Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION IV. - Harriet Martineau's Autobiography, vol. 1
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SECTION IV. - 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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My mother and I spent two months among my brothers and sisters before returning home, to settle for the winter. I was aware that I must presently make up my mind about a book or no book on America: but I had no idea how soon my decision would be called for. As I have mentioned, I declined the offer made before I left home to obtain an advance of £500 from a publisher, who would be glad thus to secure the book. Mr. Murray also sent me a message through a mutual friend, intimating his wish to publish my travels on my return. In America such applications were frequent: and on all occasions my reply was the same; that I did not know, nor should till I got home, whether I should write on the subject at all. One personal application made to me in New York at once amused and shocked me. I had not then, and I have not to this day, got over the wonder and disgust caused by the tone in which so serious and unworldly a vocation as that of authorship is spoken of; and, of all the broad instances of such coarseness that I have met with, this New York application affords the very grossest. Mr. Harper, the head of the redoubtable piratical publishing house in New York, said to me in his own shop, “Come, now! tell me what you will take for your book.” — “What book?” — “O! you know you will write a book about this country. Let me advise you.” — “But I don’t know that I shall write one.” — “O! but I can tell you how easily you may do it. So far as you have gone, you must have picked up a few incidents. Well! then you might Trollopize a bit, and so make a readable book. I would give you something handsome for it. Come! what will you take?”
Even people who know nothing of books in a mercantile view seem to have as little conception of the true aim and temper of authorship as the book-merchants themselves, who talk of a book as an “article,” — as the mercer talks of a shawl or a dress. A good, unselfish, affectionate woman, whom I really love, showed me one day how she loves me still as in the old times when I was not yet an author, by evidencing her total lack of sympathy in my thoughts and feelings about my work. I am to her the Harriet of our youth, — the authorship being nothing more between us than something which has made her happy for me, because it has made me happy. I like this, — the being loved as the old Harriet: but, still, I was startled one day by her congratulating me on my success in obtaining fame. I had worked hard for it, and she was so glad I had got it! I do not like disclaiming, or in any way dwelling on this sort of subject; but it was impossible to let this pass. I told her I had never worked for fame. “Well then, — for money.” She was so glad I was so successful, and could get such sums for my books. This, again, could not be let pass. I assured her I had never written, or omitted to write, any thing whatever from pecuniary considerations. “Well, then,” said she, “for usefulness. I am determined to be right. You write to do good to your fellow-creatures. You must allow that I am right now.” I was silent; and when she found that I could allow no such thing, she was puzzled. Her alternatives were exhausted. I told her that I wrote because I could not help it. There was something that I wanted to say, and I said it: that was all. The fame and the money and the usefulness might or might not follow. It was not by my endeavour if they did.
On landing at Liverpool, I found various letters from publishers awaiting me. One was from Mr. Bentley, reminding me of his having met me at Miss Berry’s, and expressing his hope of having my manuscript immediately in his hands. My reply was that I had no manuscript. Another letter was from Messrs. Saunders and Otley to my mother, saying that they desired the pleasure of publishing my travels. I was disposed to treat with them, because the negotiation for the “Two Old Men’s Tales” had been an agreeable one. I therefore explained to these gentlemen the precise state of the case, and at length agreed to an interview when I should return to town. My mother and I reached home before London began to fill; and I took some pains to remain unseen for two or three weeks, while arranging my books, and my dress and my other affairs. One November morning, however, my return was announced in the “Morning Chronicle;” and such a day as that I never passed, and hoped at the time never to pass again.
First, Mr. Bentley bustled down, and obtained entrance to my study before any body else. Mr. Colburn came next, and had to wait. He bided his time in the drawing-room. In a few minutes arrived Mr. Saunders, and was shown into my mother’s parlour. These gentlemen were all notoriously on the worst terms with each other; and the fear was that they should meet and quarrel on the stairs. Some friends who happened to call at the time were beyond measure amused.
Mr. Bentley began business. Looking hard into the fire, he “made no doubt” I remembered the promise I had made him at Miss Berry’s house. I had no recollection of having promised any thing to Mr. Bentley. He told me it was impossible I should forget having assured him that if any body published for me, except Fox, it should be himself. I laughed at the idea of such an engagement. Mr. Bentley declared it might be his silliness; but he should go to his grave persuaded that I had made him such a promise. It might be his silliness, he repeated. I replied that indeed it was; as I had a perfect recollection that no book of mine was in question at all, but the Series, which he had talked of putting among his Standard Novels. He now offered the most extravagant terms for a book on America, and threw in, as a bribe, an offer of a thousand pounds for the first novel I should write. Though my refusals were as positive as I could make them, I had great difficulty in getting rid of him: and I doubt whether I was so rude to Mr. Harper himself as to the London speculator. — Mr. Colburn, meantime, sent in his letter of introduction, which was from the poet Campbell, with a message that he would shortly return. So Mr. Saunders entered next. I liked him, as before; and our conversation about the book became quite confidential. I explained to him fully my doubt as to the reception of the work, on the ground of its broad republican character. I told him plainly that I believed it would ruin me, because it would be the principle of the book to regard every thing American from the American point of view: and this method, though the only fair one, was so unlike the usual practice, and must lead to a judgment so unlike what English people were prepared for, that I should not be surprised by a total condemnation of my book and myself. I told him that, after this warning, he could retreat or negotiate, as he pleased: but that, being thus warned, he and not I must propose terms: and moreover, it must be understood that, our negotiation once concluded, I could listen to no remonstrance or objection, in regard to the contents of my book. Mr. Saunders replied that he had no difficulty in agreeing to these conditions, and that we might now proceed to business. When he had ascertained that the work would consist of three volumes, and what their probable size would be, the amusing part of the affair began. “Well, Ma’am,” said he, “what do you propose that we should give you for the copyright of the first edition?” “Why, you know,” said I, “I have written to you, from the beginning, that I would propose no terms. I am quite resolved against it.” — “Well, Ma’am; supposing the edition to consist of three thousand copies, will you just give me an idea what you would expect for it?” — “No, Mr. Saunders: that is your business. I wait to hear your terms.”
So I sat strenuously looking into the fire, — Mr. Saunders no less strenuously looking at me, till it was all I could do to keep my countenance. He waited for me to speak; but I would not; and I wondered where the matter would end, when he at last opened his lips. “What would you think, Ma’am, of £900 for the first edition?” — “Including the twenty-five copies I stipulated for?” — “Including twenty-five copies of the work, and all proceeds of the sale in America, over and above expenses.” I thought these liberal terms; and I said so; but I suggested that each party should take a day or two for consideration, to leave no room for repentance hereafter. I inquired whether Messrs. Saunders and Otley had any objection to my naming their house as the one I was negotiating with, as I disliked the appearance of entertaining the proffers of various houses, which yet I could not get rid of without a distinct answer to give. Apparently amused at the question, Mr. Saunders replied that it would be gratifying to them to be so named.
On the stairs, Mr. Saunders met Mr. Colburn, who chose to be confident that Campbell’s introduction would secure to him all he wished. The interview was remarkably disagreeable, from his refusing to be refused, and pretending to believe that what I wanted was more and more money. At last, on my giving him a broad hint to go away, he said that, having no intention of giving up his object, he should spend the day at a coffee-house in the neighbourhood, whence he should shortly send in terms for my consideration. He now only implored a promise that I would not finally pass my word that day. The moment he was gone, I slipped out into the Park to refresh my mind and body; for I was heated and wearied with the conferences of the morning. On my return, I found that Mr. Colburn had called again: and while we were at dinner, he sent in a letter, containing his fresh terms. They were so absurdly high that if I had had any confidence in the soundness of the negotiation before, it would now be overthrown. Mr. Colburn offered £2,000 for the present work, on the supposition of the sale of I forget what number, and £1,000 for the first novel I should write. The worst of it was, he left word that he should call again at ten o’clock in the evening. When we were at tea, Mr. Bentley sent in a set of amended proposals; and at ten, Mr. Colburn arrived. He set forth his whole array of “advantages,” and declared himself positive that no house in London could have offered higher terms than his. I reminded him that I had been telling him all day that my objections did not relate to the amount of money; and that I was going to accept much less: that it was impossible that my work should yield what he had offered, and leave anything over for himself; and that I therefore felt that these proposals were intended to bind me to his house, — an obligation which I did not choose to incur. He pathetically complained of having raised up rivals to himself in the assistants whom he had trained, and concluded with an affected air of resignation which was highly amusing. Hanging his head on one side, and sighing, he enunciated the sentiment: “When, in pursuing any praiseworthy object, we have done all we can, and find it in vain, we can but be resigned.” With great satisfaction I saw him lighted down stairs, and heard the house-door locked, at near midnight, on the last of the booksellers for that day. From that time forward, Mr. Colburn was seen, on the appearance of any of my works, to declare himself “singularly unfortunate” in having been always too late. He professed to have the best reason to know that if he had been a day or so earlier in his application, he would have been my publisher. This was in each case a delusion. I never, for a moment, encouraged any such expectation; and when, in course of time, Mr. Colburn’s piracies of Sparks’s Washington and other works were brought before the law courts, I was glad to have avoided all connection with the house. — The only reasons for dwelling on the matter at all are that, in the first place, it is desirable to put on record exactly what did happen on an occasion which was a good deal talked about; and next, because it may be well to show how the degradation of literature comes about, in times when speculating publishers try to make grasping authors, and to convert the serious function of authorship into a gambling match. The way in which authors allowed themselves to be put up to auction, and publishers squabbled at the sale was a real and perpetual grief to me to witness. It reminded me but too often of the stand and the gesticulating man with the hammer, and the crowding competitors whom I had seen jostling each other in the slave-markets of the United States. I went to bed that night with a disgusted and offended feeling of having been offered bribes, all day long, with a confidence which was not a little insulting.
