Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION III. - Harriet Martineau's Autobiography, vol. 1
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SECTION III. - 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 have said that it was through a long train of calamities that I learned some valuable truths and habits. Those calamities were now coming fast upon me. In 1820, my deafness was suddenly encreased by what might be called an accident, which I do not wish to describe. I ought undoubtedly to have begun at that time to use a trumpet; but no one pressed it upon me; and I do not know that, if urged, I should have yielded; for I had abundance of that false shame which hinders nine deaf people out of ten from doing their duty in that particular. The redeeming quality of personal infirmity is that it brings its special duty with it; but this privilege waits long to be recognised. The special duty of the deaf is, in the first place, to spare other people as much fatigue as possible; and, in the next, to preserve their own natural capacity for sound, and habit of receiving it, and true memory of it, as long as possible. It was long before I saw, or fully admitted this to myself; and it was ten years from this time before I began to use a trumpet. Thus, I have felt myself qualified to say more in the way of exhortation and remonstrance to deaf people than could be said by any one who had not only never been deaf, but had never shared the selfish and morbid feelings which are the ordinary attendant curses of suffering so absolutely peculiar as that of personal infirmity.
Next, our beloved brother, who had always shown a tendency to consumption, ruptured a blood-vessel in the lungs, and had to give up his practice and professional offices, and to go, first into Devonshire, and afterwards to Madeira, whence he never returned. He died at sea, on his way home. I went with him and his wife into Devonshire, for the spring of 1823; and it was my office to read aloud for many hours of every day, which I did with great satisfaction, and with inestimable profit from his comments and unsurpassed conversation. Before breakfast, and while he enjoyed his classical reading on the sofa, I rambled about the neighbourhood of Torquay, — sometimes sketching, sometimes reading, sometimes studying the sea from the shelter of the caves, and, on the whole, learning to see nature, under those grave circumstances, with new eyes. Soon after our return, their child was born; and never was infant more beloved. It was my great solace during the dreary season of dismantling that home which we had had so much delight in forming, and sending those from us who were the joy of our lives. It was then that I learned the lesson I spoke of, — of our peace of mind being, at least in times of crisis, independent of external circumstances. Day by day, I had been silently growing more heartsick at the prospect of the parting; and I especially dreaded the night before; — the going to bed, with the thoughtful night before me, after seeing every thing packed, and knowing that the task of the coming day was the parting. Yet that night was one of the happiest of my life. It is easy to conceive what the process of thought was, and what the character of the religious emotion which so elevated me. The lesson was a sound one, whatever might be the virtue of the thoughts and feelings involved. The next day, all was over at length. I was the last who held the dear baby, — even to the moment of his being put into the carriage. The voyage was injurious to him; and it was probably the cause of his death, which took place soon after reaching Madeira. There was something peaceful, and very salutary in the next winter, though it could not reasonably be called a very happy one. There was a close mutual reliance between my mother and myself, — my sister Rachel being absent, and our precious little Ellen, the family darling, at school. We kept up a close correspondence with our absent ones; and there were the beautiful Madeira letters always to look for. I remember reading Clarendon’s Rebellion aloud to my mother in the evenings; and we took regular walks in all weathers. I had my own troubles and anxieties, however. A dream had passed before me since the visit of a student friend of my brother James’s, which some words of my father’s and mother’s had strengthened into hope and trust. This hope was destined to be crushed for a time in two hearts by the evil offices of one who had much to answer for in what he did. This winter was part of the time of suspense. Under my somewhat heavy troubles my health had some time before begun to give way; and now I was suffering from digestive derangement which was not cured for four years after; and then only after severe and daily pain from chronic inflammation of the stomach. Still, with an ailing body, an anxious and often aching heart, and a mind which dreaded looking into the future, I regarded this winter of 1823-4 as a happy one; — the secret of which I believe to have been that I felt myself beloved at home, and enjoyed the keen relish of duties growing out of domestic love. At the end of the next June, my brother died. We were all prepared for the event, as far as preparation is ever possible; but my dear father, the most unselfish of men, who never spoke of his own feelings, and always considered other people’s, never, we think, recovered from this grief. He was very quiet at the time; but his health began to go wrong, and his countenance to alter; and during the two remaining years of his life, he sustained a succession of cares which might have broken down a frame less predisposed for disease than his had become. In our remembrance of him there is no pain on the ground of any thing in his character. Humble, simple, upright, self-denying, affectionate to as many people as possible, and kindly to all, he gave no pain, and did all the good he could. He had not the advantage of an adequate education; but there was a natural shrewdness about him which partly compensated for the want. He was not the less, but the more, anxious to give his children the advantages which he had never received; and the whole family have always felt that they owe a boundless debt of gratitude to both their parents for the self-sacrificing efforts they made, through all the vicissitudes of the times, to fit their children in the best possible manner for independent action in life. My father’s business, that of a Norwich manufacturer, was subject to the fluctuations to which all manufacture was liable during the war, and to others of its own; and our parents’ method was to have no reserves from their children, to let us know precisely the state of their affairs, and to hold out to us, in the light of this evidence, the probability that we might sooner or later have to work for our own living, — daughters as well as sons, — and that it was improbable that we should ever be rich. The time was approaching which was to prove the wisdom of their method. My father’s business, never a very enriching one, had been for some time prosperous; and this year (1824) he indulged my brother James and myself with a journey; — a walking tour in Scotland, in the course of which we walked five hundred miles in a month. I am certainly of opinion now that that trip aggravated my stomach-complaint; and I only wonder it was no worse. I spent the next winter with my married sister, my sister-in-law, and other friends, and returned to Norwich in April, to undergo long months, — even years — of anxiety and grief.
