wonderful slovenliness of thought, as well as ignorance, that we could have taken Unitarianism to be Christianity, in any genuine sense, — in any sense which could justify separate Christian worship. In our particular case, family pride and affection were implicated in our dissent. It was not the dissent that was to be wondered at, but its having degenerated into Unitarianism. Our French name indicates our origin. The first Martineaus that we know of were expatriated Huguenots, who came over from Normandy on the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. They were, of course, Calvinists, — so fully admitting the Christian religion to be a scheme of redemption as to deserve, without limitation or perversion, the title of Christians. But their descendants passed by degrees, with the congregations to which they belonged, out of Calvinism into the pseudo-Christianity of Arianism first, and then of Uniterianism, under the guidance of pastors whose natural sense revolted from the essential points of the Christian doctrine, while they had not learning enough, biblical, ecclesiastical, historical or philosophical, to discover that what they gave up was truly essential, and that the name of Christianity was a mere sham when applied to what they retained. One evening when I was a child, I entered the parlor when our Unitarian minister, Mr. Madge, was convicting of error (and what he called idiotcy) an orthodox schoolmaster who happened to be our visitor. “Look here,” said Mr. Madge, seizing three wine-glasses, and placing them in a row: “here is the Father, — here’s the Son, — and here’s the Holy Ghost; do you mean to tell me that those three glasses can be in any case one? ’Tis mere nonsense.” And so were we children taught that it was “mere nonsense.” I certainly wondered exceedingly that so vast a majority of the people of Norwich could accept such nonsense, and so very few see through it as the Unitarians of the city: but there was no one to suggest to me that there might be more in the matter than we saw, or than even our minister was aware of. This was pernicious enough: but far worse was the practice, necessarily universal among Unitarians, of taking any liberties they please with the revelation they profess to receive. It is true, the Scriptures are very properly declared by them to be not the revelation itself, but the record of it: but it is only through the record that the revelation can be obtained — at least by Protestants: and any tamperings with the record are operations upon the revelation itself. To appreciate the full effect of such a procedure, it is only necessary to look at what the Unitarians were doing in the days of my youth. They were issuing an Improved Version, in which considerable portions were set aside (printed in a different type) as spurious. It is true, those portions flatly contradicted some other portions in regard to dates and other facts; but the shallow scholarship of the Unitarians made its own choice what to receive and what to reject, without perceiving that such a process was wholly incompatible with the conception of the Scriptures being the record of a divine revelation at all. Having begun to cut away and alter, there was no reason for stopping; and every Unitarian was at liberty to make the Scriptures mean what suited his own views. Mr. Belsham’s Exposition of the Epistles is a remarkable phenomenon in this way. To get rid of some difficulties about heaven and hell, the end of the world, salvation and perdition, &c., he devised a set of figurative meanings which he applied with immense perseverance, and a poetical ingenuity remarkable in so thoroughly prosaic a man; and all the while, it never seems to have occurred to him that that could hardly be a revelation designed for the rescue of the human race from perdition, the explanation of which required all this ingenuity at the hand of a Belsham, after eighteen centuries. I was as deeply-interested a reader of those big volumes as any Unitarian in England; and their ingenuity gratified some of my faculties exceedingly; but there was throughout a haunting sense of unreality which made me uneasy, — a consciousness that this kind of solemn amusement was no fitting treatment of the burdensome troubles of conscience, and the moral irritations which made the misery of my life. This theological dissipation, and the music and poetry of psalms and hymns, charmed away my woes for the hour; but they were not the solid consolation I needed. So, to work I went in my own way, again and again studying the New Testament, — making “Harmonies,” poring over the geography, greedily gathering up every thing I could find in the way of commentary and elucidation, and gladly working myself into an enthusiasm with the moral beauty and spiritual promises I found in the Sacred Writings. I certainly never believed, more or less, in the “essential doctrines” of Christianity, which represent God as the predestinator of men to sin and perdition, and Christ as their rescuer from that doom. I never was more or less beguiled by the trickery of language by which the perdition of man is made out to be justice, and his redemption to be mercy. I never suffered more or less from fear of hell. The Unitarianism of my parents saved me from that. But nothing could save me from the perplexity of finding so much of indisputable statement of those doctrines in the New Testament, nor from a covert sense that it was taking a monstrous liberty with the Gospel to pick and choose what made me happy, and reject what I did not like or could not receive. When I now find myself wondering at Unitarians who do so, — who accept heaven and reject hell, — who get rid somehow of the reign of Christ and the apostles on earth, and derive somehow a sanction of their fancy of a heaven in the stars, peopled with old acquaintances, and furnished for favourite pursuits, I try to recal the long series of years during which I did the same thing, with far more, certainly, of complacency than of misgiving. I try to remember how late on in life I have said that I confidently reckoned on entering the train of Socrates in the next world, and getting some of his secrets out of Pythagoras, besides making friendship with all the Christian worthies I especially inclined to. When I now see the comrades of my early days comfortably appropriating all the Christian promises, without troubling themselves with the clearly-specified condition, — of faith in Christ as a Redeemer, — I remind myself that this is just what I did for more than the first half of my life. The marvel remains how they now, and I then, could possibly wonder at the stationary or declining fortunes of their sect, — so evidently as Unitarianism is a mere clinging, from association and habit, to the old privilege of faith in a divine revelation, under an actual forfeiture of all its essential conditions.
My religious belief, up to the age of twenty, was briefly this. I believed in a God, milder and more beneficent and passionless than the God of the orthodox, inasmuch as he would not doom any of his creatures to eternal torment. I did not at any time, I think, believe in the Devil, but understood the Scriptures to speak of Sin under that name, and of eternal detriment under the name of eternal punishment. I believed in inestimable and eternal rewards of holiness; but I am confident that I never in my life did a right thing, or abstained from a wrong one from any consideration of reward or punishment. To the best of my recollection, I always feared sin and remorse extremely, and punishment not at all; but, on the contrary, desired punishment or any thing else that would give me the one good that I pined for in vain, — ease of conscience. The doctrine of forgiveness on repentance never availed me much, because forgiveness for the past was nothing without safety in the future; and my sins were not curable, I felt, by any single remission of their consequences, — if such remission were possible. If I prayed and wept, and might hope that I was pardoned at night, it was small comfort, because I knew I should be in a state of remorse again before the next noon. I do not remember the time when the forgiveness clause in the Lord’s Prayer was not a perplexity and a stumbling-block to me. I did not care about being let off from penalty. I wanted to be at ease in conscience; and that could only be by growing good, whereas I hated and despised myself every day. My belief in Christ was that he was the purest of all beings, under God; and his sufferings for the sake of mankind made him as sublime in my view and my affections as any being could possibly be. The Holy Ghost was a mere fiction to me. I took all the miracles for facts, and contrived to worship the letter of the Scriptures long after I had, as desired, given up portions as “spurious,” “interpolations” and so forth. I believed in a future life as a continuation of the present, and not as a new method of existence; and, from the time when I saw that the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul could not both be true, I adhered to the former, — after St. Paul. I was uncomfortably disturbed that Christianity had done so little for the redemption of the race: but the perplexity was not so serious as it would have been if I had believed in the perdition of the majority of men; and, for the rest, I contrived to fix my view pretty exclusively on Christendom itself, — which Christians in general find a grand resource in their difficulties. In this way, and by the help of public worship, and of sacred music, and Milton, and the Pilgrim’s Progress, I found religion my best resource, even in its first inconsistent and unsatisfactory form, till I wrought my way to something better, as I shall tell by and by.
When I was seven years old, — the winter after our return from Newcastle, — I was kept from chapel one Sunday afternoon by some ailment or other. When the house door closed behind the chapel-goers, I looked at the books on the table. The ugliest-looking of them was turned down open; and my turning it up was one of the leading incidents of my life. That plain, clumsy, calf-bound volume was “Paradise Lost;” and the common blueish paper, with its old-fashioned type, became as a scroll out of heaven to me. The first thing I saw was “Argument,” which I took to mean a dispute, and supposed to be stupid enough: but there was something about Satan cleaving Chaos, which made me turn to the poetry; and my mental destiny was fixed for the next seven years. That volume was henceforth never to be found but by asking me for it, till a young acquaintance made me a present of a little Milton of my own. In a few months, I believe there was hardly a line in Paradise Lost that I could not have instantly turned to. I sent myself to sleep by repeating it: and when my curtains were drawn back in the morning, descriptions of heavenly light rushed into my memory. I think this must have been my first experience of moral relief through intellectual resource. I am sure I must have been somewhat happier from that time forward; though one fact of which I am perfectly certain shows that the improvement must have been little enough. From the time when Ann Turner and her religious training of me put me, as it were, into my own moral charge, I was ashamed of my habit of misery, — and especially of crying. I tried for a long course of years, — I should think from about eight to fourteen, — to pass a single day without crying. I was a persevering child; and I know I tried hard: but I failed. I gave up at last; and during all those years, I never did pass a day without crying. Of course, my temper and habit of mind must have been excessively bad. I have no doubt I was an insufferable child for gloom, obstinacy and crossness. Still, when I remember my own placability, — my weakness of yielding every thing to the first word or tone of tenderness, I cannot but believe that there was grievous mistake in the case, and that even a little more sympathy and moral support would have spared me and others a hideous amount of fault and suffering.