My transactions with Messrs. Saunders and Otley were always very satisfactory. I did not receive a penny from the sale of my American books in the United States, though my American friends exerted themselves to protect the work from being pirated: but the disappointment was the fault of my publishers’ agent; and they were as sorry for it as I was. Soon after the appearance of “Society in America,” Mr. Saunders called on me to propose a second work, which should have more the character of travel, and be of a lighter quality to both writer and reader. I had plenty of material; and, though I should have liked some rest, this was no sufficient reason for refusing. The publishers offered me £600 for this, in addition to the attendant advantages allowed with the former work. — Even through these liberal and honourable publishers, however, I became acquainted with one of the tricks of the trade which surprised me a good deal. After telling me the day of publication, and announcing that my twenty-five copies would be ready, Mr. Saunders inquired when I should like to come to their back parlour, “and write the notes.” — “What notes?” — “The notes for the Reviews, you know, Ma’am.” He was surprised at being obliged to explain that authors write notes to friends and acquaintances connected with periodicals, “to request favourable notices of the work.” I did not know how to credit this; and Mr. Saunders was amazed that I had never heard of it. “I assure you, Ma’am, — — does it; and all our authors do it.” On my emphatically declining, he replied “As you please, Ma’am: but it is the universal practice, I believe.” I have always been related to the Reviews exactly like the ordinary public. I have never inquired who had reviewed me, or known who was going to do so, except by public rumour. I do not very highly respect reviews, nor like to write them; for the simple reason that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the author understands his subject better than the reviewer. It can hardly be otherwise while the author treats one subject, to his study of which his book itself is a strong testimony; whereas the reviewer is expected to pass from topic to topic, to any extent, pronouncing, out of his brief survey, on the results of deep and protracted study. Of all the many reviews of my books on America and Egypt, there was not, as far as I know, one which did not betray ignorance of the respective countries. And, on the other hand, there is no book, except the very few which have appeared on my own particular subjects, that I could venture to pronounce on; as, in every other case, I feel myself compelled to approach a book as a learner, and not as a judge. This is the same thing as saying that reviewing, in the wholesale way in which it is done in our time, is a radically vicious practice; and such is indeed my opinion. I am glad to see scientific men, and men of erudition, and true connoisseurs in art, examining what has been done in their respective departments: and every body is glad of good essays, whether they appear in books called Reviews or elsewhere. But of the reviews of our day, properly so called, the vast majority must be worthless, because the reviewer knows less than the author of the matter in hand.
In choosing the ground of my work, “Society in America,” — (which should have been called, but for the objection of my publishers, “Theory and Practice of Society in America,”) I desired fairness in the first place: and I believe it was most fair to take my stand on the American point of view, — judging American society, in its spirit and methods, by the American tests, — the Declaration of Independence, and the constitutions based upon its principles. It had become a practice so completely established to treat of America in a mode of comparison with Europe, that I had little hope of being at first understood by more than a few. The Americans themselves had been so accustomed to be held up in contrast with Europeans by travellers that they could not get rid of the prepossession, even while reading my book. What praise there was excited vanity, as if such a thing had never been heard of before: and any censure was supposed to be sufficiently answered by evidence that the same evils existed in England. I anticipated this; and that consternation would be excited by some of my republican and other principles. Some of this consternation, and much of the censure followed, with a good deal that I had not conceived of. All this was of little consequence, in comparison with the comfort of having done some good, however little, in both countries. The fundamental fault of the book did not become apparent to me for some time after; — its metaphysical framework, and the abstract treatment of what must necessarily be a concrete subject. The fault is not exclusively mine. It rests with the American theory which I had taken for my standpoint: but it was the weakness of an immature mind to choose that method of treatment; just as it was the act of immature politicians to make after the same method the first American constitution, — the one which would not work, and which gave place to the present arrangement. Again, I was infected to a certain degree with the American method of dissertation or preaching; and I was also full of Carlylism, like the friends I had left in the western world. So that my book, while most carefully true in its facts, had a strong leaning towards the American fashion of theorising; and it was far more useful on the other side of the Atlantic than on this. The order of people here who answer to the existing state of the Americans took the book to heart very earnestly, if I may judge by the letters from strangers which flowed in upon me, even for years after its publication. The applications made to me for guidance and counsel, — applications which even put into my hand the disposal of a whole life, in various instances, — arose, not from agreement in political opinion, nor from discontent with things at home; but from my hearty conviction that social affairs are the personal duty of every individual, and from my freedom in saying what I thought. The stories that I could tell, from letters which exist among my papers, or from those which I thought it right to burn at once, would move the coldest, and rouse the laziest. Those which touched me most related to the oppressions which women in England suffer from the law and custom of the country. Some offered evidence of intolerable oppression, if I could point out how it might be used. Others offered money, effort, courage in enduring obloquy, every thing, if I could show them how to obtain, and lead them in obtaining, arrangements by which they could be free in spirit, and in outward liberty to make what they could of life. I feel strongly tempted to give here two or three narratives: but it would not be right. The applicants and their friends may be living; and I might be betraying confidence, though nearly twenty years have elapsed. Suffice it that though I now disapprove the American form and style of the book, not the less standing by my choice of the American point of view, I have never regretted its boldness of speech. I felt a relief in having opened my mind which I would at no time have exchanged for any gain of reputation or fortune. The time had come when, having experienced what might be called the extremes of obscurity and difficulty first, and influence and success afterwards, I could pronounce that there was nothing for which it was worth sacrificing freedom of thought and speech. I enjoyed in addition the consolidation of invaluable friendships in America, and the acquisition of new ones at home. Altogether, I am well pleased that I wrote the book, though I now see how much better it might have been done if I had not been at the metaphysical period of my life when I had to treat of the most metaphysical constitution and people in the world.
Some of the wisest of my friends at home, — and especially, I remember Sydney Smith and Carlyle, — gently offered their criticism on my more abstract American book in the pleasant form of praise of the more concrete one. The “Retrospect of Western Travel” was very successful, — as indeed the other was, though not, I believe, to the extent of the publishers’ expectations. Sydney Smith showed but too surely, not long after, in his dealings with American Repudiation, that he did not trouble himself with any study of the Constitution of the United States; for he crowded almost as many mistakes as possible into his procedure, — supposing Congress to be answerable for the doings of Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania to have repudiated her debts; which she never did. Readers who thus read for amusement, and skip the politics, liked my second book best: and so did those who, like Carlyle, wisely desire us to see what we can, and tell what we see, without spinning out of ourselves systems and final causes, and all manner of notions which, as self-derived, are no part of our business or proper material in giving an account of an existing nation. Carlyle wrote me that he had rather read of Webster’s cavernous eyes and arm under his coat-tail, than all the political speculation that a cut-and-dried system could suggest. I find before me a memorandum that Lord Holland sent me by General Fox a motto for the chapter on Washington. How it came about, I do not exactly remember; but I am sure my readers, as well as I, were obliged to Lord Holland for as exquisite an appropriation of an exquisite eulogy as was ever proposed. The lines are the Duke of Buckingham’s on Lord Fairfax.