In the reviews of my “History of the Thirty Years’ Peace,” one chapter is noticed more emphatically than all the rest; — the chapter on the speculations, collapse, and crash of 1825 and 1826. If that chapter is written with some energy, it is no wonder; for our family fortunes were implicated in that desperate struggle, and its issue determined the whole course of life of the younger members of our family, — my own among the rest. One point on which my narrative in the History is emphatic is the hardship on the sober man of business of being involved in the destruction which overtook the speculator; and I had family and personal reasons for saying this. My father never speculated; but he was well nigh ruined during that calamitous season by the deterioration in value of his stock. His stock of manufactured goods was larger, of course, than it would have been in a time of less enterprise; and week by week its value declined, till, in the middle of the winter, when the banks were crashing down all over England, we began to contemplate absolute ruin. My father was evidently a dying man; — not from anxiety of mind, for his liver disease was found to be owing to obstruction caused by a prodigious gall-stone: but his illness was no doubt aggravated and rendered more harassing by his cares for his family. In the spring he was sent to Cheltenham, whence he returned after some weeks with the impression of approaching death on his face. He altered his Will, mournfully reducing the portions left to his daughters to something which could barely be called an independence. Then, three weeks before his death, he wisely, and to our great relief, dismissed the whole subject. He told my brother Henry, his partner in the business, that he had done what he could while he could: that he was now a dying man, and could be of no further use in the struggle, and that he wished to keep his mind easy for his few remaining days: so he desired to see no more letters of business, and to hear no more details. For a few more days, he sunned himself on the grass-plat in the garden, in the warm June mornings: then could not leave the house; then could not come down stairs; and, towards the end of the month died quietly, with all his family round his bed. — As for my share in this family experience, — it was delightful to me that he took an affectionate pleasure in my poor little book, — of value to me now for that alone, — “Addresses, Prayers and Hymns, for the use of families and school.” It was going through the press at that time; and great was my father’s satisfaction; and high were his hopes, I believe, of what I should one day be and do. Otherwise, I have little comfort in thinking of his last illness. The old habit of fear came upon me, more irresistibly than ever, on the assembling of the family; and I mourn to think how I kept out of the way, whenever it was possible, and how little I said to my father of what was in my heart about him and my feelings towards him. The more easily his humility was satisfied with whatever share of good fell to him, the more richly he should have been ministered to. By me he was not, — owing to this unhappy shyness. My married sister, who was an incomparable nurse, did the duty of others besides her own; and mine among the rest, while I was sorrowing and bitterly chiding myself in silence, and perhaps in apparent insensibility.
And now my own special trial was at hand. It is not necessary to go into detail about it. The news which got abroad that we had grown comparatively poor, — and the evident certainty that we were never likely to be rich, so wrought upon the mind of one friend as to break down the mischief which I have referred to as caused by ill-offices. My friend had believed me rich, was generous about making me a poor man’s wife, and had been discouraged in more ways than one. He now came to me, and we were soon virtually engaged. I was at first very anxious and unhappy. My veneration for his morale was such that I felt that I dared not undertake the charge of his happiness: and yet I dared not refuse, because I saw it would be his death blow. I was ill, — I was deaf, — I was in an entangled state of mind between conflicting duties and some lower considerations; and many a time did I wish, in my fear that I should fail, that I had never seen him. I am far from wishing that now; — now that the beauty of his goodness remains to me, clear of all painful regrets. But there was a fearful period to pass through. Just when I was growing happy, surmounting my fears and doubts, and enjoying his attachment, the consequences of his long struggle and suspense overtook him. He became suddenly insane; and after months of illness of body and mind, he died. The calamity was aggravated to me by the unaccountable insults I received from his family, whom I had never seen. Years afterwards, when his sister and I met, the mystery was explained. His family had been given to understand, by cautious insinuations, that I was actually engaged to another, while receiving my friend’s addresses! There has never been any doubt in my mind that, considering what I was in those days, it was happiest for us both that our union was prevented by any means. I am, in truth, very thankful for not having married at all. I have never since been tempted, nor have suffered any thing at all in relation to that matter which is held to be all-important to woman, — love and marriage. Nothing, I mean, beyond occasional annoyance, presently disposed of. Every literary woman, no doubt, has plenty of importunity of that sort to deal with; but freedom of mind and coolness of manner dispose of it very easily: and since the time I have been speaking of, my mind has been wholly free from all idea of love-affairs. My subsequent literary life in London was clear from all difficulty and embarrassment, — no doubt because I was evidently too busy, and too full of interests of other kinds to feel any awkwardness, — to say nothing of my being then thirty years of age; an age at which, if ever, a woman is certainly qualified to take care of herself. I can easily conceive how I might have been tempted, — how some deep springs in my nature might have been touched, then as earlier; but, as a matter of fact, they never were; and I consider the immunity a great blessing, under the liabilities of a moral condition such as mine was in the olden time. If I had had a husband dependent on me for his happiness, the responsibility would have made me wretched. I had not faith enough in myself to endure avoidable responsibility. If my husband had not depended on me for his happiness, I should have been jealous. So also with children. The care would have so overpowered the joy, — the love would have so exceeded the ordinary chances of life, — the fear on my part would have so impaired the freedom on theirs, that I rejoice not to have been involved in a relation for which I was, or believed myself unfit. The veneration in which I hold domestic life has always shown me that that life was not for those whose self-respect had been early broken down, or had never grown. Happily, the majority are free from this disability. Those who suffer under it had better be as I, — as my observation of married, as well as single life assures me. When I see what conjugal love is, in the extremely rare cases in which it is seen in its perfection, I feel that there is a power of attachment in me that has never been touched. When I am among little children, it frightens me to think what my idolatry of my own children would have been. But, through it all, I have ever been thankful to be alone. My strong will, combined with anxiety of conscience, makes me fit only to live alone; and my taste and liking are for living alone. The older I have grown, the more serious and irremediable have seemed to me the evils and disadvantages of married life, as it exists among us at this time: and I am provided with what it is the bane of single life in ordinary cases to want, — substantial, laborious and serious occupation. My business in life has been to think and learn, and to speak out with absolute freedom what I have thought and learned. The freedom is itself a positive and never-failing enjoyment to me, after the bondage of my early life. My work and I have been fitted to each other, as is proved by the success of my work and my own happiness in it. The simplicity and independence of this vocation first suited my infirm and ill-developed nature, and then sufficed for my needs, together with family ties and domestic duties, such as I have been blessed with, and as every woman’s heart requires. Thus, I am not only entirely satisfied with my lot, but think it the very best for me, — under my constitution and circumstances: and I long ago came to the conclusion that, without meddling with the case of the wives and mothers, I am probably the happiest single woman in England. Who could have believed, in that awful year 1826, that such would be my conclusion a quarter of a century afterwards!