How I found my way out we shall see hereafter: meantime, one small incident, which occurred when I was eleven years old, may foreshadow my release. Our eldest brother, Thomas, was seven years older than myself. He was silent and reserved generally, and somewhat strict to us younger ones, to whom he taught our Latin grammar. We revered and loved him intensely, in the midst of our awe of him: but once in my childhood I made him laugh against his will, by a pun in my Latin lesson (which was a great triumph) and once I ventured to confide to him a real difficulty, — without result. I found myself by his side during a summer evening walk, when something gave me courage to ask him — (the man of eighteen!) — the question which I had long been secretly revolving: — how, if God foreknew everything, we could be blamed or rewarded for our conduct, which was thus absolutely settled for us beforehand. He considered for a moment, and then told me, in a kind voice, that this was a thing which I could not understand at present, nor for a long time to come. I dared not remonstrate; but I was disappointed: and I felt that if I could feel the difficulty, I had a right to the solution. No doubt, this refusal of a reply helped to fix the question in my mind.
I have said that by this time I had begun to take moral or spiritual charge of myself. I did try hard to improve; but I fear I made little progress. Every night, I reviewed the thoughts and actions of the day, and tried to repent; but I could seldom comfort myself about any amendment. All the while, however, circumstances were doing for me what I could not do for myself, — as I have since found to be incessantly happening. The first great wholesome discipline of my life set in (unrecognized as such) when I was about eight years old. The kind lady who took me upon her lap at Mr. Drummond’s lecture had two little girls, just the ages of Rachel and myself: and, after that incident, we children became acquainted, and very soon, (when the family came to live close beside us in Magdalen Street) as intimate as possible. I remember being at their house in the Market Place when I was seven years old; and little E. could not stand, nor even sit, to see the magic-lantern, but was held in her papa’s arms, because she was so very lame. Before the year was out, she lost her leg. Being a quiet-tempered child, and the limb being exceedingly wasted by disease, she probably did not suffer very much under the operation. However that might be, she met the occasion with great courage, and went through it with remarkable composure, so that she was the talk of the whole city. I was naturally very deeply impressed by the affair. It turned my imagination far too much on bodily suffering, and on the peculiar glory attending fortitude in that direction. I am sure that my nervous system was seriously injured, and especially that my subsequent deafness was partly occasioned by the exciting and vain-glorious dreams that I indulged in for many years after my friend E. lost her leg. All manner of deaths at the stake and on the scaffold, I went through in imagination, in the low sense in which St. Theresa craved martyrdom; and night after night, I lay bathed in cold perspiration till I sank into the sleep of exhaustion. All this is detestable to think of now; but it is a duty to relate the truth, because parents are apt to know far too little of what is passing in their children’s imaginations, unless they win the confidence of the little creatures about that on which they are shyest of all, — their aspirations. The good side of this wretched extravagance of mine was that it occasioned or strengthened a power of patience under pain and privation which was not to be looked for in a child so sensitive and irritable by nature. Fortitude was in truth my favorite virtue; and the power of bearing quietly a very unusual amount of bodily pain in childhood was the poor recompense I enjoyed for the enormous detriment I suffered from the turn my imagination had taken.
This, however, is not the discipline I referred to as arising from my companionship with E. In such a case as hers, all the world acquiesces in the parents’ view and method of action: and in that case the parents made a sad mistake. They enormously increased their daughter’s suffering from her infirmity by covering up the fact in an unnatural silence. E.’s lameness was never mentioned, nor recognized in any way, within my remembrance, till she, full late, did it herself. It was taken for granted that she was like other children; and the delusion was kept up in play-hours at my expense. I might almost say that from the time E. and I grew intimate, I never more had any play. Now, I was fond of play, — given to romp; and I really wonder now when I look back upon the many long years during which I stood, with cold feet and a longing mind, with E. leaning on my arm, looking on while other children were at play. It was a terrible uneasiness to me to go walks with her, — shy child as I was, — fancying every body in the streets staring at us, on account of E.’s extreme difficulty in walking. But the long self-denial which I never thought of refusing or grumbling at, must have been morally good for me, if I may judge by the pain caused by two incidents; — pain which seems to me now to swallow up all that issued from mere privation. — The fatigue of walking with E. was very great, from her extreme need of support, and from its being always on the same side. I was never very strong; and when growing fast, I was found to be growing sadly crooked, from E.’s constant tugging at one arm. I cannot at all understand how my mother could put it upon me to tell E.’s mother that I must not walk with her, because it made me crooked: but this ungracious message I was compelled to carry; and it cost me more pain than long years of privation of play. The hint was instantly taken; but I suffered the shame and regret over again every time that I saw E. assigned to any one else; and I had infinitely rather have grown crooked than have escaped it by such a struggle. — The other incident was this. We children were to have a birthday party; and my father gave us the rare and precious liberty to play hide-and-seek in the warehouse, among the packing-cases and pigeon-holes where the bombasines were stored. For weeks I had counted the days and hours till this birthday and this play; but E. could not play hide-and-seek; and there we stood, looking at the rest, — I being cold and fidgety, and at last uncontrollably worried at the thought that the hours were passing away, and I had not had one bit of play. I did the fatal thing which has been a thorn in my mind ever since. I asked E. if she would much mind having some one else with her for a minute while I hid once, — just once. O no, — she did not mind; so I sent somebody else to her, and ran off, with a feeling of self-detestation which is fresh at this day. I had no presence-of-mind for the game, — was caught in a minute; and came back to E. damaged in self-respect, for the whole remaining course of our friendship. However, I owe her a great deal; and she and her misfortune were among the most favourable influences I had the benefit of after taking myself in hand for self-government. I have much pleasure in adding that nothing could be finer than her temper in after life, when she had taken her own case in hand, and put an end, as far as it lay with her to do so, to the silence about her infirmity. After I wrote my “Letter to the Deaf,” we seemed to be brought nearer together by our companionship in infirmity. Years after that, when I had written “The Crofton Boys,” and was uneasy lest my evident knowledge of such a case should jar upon her feelings, — always so tenderly considered, — I wrote her a confession of my uneasiness, and had in reply a most charming letter, — free, cheerful, magnanimous; — such a letter as has encouraged me to write as I have now done.
The year 1811 was a marked one to me, — first, by my being sent into the country for my health, for the whole summer and autumn; and next, for the birth of the best-beloved member of my family, — my sister Ellen. — It was not a genuine country life in a farm-house, that summer, but a most constrained and conventional one, in the abode of a rich lawyer, — a cousin of my father’s, who sent a daughter of his to our house for the advantage of city masters, in exchange for me, who went for health. I was not, on the whole, happy there: — indeed, it is pretty clear by this time that I was not happy anywhere. The old fancy for running away came back strongly upon me, and I was on the very point of attempting it when a few words of concession and kindness upset my purpose, as usual. I detested the governess, — and with abundant reason. The very first day, she shut me up and punished me because I, a town-bred child, did not know what a copse was. “Near yonder copse,” &c. She insisted that every body must know what a copse is, and that therefore I was obstinate and a liar. After such a beginning, it will be easily conceived that our relations could not be cordial or profitable. She presently showed herself jealous of my being in advance of her pupils in school-room knowledge; and she daily outraged my sense of justice, expressly, and in the most purpose-like manner. She was thoroughly vulgar; and in a few weeks she was sent away. — One annoyance that I remember at that place was (what now appears very strange) the whispers I overheard about myself, as I sat on a little stool in a corner of the dining-room, reading. My hostess, who might have said anything in her ordinary voice without my attending to her, used to whisper to her morning visitors about my wonderful love of reading, — that I never heard anything that was said while I sat reading, and that I had written a wonderful sermon. All the while, she pretended to disguise it, winking and nudging, and saying “We never hear any thing when we are reading:” “We have written a sermon which is really quite wonderful at our age,” &c. &c. I wished that sermon at Jericho a hundred times; for in truth, I was heartily ashamed of it. It was merely a narrative of St. Paul’s adventures, out of the Acts; and I knew it was no more a sermon than a string of parables out of the Gospels would have been.
There were some sweet country pleasures that summer. I never see chesnuts bursting from their sheaths, and lying shining among the autumn leaves, without remembering the old Manor-house where we children picked up chesnuts in the avenue, while my hostess made her call at the house. I have always loved orchards and apple-gatherings since, and blossomy lanes. The truth is, my remembrances of that summer may be found in “Deerbrook,” though I now finally, (as often before,) declare that the characters are not real. More or less suggestion from real characters there certainly is; but there is not one, except the hero, (who is not English,) that any person is justified in pointing out as “from the life.” Of the scenery too, there is more from Great Marlow than from that bleak Norfolk district: but the fresh country impressions are certainly derived from the latter. It was there that I had that precious morsel of experience which I have elsewhere detailed;* — the first putting my hand in among the operations of Nature, to modify them. After a morning walk, we children brought in some wild strawberry roots, to plant in our gardens. My plant was sadly withered by the time we got home; and it was then hot noon, — the soil of my garden was warm and parched, and there seemed no chance for my root. I planted it, grieved over its flabby leaves, watered it, got a little child’s chair, which I put over it for shelter, and stopped up the holes in the chair with grass. When I went at sunset to look at it, the plant was perfectly fresh; and after that, it grew very well. My surprise and pleasure must have been very great, by my remembering such a trifle so long; and I am persuaded that I looked upon Nature with other eyes from the moment that I found I had power to modify her processes.