It was in September of that year (1837) that I began to keep a Diary. My reason was that I saw so many wise people, and heard so much valuable conversation, that my memory would not serve me to retain what I was sorry to lose. I continued the practice for about five years, when I found it becoming, not only burdensome, but, (as I was ill and living in solitude,) pernicious. I find, by the first portion of my Diary, that I finished the “Retrospect of Western Travel” on the first of December, 1837, having written a good many other things during the autumn, of which I now remember nothing. It was in August of that year that the Editor of the Westminster Review (then the property of Mr. J. S. Mill) called on me, and asked me to write a review of Miss Sedgwick’s works. I did so for the October number, and I believe I supplied about half-a-dozen articles in the course of the next two years, — the best known of which is “The Martyr Age of the United States,” — a sketch of the history of Abolitionism in the United States, up to that time. I find mentioned in my Diary of articles for the “Penny Magazine,” before and after the one already referred to, — the “Month at Sea:” and I remember that I earned Mr. Knight’s “Gallery of Portraits,” and some other valuable books in that pleasant way. The most puzzling thing to me is to find repeated references to a set of Essays called “The Christian Seer,” with some speculation on their quality, while I can recal nothing whatever about them, — their object, their subject, their mode of publication, or any thing else. I can only hope that others have forgotten them as completely as I have; for they could not have been worth much, if I have never heard or thought of them since. They seem to have cost me some pains and care; and they were probably not the better for that. — The entry in my Diary on the completion of the “Retrospect” brings back some very deep feelings. “I care little about this book of mine. I have not done it carelessly. I believe it is true: but it will fill no place in my mind and life; and I am glad it is done. Shall I despise myself hereafter for my expectations from my novel?”
Great were my expectations from my novel, for this reason chiefly; that for many years now my writing had been almost entirely about fact: facts of society and of individuals: and the constraint of the effort to be always correct, and to bear without solicitude the questioning of my correctness, had become burdensome. I felt myself in danger of losing nerve, and dreading criticism on the one hand, and of growing rigid and narrow about accuracy on the other. I longed inexpressibly for the liberty of fiction, while occasionally doubting whether I had the power to use that freedom as I could have done ten years before. The intimate friend, on whose literary counsel, as I have said, I reposed so thankfully, and at whose country-house I found such sweet refreshment every autumn, was the confidante of my aspirations about a novel; and many a talk she and I had that autumn about the novel I was to write in the course of the next year. She never flattered me; and her own relish of fiction made her all the more careful not to mislead me as to my chances of success in a new walk of literature. But her deliberate expectation was that I should succeed; and her expectation was grounded, like my own, on the fact that my heart and mind were deeply stirred on one or two moral subjects on which I wanted the relief of speech, or which could be as well expressed in fiction as in any other way, — and perhaps with more freedom and earnestness than under any other form. After finishing my American subjects, I was to take a holiday, — to spend whole days without putting pen to paper; and then I was to do my best with my novel.
Such was the scheme: and so it went on up to the finishing of the year’s engagements, and the first day of holiday, when I found reason to suspect that I had been under too long a strain of work and of anxiety. During that summer, I failed somewhat in strength, and, to my own surprise, in spirits. I told no person of this, except the friend and hostess just referred to. Within two years we found that I had already begun to sink under domestic anxieties, and the toil which was my only practicable refuge from them. The illness which prostrated me in 1839 was making itself felt, — though not recognised, — in 1837. I was dimly aware of overstrained strength, on the first experiment of holiday, when something happened which threw me into great perturbation. Nothing disturbs me so much as to have to make a choice between nearly equal alternatives; and it was a very serious choice that I had to make now. A member of an eminent publishing firm called on me on the eleventh of December, to propose that his house should set up a periodical which was certainly much wanted, — an Economical Magazine, — of which I was to have the sole charge. The salary offered was one which would have made me entirely easy about income: the subject was one which I need not fear to undertake: the work was wanted: and considerations like these were not strongly balanced by the facts that I felt tired and longed for rest, or by the prospect of the confinement which the editorship would impose. The vacillation of my mind was for some days very painful. I find, two days later, this entry. “In the morning, I am pro, and at night, and in the night, con the scheme. I wonder how it will end. I see such an opening in it for things that I want to say! and I seem to be the person to undertake such a thing. I can toil — I am persevering, and in the habit of keeping my troubles to myself. If suffering be the worst on the con side, let it come. It will be a fine discipline of taste, temper, thought and spirits. But I don’t expect — and — will accede to my last stipulations. If not, there ’s an end. If they do, I think I shall make the plunge.” Two days later: — “After tea, sat down before the fire with pencil and paper, to make out a list of subjects, contributors and books, for my periodical. Presently came a letter from — and —, which I knew must nearly decide my fate in regard to the project. I distinctly felt that it could not hurt me, either way, as the pros and cons seem so nearly balanced that I should be rather thankful to have the matter decided for me. — and — grant all that I have asked; and it looks much as if we were to proceed. So I went on with my pondering till past ten, by which time I had got a sheetful of subjects.” I certainly dreaded the enterprise more than I desired it. “It is an awful choice before me! Such facilities for usefulness and activity of knowledge; such certain toil and bondage; such risk of failure and descent from my position! The realities of life press upon me now. If I do this, I must brace myself up to do and suffer like a man. No more waywardness, precipitation, and reliance on allowance from others! Undertaking a man’s duty, I must brave a man’s fate. I must be prudent, independent, serene, good-humoured; earnest with cheerfulness. The possibility is open before me of showing what a periodical with a perfect temper may be: — also, of setting women forward at once into the rank of men of business. But the hazards are great. I wonder how it will end.” I had consulted two or three intimate friends, when I wrote these entries: and had written to my brother James for his opinion. The friends at hand were all in favour of my undertaking the enterprise. If the one remaining opinion had been in agreement with theirs, I should have followed the unanimous advice: but on the nineteenth, I find, “James is altogether against the periodical plan.” I wrote my final refusal on that day; and again I was at liberty to ponder my novel.
My doctrine about plots in fiction has been given at sufficient length. It follows of course that I looked into real life for mine. I attached myself strongly to one which it cost me much to surrender. It is a story from real life which Miss Sedgwick has offered in her piece called “Old Maids,” in her volume of “Tales and Sketches,” not likely to be known in England: — a story of two sisters, ten years apart in age, the younger of whom loves and finally marries the betrothed of the elder. Miss Sedgwick told me the real story, with some circumstances of the deepest interest which she, for good reasons, suppressed, but which I might have used. If I had wrought out this story, I should of course have acknowledged its source. But I deferred it, — and it is well I did. Mrs. S. Carter Hall relates it as the story of two Irish sisters, and impresses the anecdote by a striking woodcut, in her “Ireland:” and Mrs. Browning has it again, in her beautiful “Bertha in the Lane.”
I was completely carried away by the article on St. Domingo in the Quarterly Review, (vol. xxi.) which I lighted upon, one day at this time, while looking for the noted article on the Grecian Philosophy in the same volume. I pursued the study of Toussaint L’Ouverture’s character in the Biographie Universelle; and, though it is badly done, and made a mere patch-work of irreconcilable views of him, the real man shone out into my mind, through all mists and shadows. I went to my confidante, with a sheetful of notes, and a heartful of longings to draw that glorious character, — with its singular mixture of negro temperament, heathen morality, and as much of Christianity as agreed with the two. But my friend could not see the subject as I did. She honestly stood by her objections, and I felt that I could not proceed against the counsel of my only adviser. I gave it up: but a few years after, when ill at Tynemouth, I reverted to my scheme and fulfilled it: and my kind adviser, while never liking the subject in an artistic sense, graciously told me that the book had kept her up, over her dressing-room fire, till three in the morning. There was a police report, during that winter, — very brief, — only one short paragraph, — which moved me profoundly, and which I was sure I could work out into a novel of the deepest interest. My fear was that that one paragraph would affect other readers as it did me, and be remembered, so that the catastrophe of my tale would be known from the beginning: so we deferred that plot, meaning that I should really work upon it one day. The reason why I never did is that, as I have grown older, I have seen more and more the importance of dwelling on things honest, lovely, hopeful and bright, rather than on the darker and fouler passions and most mournful weaknesses of human nature. Therefore it was that I reverted to Toussaint, rather than to the moral victim who was the hero of the police-court story.