My health gave way, more and more; and my suffering throughout the year 1827 from the pain which came on every evening was such as it is disagreeable to think of now. For pain of body and mind it was truly a terrible year, though it had its satisfactions, one of the chief of which was a long visit which I paid to my brother Robert and his wife (always a dear friend of mine to this day) at their home in Dudley. I remember our walks in the grounds of Dudley Castle, and the organ-playing at home, after my brother’s business hours, and the inexhaustible charm of the baby, as gleams amidst the darkness of that season. I found then the unequalled benefit of long solitary walks in such a case as mine. I had found it even at Norwich, in midwinter, when all was bleak on that exposed level country; and now, amidst the beauty which surrounds Dudley, there was no end of my walks or of my relish for them; and I always came home with a cheered and lightened heart. Such poetry as I wrote (I can’t bear to think of it) I wrote in those days. The mournful pieces, and those which assume not to be mournful, which may be found in my “Miscellanies” (published in America) may be referred to that period. And so may some dull and doleful prose writings, published by the solemn old Calvinistic publisher, Houlston, of Wellington in Shropshire. An acquaintance of mine had some time before put me in the way of correspondence with Houlston; and he had accepted the first two little eightpenny stories I sent him. I remember the amusement and embarrassment of the first piece of pecuniary success. As soon as it was known in the house that the letter from Wellington contained five pounds, every body wanted, and continued to want all day, to borrow five pounds of me. After a pause, Houlston wrote to ask for another story of somewhat more substance and bulk. My Globe newspaper readings suggested to me the subject of Machine-breaking as a good one, — some recent outrages of that sort having taken place: but I had not the remotest idea that I was meditating writing on Political Economy, the very name of which was then either unknown to me, or conveyed no meaning. I wrote the little story called “The Rioters;” and its success was such that some hosiers and lace-makers of Derby and Nottingham sent me a request to write a tale on the subject of Wages, which I did, calling it “The Turn Out.” The success of both was such as to dispose Mr. Houlston to further dealings; and I wrote for him a good many tracts, which he sold for a penny, and for which he gave me a sovereign apiece. This seems to be the place in which to tell a fact or two about the use made of those early writings of mine by the old man’s sons and successors. Old Houlston died not very long afterwards, leaving among his papers, (I now remember,) a manuscript story of mine which I suppose lies there still; about a good governess, called, I think, “Caroline Shirley.” I mention this that, if that story should come out with my name after my death, it may be known to have been written somewhere about this time, — 1827. Old Houlston died, on perfectly good terms with me, as far as I remember. The next thing I heard was (and I heard it from various quarters) that those little tracts of mine, and some of my larger tales, were selling and circulating as Mrs. Sherwood’s, — Houlston being her publisher. This was amusing; and I had no other objection to it than that it was not true. Next, certain friends and relations of my own who went to the Houlstons’ shop in Paternoster Row, and asked for any works by me, had foisted upon them any rubbish that was convenient, under pretence of its being mine. A dear old aunt was very mysterious and complimentary to me, one day, on her return from London, about “Judith Potts;” and was puzzled to find all her allusions lost upon me. At length, she produced a little story so entitled, which had been sold to her as mine over the Houlstons’ counter, and, as she believed, by Mr. Houlston himself. This was rather too bad; for “Judith Potts” was not altogether a work that one would wish to build one’s fame on: but there was worse to come. Long years after, when such reputation as I have had was at its height, (when I was ill at Tynemouth, about 1842) there had been some machine breaking; and Messrs. Houlston and Stoneman (as the firm then stood) brought out afresh my poor little early story of “The Rioters,” with my name in the title-page for the first time, and not only with every external appearance of being fresh, but with interpolations and alterations which made it seem really so. For instance, “His Majesty” was altered to “Her Majesty.” By advice of my friends, I made known the trick far and wide; and I wrote to Messrs. Houlston and Stoneman, to inform them that I was aware of their fraudulent transaction, and that it was actionable. These caterers for the pious needs of the religious world replied with insults, having nothing better to offer. They pleaded my original permission to their father to use my name or not; which was a fact, but no excuse for the present use of it: and to the gravest part of the whole charge, — that of illegal alterations for the fraudulent purpose of concealing the date of the book, they made no reply whatever. I had reason to believe, however, that by the exertions of my friends, the trick was effectually exposed. As far as I remember, this is almost the only serious complaint I have had to make of any publisher, during my whole career.