In November came the news which I had been told to expect. My sister Rachel had been with us in the country for a fortnight; and we knew that there was to be a baby at home before we went back; and I remember pressing so earnestly, by letter, to know the baby’s name as to get a rebuff. I was told to wait till there was a baby. At last, the carrier brought us a letter one evening which told us that we had a little sister. I still longed to know the name, but dared not ask again. Our host saw what was in my mind. He went over to Norwich a day or two after, and on his return told me that he hoped I should like the baby’s name now she had got one; — “Beersheba.” I did not know whether to believe him or not; and I had set my mind on “Rose.” “Ellen,” however, satisfied me very well. — Homesick before, I now grew downright ill with longing. I was sure that all old troubles were wholly my fault, and fully resolved that there should be no more. Now, as so often afterwards, (as often as I left home) I was destined to disappointment. I scarcely felt myself at home before the well-remembered bickerings began; — not with me, but from the boys being troublesome, James being naughty; and our eldest sister angry and scolding. I then and there resolved that I would look for my happiness to the new little sister, and that she should never want for the tenderness which I had never found. This resolution turned out more of a prophecy than such decisions, born of a momentary emotion, usually do. That child was henceforth a new life to me. I did lavish love and tenderness on her; and I could almost say that she has never caused me a moment’s pain but by her own sorrows. There has been much suffering in her life; and in it I have suffered with her: but such sympathetic pain is bliss in comparison with such feelings as she has not excited in me during our close friendship of above forty years. When I first saw her it was as she was lifted out of her crib, at a fortnight old, asleep, to be shown to my late hostess, who had brought Rachel and me home. The passionate fondness I felt for her from that moment has been unlike any thing else I have felt in life, — though I have made idols of not a few nephews and nieces. But she was a pursuit to me, no less than an attachment. I remember telling a young lady at the Gate-House Concert, (a weekly undress concert) the next night, that I should now see the growth of a human mind from the very beginning. I told her this because I was very communicative to all who showed me sympathy in any degree. Years after, I found that she was so struck by such a speech from a child of nine that she had repeated it till it had spread all over the city, and people said somebody had put it into my head: but it was perfectly genuine. My curiosity was intense; and all my spare minutes were spent in the nursery, watching, — literally watching, — the baby. This was a great stimulus to me in my lessons, to which I gave my whole power, in order to get leisure the sooner. That was the time when I took it into my head to cut up the Bible into a rule of life, as I have already told; and it was in the nursery chiefly that I did it, — sitting on a stool opposite the nursemaid and baby, and getting up from my notes to devour the child with kisses. There were bitter moments and hours, — as when she was vaccinated or had her little illnesses. My heart then felt bursting, and I went to my room, and locked the door, and prayed long and desperately. I knew then what the Puritans meant by “wrestling in prayer.” — One abiding anxiety which pressed upon me for two years or more was lest this child should be dumb: and if not, what an awful amount of labour was before the little creature! I had no other idea than that she must learn to speak at all as I had now to learn French, — each word by an express effort: and if I, at ten and eleven, found my vocabulary so hard, how could this infant learn the whole English language? The dread went off in amazement when I found that she sported new words every day, without much teaching at first, and then without any. I was as happy to see her spared the labour as amused at her use of words in her pretty prattle.
For nearly two years after our return from that country visit, Rachel and I were taught at home. Our eldest brother taught us Latin, and the next brother, Henry, writing and arithmetic: and our sister, French, reading and exercises. We did not get on well, except with the Latin. Our sister expected too much from us, both morally and intellectually; and she had not been herself carried on so far as to have much resource as a teacher. We owed to her however a thorough grounding in our French grammar (especially the verbs) which was of excellent service to us afterwards at school, as was a similar grounding in the Latin grammar, obtained from our brother. As for Henry, he made our lessons in arithmetic, &c. his funny time of day; and sorely did his practical jokes and ludicrous severity afflict us. He meant no harm; but he was too young to play schoolmaster; and we improved less than we should have done under less head-ache and heart-ache from his droll system of torture. I should say, on their behalf, that I, for one, must have seemed a most unpromising pupil, — my wits were so completely scattered by fear and shyness. I could never give a definition, for want of presence of mind. I lost my place in class for every thing but lessons that could be prepared beforehand. I was always saying what I did not mean. The worst waste of time, energy, money and expectation was about my music. Nature made me a musician in every sense. I was never known to sing out of tune. I believe all who knew me when I was twenty would give a good account of my playing. There was no music that I ever attempted that I did not understand, and that I could not execute, — under the one indispensable condition, that nobody heard me. Much money was spent in instruction; and I dislike thinking of the amount of time lost in copying music. My mother loved music, and, I know, looked to me for much gratification in this way which she never had. My deafness put an end to all expectation of the kind at last; but long before that, my music was a misery to me, — while yet in another sense, my dearest pleasure. My master was Mr. Beckwith, organist of Norwich Cathedral; — an admirable musician; but of so irritable a temper as to be the worst of masters to a shy girl like me. It was known that he had been dismissed from one house or more for rapping his pupils’ knuckles; and that he had been compelled to apologize for insufferable scolding. Neither of these things happened at our house; but really I wondered sometimes that they did not, — so very badly did I play and sing when he was at my elbow. My fingers stuck together as in cramp, and my voice was as husky as if I had had cotton-wool in my throat. Now and then he complimented my ear; but he oftener told me that I had no more mind than the music-book, — no more feeling than the lid of the piano, — no more heart than the chimney-piece; and that it was no manner of use trying to teach me any thing. All this while, if the room-door happened to be open without my observing it when I was singing Handel by myself, my mother would be found dropping tears over her work, and I used myself, as I may now own, to feel fairly transported. Heaven opened before me at the sound of my own voice when I believed myself alone; — that voice which my singing-master assuredly never heard. It was in his case that I first fully and suddenly learned the extent of the mischief caused by my shyness. He came twice a week. On those days it was an effort to rise in the morning, — to enter upon a day of misery; and nothing could have carried me through the morning but the thought of the evening, when he would be gone, — out of my way for three days, or even four. The hours grew heavier: my heart fluttered more and more: I could not eat my dinner; and his impatient loud knock was worse to me than sitting down in the dentist’s chair. Two days per week of such feelings, strengthened by the bliss of the evenings after he was gone, might account for the catastrophe, which however did not shock me the less for that. Mr. Beckwith grew more and more cross, thinner and thinner, so that his hair and beard looked blacker and blacker, as the holidays approached, when he was wont to leave home for a week or two. One day when somebody was dining with us, and I sat beside my father at the bottom of the table, he said to my mother, “By the way, my dear, there is a piece of news which will not surprise you much, I fancy. Poor John Beckwith is gone. He died yesterday.” Once more, that name made my heart jump into my mouth; but this time, it was with a dreadful joy. While the rest went on very quietly saying how ill he had looked for some time, and “who would have thought he would never come back?” — and discussing how Mrs. B. and the children were provided for, and wondering who would be organist at the Cathedral, my spirits were dancing in secret rapture. The worst of my besetting terrors was over for ever! All days of the week would henceforth be alike, as far as that knock at the door was concerned. Of course, my remorse at this glee was great; and thus it was that I learned how morally injured I was by the debasing fear I was wholly unable to surmount.
Next to fear, laziness was my worst enemy. I was idle about brushing my hair, — late in the morning, — much afflicted to have to go down to the apple-closet in winter; and even about my lessons I was indolent. I learned any thing by heart very easily, and I therefore did it well: but I was shamefully lazy about using the dictionary, and went on, in full anticipation of rebuke, translating la rosée the rose, tomber to bury, and so on. This shows that there must have been plenty of provocation on my side, whatever mistakes there may have been on that of my teachers. I was sick and weary of the eternal “Telemachus,” and could not go through the labours of the dictionary for a book I cared so little about. This difficulty soon came to an end; for in 1813 Rachel and I went to a good day-school for two years, where our time was thoroughly well spent; and there we enjoyed the acquisition of knowledge so much as not to care for the requisite toil.
Before entering on that grand new period, I may as well advert to a few noticeable points. — I was certainly familiar with the idea of death before that time. The death of Nelson, when I was four years old, was probably the earliest association in my mind of mournful feelings with death. When I was eight or nine, an aunt died whom I had been in the constant habit of seeing. She was old-fashioned in her dress, and peculiar in her manners. Her lean arms were visible between the elbow-ruffles and the long mits she wore; and she usually had an apron on, and a muslin handkerchief crossed on her bosom. She fell into absent-fits which puzzled and awed us children: but we heard her so highly praised (as she richly deserved) that she was a very impressive personage to us. One morning when I came down, I found the servants at breakfast unusually early: they looked very gloomy; bade me make no noise; but would not explain what it was all about. The shutters were half-closed; and when my mother came down, she looked so altered by her weeping that I hardly knew whether it was she. She called us to her, and told us that aunt Martineau had died very suddenly, of a disease of the heart. The whispers which were not meant for us somehow reached our ears all that week. We heard how my father and mother had been sent for in the middle of the night by the terrified servants, and how they had heard our poor uncle’s voice of mourning before they had reached the house; and how she looked in her coffin, and all about the funeral: and we were old enough to be moved by the sermon in her praise at chapel, and especially by the anthem composed for the occasion, with the words from Job, — “When the ear heard her then it blessed her,” &c. My uncle’s gloomy face and unpowdered hair were awful to us; and, during the single year of his widowhood, he occasionally took us children with him in the carriage, when he went to visit country patients. These drives came to an end with the year of widowhood; but he gave us something infinitely better than any other gift or pleasure in his second wife, whose only child was destined to fill a large space in our hearts and our lives. — Soon after that funeral, I somehow learned that our globe swims in space, and that there is sky all round it. I told this to James; and we made a grand scheme which we never for a moment doubted about executing. We had each a little garden, under the north wall of our garden. The soil was less than two feet deep; and below it was a mass of rubbish, — broken bricks, flints, pottery, &c. We did not know this; and our plan was to dig completely through the globe, till we came out at the other side. I fully expected to do this, and had an idea of an extremely deep hole, the darkness of which at the bottom would be lighted up by the passage of stars, slowly traversing the hole. When we found our little spades would not dig through the globe, nor even through the brickbats, we altered our scheme. We lengthened the hole to our own length, having an extreme desire to know what dying was like. We lay down alternately in this grave, and shut our eyes, and fancied ourselves dead, and told one another our feelings when we came out again. As far as I can remember, we fully believed that we now knew all about it.