What then was to be done? We came back, after every divergence, to the single fact (as I then believed it) that a friend of our family, whom I had not seen very often, but whom I had revered from my youth up, had been cruelly driven, by a matchmaking lady, to propose to the sister of the woman he loved, — on private information that the elder had lost her heart to him, and that he had shown her attention enough to warrant it. The marriage was not a very happy one, good as were the persons concerned, in their various ways. I altered the circumstances as much as I could, and drew the character, not of our English but of an American friend, whose domestic position is altogether different: and lo! it came to my knowledge, years afterwards, that the story of our friend’s mischance was not at all true. I was rejoiced to hear it. Not only was I relieved from the fear of hurting a good man’s feelings, if he should ever read “Deerbrook:” but “Deerbrook” was a fiction, after all, in its groundwork.
The process was an anxious one. I could not at all tell whether I was equal to my enterprise. I found in it a relief to many pent-up sufferings, feelings, and convictions: and I can truly say that it was uttered from the heart. But my friend seemed nearly as doubtful of success as I was. She feared to mislead me; and she honestly and kindly said less than she felt in its favour. From the time when one day I saw a bright little tear fall on her embroidery, I was nearly at ease; but that was in the last volume. I have often doubted whether I could have worked through that fearful period of domestic trouble, with heart and hope enough to finish a book of a new kind, but for a singular source of refreshment, — a picture. Mr. Vincent Thompson and his lady took me to the private view of the pictures at the British Institution; and I persisted in admiring a landscape in North Wales by Baker, to which I returned again and again, to feast on the gush of sunlight between two mountains, and the settling of the shadows upon the woods at their base. Mr. Thompson at length returned too, and finally told me that it was a good picture. Several weeks afterwards, I heard an unusual lumbering mode of coming upstairs; and Mr. Thompson was shown in, bearing the picture, and saying that as I should certainly be getting pictures together some time or other, Mrs. Thompson had sent me this to begin with. I sat opposite that landscape while writing “Deerbrook;” and many a dark passage did its sunshine light me through. Now that I live among mountains, that landscape is as beautiful as ever in my eyes: but nowhere could it be such a benefaction as in my little study in Fludyer Street, where dingy red walls rose up almost within reach, and idle clerks of the Foreign Office lolled out of dusty windows, to stare down upon their opposite neighbours.
I was not uneasy about getting my novel published. On May-day, 1838, six weeks before I put pen to paper, I received a note from a friend who announced what appeared to me a remarkable fact; — that Mr. Murray, though he had never listened to an application to publish a novel since Scott’s, was willing to enter into a negotiation for mine. I was not aware then how strong was the hold on the public mind which “the silver-fork school” had gained; and I discovered it by Mr. Murray’s refusal at last to publish “Deerbrook.” He was more than civil; — he was kind, and, I believe, sincere in his regrets. The execution was not the ground of refusal. It was, as I had afterwards reason to know, the scene being laid in middle life. I do not know whether it is true that Mr. Lockhart advised Mr. Murray to decline it; but Mr. Lockhart’s clique gave out on the eve of publication that the hero was an apothecary. People liked high life in novels, and low life, and ancient life; and life of any rank presented by Dickens, in his peculiar artistic light, which is very unlike the broad daylight of actual existence, English or other: but it was not supposed that they would bear a presentment of the familiar life of every day. It was a mistake to suppose so; and Mr. Murray finally regretted his decision. Mr. Moxon, to whom, by Mr. Rogers’s advice, I offered it, had reason to rejoice in it. “Deerbrook” had a larger circulation than novels usually obtain; two large editions having been long exhausted, and the work being still in constant demand. — I was rather amused at the turn that criticism took among people of the same class as my personages, — the class which I chose because it was my own, and the one that I understood best. It was droll to hear the daughters of dissenting ministers and manufacturers expressing disgust that the heroine came from Birmingham, and that the hero was a surgeon. Youths and maidens in those days looked for lords and ladies in every page of a new novel. — My own judgment of “Deerbrook” was for some years more favourable than it is now. The work was faithful in principle and sentiment to the then state of my mind; and that satisfied me for a time. I should now require more of myself, if I were to attempt a novel, — (which I should not do, if I were sure of living another quarter of a century.) I should require more simplicity, and a far more objective character, — not of delineation but of scheme. The laborious portions of meditation, obtruded at intervals, are wholly objectionable in my eyes. Neither morally nor artistically can they be justified. I know the book to have been true to the state of thought and feeling I was then in, which I now regard as imperfect and very far from lofty: — I believe it to have been useful, not only in overcoming a prejudice against the use of middle-class life in fiction, but in a more special application to the discipline of temper; and therefore I am glad I wrote it: but I do not think it would be fair to judge me from it, any later than the time in which it was written.
When Mr. Murray perceived that the book had a decided though gradual success, he sent a mutual friend to me with a remarkable message, absolutely secret at the time, but no longer needing to be so. He said that he could help me to a boundless fortune, and a mighty future fame, if I would adopt his advice. He advised me to write a novel in profound secrecy, and under appearances which would prevent suspicion of the authorship from being directed towards me. He desired to publish this novel in monthly numbers; and was willing to pledge his reputation for experience on our obtaining a circulation as large as had ever been known. It would give him high satisfaction, he declared, to see my writings on thousands of tables from which my name would exclude every thing I published under it: and he should enjoy being the means of my obtaining such fortune, and such an ultimate fame as I might confidently reckon on, if I would accept his offer. I refused it at once. I could not undertake to introduce a protracted mystery into my life which would destroy its openness and freedom. This was one reason: but there was a far more serious one; — more important because it was not personal. I could not conscientiously adopt any method so unprincipled in an artistic sense as piecemeal publication. Whatever other merits it may have, a work of fiction cannot possibly be good in an artistic sense which can be cut up into portions of an arbitrary length. The success of the portions requires that each should have some sort of effective close; and to provide a certain number of these at regular intervals, is like breaking up the broad lights and shadows of a great picture, and spoiling it as a composition. I might never do any thing to advance or sustain literary art; but I would do nothing to corrupt it, by adopting a false principle of composition. The more license was afforded by the popular taste of the time, the more careful should authors be to adhere to sound principle in their art. Mr. Murray and our friend evidently thought me very foolish; but I am as sure now as I was then that, my aim not being money or fame, I was right.
While pondering my novel, I wrote (as I see by my diary) various small pieces, stories, and didactic articles, for special purposes, — religious or benevolent, American and English: and in April and May I cleared my mind and hands of a long-standing engagement. The Chapter which I mentioned having written at sea, on “How to observe Morals and Manners,” was, by the desire of the proposer and of Mr. Knight, to be expanded into a volume; and this piece of tough work, which required a good deal of reading and thinking, I accomplished this spring. The earlier numbers of the “Guide to Service,” beginning with “The Maid of All Work,” were written in the same spring. In the first days of June, I wrote an article on “Domestic Service in England” for the Westminster Review: and then, after a few days with my friends the Fs. on one of our Box Hill expeditions, I was ready and eager to sit down to the first chapter of my first novel on my birthday, — June 12th, 1838. By the end of August, I had finished the first volume, and written “The Lady’s Maid,” for the “Service” series. As I then travelled, it was November before I could return to “Deerbrook.” I finished it on the first of the next February; and it was published before Easter.