Meantime, in 1827 I was on excellent terms with old Houlston, and writing for him a longer tale than I had yet tried my hand on. It was called “Principle and Practice;” and it succeeded well enough to induce us to put forth a “Sequel to Principle and Practice” three or four years after. These were all that I wrote for Houlston, as far as I remember, except a little book whose appearance made me stand aghast. A most excellent young servant of ours, who had become quite a friend of the household, went out to Madeira with my brother and his family, and confirmed our attachment to her by her invaluable services to them. Her history was a rather remarkable, and a very interesting one; and I wrote it in the form of four of Houlston’s penny tracts. He threw them together, and made a little book of them; and the heroine, who would never have heard of them as tracts, was speedily put in possession of her Memoirs in the form of the little book called “My Servant Rachel.” An aunt of mine, calling on her one day, found her standing in the middle of the floor, and her husband reading the book over her shoulder. She was hurt at one anecdote, — which was certainly true, but which she had forgotten: but, as a whole, it could not but have been most gratifying to her. She ever after treated me with extreme kindness, and even tenderness; and we are hearty friends still, whenever we meet. — And here ends the chapter of my authorship in which Houlston, my first patron, was concerned.
It was in the autumn of 1827, I think, that a neighbour lent my sister Mrs. Marcet’s “Conversations on Political Economy.” I took up the book, chiefly to see what Political Economy precisely was; and great was my surprise to find that I had been teaching it unawares, in my stories about Machinery and Wages. It struck me at once that the principles of the whole science might be advantageously conveyed in the same way, — not by being smothered up in a story, but by being exhibited in their natural workings in selected passages of social life. It has always appeared very strange to me that so few people seem to have understood this. Students of all manner of physical sciences afterwards wanted me to “illustrate” things of which social life (and therefore fiction) can afford no illustration. I used to say till I was tired that none but moral and political science admitted of the method at all; and I doubt whether many of those who talk about it understand the matter, to this day. In the Edinburgh Review of my Political Economy series, — a review otherwise as weak as it is kind, — there is the best appreciation of the principle of the work that I have seen any where; — a page or so* of perfect understanding of my view and purpose. That view and purpose date from my reading of Mrs. Marcet’s Conversations. During that reading, groups of personages rose up from the pages, and a procession of action glided through its arguments, as afterwards from the pages of Adam Smith, and all the other Economists. I mentioned my notion, I remember, when we were sitting at work, one bright afternoon at home. Brother James nodded assent; my mother said “do it;” and we went to tea, unconscious what a great thing we had done since dinner.
There was meantime much fiddle-faddling to be gone through, with such work as “Principle and Practice” and the like. But a new educational period was about to open. — My complaint grew so serious, and was so unbearably painful, and, in truth, medically mismanaged at Norwich, that my family sent me to Newcastle, to my sister’s, where her husband treated me successfully, and put me in the way of entire cure. It was a long and painful business; but the method succeeded; and, in the course of time, and by the unremitting care of my host and hostess, I was sent home in a condition to manage myself. It was some years before the stomach entirely recovered its tone; but it was thoroughly healthy from that time forward.
While I was at Newcastle, a spirited advertisement from the new editor of the Monthly Repository, Mr. Fox, met my eye, appealing for literary aid to those who were interested in its objects. I could not resist sending a practical reply; and I was gratified to learn, long afterwards, that when my name was mentioned to Mr. Fox, before he issued his appeal, he had said that he wished for my assistance from the moment when he, as editor, discovered from the office books that I was the writer of certain papers which had fixed his attention: but that he could not specially invite my contributions while he had no funds which could enable him to offer due remuneration. His reply to my first letter was so cordial that I was animated to offer him extensive assistance; and if he had then no money to send me, he paid me in something more valuable — in a course of frank and generous criticism which was of the utmost benefit to me. His editorial correspondence with me was unquestionably the occasion, and in great measure the cause, of the greatest intellectual progress I ever made before the age of thirty. I sent him Essays, Reviews and poetry (or what I called such) — the best specimens of which may be found in the “Miscellanies,” before mentioned. — The Diffusion Society was at that time the last novelty. A member of the Committee who overrated his own influence, invited me to write a Life of Howard the Philanthropist, which I did, with great satisfaction, and under the positive promise of thirty pounds for it. From time to time, tidings were sent to me of its being approved, and at length of its being actually in type. In the approaching crisis of my fortunes, when I humbly asked when I might expect any part of the payment, I could obtain no clear answer: and the end of the matter was that it was found that half-a-dozen or more Lives of Howard had been ordered in a similar manner, by different members of the Committee; that my manuscript was found, after several years, at the bottom of a chest, — not only dirty, but marked and snipped, — its contents having been abundantly used without any acknowledgment, — as was afterwards admitted to me by some of the members who were especially interested in the prison question. I am far from regretting the issue now, because new materials have turned up which would have shamed that biography out of existence: but the case is worth mentioning, as an illustration of the way in which literary business is managed by corporate directories. I believe most people who ever had any connexion with the Diffusion Society have some similar story to tell.
While I was at Newcastle, a change, which turned out a very happy one, was made in our domestic arrangements. My cousin, James Martineau Lee, who had succeeded my brother as a surgeon at Norwich, having died that year, his aged mother, — (my father’s only surviving sister) came to live with us; and with us she remained till her death in 1840. She was hardly settled with us when the last of our series of family misfortunes occurred. I call it a misfortune, because in common parlance it would be so treated; but I believe that my mother and all her other daughters would have joined heartily, if asked, in my conviction that it was one of the best things that ever happened to us. My mother and her daughters lost, at a stroke, nearly all they had in the world by the failure of the house, — the old manufactory, — in which their money was placed. We never recovered more than the merest pittance; and at the time, I, for one, was left destitute; — that is to say, with precisely one shilling in my purse. The effect upon me of this new “calamity,” as people called it, was like that of a blister upon a dull, weary pain, or series of pains. I rather enjoyed it, even at the time; for there was scope for action; whereas, in the long, dreary series of preceding trials, there was nothing possible but endurance. In a very short time, my two sisters at home and I began to feel the blessing of a wholly new freedom. I, who had been obliged to write before breakfast, or in some private way, had henceforth liberty to do my own work in my own way; for we had lost our gentility. Many and many a time since have we said that, but for that loss of money, we might have lived on in the ordinary provincial method of ladies with small means, sewing, and economizing, and growing narrower every year: whereas, by being thrown, while it was yet time, on our own resources, we have worked hard and usefully, won friends, reputation and independence, seen the world abundantly, abroad and at home, and, in short, have truly lived instead of vegetated.