A prominent event of my childhood happened in 1812, when we went to Cromer for the sake of the baby’s health. I had seen the sea, as I mentioned, when under three years old, as it swayed under the old jetty at Yarmouth: and I had seen it again at Tynemouth, when I was seven: but now it was like a wholly new spectacle; and I doubt whether I ever received a stronger impression than when, from the rising ground above Cromer, we caught sight of the sparkling expanse. At Tynemouth, that singular incident took place which I have elsewhere narrated,* — that I was shown the sea, immediately below my feet, at the foot of the very slope on which I was standing, and could not see it. The rest of the party must have thought me crazy or telling a lie; but the distress of being unable to see what I had so earnestly expected, was real enough; and so was the amazement when I at last perceived the fluctuating tide. All this had gone out of my mind when we went to Cromer; and the spectacle seemed a wholly new one. That was a marvellous month that the nursemaid and we children spent there. When we were not down on the sands, or on the cliffs, I was always perched on a bank in the garden whence I could see that straight blue line, or those sparkles which had such a charm for me. It was much that I was happy for a whole month; but I also obtained many new ideas, and much development; — the last chiefly, I think, in a religious direction.
In the preceding year another instance had occurred, — a most mortifying one to me, — of that strange inability to see what one is looking for (no doubt because one looks wrongly) of which the Tynemouth sea-gazing was a strong illustration.† When the great comet of 1811 was attracting all eyes, my star-gazing was just as ineffectual. Night after night, the whole family of us went up to the long windows at the top of my father’s warehouse; and the exclamations on all hands about the comet perfectly exasperated me, — because I could not see it! “Why, there it is!” “It is as big as a saucer.” “It is as big as a cheese-plate.” “Nonsense; you might as well pretend not to see the moon.” Such were the mortifying comments on my grudging admission that I could not see the comet. And I never did see it. Such is the fact; and philosophers may make of it what they may, — remembering that I was then nine years old, and with remarkably good eyes.
I was eleven when that delectable schooling began which I always recur to with clear satisfaction and pleasure. There was much talk in 1813 among the Norwich Unitarians of the conversion of an orthodox dissenting minister, the Rev. Isaac Perry, to Unitarianism. Mr. Perry had been minister of the Cherry Lane Chapel, and kept a large and flourishing boys’ school. Of course, he lost his pulpit, and the chief part of his school. As a preacher he was wofully dull; and he was far too simple and gullible for a boys’ schoolmaster. The wonder was that his school kept up so long, considering how completely he was at the mercy of naughty boys. But he was made to be a girls’ schoolmaster. Gentlemanly, honourable, well provided for his work, and extremely fond of it, he was a true blessing to the children who were under him. — Rachel and I certainly had some preconception of our approaching change, when my father and mother were considering it; for we flew to an upper window one day to catch a sight of this Mr. Perry and our minister, Mr. Madge, before they turned the corner. That was my first sight of the black coat and grey pantaloons, and powdered hair, and pointing and see-sawing fore-finger, which I afterwards became so familiar with.
We were horribly nervous, the first day we went to school. It was a very large vaulted room, whitewashed, and with a platform for the master and his desk; and below, rows of desks and benches, of wood painted red, and carved all over with idle boys’ devices. Some good many boys remained for a time; but the girls had the front row of desks, and could see nothing of the boys but by looking behind them. The thorough way in which the boys did their lessons, however, spread its influence over us, and we worked as heartily as if we had worked together. I remember being somewhat oppressed by the length of the first morning, — from nine till twelve, — and dreading a similar strain in the afternoon, and twice every day: but in a very few days, I got into all the pleasure of it, and a new state of happiness had fairly set in. I have never since felt more deeply and thoroughly the sense of progression than I now began to do. As far as I remember, we never failed in our lessons, more or less. Our making even a mistake was very rare: and yet we got on fast. This shows how good the teaching must have been. We learned Latin from the old Eton grammar, which I therefore, and against all reason, cling to, — remembering the repetition-days (Saturdays) when we recited all that Latin, prose and verse, which occupied us four hours. Two other girls, besides Rachel and myself, formed the class; and we certainly attained a capability of enjoying some of the classics, even before the two years were over. Cicero, Virgil, and a little of Horace were our main reading then: and afterwards I took great delight in Tacitus. I believe it was a genuine understanding and pleasure, because I got into the habit of thinking in Latin, and had something of the same pleasure in sending myself to sleep with Latin as with English poetry. Moreover, we stood the test of verse-making, in which I do not remember that we ever got any disgrace, while we certainly obtained, now and then, considerable praise. When Mr. Perry was gone, and we were put under Mr. Banfather, one of the masters at the Grammar-school, for Latin, Mr. B. one day took a little book out of his pocket, and translated from it a passage which he desired us to turn into Latin verse. My version was precisely the same as the original, except one word (annosa for antiqua) and the passage was from the Eneid. Tests like these seem to show that we really were well taught, and that our attainment was sound, as far as it went. Quite as much care was bestowed on our French, the grammar of which we learned thoroughly, while the pronunciation was scarcely so barbarous as in most schools during the war, as there was a French lady engaged for the greater part of the time. Mr. Perry prided himself, I believe, on his process of composition being exceedingly methodical; and he enjoyed above every thing initiating us into the mystery. The method and mystery were more appropriate in our lessons in school than in his sermons in chapel; — at least, the sermons were fearfully dull; whereas the lessons were highly interesting and profitable. The only interest we could feel in his preaching was when he first brought the familiar fore-finger into play, and then built up his subject on the scaffolding which we knew so well. There was the Proposition, to begin with: then the Reason, and the Rule; then the Example, ancient and modern; then the Confirmation; and finally, the Conclusion. This may be a curious method, (not altogether apostolic) of preaching the gospel; but it was a capital way of introducing some order into the chaos of girls’ thoughts. One piece of our experience which I remember is highly illustrative of this. In a fit of poetic fervour one day we asked leave for once to choose our own subject for a theme, — the whole class having agreed before-hand what the subject should be. Of course, leave was granted; and we blurted out that we wanted to write “on Music.” Mr. Perry pointed out that this was not definite enough to be called a subject. It might be on the Uses of Psalmody, or on the effect of melody in certain situations, or of martial music, or of patriotic songs, &c. &c.: but he feared there would be some vagueness if so large a subject were taken, without circumscription. However, we were bent on our own way, and he wisely let us have it. The result may easily be foreseen. We were all floating away on our own clouds, and what a space we drifted over may be imagined. We came up to Mr. P.’s desk all elate with the consciousness of our sensibility and eloquence; and we left it prodigiously crest-fallen. As one theme after another was read, no two agreeing even so far as the Proposition, our folly became more and more apparent; and the master’s few, mild, respectful words at the end were not necessary to impress the lesson we had gained. Up went the fore-finger, with “You perceive, ladies” ......... and we saw it all; and thenceforth we were thankful to be guided, or dictated to, in the choice of our topics. Composition was my favourite exercise; and I got credit by my themes, I believe. Mr. Perry told me so, in 1834, when I had just completed the publication of my Political Economy Tales, and when I had the pleasure of making my acknowledgments to him as my master in composition, and probably the cause of my mind being turned so decidedly in that direction. That was a gratifying meeting, after my old master and I had lost sight of one another for so many years. It was our last. If I remember right, we met on the eve of my sailing for America; and he was dead before my return.
Next to Composition, I think arithmetic was my favourite study. My pleasure in the working of numbers is something inexplicable to me, — as much as any pleasure of sensation. I used to spend my play hours in covering my slate with sums, washing them out, and covering the slate again. The fact is, however, that we had no lessons that were not pleasant. That was the season of my entrance upon an intellectual life. In an intellectual life I found then, as I have found since, refuge from moral suffering, and an always unexhausted spring of moral strength and enjoyment.
Even then, and in that happy school, I found the need of a refuge from trouble. Even there, under the care of our just and kind master, I found my passion for justice liable to disappointment as elsewhere. Some of our school-fellows brought a trumpery charge, out of school, against Rachel and me; and our dismay was great at finding that Mrs. Perry, and therefore, no doubt, Mr. Perry believed us capable of a dirty trick. We could not establish our innocence; and we had to bear the knowledge that we were considered guilty of the offence in the first place, and of telling a lie to conceal it in the next. How vehemently I used to determine that I would never, in all my life, believe people to be guilty of any offence, where disproof was impossible, and they asserted their innocence. — Another incident made a great impression on me. — It happened before the boys took their final departure; and it helped to make me very glad when we girls (to the number of sixteen) were left to ourselves.