The political interests of this period were strong. The old King was manifestly infirm and feeble when I last saw him, in the spring of 1837. I was taking a drive with Lady S—, when her carriage drew up to the roadside and stopped, because the King and Queen were coming. He touched his hat as he leaned back, looking small and aged. I could not but feel something more than the ordinary interest in the young girl who was so near the throne. At a concert at the Hanover Square Rooms, some time before (I forget what year it was) the Duchess of Kent sent Sir John Conroy to me with a message of acknowledgment of the usefulness of my books to the Princess: and I afterwards heard more particulars of the eagerness with which the little lady read the stories on the first day of the month. A friend of mine who was at Kensington Palace one evening when my Political Economy series was coming to an end, told me how the Princess came, running and skipping, to show her mother the advertisement of the “Illustrations of Taxation,” and to get leave to order them. Her “favourite” of my stories is “Ella of Garveloch.” — It was at breakfast that we heard of the King’s death. In the course of the morning, while I was out, a friend came to invite my old ladies to go with him to a place near, where they could at their ease see the Queen presented to the people. They went into the park, and stood in front of the window at St. James’s Palace, where, (among other places) the sovereigns are proclaimed and presented. Scarcely half-a-dozen people were there; for very few were aware of the custom. There stood the young creature, in the simplest mourning, with her sleek bands of brown hair as plain as her dress. The tears ran fast down her cheeks, as Lord Melbourne stood by her side, and she was presented to my mother and aunt and the other half-dozen as their sovereign. — I have never gone out of my way to see great people; but the Queen went abroad abundantly, and I saw her very often. I saw her go to dissolve Parliament; and on the 9th of November, to the Guildhall banquet; and several times from Mr. Macready’s box at the theatre. It so happened that I never saw her when she was not laughing and talking, and moving about. At a tragedy, and going to a banquet and to dissolve her predecessor’s parliament, it was just the same. It was not pleasant to see her, when Macready’s “Lear” was fixing all other hearts and eyes, chattering to the Lord Chamberlain, and laughing, with her shoulder turned to the stage. I was indignant, like a good many other people: but, in the fourth act, I saw her attention fixed; and then she laughed no more. She was interested like the rest of the audience; and, in one way, more than others. Probably she was the only person present to whom the play was entirely new. I heard from one who knew her and the incidents of that evening too well to be mistaken, that the story was absolutely new to her, inasmuch as she was not previously aware that King Lear had any daughters. In remarkable contrast with her was one of the gentlemen in attendance upon her, — the Lord Albemarle of that day. He forgot every thing but the play, — by degrees leaned forward between the Queen and the stage, and wept till his limp handkerchief would hold no more tears.
Those were the days when there was least pleasure to the loyal in seeing their Queen. At her accession, I was agreeably surprised at her appearance. The upper part of her face was really pretty, and there was an ingenuous and serene air which seemed full of promise. At the end of a year, the change was melancholy. The expression of her face was wholly altered. It had become bold and discontented. That was, it is now supposed, the least happy part of her life. Released from the salutary restraints of youth, flattered and pampered by the elated Whigs who kept her to themselves, misled by Lord Melbourne, and not yet having found her home, she was not like the same girl that she was before, nor the same woman that she has been since. Her mother had gone off the scene, and her husband had not come on; and in the lonely and homeless interval there was much cause for sorrow to herself and others. The Whigs about her made a great boast of the obligations she was under to Lord Melbourne: but the rest of the world perceives that all her serious mistakes were made while she was in Lord Melbourne’s hands, and that all went well after she was once fairly under the guidance of Sir Robert Peel, and happy in a virtuous home of her own.
I was at her Coronation: and great is the wonder with which I have looked back to the enterprise ever since. I had not the slightest desire to go, but every inclination to stay at home: but it was the only coronation likely to happen in my lifetime, and it was a clear duty to witness it. I was quite aware that it was an occasion (I believe the only one) on which a lady could be alone in public, without impropriety or inconvenience: and I knew of several daughters of peeresses who were going singly to different parts of the Abbey, their tickets being for different places in the building. Tickets were offered me for the two brothers who were then in London; but they were for the nave; and I had the luck of one for the transept-gallery. The streets had hedges of police from our little street to the gates of the Abbey; and none were allowed to pass but the bearers of tickets; so nothing could be safer. I was aware of all this, and had breakfasted, and was at our hall-door in time, when one of my brothers, who would not believe it, would not let me go for another half-hour, while he breakfasted. As I anticipated, the police turned him back, and I missed the front row where I might have heard and seen every thing. Ten minutes sooner, I might have succeeded in witnessing what would never happen again in my time. It was a bitter disappointment; but I bent all my strength to see what I could from the back row. Hearing was out of the question, except the loudest of the music. — The maids called me at half-past two that June morning, — mistaking the clock. I slept no more, and rose at half-past three. As I began to dress, the twenty-one guns were fired which must have awakened all the sleepers in London. When the maid came to dress me, she said numbers of ladies were already hurrying to the Abbey. I saw the grey old Abbey from my window as I dressed, and thought what would have gone forward within it before the sun set upon it. My mother had laid out her pearl ornaments for me. The feeling was very strange of dressing in crape, blonde and pearls at four in the morning. Owing to the delay I have referred to, the Poets’ Corner entrance was half full when I took my place there. I was glad to see the Somervilles just before me, though we presently parted at the foot of the staircase. On reaching the gallery, I found that a back seat was so far better than a middle one that I should have a pillar to lean against, and a nice corner for my shawl and bag of sandwiches. Two lady-like girls, prettily dressed, sat beside me, and were glad of the use of my copy of the service and programme. The sight of the rapid filling of the Abbey was enough to go for. The stone architecture contrasted finely with the gay colours of the multitude. From my high seat I commanded the whole north transept, the area with the throne, and many portions of galleries, and the balconies which were called the vaultings. Except a mere sprinkling of oddities, every body was in full dress. In the whole assemblage, I counted six bonnets. The scarlet of the military officers mixed in well; and the groups of the clergy were dignified; but to an unaccustomed eye the prevalence of court-dresses had a curious effect. I was perpetually taking whole groups of gentlemen for quakers till I recollected myself. The Earl Marshal’s assistants, called Gold Sticks, looked well from above, lightly flitting about in white breeches, silk stockings, blue laced frocks, and white sashes. The throne, an arm-chair with a round back, covered, as was its footstool, with cloth of gold, stood on an elevation of four steps, in the centre of the area. The first peeress took her seat in the north transept opposite at a quarter before seven: and three of the bishops came next. From that time, the peers and their ladies arrived faster and faster. Each peeress was conducted by two Gold Sticks, one of whom handed her to her seat, and the other bore and arranged her train on her lap, and saw that her coronet, footstool and book were comfortably placed. I never saw any where so remarkable a contrast between youth and age as in those noble ladies. None of the decent differences of dress which, according to middle-class custom, pertain to contrasting periods of life seem to be admissible on these grand court occasions. Old hags, with their dyed or false hair drawn to the top of the head, to allow the putting on of the coronet, had their necks and arms bare and glittering with diamonds: and those necks and arms were so brown and wrinkled as to make one sick; or dusted over with white powder which was worse than what it disguised. I saw something of this from my seat in the transept gallery, but much more when the ceremonial was over, and the peeresses were passing to their carriages, or waiting for them. The younger were as lovely as the aged were haggard. One beautiful creature, with a transcendent complexion and form, and coils upon coils of light hair, was terribly embarrassed about her coronet. She had apparently forgotten that her hair must be disposed with a view to it: and the large braids at the back would in no way permit the coronet to keep on. She and her neighbour tugged vehemently at her braids; and at last the thing was done after a manner, but so as to spoil the wonderful effect of the simultaneous self-coroneting of all the peeresses. — About nine, the first gleams of the sun slanted into the Abbey, and presently travelled down to the peeresses. I had never before seen the full effect of diamonds. As the light travelled, each peeress shone like a rainbow. The brightness, vastness, and dreamy magnificence of the scene produced a strange effect of exhaustion and sleepiness. About nine o’clock, I felt this so disagreeably that I determined to withdraw my senses from the scene, in order to reserve my strength (which was not great at that time) for the ceremonial to come. I had carried a book; and I read and ate a sandwich, leaning against my friendly pillar, till I felt refreshed.
The guns told when the Queen had set forth; and there was renewed animation. The gold sticks flitted about; there was tuning in the orchestra; and the foreign ambassadors and their suites arrived in quick succession. Prince Esterhazy, crossing a bar of sunshine, was the most prodigious rainbow of all. He was covered with diamonds and pearls; and as he dangled his hat, it cast a dancing radiance all round. While he was thus glittering and gleaming, people were saying, I know not how truly, that he had to redeem those jewels from pawn, as usual, for the occasion. — At half-past eleven, the guns told that the Queen had arrived: but, as there was much to be done in the robing-room, there was a long pause before she appeared. A burst from the orchestra marked her appearance at the doors, and the anthem “I was glad” rang through the abbey. Every body rose: and the holders of the first and second rows of our gallery stood up so high that I saw nothing of the entrance, nor of the Recognition, except the Archbishop of Canterbury reading at one of the angles of the platform. The “God save the Queen” of the organ swelled gloriously forth after the recognition. The services which followed were seen by a very small proportion of those present. The acclamation when the crown was put on her head was very animating: and in the midst of it, in an instant of time, the peeresses were all coroneted: — all but the fair creature already described. In order to see the enthroning, I stood on the rail behind our seats, holding by another rail. I was in nobody’s way; and I could not resist the temptation, though every moment expecting that the rail would break. Her small dark crown looked pretty, and her mantle of cloth of gold very regal. She herself looked so small as to appear puny. The homage was as pretty a sight as any; trains of peers touching her crown, and then kissing her hand. It was in the midst of that process that poor Lord Rolle’s disaster sent a shock through the whole assemblage. It turned me very sick. The large, infirm old man was held up by two peers, and had nearly reached the royal footstool when he slipped through the hands of his supporters, and rolled over and over down the steps, lying at the bottom, coiled up in his robes. He was instantly lifted up; and he tried again and again, amidst shouts of admiration of his valour. The Queen at length spoke to Lord Melbourne, who stood at her shoulder, and he bowed approval; on which she rose, leaned forward, and held out her hand to the old man, dispensing with his touching the crown. He was not hurt, and his self-quizzing on his misadventure was as brave as his behaviour at the time. A foreigner in London gravely reported to his own countrymen, what he entirely believed on the word of a wag, that the Lords Rolle held their title on the condition of performing the feat at every coronation.