It was in June, 1829, that the old Norwich house failed. I had been spending a couple of days at a country town, where the meeting of the provincial Unitarian Association took place. Some of the members knew, on the last day, what had happened to us; but I heard it first in the streets of Norwich on my way to our own house. As well as I can remember, a pretty faithful account of the event is given in one of my Political Economy tales, — “Berkeley the Banker;” mixed up however with a good many facts about other persons and times. I need not give the story over again here, nor any part of it but what is concerned in the history of my own mind and my own work. — It was presently settled that my mother, my dear old aunt and I should live on in the family house. One sister went forth to earn the independence which she achieved after busy and honourable years of successful exertion. The youngest was busy teaching and training the children, chiefly, of the family, till her marriage.
The question was — what was I to do, with my deafness precluding both music and governessing. I devised a plan for guiding the studies of young people by correspondence, and sent out written proposals: but, while every body professed to approve the scheme, no pupil ever offered. I was ere long very glad of this; for the toil of the pen would have been great, with small results of any kind, in comparison to those which accrued from what I did write. — In the first place, I inquired about my “Life of Howard,” and found, to my interior consternation, that there was no prospect in that quarter. Nobody knew that I was left with only one shilling, insomuch that I dreaded the arrival of a thirteenpenny letter, in those days of dear postage. The family supposed me to be well-supplied, through Houlston’s recent payment for one of my little books: but that money had gone where all the rest was. The sale of a ball-dress brought me three pounds. That was something. I hoped, and not without reason, that my needle would bring me enough for my small expenses, for a time; and I did earn a good many pounds by fancy-work, in the course of the next year, — after which it ceased to be necessary. For two years, I lived on fifty pounds a year. My mother, always generous in money matters, would not hear of my paying my home expences till she saw that I should be the happier for her allowing it: and then she assured me, and proved to me, that, as she had to keep house at all events, and as my habits were exceedingly frugal (taking no wine, &c.) thirty pounds a year would repay her for my residence. Twenty pounds more sufficed for clothes, postage and sundries: and thus did I live, as long as it was necessary, on fifty pounds a year. — I must mention here a gift which dropped in upon me at that time which gave me more pleasure than any money-gift that I ever received. Our rich relations made bountiful presents to my sisters, for their outfit on leaving home: but they supposed me in possession of the money they knew I had earned, and besides concluded that I could not want much, as I was to stay at home. My application about the Howard manuscript however came to the knowledge of a cousin of mine, — then and ever since, to this hour, a faithful friend to me; and he, divining the case, sent me ten pounds, in a manner so beautiful that his few lines filled me with joy. That happened on a Sunday morning; and I well remember what a happy morning it was. I had become too deaf now for public worship; and I went every fair Sunday morning over the wildest bit of country near Norwich, — a part of Mousehold, which was a sweet breezy common, overlooking the old city in its most picturesque aspect. There I went that Sunday morning; and I remember well the freshness of the turf and the beauty of the tormentilla which bestarred it, in the light and warmth of that good cousin’s kindness.
I now wrote to Mr. Fox, telling him of my changed circumstances, which would compel me to render less gratuitous service than hitherto to the “Repository.” Mr. Fox replied by apologetically placing at my disposal the only sum at his command at that time, — fifteen pounds a year, for which I was to do as much reviewing as I thought proper. With this letter arrived a parcel of nine books for review or notice. Overwhelming as this was, few letters that I had ever received had given me more pleasure than this. Here was, in the first place, work; in the next, continued literary discipline under Mr. Fox; and lastly, this money would buy my clothes. So to work I went, with needle and pen. I had before begun to study German; and now, that study was my recreation; and I found a new inspiration in the world of German literature, which was just opening, widely and brightly, before my eager and awakened mind. It was truly life that I lived during those days of strong intellectual and moral effort.
After I had received about a dozen books, Mr. Fox asked me to send him two or three tales, such as his “best readers” would not pass by. I was flattered by this request; but I had no idea that I could fulfil his wish, any more than I could refuse to try. Now was the time to carry out the notion I had formed on reading “Helon’s Pilgrimage to Jerusalem,” — as I related above. I wrote “The Hope of the Hebrew” (the first of the “Traditions of Palestine,”) and two others, as unlike it and each other as I could make them: — viz, “Solitude and Society,” and “The Early Sowing,” — the Unitarian City Mission being at that time under deliberation.