Mr. Perry was one day called out, to a visitor who was sure to detain him for some time. On such occasions, the school was left in charge of the usher, whose desk was at the farther end of the great room. On this particular day, the boys would not let the girls learn their lessons. Somehow, they got the most absurd masks within the sphere of our vision; and they said things that we could not help laughing at, and made soft bow-wows, cooings, bleatings, &c., like a juvenile House of Commons, but so as not to be heard by the distant usher. While we girls laughed, we were really angry, because we wanted to learn our lessons. It was proposed by somebody, and carried unanimously, that complaint should be made to the usher. I believe I was the youngest; and I know I was asked by the rest to convey the complaint. Quite innocently I did what I was asked. The consequence, — truly appalling to me, — was that coming up the school-room again was like running the gauntlet. O! that hiss! “S-s-s — tell-tale — tell-tale!” greeted me all the way up: but there was worse at the end. The girls who had sent me said I was served quite right, and they would have nothing to do with a tell-tale. Even Rachel went against me. And was I really that horrible thing called a tell-tale? I never meant it; yet not the less was it even so! When Mr. Perry came back, the usher’s voice was heard from the lower regions — “Sir!” and then came the whole story, with the names of all the boys in the first class. Mr. Perry was generally the mildest of men; but when he went into a rage, he did the thing thoroughly. He became as white as his powdered hair, and the ominous fore-finger shook: and never more than on this occasion. J. D., as being usually “correct,” was sentenced to learn only thirty lines of Greek, after school. (He died not long after, much beloved.) W. D., his brother, less “correct” in character, had fifty. Several more had from thirty to fifty; and R. S. (now, I believe, the leading innkeeper in old Norwich) — “R. S., always foremost in mischief, must now meet the consequences. R. S. shall learn seventy lines of Greek before he goes home.” How glad should I have been to learn any thing within the compass of human knowledge to buy off those boys! They probably thought I enjoyed seeing them punished. But I was almost as horror-struck at their fate as at finding that one could be a delinquent, all in a moment, with the most harmless intentions.
An incident which occurred before Mr. Perry’s departure from Norwich startled me at the time, and perhaps startles me even more now, as showing how ineffectual the conscience becomes when the moral nature of a child is too much depressed. — All was going on perfectly well at school, as far as we knew, when Mr. Perry one day called, and requested a private interview with my father or mother. My mother and he were talking so long in the drawing-room, that dinner was delayed above half-an-hour, during which time I was growing sick with apprehension. I had no doubt whatever that we had done something wrong, and that Mr. Perry had come to complain of us. This was always my way, — so accustomed was I to censure, and to stiffen myself under it, right or wrong; so that all clear sense of right and wrong was lost. I believe that, at bottom, I always concluded myself wrong. In this case it made no difference that I had no conception what it was all about. When my mother appeared, she was very grave: the mood spread, and the dinner was silent and gloomy, — father, brothers and all. My mother had in her heart a little of the old-fashioned liking for scenes: and now we had one, — memorable enough to me! “My dear,” said she to my father, when the dessert was on the table, and the servant was gone, “Mr. Perry has been here.” “So I find, my love.” “He had some very important things to say. He had something to say about — Rachel — and — Harriet.” I had been picking at the fringe of my doily; and now my heart sank, and I felt quite faint. “Ah! here it comes,” thought I, expecting to hear of some grand delinquency. My mother went on, very solemnly. “Mr. Perry says that he has never had a fault to find with Rachel and Harriet; and that if he had a school full of such girls, he should be the happiest man alive.” The revulsion was tremendous. I cried desperately, I remember, amidst the rush of congratulations. But what a moral state it was, when my conscience was of no more use to me than this! The story carries its own moral.
What Mr. Perry came to say was, however, dismal enough. He was no man of the world; and his wife was no manager; and they were in debt and difficulty. Their friends paid their debts (my father taking a generous share) and they removed to Ipswich. It was the bitterest of my young griefs, I believe, — their departure. Our two years’ schooling seemed like a lifetime to look back upon: and to this day it fills a disproportionate space in the retrospect of my existence, — so inestimable was its importance. When we had to bid our good master farewell, I was deputed to utter the thanks and good wishes of the pupils: but I could not get on for tears, and he accepted our grief as his best tribute. He went round, and shook hands with us all, with gracious and solemn words, and sent us home passionately mourning. — Though this seemed like the close of one period of my life, it was in fact the opening of its chief phase, — of that intellectual existence which my life has continued to be, more than any thing else, through its whole course.
After his departure, and before I was sent to Bristol, our mode of life was this. We had lessons in Latin and French, and I in music, from masters; and we read aloud in family a good deal of history, biography, and critical literature. The immense quantity of needlework and music-copying that I did remains a marvel to me; and so does the extraordinary bodily indolence. The difficulty I had in getting up in the morning, the detestation of the daily walk, and of all visiting, and of every break in the monotony that I have always loved, seem scarcely credible to me now, — active as my habits have since become. My health was bad, however, and my mind ill at ease. It was a depressed and wrangling life; and I have no doubt I was as disagreeable as possible. The great calamity of my deafness was now opening upon me; and that would have been quite enough for youthful fortitude, without the constant indigestion, languor and muscular weakness which made life a burden to me. My religion was a partial comfort to me; and books and music were a great resource: but they left a large margin over for wretchedness. My beloved hour of the day was when the cloth was drawn, and I stole away from the dessert, and read Shakspere by firelight in winter in the drawing-room. My mother was kind enough to allow this breach of good family manners; and again at a subsequent time when I took to newspaper reading very heartily. I have often thanked her for this forbearance since. I was conscious of my bad manners in keeping the newspaper on my chair all dinner-time, and stealing away with it as soon as grace was said; and of sticking to my Shakspere, happen what might, till the tea was poured out: but I could not forego those indulgences, and I went on to enjoy them uneasily. Our newspaper was the Globe, in its best days, when, without ever mentioning Political Economy, it taught it, and viewed public affairs in its light. This was not quite my first attraction to political economy (which I did not know by name till five or six years later;) for I remember when at Mr. Perry’s fastening upon the part of our geography book (I forget what it was) which treated of the National Debt, and the various departments of the Funds. This was fixed in my memory by the unintelligible raillery of my brothers and other companions, who would ask me with mock deference to inform them of the state of the Debt, or would set me, as a forfeit at Christmas Games, to make every person present understand the operation of the Sinking Fund. I now recal Mr. Malthus’s amusement, twenty years later, when I told him I was sick of his name before I was fifteen. His work was talked about then, as it has been ever since, very eloquently and forcibly, by persons who never saw so much as the outside of the book. It seems to me that I heard and read an enormous deal against him and his supposed doctrines; whereas when, at a later time, I came to inquire, I could never find any body who had read his book. In a poor little struggling Unitarian periodical, the Monthly Repository, in which I made my first appearance in print, a youth, named Thomas Noon Talfourd, was about this time making his first attempts at authorship. Among his earliest papers, I believe, was one “On the System of Malthus,” which had nothing in fact to do with the real Malthus and his system, but was a sentimental vindication of long engagements. It was prodigiously admired by very young people: not by me, for it was rather too luscious for my taste, — but by some of my family, who read it, and lived on it for awhile: but it served to mislead me about Malthus, and helped to sicken me of his name, as I told him long afterwards. In spite of this, however, I was all the while becoming a political economist without knowing it, and, at the same time, a sort of walking Concordance of Milton and Shakspere.
The first distinct recognition of my being deaf, more or less, was when I was at Mr. Perry’s, — when I was about twelve years old. It was a very slight, scarcely-perceptible hardness of hearing at that time; and the recognition was merely this; — that in that great vaulted school-room before-mentioned, where there was a large space between the class and the master’s desk or the fire, I was excused from taking places in class, and desired to sit always at the top, because it was somewhat nearer the master, whom I could not always hear further off. When Mr. Perry changed his abode, and we were in a smaller school-room, I again took places with the rest. I remember no other difficulty about hearing at that time. I certainly heard perfectly well at chapel, and all public speaking (I remember Wilberforce in our vast St. Andrew’s Hall) and general conversation everywhere: but before I was sixteen, it had become very noticeable, very inconvenient, and excessively painful to myself. I did once think of writing down the whole dreary story of the loss of a main sense, like hearing; and I would not now shrink from inflicting the pain of it on others, and on myself, if any adequate benefit could be obtained by it. But, really, I do not see that there could. It is true, — the sufferers rarely receive the comfort of adequate, or even intelligent sympathy: but there is no saying that an elaborate account of the woe would create the sympathy, for practical purposes. Perhaps what I have said in the “Letter to the Deaf,” which I published in 1834, will serve as well as anything I could say here to those who are able to sympathise at all; and I will therefore offer no elaborate description of the daily and hourly trials which attend the gradual exclusion from the world of sound.
Some suggestions and conclusions, however, it is right to offer. — I have never seen a deaf child’s education well managed at home, or at an ordinary school. It does not seem to be ever considered by parents and teachers how much more is learned by oral intercourse than in any other way; and, for want of this consideration, they find too late, and to their consternation, that the deaf pupil turns out deficient in sense, in manners, and in the knowledge of things so ordinary that they seem to be matters of instinct rather than of information. Too often, also, the deaf are sly and tricky, selfish and egotistical; and the dislike which attends them is the sin of the parent’s ignorance visited upon the children. These worst cases are of those who are deaf from the outset, or from a very early age; and in as far as I was exempt from them, it was chiefly because my education was considerably advanced before my hearing began to go. In such a case as mine, the usual evil (far less serious) is that the sufferer is inquisitive, — will know every thing that is said, and becomes a bore to all the world. From this I was saved (or it helped to save me) by a kind word from my eldest brother. (From how much would a few more such words have saved me?) He had dined in company with an elderly single lady, — a sort of provincial blue-stocking in her time, — who was growing deaf, rapidly, and so sorely against her will that she tried to ignore the fact to the last possible moment. At that dinner-party, this lady sat next her old acquaintance, William Taylor of Norwich, who never knew very well how to deal with ladies (except, to his honour be it spoken, his blind mother;) and Miss N—teased him to tell her all that every body said till he grew quite testy and rude. My brother told me, with tenderness in his voice, that he thought of me while blushing, as every body present did, for Miss N—; and that he hoped that if ever I should grow as deaf as she, I should never be seen making myself so irksome and absurd. This helped me to a resolution which I made and never broke, — never to ask what was said. Amidst remonstrance, kind and testy, and every sort of provocation, I have adhered to this resolution, — confident in its soundness. I think now, as I have thought always, that it is impossible for the deaf to divine what is worth asking for and what is not; and that one’s friends may always be trusted, if left unmolested, to tell one whatever is essential, or really worth hearing.