The departure of a large proportion of the assemblage when the Communion-service began afforded me a good opportunity for joining some friends who, like myself, preferred staying to see more of the Queen in the Abbey, to running away for the procession. I then obtained a good study of the peers, and of the Queen and her train-bearers when she returned to the throne. The enormous purple and crimson trains, borne by her ladies, dressed all alike, made the Queen look smaller than ever. I watched her out at the doors, and then became aware how fearfully fatigued I was. I never remember any thing like it. While waiting in the passages and between the barriers, several ladies sat or lay down on the ground. I did not like to sink down in dust half a foot deep, to the spoiling of my dress and the loss of my self-respect; but it was really a terrible waiting till my brothers appeared at the end of the barrier. The crowd had rendered our return impossible till then; and even then, we had to make a circuit. I satisfied my thirst, and went to sleep; and woke up to tea, and to keep house with my mother, while every body else went out to see the illuminations. I did not; but was glad to go to bed at midnight, and sleep eight hours at a stretch, for once.
It was a wonderful day; and one which I am glad to have witnessed: but it had not the effect on me which I was surprised to observe in others. It strengthened, instead of relaxing my sense of the unreal character of monarchy in England. The contrast between the traditional ascription of power to the sovereign and the actual fact was too strong to be overpowered by pageantry, music, and the blasphemous religious services of the day. After all was said and sung, the sovereign remained a nominal ruler, who could not govern by her own mind and will; who had influence, but no political power; a throne and crown, but with the knowledge of every body that the virtue had gone out of them. The festival was a highly barbaric one, to my eyes. The theological part especially was worthy only of the old Pharaonic times in Egypt, and those of the Kings in Palestine. Really, it was only by old musical and devotional association that the services could go down with people of any reverence at all. There was such a mixing up of the Queen and the God, such homage to both, and adulation so like in kind and degree that, when one came to think of it, it made one’s blood run cold to consider that this was commended to all that assemblage as religion. God was represented as merely the King of kings and Lord of lords; — the lowest of the low views in which the Unknown is regarded or described. There is, I believe, no public religious service which is not offensive to thoughtful and reverent persons, from its ascription of human faculties, affections, qualities and actions to the assumed First Cause of the universe: but the Jewish or heathen ascription to him of military and aristocratic rank, and regal prerogative, side by side with the same ascription to the Queen, was the most coarse and irreverent celebration that I was ever a witness to. The performance of the Messiah, so beautiful and touching as a work of art, or as the sincere homage of superstition, is saddening and full of shame when regarded as worship. The promises — all broken; the exultation — all falsified by the event; the prophecies — all discredited by the experience of eighteen centuries, and the boasts of prevalence, rung out gloriously when Christianity is dying out among the foremost peoples of the earth; — all these, so beautiful as art or history, are very painful when regarded as religion. As an apotheosis of Osiris, under his ancient name, or his more modern image of Christ, the Messiah of Handel is the finest treat in the whole range of art: but it is too low for religion. Yet more striking was the Coronation service to me, in the same light. Splendid and moving as addressed to a Jehovah, on the coronation of a Solomon, it was offensive as offered to the God of the nineteenth century in the western world. — I have refreshed my memory about the incidents of that twenty-eighth of June, 1838, from my Diary. The part which least needs refreshing is this last. I remember remarking to my mother on the impiety of the service, when a copy of it was kindly sent to me the evening before; and I told her when the celebration was over, that this part of it had turned out even worse than I expected; and that I could not imagine how so many people could hear it as a matter of course.
One of the strongest interests of the year 1838 was Lord Durham’s going out as Governor-General of the North American colonies. I have given my account of that matter in my History of the Peace, and I will not enlarge on it now. I was concerned when I heard of his acceptance of the post, because the difficulties appeared all but insuperable at best; and I knew too much of Lord Brougham’s jealousy and Lord Melbourne’s laxity to hope that he would be duly supported from home, or even left unmolested. He said himself that he felt “inexpressible reluctance” to undertake the charge: but his confiding temper misled him into trusting his political comrades, — Lord Melbourne and his Ministry — for “cordial and energetic support,” and his political opponents, — Lord Brougham and those who pulled his wires, — for “generous forbearance.” In talking over the matter one day with our mutual friend, Lady Charlotte Lindsay, I did not conceal my regret and apprehension. She called one day, soon after, to tell me honestly that she had told Lord Durham, the night before, that I was not sanguine about his success. He questioned her anxiously as to my exact meaning; and she referred him to me. I had no wish to disturb him, now that it was too late, with my bad opinion of those in whose hands he was placing his fate: and I did not do so. I answered all his questions about Canada and the United States as well as I could. Charles and Arthur Buller obtained introductions and information from me; and Charles spent many hours by my fireside, diligently discussing business, and giving me the strongest impression of his heart being deep in his work. His poor mother, who worshipped him, came one day, just before they sailed, nervous and flushed, and half laughing, telling me what a fright she had had: — that she had been assured that the Hastings man-of-war, in which her sons were to attend Lord Durham, would certainly sink from the weight of the Governor-General’s plate. This was a specimen of the vulgar jokes of the Brougham clique: and it produced an effect on others than poor Mrs. Buller. Lord Chandos founded a motion on it, — objecting to the expense to the country! — the Governor-General going out unsalaried, to save a group of colonies to the empire, in an hour of extreme danger!
The intolerable treatment he met with shocked me as much as if I had anticipated any thing better: and his own magnanimous conduct on his return moved me as deeply as if I had not known him to be capable of it. He was calm, cheerful, winning in his manners as ever, and quite willing to trust his friends for their friendship while himself desiring no demonstration of it which should overthrow the tottering Government, and embarrass the Queen for his sake. Lady Durham necessarily resigned her office about the Queen’s person: but no word or sign of reproach ever reached her royal mistress for her fatal fickleness in first writing an autograph letter of the warmest thankfulness for his ordinances, and then disallowing those same ordinances, and permitting every kind of insult to be offered to the devoted statesman who had sacrificed his comfort and ease in her service, and was about to yield his life under the torture which she allowed to be inflicted on him. To the last moment, her old friends, who might have expected something very different from her sense of early obligation, maintained that she meant well, but was misguided. When I last saw Lord Durham it was in his own house in Cleveland Row, when a note was brought in from the Colonial Office, the contents of which he communicated to me: — that he could not have any copies of his own Report without paying four shillings and threepence apiece for them. He had gone unsalaried, had spent £ 10,000 out of his private property, and had produced a Report of unequalled value, at an unparalleled sacrifice; and he was now insulted in this petty way. He smilingly promised me a four-and-threepenny Report notwithstanding. — His successor, Lord Sydenham (who had not yet got his patent) was diligently studying Canadian affairs every day, with Lord Durham and the Bullers, in order to carry out their scheme. We had a world of talk about the Western Continent that night: but I never much liked Poulett Thomson. He had great qualities, — a very remarkable industry, and personal fortitude, long and thoroughly tested: but he was luxurious, affectedly indolent in manner, and with a curious stamp of meanness on both person and manners. I never saw him again, either. He was on the eve of departure for his government, whence he never returned. If I remember right, that was the day of Lord Normanby’s appointment to the Colonial Office. He complained, half in earnest, of the hardship of never getting a foreign tour, like other people, — passing as he had done from Jamaica to Ireland, and now having all the colonies on his hands. I entirely agreed with him as to the weight of the charge: whereupon he asked me what I should have done first, if I had been in his place that day. My answer was that I should have gone immediately to the globe, to see where the forty-three colonies were that I was to govern. He laughed; but I thought it a serious matter enough that any Minister should be burdened with a work which it was so impossible that he should do properly. Well! — that night I bade Lord and Lady Durham farewell, little imagining that I should never more see either of them. I knew he was more delicate in health even than usual; and that he was exerting himself much to keep up till the Ministry or the session should close. “Till Easter” politicians said the Ministry might last; and this was a pretty good hit, as the Bedchamber Question came on just after Easter. Before that time I was abroad; and I was brought home on a couch, and carried through London at once to Newcastle-on-Tyne, where I staid some months at my brother-in-law’s. Repeated invitations to Lambton Castle came to me there; but I was too ill to leave the house. In the course of the next spring, Lord Durham was ordered to the south of Europe; but he got no further than Cowes, where he died in July, — the vitality of his heart and animation of his mind flattering the hopes of his family to the last. Lady Durham took her young family to Italy, but died before they had reached their destination. For his death I was prepared: but the news of hers was a great shock. I was very ill then; and when the orphaned girls came to see me at Tynemouth, I behaved (it seemed to me) unpardonably. I could not stop my tears, in the presence of those who had so much more reason and so much more right to be inconsolable. But I always have felt, and I feel still, that that story is one of the most tragic I have ever known. In my early youth I had been accustomed to hear my revered eldest brother say that the best man in the House of Commons — the one who would turn out a hero and a statesman in the worst or the best of times, — was John George Lambton. I had watched his career through the worst of times till he came into power, and made the Reform Bill. I then became acquainted with him, and found in him a solid justification of the highest hopes; and now he was dead, in middle life, broken-hearted by injury, treachery and insult; and his devoted wife presently followed him.