I carried these stories to London myself, and put them into Mr. Fox’s own hands, — being kindly invited for a long stay at the house of an uncle, in pursuit of my own objects. The Hebrew tale was put forth first; and the day after its appearance, such inquiries were made of Mr. Fox at a public dinner in regard to the authorship that I was at once determined to make a volume of them; and the “Traditions of Palestine” appeared accordingly, in the next spring. Except that first story, the whole volume was written in a fortnight. By this little volume was my name first made known in literature. I still love the memory of the time when it was written, though there was little other encouragement than my own pleasure in writing, and in the literary discipline which I continued to enjoy under Mr. Fox’s editorship. With him I always succeeded; but I failed in all other directions during that laborious winter and spring. I had no literary acquaintance or connexion whatever; and I could not get any thing that I wrote even looked at; so that every thing went into the “Repository” at last. I do not mean that any amount of literary connexion would necessarily have been of any service to me; for I do not believe that “patronage,” “introductions” and the like are of any avail, in a general way. I know this; — that I have always been anxious to extend to young or struggling authors the sort of aid which would have been so precious to me in that winter of 1829 - 1830, and that, in above twenty years, I have never succeeded but once. I obtained the publication of “The Two Old Men’s Tales,” — the first of Mrs. Marsh’s novels: but, from the time of my own success to this hour, every other attempt, of the scores I have made, to get a hearing for young or new aspirants has failed. My own heart was often very near sinking, — as were my bodily forces; and with reason. During the daylight hours of that winter, I was poring over fine fancy-work, by which alone I earned any money; and after tea, I went upstairs to my room, for my day’s literary labour. The quantity I wrote, at prodigious expenditure of nerve, surprises me now, — after my long breaking-in to hard work. Every night that winter, I believe, I was writing till two, or even three in the morning, — obeying always the rule of the house, — of being present at the breakfast table as the clock struck eight. Many a time I was in such a state of nervous exhaustion and distress that I was obliged to walk to and fro in the room before I could put on paper the last line of a page, or the last half sentence of an essay or review. Yet was I very happy. The deep-felt sense of progress and expansion was delightful; and so was the exertion of all my faculties; and, not least, that of will to overcome my obstructions, and force my way to that power of public speech of which I believed myself more or less worthy. The worst apprehension I felt, — far worse than that of disappointment, mortification and poverty, — was from the intense action of my mind. Such excitement as I was then sustaining and enjoying could not always last; and I dreaded the reaction, or the effects of its mere cessation. I was beginning, however, to learn that the future, — our intellectual and moral future, — had better be left to take care of itself, as long as the present is made the best use of; and I found, in due course, that each period of the mind’s training has its own excitements, and that the less its condition is quacked, or made the subject of anticipation at all, the better for the mind’s health. But my habit of anxiety was not yet broken. It was scarcely weakened. I have since found that persons who knew me only then, do not recognize me or my portraits now, — or at any time within the last twenty years. The frown of those old days, the rigid face, the sulky mouth, the forbidding countenance, which looked as if it had never had a smile upon it, told a melancholy story which came to an end long ago: but it was so far from its end then that it amazes me now to think what liberality and forbearance were requisite in the treatment of me by Mr. Fox and the friends I met at his house, and how capable they were of that liberality. My Sabbatarian strictness, and my prejudices on a hundred subjects must have been absurd and disagreeable enough to them: but their gentleness, respect and courtesy were such as I now remember with gratitude and pleasure. They saw that I was outgrowing my shell, and they had patience with me till I had rent it and cast it off; and if they were not equally ready with their sympathy when I had found freedom, but disposed to turn from me, in proportion as I was able to take care of myself, to do the same office for other incipient or struggling beings, this does not lessen my sense of obligation to them for the help and support they gave me in my season of intellectual and moral need.
My griefs deepened towards the close of that London visit. While failing in all my attempts to get my articles even looked at, proposals were made to me to remain in town, and undertake proof-correcting and other literary drudgery, on a salary which would, with my frugal habits, have supported me, while leaving time for literary effort on my own account. I rejoiced unspeakably in this opening, and wrote home in high satisfaction at the offer which would enable my young sister, — then only eighteen, — to remain at home, pursuing her studies in companionship with a beloved cousin of nearly her own age, and gaining something like maturity and self-reliance before going out into the cold dark sphere of governessing. But, to my disappointment, — I might almost say, horror, — my mother sent me peremptory orders to go home, and to fill the place which my poor young sister was to vacate. I rather wonder that, being seven and twenty years old, I did not assert my independence, and refuse to return, — so clear as was, in my eyes, the injustice of remanding me to a position of helplessness and dependence, when a career of action and independence was opening before me. If I had known what my young sister was thinking and feeling, I believe I should have taken my own way, for her sake: but I did not know all: the instinct and habit of old obedience prevailed, and I went home, with some resentment, but far more grief and desolation in my heart. My mother afterwards looked back with surprise upon the peremptoriness with which she had assumed the direction of my affairs; and she told me, (what I had suspected before) that my well-meaning hostess, who knew nothing of literature, and was always perplexing me with questions as to “how much I should get” by each night’s work, had advised my return home, to pursue, — not literature but needlework, by which, she wrote, I had proved that I could earn money, and in which career I should always have the encouragement and support of herself and her family. (Nothing could be more gracious than the acknowledgment of their mistake volunteered by this family at a subsequent time.) My mother was wont to be guided by them, whenever they offered their counsel; and this time it cost me very dear. I went down to Norwich, without prospect, — without any apparent chance of independence; but as fully resolved against being dependent as at any time before or after.