One important truth about the case of persons deficient in a sense I have never seen noticed; and I much doubt whether it ever occurs to any but the sufferers under that deficiency. We sufferers meet with abundance of compassion for our privations: but the privation is, (judging by my own experience) a very inferior evil to the fatigue imposed by the obstruction. In my case, to be sure, the deficiency of three senses out of five renders the instance a very strong one: but the merely blind or deaf must feel something of the laboriousness of life which I have found it most difficult to deal with. People in general have only to sit still in the midst of Nature, to be amused and diverted (in the strict sense of the word, — distracted, in the French sense) so as to find “change of work as good as rest:” but I have had, for the main part of my life, to go in search of impressions and influences, as the alternative from abstract or unrelieved thought, in an intellectual view, and from brooding, in a moral view. The fatigue belonging to either alternative may easily be conceived, when once suggested: and considerate persons will at once see what large allowance must in fairness be made for faults of temper, irritability or weakness of nerves, narrowness of mind, and imperfection of sympathy, in sufferers so worn with toil of body and mind as I, for one, have been. I have sustained, from this cause, fatigue which might spread over double my length of life; and in this I have met with no sympathy till I asked for it by an explanation of the case. From this labour there is, it must be remembered, no holiday, except in sleep. Life is a long, hard, unrelieved working-day to us, who hear, or see, only by express effort, or have to make other senses serve the turn of that which is lost. When three out of five are deficient, the difficulty of cheerful living is great, and the terms of life are truly hard. — If I have made myself understood about this, I hope the explanation may secure sympathy for many who cannot be relieved from their burden, but may be cheered under it.
Another suggestion that I would make is that those who hear should not insist on managing the case of the deaf for them. As much sympathy as you please; but no overbearing interference in a case which you cannot possibly judge of. The fact is, — the family of a person who has a growing infirmity are reluctant to face the truth; and they are apt to inflict frightful pain on the sufferer to relieve their own weakness and uneasiness. I believe my family would have made almost any sacrifice to save me from my misfortune; but not the less did they aggravate it terribly by their way of treating it. First, and for long, they insisted that it was all my own fault, — that I was so absent, — that I never cared to attend to any thing that was said, — that I ought to listen this way, or that, or the other; and even (while my heart was breaking) they told me that “none are so deaf as those that won’t hear.” When it became too bad for this, they blamed me for not doing what I was sorely tempted to do, — inquiring of them about every thing that was said, and not managing in their way, which would have made all right. This was hard discipline; but it was most useful to me in the end. It showed me that I must take my case into my own hands; and with me, dependent as I was upon the opinion of others, this was redemption from probable destruction. Instead of drifting helplessly as hitherto, I gathered myself up for a gallant breasting of my destiny; and in time I reached the rocks where I could take a firm stand. I felt that here was an enterprise; and the spirit of enterprise was roused in me; animating me to sure success, with many sinkings and much lapse by the way. While about it, I took my temper in hand, — in this way. I was young enough for vows, — was, indeed, at the very age of vows; — and I made a vow of patience about this infirmity; — that I would smile in every moment of anguish from it; and that I would never lose temper at any consequences from it, — from losing public worship (then the greatest conceivable privation) to the spoiling of my cap-borders by the use of the trumpet I foresaw I must arrive at. With such a temper as mine was then, an infliction so worrying, so unintermitting, so mortifying, so isolating as loss of hearing must “kill or cure.” In time, it acted with me as a cure, (in comparison with what my temper was in my youth:) but it took a long long time to effect the cure; and it was so far from being evident, or even at all perceptible when I was fifteen, that my parents were determined by medical advice to send me from home for a considerable time, in hope of improving my health, nerves and temper by a complete and prolonged change of scene and objects.
Before entering upon that new chapter of my life, however, I must say another word about this matter of treatment of personal infirmity. We had a distant relation, in her young womanhood when I was a child, who, living in the country, came into Norwich sometimes on market days, and occasionally called at our house. She had become deaf in infancy, — very very deaf; and her misfortune had been mismanaged. Truth to speak, she was far from agreeable: but it was less for that than on account of the trouble of her deafness that she was spoken of as I used to hear, long before I ever dreamed of being deaf myself. When it was announced by any child at the window that —— was passing, there was an exclamation of annoyance; and if she came up the steps, it grew into lamentation. “What shall we do?” “We shall be as hoarse as ravens all day.” “We shall be completely worn out,” and so forth. Sometimes she was wished well at Jericho. When I was growing deaf, all this came back upon me; and one of my self-questionings was — “Shall I put people to flight as — — does? Shall I be dreaded and disliked in that way all my life?” The lot did indeed seem at times too hard to be borne. Yet here am I now, on the borders of the grave, at the end of a busy life, confident that this same deafness is about the best thing that ever happened to me; — the best, in a selfish view, as the grandest impulse to self-mastery; and the best in a higher view, as my most peculiar opportunity of helping others, who suffer the same misfortune without equal stimulus to surmount the false shame, and other unspeakable miseries which attend it.
By this time, the battle of Waterloo had been fought. I suppose most children were politicians during the war. I was a great one. I remember Mr. Perry’s extreme amusement at my breaking through my shyness, one day, and stopping him as he was leaving the school-room, to ask, with much agitation, whether he believed in the claims of one of the many Louis XVII.’s who have turned up in my time. It must be considered that my mother remembered the first French Revolution. Her sympathies were with the royal family; and the poor little Dauphin was an object of romantic interest to all English children who knew anything of the story at all. The pretence that he was found set thousands of imaginations on fire, whenever it was raised; and among many other wonderful effects, it emboldened me to speak to Mr. Perry about other things than lessons. Since the present war (of 1854) broke out, it has amused me to find myself so like my old self of forty years before, in regard to telling the servants the news. In the old days, I used to fly into the kitchen, and tell my father’s servants how sure “Boney” was to be caught, — how impossible it was that he should escape, — how his army was being driven back through the Pyrenees, — or how he had driven back the allies here or there. Then, I wanted sympathy, and liked the importance and the sensation of carrying news. Now, the way has been to summon my own servants after the evening post, and bid them get the map, or come with me to the globe, and explain to them the state of the war, and give them the latest news, — probably with some of the old associations lingering in my mind; but certainly with the dominant desire to give these intelligent girls an interest in the interests of freedom, and a clear knowledge of the position and duties of England in regard to the war. I remember my father’s bringing in the news of some of the Peninsular victories, and what his face was like when he told my mother of the increase of the Income-tax to ten per cent, and again, of the removal of the Income-tax. I remember the proclamation of peace in 1814, and our all going to see the illuminations; those abominable transparencies, among the rest, which represented Bonaparte (always in green coat, white breeches and boots) as carried to hell by devils, pitch-forked in the fiery lake by the same attendants, or haunted by the Duc d’Enghien. I well remember the awful moment when Mr. Drummond (of the chemical lectures) looked in at the back door (on his way from the counting-house) and telling my mother that “Boney” had escaped from Elba, and was actually in France. This impressed me more than the subsequent hot Midsummer morning when somebody (I forget whether father or brother) burst in with the news of the Waterloo slaughter. It was the slaughter that was uppermost with us, I believe, though we never had a relative, nor, as far as I know, even an acquaintance, in either army or navy.
I was more impressed still with the disappointment about the effects of the peace, at the end of the first year of it. The country was overrun with disbanded soldiers, and robbery and murder were frightfully frequent and desperate. The Workhouse Boards were under a pressure of pauperism which they could not have managed if the Guardians had been better informed than they were in those days; and one of my political panics (of which I underwent a constant succession) was that the country would become bankrupt through its poor-law. Another panic was about revolution, — our idea of revolution being, of course, of guillotines in the streets, and all that sort of thing. Those were Cobbett’s grand days, and the days of Castlereagh and Sid-mouth spy-systems and conspiracies. Our pastor was a great radical; and he used to show us the caricatures of the day (Hone’s, I think) in which Castlereagh was always flogging Irishmen, and Canning spouting froth, and the Regent insulting his wife, and the hungry, haggard multitude praying for vengeance on the Court and the Ministers; and every Sunday night, after supper, when he and two or three other bachelor friends were with us, the talk was of the absolute certainty of a dire revolution. When, on my return from Bristol in 1819, I ventured to say what my conscience bade me say, and what I had been led to see by a dear aunt, that it was wrong to catch up and believe and spread reports injurious to the royal family, who could not reply to slander like other people, I was met by a shout of derision first, and then by a serious reprimand for my immorality in making more allowance for royal sinners than for others. Between my dread of this worldliness, and my sense that they had a worse chance than other people, and my further feeling that respect should be shown them on account of their function first, and their defenceless position afterwards, I was in what the Americans would call “a fix.” The conscientious uncertainty I was in was a real difficulty and trouble to me; and this probably helped to fix my attention upon the principles of politics and the characteristics of parties, with an earnestness not very common at that age. Still, — how astonished should I have been if any one had then foretold to me that, of all the people in England, I should be the one to write the “History of the Peace!”