Their eldest daughter was profoundly impressed by the serious responsibilities which rested on her as the head of the family during her brother’s boyhood; and she took me along with her in her efforts and her cares. It was she and I who originated the “Weekly Volume,” — our scheme being taken up and carried out by Mr. Charles Knight, in the way which is so well known. The singular satisfaction has been hers of seeing the redemption of Canada carried out by her husband from her father’s beginning. She has the best possible consolation for such a fate as that of her parents that their work has been gloriously achieved by one whom she has made their son.
On looking at my Diary, I am not at all surprised that it was considered desirable for me to take another journey in the autumn of 1838. I was sorry to leave “Deerbrook” at the end of the first volume: but there was every other reason why I should take the refreshment of a journey after two years of close work, and no other reason why I should not. Either the growing domestic anxiety or the ever-increasing calls of work and of society would have been enough for the strongest and gayest-hearted: and I had both kinds of burdens on me. I find in my Diary more and more self-exhortations and self-censures about the sufferings of that year 1838. I had by that time resolved on the wisdom which I try to this day to practice: — longing for quiet, and yet finding it impossible in the nature of things that my life should be any thing but a busy, public, and diversified one, — to keep a quiet mind. I did strive; and to a considerable extent I succeeded; but my nerves were, and had long been, overstrained; and my wisest friends continued to advise me to leave home more frequently than my inclination would have disposed me to do. My mother was well pleased to let me go on this occasion, as my rooms would be at her disposal for her hospitalities; and I therefore agreed to join a party of friends, to attend the meeting of the British Association at Newcastle first, and then proceed to the Lake District, which I had never seen, and into Scotland, visiting both Western and Northern Highlands. It is always pleasant, I find, to have some object in view, even in the direction of a journey of pleasure: and this was supplied to me by Mr. Knight’s request that I would explore the topography of Shakspere’s Scotch play now; and of the Italian plays when I went to the continent the next year. “Do this for me,” said Mr. Knight, “and I will give you ten copies of my Shakspere.” Two copies of the Shakspere satisfied me; for indeed the work was purely pleasurable. A few months after that time, my companions were walking Padua through and through with me, for the shrewish Katherine’s and delectable Portia’s sake; and looking for Juliet at Verona, and exploring the Jew quarter at Venice, and fixing on the very house whence Jessica eloped; and seeing at the arsenal what Othello meant by his business at the Sagittary. In like manner we now traced out the haunts of Macbeth, living and dead. When we were at Lord Murray’s, at Strachur, his brother gave us a letter of introduction which opened to us all the known recesses of Glammis Castle. We sat down and lingered on the Witches’ Heath, between Nairn and Forres, and examined Cawdor Castle. Best of all, we went to Iona, and saw Macbeth’s grave in the line of those of the Scottish kings. I have seen many wonders and beauties in many lands; but no one scene remains so deeply impressed on my very heart as that sacred Iona, as we saw it, with its Cathedral standing up against a bar of yellow western sky, while the myrtle-green tumbling sea seemed to show it to be unattainable. We had reached it however; and had examined its relics with speechless interest. I do not know whether any of the air of the localities hangs about those notes of mine in Mr. Knight’s Shakspere; but to me, the gathering up of knowledge and associations for them was almost as pleasant work as any I ever had to do.
We were tempted to go to Newcastle by sea, by a steamer having been engaged to convey a freight of savans. A curious company of passengers we were on board the Ocean: — sound scientific men; a literary humbug or two; a statistical pretender or two; and a few gentlemen, clerical or other. When we entered Shields Harbour, the whole company were on deck, to see Tynemouth Priory, and the other beauties of that coast; and the Shields people gathered on the quays to stare at the strange vessel. When they hailed, and asked who we were, the great men on the deck shouted in reply “savans,” “philosophers,” “nondescripts.”
That was the Meeting of the British Association at which, (Dr. Lardner being present) the report was industriously spread that the Great Western, — the first steamer to America on her first voyage, — “had been seen in the middle of the Atlantic, broken-backed, and in great distress.” The words sank heavily upon my heart; for I was acquainted with several persons on board; and it shed more or less gloom over the whole week. Many observed at the time that it was just the thing likely to be said by Dr. Lardner and his friends, considering his pledges of his scientific reputation on the impossibility of crossing the Atlantic by steam; and in this every body agreed: but the suspense was painful; and it outlasted the week; as it was intended to do. Dr. Lardner’s final disgraces had not yet taken place; but I saw how coldly he was noticed, when he was not entirely ignored: and when I curtseyed to him at the ball, I was warned by a friend not to notice him if I could avoid it. I was glad then that I had not entertained his proposal when, as editor of the Encyclopedia which goes under his name, he wrote to me, and called, and endeavoured to obtain my promise to write a volume for him. A cousin of mine, who is so little fond of the pen as to find letter-writing a grievance, was highly amused at receiving (I think while I was abroad) a flattering letter from Dr. Lardner, requesting a volume from her for his series. Not very long after that Newcastle meeting, he made his notorious flight to America; and I have heard nothing of him since.
What I saw of that meeting certainly convinced me of the justice, in the main, of Carlyle’s sarcasms on that kind of celebration. I have no doubt of the opportunity afforded for the promotion of science in various ways: but the occasion is really so sadly spoiled (or was in those days) by the obtrusions of coxcombs, the conceit of third-rate men with their specialities, the tiresome talk of one-idead men, who scruple no means of swelling out what they call the evidence of their doctrines, and the disagreeable footing of the ladies, that I internally vowed that I would never again go in the way of one of those anniversaries. I heard two or three valuable addresses; but, on the whole, the humbugs and small men carried all before them: and, I am sorry to say, Sir John Herschel himself so far succumbed to the spirit of the occasion as to congratulate his scientific brethren on the “crowning honour” among many, of the presence of the fair sex at their sections! That same fair sex, meantime, was there to sketch the savans, under cover of mantle, shawl or little parasol, or to pass the time by watching and quizzing the members. Scarcely any of the ladies sat still for half an hour. They wandered in and out, with their half-hidden sketch-books, seeking amusement as their grandmothers did at auctions. I was in truth much ashamed of the ladies; and I wished they had staid at home, preparing hospitalities for the tired savans, and showing themselves only at the evening promenade in the Green Market, and at the ball. The promenade was really a pretty sight, — not only from the beauty of the place and its decorations, but on account of the presence of the Quaker body, who, excluded from the other forms of social amusement, eagerly grasp at this one lawful exception. They made the very most of it; and I, for one, can testify to their capacity for staring at an anti-slavery confessor. My sister, who bore a family likeness to me, proposed to dress her hair like mine, borrow a trumpet from a deaf friend who was present, and walk up and down the opposite side, to draw off my “tail,” which was declared to be “three times as long as O’Connell’s.”