My mother received me very tenderly. She had no other idea at the moment than that she had been doing her best for my good; and I, for my part, could not trust myself to utter a word of what was swelling in my heart. I arrived worn and weary with a night journey; and my mother was so uneasy at my looks that she made me lie down on her bed after breakfast, and, as I could not sleep, came and sat by me for a talk. — My news was that the Central Unitarian Association had advertized for prize Essays, by which Unitarianism was to be presented to the notice of Catholics, Jews, and Mohammedans. The Catholic one was to be adjudicated on at the end of September (1830) and the other two in the following March. Three sub-committees were appointed for the examination of the manuscripts sent in, and for decision on them: and these sub-committees were composed of different members, to bar all suspicion of partiality. The essays were to be superscribed with a motto; and the motto was to be repeated on a sealed envelope, containing the writer’s name, which was not to be looked at till the prize was awarded; and then only in the case of the successful candidate. The prizes were, ten guineas for the Catholic, fifteen for the Jewish, and twenty for the Mohammedan essay. I told my mother, as she sat by the bedside, of this gleam of a prospect for me; and she replied that she thought it might be as well to try for one prize. My reply was “If I try at all, it shall be for all.” The money reward was trifling, even in the eyes of one so poor and prospectless as I was; but I felt an earnest desire to ascertain whether I could write, as Mr. Fox and other personal friends said I could. I saw that it was a capital opportunity for a fair trial of my competency in comparison with others; and I believe it was no small consideration to me that I should thus, at all events, tide over many months before I need admit despair. My mother thought this rather desperate work; but she gave me her sympathy and encouragement during the whole period of suspense, — as did the dear old aunt who lived with us. No one else was to know; and my secret was perfectly kept. The day after my return, I began to collect my materials; and before the week was done, I had drawn out the scheme of my Essay, and had begun it. It was done within a month; and then it had to be copied, lest any member of the sub-committee should know my hand. I discovered a poor school-boy who wrote a good hand; and I paid him a sovereign which I could ill spare for his work. The parcel was sent in a circuitous way to the office in London: and then, while waiting in suspense, I wrote the Tale called “Five Years of Youth,” which I have never looked at since, and have certainly no inclination to read. Messrs. Darton and Harvey gave me twenty pounds for this; and most welcome was such a sum at that time. It set me forward through the toil of the Mohammedan Essay, which I began in October, I think. The “Monthly Repository” for October contained a notification that the sub-committee sitting on the first of the three occasions had adjudged the prize for the Catholic Essay to me; and the money was presently forwarded. That announcement arrived on a Sunday morning; and again I had a charming walk over Mousehold, as in the year before, among the heather and the bright tormentilla.
Next day, I went to the Public Library, and brought home Sale’s Koran. A friend whom I met said “What do you bore yourself with that book for? You will never get through it.” He little guessed what I meant to get out of it, and out of Sale’s preliminary Essay. It occurred to me that the apologue form would suit the subject best; and I ventured upon it, though fearing that such daring might be fatal. One of the sub-committee, an eminent scholar, told me afterwards that it was this which mainly influenced his suffrage in my favour. In five weeks, the work was done: but my tribulation about its preparation lasted much longer; for the careless young usher who undertook the copying was not only idle but saucy; and it was doubtful to the last day whether the parcel could be in London by the first of March. Some severe threatening availed however; and that and the Jewish Essay, sent round by different hands (the hands of strangers to the whole scheme) done up in different shapes, and in different kinds of paper, and sealed with different wax and seals, were deposited at the office on the last day of February. The Jewish Essay was beautifully copied by a poor woman who wrote a clerk-like hand. The titles of the three Essays were —
“The Essential Faith of the Universal Church” (to Catholics).
“The Faith as Unfolded by Many Prophets” (to Mohammedans).
“The Faith as Manifested through Israel” (to Jews).
The last of these was grounded on Lessing’s “Hundred Thoughts on the Education of the Human Race,” which had taken my fancy amazingly, in the course of my German studies, — fancy then being the faculty most concerned in my religious views. Though my mind was already largely prepared for this piece of work by study, and by having treated the theory in the “Monthly Repository,” and though I enjoyed the task in a certain sense, it became very onerous before it was done. I was by that time nearly as thin as possible; and I dreamed of the destruction of Jerusalem, and saw the burning of the Temple, almost every night. I might well be exhausted by that great and portentous first of March; for the year had been one of tremendous labour. I think it was in that year that a prize was offered by some Unitarian authority or other for any Essay on Baptism, for which I competed, but came in only third. If that was the year, my work stood thus: — my literary work, I mean; for, in that season of poverty, I made and mended every thing I wore, — knitting stockings while reading aloud to my mother and aunt, and never sitting idle a minute. I may add that I made considerable progress in the study of German that year. My writings within the twelve months were as follows: —
“Traditions of Palestine” (except the first tale).
“Five Years of Youth.”
Seven tracts for Houlston.
Essay on Baptism.
Three Theological Essays for prizes, and
Fifty-two articles for the Monthly Repository.
By this time my mother was becoming aware of the necessity of my being a good deal in London, if I was to have any chance in the field of literature; and she consented to spare me for three months in the spring of every year. An arrangement was made for my boarding at the house of a cousin for three months from the first of March; and up I went, little dreaming what would be happening, and how life would be opening before me, by that day twelvemonths. One of my objects in the first instance was improving myself in German. An admirable master brought me forward very rapidly, on extremely low terms, in consideration of my helping him with his English prefaces to some of his works. After a few weeks of hard work, writing and studying, I accepted an invitation to spend a few days with some old friends in Kent. There I refreshed myself among pretty scenery, fresh air, and pleasant drives with hospitable friends, and with the study of Faust at night, till a certain day, early in May, which was to prove very eventful to me. I returned on the outside of the coach, and got down, with my heavy bag, at my German master’s door, where I took a lesson. It was very hot; and I dragged myself and my bag home, in great fatigue, and very hungry. Dinner was ordered up again by my hostess, and I sat an hour, eating my dinner, resting and talking. Then I was leaving the room, bonnet in hand, when a daughter of my hostess seemed to recollect something, and called after me to say, “O, I forgot! I suppose” (she was a very slow and hesitating speaker) — “I suppose . . . . . . you know . . . . . . you know about . . . . . . those prizes . . . . . . those prize essays, you know.”