One important consequence of the peace was the interest with which foreigners were suddenly invested, in the homes of the middle classes, where the rising generation had seen no foreigners except old emigrés, — powdered old Frenchmen, and ladies with outlandish bonnets and high-heeled shoes. About this time there came to Norwich a foreigner who excited an unaccountable interest in our house, — considering what exceedingly proper people we were, and how sharp a look-out we kept on the morals of our neighbors. It was poor Polidori, well known afterwards as Lord Byron’s physician, as the author of “the Vampire,” and as having committed suicide under gambling difficulties. When we knew him, he was a handsome, harum-scarum young man, — taken up by William Taylor as William Taylor did take up harum-scarum young men, — and so introduced into the best society the place afforded, while his being a Catholic, or passing for such, insured him a welcome in some of the most aristocratic of the county houses. He was a foolish rattle, — with no sense, scarcely any knowledge, and no principle; but we took for granted in him much that he had not, and admired whatever he had. For his part, he was an avowed admirer of our eldest sister (who however escaped fancy-free;) and he was forever at our house. We younger ones romanced amazingly about him, — drew his remarkable profile on the backs of all our letters, dreamed of him, listened to all his marvellous stories, and, when he got a concussion of the brain by driving his gig against a tree in Lord Stafford’s park, were inconsolable. If he had (happily) died then, he would have remained a hero in our imaginations. The few following years (which were very possibly all the wilder for that concussion of the brain) disabused every body of all expectation of good from him; but yet when he died, frantic under gaming debts, the shock was great, and the impression, on my mind at least, deep and lasting. My eldest sister, then in a happy home of her own, was shocked and concerned; but we younger ones felt it far more. I was then in the height of my religious fanaticism; and I remember putting away all doubts about the theological propriety of what I was doing, for the sake of the relief of praying for his soul. Many times a day, and with my whole heart, did I pray for his soul.
As I have said, it was the state of my health and temper which caused me to be sent from home when I was in my sixteenth year. So many causes of unhappiness had arisen, and my temper was so thoroughly ajar, that nothing else would have done any effectual good. Every thing was a misery to me, and was therefore done with a bad grace; and hence had sprung up a habit of domestic criticism which ought never to have been allowed, in regard to any one member of the family, and least of all towards one of the youngest, and certainly the most suffering of all. My mother received and administered a check now and then, which did good for the time: but the family habit was strong; and it was a wise measure to institute an entire change. Two or three anecdotes will suffice to give an idea of what had to be surmounted.
I was too shy ever to ask to be taught any thing, — except, indeed, of good-natured strangers. I have mentioned that we were well practiced in some matters of domestic management. We could sew, iron, make sweets, gingerbread and pastry, and keep order generally throughout the house. But I did not know, — what nobody can know without being taught, — how to purchase stores, or to set out a table, or to deal with the butcher and fishmonger. It is inconceivable what a trouble this was to me for many years. I was always in terror at that great mountain of duty before me, and wondering what was to become of me if my mother left home, or if I should marry. Never once did it occur to me to go to my mother, and ask to be taught: and it was not pride but fear which so incapacitated me. I liked that sort of occupation, and had great pleasure in doing what I could do in that way; insomuch that I have sometimes felt myself what General F. called his wife, — “a good housemaid spoilt.” My “Guides to Service,” (“The Maid-of-all-work,” “Housemaid,” “Lady’s Maid,” and “Dress-maker,”) written twenty years afterwards, may show something of this. Meantime, never was poor creature more dismally awkward than I was when domestic eyes were upon me: and this made me a most vexatious member of the family. I remember once upsetting a basin of moist sugar into a giblet pie. (I remember nothing else quite so bad.) I never could find any thing I was sent for, though I could lay my hands in the dark on any thing I myself wanted. On one occasion, when a workwoman was making mourning in the midst of us, I was desired to take the keys, and fetch a set of cravats for marking, out of a certain drawer. My heart sank at the order, and already the inevitable sentence rung in my ears, — that I was more trouble than I was worth; which I sincerely believed. The drawer was large, and crammed. I could not see one thing from another; and in no way could I see any cravats. Slowly and fearfully I came back to say so. Of course, I was sent again, and desired not to come back without them. That time, and again the next, I took every thing out of the drawer; and still found no cravats. My eldest sister tried next; and great was my consolation when she returned crest-fallen, — having found no cravats. My mother snatched the keys, under a strong sense of the hardship of having to do every thing herself, when Rachel suggested another place where they might have been put. There they were found; and my heart was swelling with vindictive pleasure when my mother, by a few noble words, turned the tide of feeling completely. In the presence of the workwoman, she laid her hand on my arm, kissed me, and said, “And now, my dear, I have to beg your pardon.” I answered only by tears; but the words supported me for long after.
I look back upon another scene with horror at my own audacity, and wonder that my family could endure me at all. At Mr. Perry’s, one of our school-fellows was a clever, mischievous girl, — so clever, and so much older than myself as to have great influence over me when she chose to try her power, though I disapproved her ways very heartily. She one day asked me, in a corner, in a mysterious sort of way, whether I did not perceive that Rachel was the favourite at home, and treated with manifest partiality. Every body else, she said, observed it. This had never distinctly occurred to me. Rachel was handy and useful, and not paralysed by fear, as I was; and, very naturally, our busy mother resorted to her for help, and put trust in her about matters of business, not noticing the growth of an equally natural habit in Rachel of quizzing or snubbing me, as the elder ones did. From the day of this mischievous speech of my school-fellow, I was on the watch, and with the usual result to the jealous. Months, — perhaps a year or two — passed on while I was brooding over this, without a word to any one; and then came the explosion, one winter evening after tea, when my eldest sister was absent, and my mother, Rachel and I were sitting at work. Rachel criticised something that I said, in which I happened to be right. After once defending myself, I sat silent. My mother remarked on my “obstinacy,” saying that I was “not a bit convinced.” I replied that nothing convincing had been said. My mother declared that she agreed with Rachel, and that I ought to yield. Then I passed the verge, and got wrong. A sudden force of daring entering my mind, I said, in the most provoking way possible, that this was nothing new, as she always did agree with Rachel against me. My mother put down her work, and asked me what I meant by that. I looked her full in the face, and said that what I meant was that every thing that Rachel said and did was right, and every thing that I said and did was wrong. Rachel burst into an insulting laugh, and was sharply bidden to “be quiet.” I saw by this that I had gained some ground; and this was made clearer by my mother sternly desiring me to practise my music. I saw that she wanted to gain time. The question now was how I should get through. My hands were clammy and tremulous: my fingers stuck to each other; my eyes were dim, and there was a roaring in my ears. I could easily have fainted; and it might have done no harm if I had. But I made a tremendous effort to appear calm. I opened the piano, lighted a candle with a steady hand, began, and derived strength from the first chords. I believe I never played better in my life. Then the question was — how was I ever to leave off? On I went for what seemed to me an immense time, till my mother sternly called to me to leave off and go to bed. With my candle in my hand, I said “Good-night.” My mother laid down her work, and said, “Harriet, I am more displeased with you to-night than ever I have been in your life.” Thought I, “I don’t care: I have got it out, and it is all true.” “Go and say your prayers,” my mother continued; “and ask God to forgive you for your conduct to-night; for I don’t know that I can. Go to your prayers.” Thought I, — “No, I shan’t.” And I did not: and that was the only night from my infancy to mature womanhood that I did not pray. I detected misgiving in my mother’s forced manner; and I triumphed. If the right was on my side (as I entirely believed) the power was on hers; and what the next morning was to be I could not conceive. I slept little, and went down sick with dread. Not a word was said, however, then or ever, of the scene of the preceding night; but henceforth, a most scrupulous impartiality between Rachel and me was shown. If the occasion had been better used still, — if my mother had but bethought herself of saying to me, “My child, I never dreamed that these terrible thoughts were in your mind. I am your mother. Why do you not tell me every thing that makes you unhappy?” I believe this would have wrought in a moment that cure which it took years to effect, amidst reserve and silence.
It has been a difficulty with me all my life (and its being a difficulty shows some deep-seated fault in me) how to reconcile sincerity with peace and good manners in such matters as other people’s little mistakes of fact. As an example of what I mean, a school-fellow spelled Shakspere as I spell it here. Mr. Perry put in an a, observing that the name was never spelt in print without an a. I ventured to doubt this; but he repeated his assertion. At afternoon school, I showed him a volume of the edition we had at home, which proved him wrong. He received the correction with so indifferent a grace that I was puzzled as to whether I had done right or wrong, — whether sincerity required me to set my master right before the face of his scholars. Of course, if I had been older, I should have done it more privately. But this is a specimen of the difficulties of that class that I have struggled with almost ever since. The difficulty was immensely increased by the family habit of requiring an answer from me, and calling me obstinate if the reply was not an unconditional yielding. I have always wondered to see the ease and success with which very good people humour and manage the aged, the sick and the weak, and sometimes every body about them. I could never attempt this; for it always seemed to me such contemptuous treatment of those whom I was at the moment respecting more than ever, on account of their weakness. But I was always quite in the opposite extreme; — far too solemn, too rigid, and prone to exaggeration of differences and to obstinacy at the same time. It was actually not till I was near forty that I saw how the matter should really be, — saw it through a perfect example of an union of absolute sincerity with all possible cheerfulness, sweetness, modesty and deference for all, in proportion to their claims. I have never attained righteous good-manners, to this day; but I have understood what they are since the beauties of J. S.’s character and manners were revealed to me under circumstances of remarkable trial.