“No . . . . . . not I! What do you mean?”
“O! well, we thought . . . . . . . . . we thought you knew . . . . . .”
“Well, — but what?”
“O! you have . . . . . . . . . why, . . . you have got all the prizes.”
“Why J! why did you not tell me so before?”
“O! I thought . . . . . . I thought you might know.”
“How should I, — just up from the country? But what do you know?”
“Why, only . . . . . . . . . only the Secretary of the Unitarian Association has been here, — with a message, — with the news from the Committee.” — It was even so.
The next day was the Unitarian May Meeting; and I had come up from Kent to attend it. I was shocked to hear, after the morning service, that, in reading the Report in the evening, the whole story of the Essays must be told, with the announcement of the result. I had reckoned for weeks on that meeting, at which Rammohun Roy was to be present, and where the speaking was expected to be particularly interesting; and I neither liked to stay away nor to encounter the telling of my story. Mr. and Mrs. Fox promised to put me into a quiet pew if I would go as soon as the gates were opened. I did so; but the Secretary came, among others, to be introduced, and to congratulate; and I knew when the dreaded moment was coming, amidst his reading of the Report, by a glance which he sent in my direction, to see if his wife, who sat next me, was keeping up my attention. I thought the story of all the measures and all the precautions taken by the various Committees the longest I had ever sat under, and the silence with which it was listened to the very deadest. I heard little indeed but the beating of my own heart. Then came the catastrophe, and the clapping and the “Hear! Hear!” I knew that many of my family connexions must be present, who would be surprised and gratified. But there was one person more than I expected. I slipped out before the meeting was over, and in the vestibule was met by my young sister with open arms, and with an offer to go home with me for the night. She was in the midst of an uncomfortable brief experiment of governessing, a few miles from town, and had been kindly indulged with a permission to go to this meeting, too late to let me know. She had arrived late, and got into the gallery; and before she had been seated many minutes, heard my news, so strangely told! She went home with me; and, after we had written my mother the account of the day, we talked away nearly all the rest of that May night. — It was truly a great event to me, — the greatest since my brother’s reception of my first attempt in print. I had now found that I could write, and I might rationally believe that authorship was my legitimate career.
Of course, I had no conception at that time of the thorough weakness and falseness of the views I had been conveying with so much pains and so much complacency. This last act in connexion with the Unitarian body was a bonâ fide one; but all was prepared for that which ensued, — a withdrawal from the body through those regions of metaphysical fog in which most deserters from Unitarianism abide for the rest of their time. The Catholic essay was ignorant and metaphysical, if my recollection of it is at all correct; and the other two mere fancy pieces: and I can only say that if either Mohammedans or Jews have ever been converted by them, such converts can hardly be rational enough to be worth having. I had now plunged fairly into the spirit of my time, — that of self-analysis, pathetic self-pity, typical interpretation of objective matters, and scheme-making, in the name of God and Man. That such was the stage then reached by my mind, in its struggles upward and onward, there is outstanding proof in that series of papers called “Sabbath Musings” which may be found in the “Monthly Repository” of 1831. There are the papers: and I hereby declare that I considered them my best production, and expected they would outlive every thing else I had written or should write. I was, in truth, satisfied that they were very fine writing, and believed it for long after, — little aware that the time could ever come when I should write them down, as I do now, to be morbid, fantastical, and therefore unphilosophical and untrue. I cannot wonder that it did not occur to the Unitarians (as far as they thought of me at all) that I was really not of them, at the time that I had picked up their gauntlet, and assumed their championship. If it did not occur to me, no wonder it did not to them. But the clearsighted among them might and should have seen, by the evidence of those essays themselves, that I was one of those merely nominal Christians who refuse whatever they see to be impossible, absurd or immoral in the scheme or the records of Christianity, and pick out and appropriate what they like, or interpolate it with views, desires and imaginations of their own. I had already ceased to be an Unitarian in the technical sense. I was now one in the dreamy way of metaphysical accommodation, and on the ground of dissent from every other form of Christianity: the time was approaching when, if I called myself so at all, it was only in the free-thinking sense. Then came a few years during which I remonstrated with Unitarians in vain against being claimed by them, which I considered even more injurious to them than to me. They were unwilling, as they said, and as I saw, to recognize the complete severance of the theological bond between us: and I was careful to assert, in every practicable way, that it was no doing of mine if they were taunted by the orthodox with their sectarian fellowship with the writer of “Eastern Life.” At length, I hope and believe my old co-religionists understand and admit that I disclaim their theology in toto, and that by no twisting of language or darkening of its meanings can I be made out to have any thing whatever in common with them about religious matters. I perceive that they do not at all understand my views or the grounds of them, or the road to them: but they will not deny that I understand theirs, — chosen expositor as I was of them in the year 1831; and they must take my word for it that there is nothing in common between their theology and my philosophy. Our stand-point is different; and all our views and estimates are different accordingly. Of course, I consider my stand-point the truer one; and my views and estimates the higher, wider, and more accurate, as I shall have occasion to show. I consider myself the best qualified of the two parties to judge of the relative value of the views of either, because I have the experience of both, while I see that they have no comprehension of mine: but the point on which we may and ought to agree is that my severance from their faith was complete and necessarily final when I wrote “Eastern Life,” though many of them could not be brought to admit it, nor some (whom I asked) to assert it at the time. While I saw that many Unitarians resented as a slander the popular imputation that their sect is “a harbourage for infidels,” I did not choose that they should have that said of them in my case: and it is clear that if they were unwilling to exchange a disownment with me, they could have no right to quarrel with that imputation in future.
[* ]Edinburgh Review. Vol. lvii., pp. 6 and 7.