While organised, it seems to me, for sincerity, and being generally truthful, except for the exaggeration which is apt to beset persons of repressed faculties, I feel compelled to state here (what belongs to this part of my life) that towards one person I was habitually untruthful, from fear. To my mother I would in my childhood assert or deny any thing that would bring me through most easily. I remember denying various harmless things, — playing a game at battledore, for one; and often without any apparent reason: and this was so exclusively to one person that, though there was remonstrance and punishment, I believe I was never regarded as a liar in the family. It seems now all very strange: but it was a temporary and very brief phase. When I left home, all temptation to untruth ceased, and there was henceforth nothing more than the habit of exaggeration and strong expression to struggle with.
Before I went to Bristol, I was the prey of three griefs, — prominent among many. I cannot help laughing while I write them. They were my bad hand-writing, my deafness, and the state of my hair. Such a trio of miseries! I was the first of my family who failed in the matter of hand-writing; and why I did remains unexplained. I am sure I tried hard; but I wrote a vulgar, cramped, untidy scrawl till I was past twenty; — till authorship made me forget manner in matter, and gave freedom to my hand. After that, I did very well, being praised by compositors for legibleness first, and in course of time, for other qualities. But it was a severe mortification while it lasted; and many bitter tears I shed over the reflections that my awkward hand called forth. It was a terrible penance to me to write letters home from Bristol; and the day of the week when it was to be done was very like the Beckwith music-lesson days. If any one had told me then how many reams of paper I should cover in the course of my life, life would have seemed a sort of purgatory to me. — As to my deafness, I got no relief about that at Bristol. It was worse when I returned in weak health. — The third misery, which really plagued me seriously, was cured presently after I left home. I made my dear aunt Kentish the depositary of my confidence in all matters; and this, of course, among the rest. She induced me to consult a friend of hers, who had remarkably beautiful hair; and then it came out that I had been combing overmuch, and that there was nothing the matter with my hair, if I would be content with brushing it. So that grief was annihilated, and there was an end of one of those trifles which “make up the sum of human things.”
And now the hour was at hand when I was to find, for the first time, a human being whom I was not afraid of. That blessed being was my dear aunt Kentish, who stands distinguished in my mind by that from all other persons whom I have ever known.
I did not understand the facts about my leaving home till I had been absent some months; and when I did, I was deeply and effectually moved by my mother’s consideration for my feelings. We had somehow been brought up in a supreme contempt of boarding-schools: and I was therefore truly amazed when my mother sounded me, in the spring of 1817, about going for a year or two to a Miss Somebody’s school at Yarmouth. She talked of the sea, of the pleasantness of change, and of how happy L. T—, an excessively silly girl of our acquaintance, was there: but I made such a joke of L. and her studies, and of the attainments of the young ladies, as we had heard of them, that my mother gave up the notion of a scheme which never could have answered. It would have been ruin to a temper like mine at that crisis to have sent me among silly and ignorant people, to have my “manners formed,” after the most ordinary boarding-school fashion. My mother did much better in sending me among people so superior to myself as to improve me morally and intellectually, though the experiment failed in regard to health. A brother of my mother’s had been unfortunate in business at Bristol, and had not health to retrieve his affairs; and his able and accomplished wife, and clever young daughters opened a school. Of the daughters, one was within a few weeks of my own age; and we have been intimate friends from that time (the beginning of 1818) till this hour. Another was two years younger; another, two years older; while the eldest had reached womanhood. Of these clever cousins we had heard much, for many years, without having seen any of them. At the opening of the year 1818, a letter arrived from my aunt to my mother, saying that it was time the young people should be becoming acquainted; that her girls were all occupied in the school, for the routine of which Rachel was somewhat too old; but that if Harriet would go, and spend some time with them, and take the run of the school, she would be a welcome guest, &c. &c. This pleased me much, and I heard with joy that I was to go when my father took his next journey to Bristol, — early in February. My notion was of a stay of a few weeks; and I was rather taken aback when my mother spoke of my absence as likely to last a year or more. It never entered my head that I was going to a boarding-school; and when I discovered, long after, that the Bristol family understood that I was, I was not (as I once might have been) angry at having been tricked into it, but profoundly contrite for the temper which made such management necessary, and touched by the trouble my mother took to spare my silly pride, and consider my troublesome feelings.
I was, on the whole, happy during the fifteen months I spent at Bristol, though home-sickness spoiled the last half of the time. My home affections seem to have been all the stronger for having been repressed and baulked. Certainly, I passionately loved my family, each and all, from the very hour that parted us; and I was physically ill with expectation when their letters became due; — letters which I could hardly read when they came, between my dread of something wrong, and the beating heart and swimming eyes with which I received letters in those days. There were some family anxieties during the latter part of the time; and there was one grand event, — the engagement of my eldest sister, who had virtually ceased to belong to us by the time I returned home.
I found my cousins even more wonderfully clever than I had expected; and they must have been somewhat surprised at my striking inferiority in knowledge, and in the power of acquiring it. I still think that I never met with a family to compare with theirs for power of acquisition, or effective use of knowledge. They would learn a new language at odd minutes; get through a tough philosophical book by taking turns in the court for air; write down an entire lecture or sermon, without missing a sentence; get round the piano after a concert, and play and sing over every new piece that had been performed. Ability like this was a novel spectacle to me; and it gave me the pure pleasure of unmixed admiration; for I was certainly not conscious of any ability whatever at that time. I had no great deal to do in the school, being older than every girl there but one; and I believe I got no particular credit in such classes as I did join. For one thing, my deafness was now bad enough to be a disadvantage; but it was a worse disqualification that my memory, always obedient to my own command, was otherwise disobedient. I could remember whatever I had learned in my own way, but was quite unable to answer in class, like far younger girls, about any thing just communicated. My chief intellectual improvement during that important period was derived from private study. I read some analytical books, on logic and rhetoric, with singular satisfaction; and I lost nothing afterwards that I obtained in this way. I read a good deal of History too, and revelled in poetry, — a new world of which was opened to me by my cousins. The love of natural scenery was a good deal developed in me by the beauty around Bristol. One circumstance makes me think that I had become rather suddenly awakened to it not long before, — though my delight in the sea at Cromer dated some years earlier. Mr. Perry tried upon us the reading of L’Allegro and Il Penseroso; and it failed utterly. I did not feel any thing whatever, though I supposed I understood what I heard. Not long after he was gone, I read both pieces in the nursery, one day; and straightway went into a transport, as if I had discovered myself in possession of a new sense. Thus it was again now, when I was transferred from flat, bleak Norfolk to the fine scenery about Bristol. Even the humble beauty of our most frequent walk, by the Logwood Mills, was charming to me, — the clear running water, with its weedy channel, and the meadow walk on the brink: and about Leigh woods, Kingsweston, and the Downs, my rapture knew no bounds.
Far more important, however, was the growth of kindly affections in me at this time, caused by the free and full tenderness of my dear aunt Kentish, and of all my other relations then surrounding me. My heart warmed and opened, and my habitual fear began to melt away. I have since been told that, on the day of my arrival, when some of the school-girls asked my cousin M. what I was like, (as she came out of the parlour where I was) she said that I looked as if I was cross; but that she knew I was not; and that I looked unhappy. When I left Bristol, I was as pale as a ghost, and as thin as possible; and still very frowning and repulsive-looking; but yet with a comparatively open countenance. The counteracting influence to dear aunt Kentish’s was one which visited me very strongly at the same time, — that of a timid superstition. She was herself, then and always, very religious; but she had a remarkable faculty of making her religion suggest and sanction whatever she liked: and, as she liked whatever was pure, amiable, unselfish and unspoiling, this tendency did her no harm. Matters were otherwise with me. My religion too took the character of my mind; and it was harsh, severe and mournful accordingly. There was a great furor among the Bristol Unitarians at that time about Dr. Carpenter, who had recently become their pastor. He was a very devoted Minister, and a very earnest pietist: superficial in his knowledge, scanty in ability, narrow in his conceptions, and thoroughly priestly in his temper. He was exactly the dissenting minister to be worshipped by his people, (and especially by the young) and to be spoiled by that worship. He was worshipped by the young, and by none more than by me; and his power was unbounded while his pupils continued young: but, as his instructions and his scholars were not bound together by any bond of essential Christian doctrine, every thing fell to pieces as soon as the merely personal influence was withdrawn. A more extraordinary diversity of religious opinion than existed among his pupils when they became men and women could not be seen. They might be found at the extremes of catholicism and atheism, and every where between. As for me, his devout and devoted Catechumen, he made me desperately superstitious, — living wholly in and for religion, and fiercely fanatical about it. I returned home raving about my pastor and teacher, remembering every word he had ever spoken to me, — with his instructions burnt in, as it were, upon my heart and conscience, and with an abominable spiritual rigidity and a truly respectable force of conscience curiously mingled together, so as to procure for me the no less curiously mingled ridicule and respect of my family. My little sister, then learning to sew on her stool at my mother’s knee, has since told me what she perceived, with the penetrating eyes and heart of childhood. Whenever I left the room, my mother and elder sisters used to begin to quiz my fanaticism, — which was indeed quizzical enough; but the little one saw a sort of respect for me underlying the mockery, which gave her her first clear sense of moral obligation, and the nature of obedience to it.
The results of the Bristol experiment were thus good on the whole. My health was rather worse than better, through wear and tear of nerves, — home-sickness, religious emotions, overmuch study (so my aunt said, against my conviction) and medical mismanagement. I had learned a good deal, and had got into a good way of learning more. My domestic affections were regenerated; and I had become sincerely and heartily religious, with some improvement in temper in consequence, and not a little in courage, hope and conscientiousness. The fanaticism was a stage which I should probably have had to pass through at any rate, — and by the same phase of pastor-worship, — whoever the pastor might have been.
[* ]Household Education, p. 152.
[* ]Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development, p. 161.