It was the accident of Professor Daubeney putting some American newspapers into my hand one day that week which occasioned the appearance of one of my most heart-felt writings. The Editor of the Westminster Review was impressed by what I showed and told him of the life and murder of Lovejoy, the first American witness unto death in the cause of liberty of speech; and he requested from me a vivid historical sketch of the cause, from the beginning to Lovejoy’s murder. This was the origin of “The Martyr Age of the United States” which has been elsewhere sufficiently referred to. It appeared in the Christmas number of the Westminster Review.
With joy we left the crowded scene which was such a mixture of soundness and pretence, wisdom and vanity, and matter for pride and shame, and betook ourselves to the Lake district. I had never seen it before, and had no distinct anticipation of seeing it again. What should I have felt, if I had been told that, after one more painful stage of my life, I should make my home in that divine region till death! It was on the 2nd of September that we drove through Ambleside, from Bowness to Grasmere, passing the field in which I am now abiding, — on which I am at this moment looking forth. I wonder whether my eye rested for a moment on the knoll whereon my house now stands. We returned through Ambleside to go to Patterdale; and a pencil entry in my diary calls up the remembrance of the soft sadness with which we caught “our last view of Windermere”; — that Windermere which was to become to me the most familiar of all waters.
While at Strachur, Lord Murray’s seat in Argyleshire, we found ourselves treated with singular hospitality. Lord Murray placed the little Loch Fyne steamer at our disposal. He and Lady Murray insisted on receiving our entire party; and every facility was afforded for all of us seeing every thing. Every Highland production, in the form of fish, flesh and fowl, was carefully collected; salmon and Loch herrings, grouse pies, and red-deer soup, and so forth. What I best remember, however, is a conversation with Lord Murray by the loch side. He invited me there for a walk; and he had two things to say. He wanted me to write some papers on prison management, for Chambers’s Journal, or some other popular periodical, for the purpose of familiarising the Scotch with the principle of punishment, and the attendant facts of American imprisonment. He lost his Prisons Bill in the preceding session, and wanted the support of Scotch public opinion before the next. This being settled, he wrote to Messrs. Chambers at Edinburgh; and I there saw one of the brothers for the first time. The papers were agreed upon, written and published. Mr. Robert Chambers I did not see till some few years later, when he called on me at Tynemouth, during my recovery by mesmerism, for the purpose of investigating the subject. Our acquaintance, then begun, has since ripened into friendship, both on his own account, and for the sake of his brother-in-law and sister, Mr. and Mrs. Wills, who, becoming known to me through my being a contributor to “Household Words,” have largely increased the pleasures of my latest years by their friendly offices of every kind, and their hearty affection. Edinburgh was quite a different place to me when I went for my third Scotch journey, in 1852, by Mr. Robert Chambers’s charming home being open to me; and London has a new familiar interest to me now that I have another home there at Mr. Wills’s.
To return to that walk with the Lord Advocate. He wished to know my opinion on a subject which was then more talked of than almost any other; — our probable relations with Russia. I hardly know now how the notion came to spread as it did that the Czar had a mind to annex us: but it was talked over in all drawing-rooms, and, as I now found, in the Cabinet. I had nothing to say, — so astonished was I to hear it thus gravely and expressly brought forward. I could only say that the idea of our ever submitting to Russia seemed too monstrous to be entertained. Lord Murray had no formed opinion to produce; but he offered, — “as a speculation, — just as a ground for speculation,” — the fact that for centuries no quarter of a century had passed without the incorporation of some country with Russia; some country which no doubt once regarded its absorption by Russia as the same unimaginable thing that our own appeared to us now. He said that if we commit two stone bottles to the stream, and one breaks the other, it is nearly an even chance whether it will break or be broken next time: but, when the same has broken a score, the chances are almost anything to nothing that it will break the twenty-first. Therefore he thought we might as well not be so entirely complacent and secure as we were, but think over such a liability with some little sobriety and sense. So there was a new and very horrible speculation for me to carry away with me: and highly curious it is to recur to now (August, 1855) when we find that Russia, after nearly twenty years’ more leisure for preparation, cannot meet us at sea, or win a battle on land. At least, after a year and a half of warfare, she has as yet done neither.
From Strachur, we pursued our way to the Western Islands: and, after being weather-bound in Mull, we accomplished the visit to Iona which I have referred to. We saw Staffa, and had the captain’s spontaneous promise to take us round by Garveloch, that I might see the homes of the personages about whom I had written so familiarly: but the weather was too rough; and I did not see the Garveloch Isles till a glorious sunny day in July, 1852.
It was October before we reached Edinburgh; and there my kind companions and I parted. Miss Rogers and a young friend were staying at Lord Jeffrey’s, where I met them; and Miss Rogers urged me to take a seat in her carriage as far as Newcastle, where I was to stop for a week or two. We saw Abbotsford and Dryburgh under great advantages of weather; but my surprise at the smallness and toy-character of Abbotsford was extreme. It was impossible but that both Scott and Lockhart must know what a good Scotch house is; and their glorification of this place shakes one’s faith in their other descriptions.
That journey of 1838 was beneficial to me to a certain extent; and it would have been more so, but for its close. I was called home from Newcastle under circumstances which made my long solitary mail journey a very heavy one, full of apprehension and pain. I was, though without being fully conscious of it, becoming too ill to bear the shocks of that unhappy year as I had borne all manner of shocks, all my life. The internal disease which was soon to prostrate me entirely had made considerable progress, though I had no more than a vague notion that there was something wrong. The refreshment from the journey was not lasting; but its pleasures were. One of the noticeable things about it was that it introduced me to Mrs. Crowe, whose acquaintance has since yielded me very great pleasure. And she, again, has been the main cause or occasion of my friendship with Dr. Samuel Brown and his wife, who have been intimates of my latest years, — too much so to permit more than such a notice as this. Another marked thing about that autumn trip was that it introduced me to that pleasant experience of middle age, — the consideration of the young. I had always been among the youngest at home in my childhood; and of late years had ministered, in the capacity of youngster, to my old ladies. Now, for the first time, I experienced the luxury of being tended as an elderly person. Though some years younger than the two heads of our travelling party, I was of their generation; and the four young people were most attentive in saving us elders fatigue, making tea, giving us the sofas and warm corners, and so on. From that time I have taken rank among the elders, and enjoyed the comfort of it.
The readers of my “Retrospect of Western Travel” may remember the story* of the slave child Ailsie, whose mistress died at New Orleans, leaving that beautiful little creature to be a most embarrassing charge to the widower. My description of this child, and of the interest felt in her fate by me and mine, reached the eye of the widower; and he wrote to entreat me to take charge of the girl, (by that time twelve years old.) He avowed his inability to protect her, and offered to send over a yearly allowance for her maintenance, if I would receive and adopt her. I declined the annual allowance, because my friend’s money was derived from slave-labour, and I would not touch it: but otherwise, I accepted his proposal, and did not see why he should not lodge in a bank, for her ultimate benefit, such money as he believed her to have earned. I intended first to train her as my little maid, and have her attend a school near, so that I might ascertain what she was most fit for. All this winter, we were in daily expectation of her arrival. Her little bed awaited her in my room; and we had arranged about having her vaccinated at once, and clothed like English children, instead of having her brilliant eyes and beautiful mulatto face surmounted by the yellow turban which became her so well. But Ailsie, for whose reception all arrangements were complete when I went to Scotland, did not appear all the winter; and I wrote again, very urgently, to her master. I had to make arrangements again when I went to the continent in April: but his final letter came at last. It was the letter of an almost broken-hearted man; and it almost broke our hearts to read it. He, Irish by birth, had never been more or less reconciled to “the peculiar institution.” Involved in it before he was of age, he had no power to extricate himself from it, — at least till he had paid off all the liabilities under which young planters enter life. His beloved young wife had received this child as a gift from her mother in Tennessee, — the child’s life being in danger on her native plantation, through the fierce jealousies which attend upon a system of concubinage. It never occurred to the widower that he could not freely dispose of his wife’s little slave: but his mother-in-law demanded the girl back again. In her ripening beauty she was too valuable to be given to me. For what purposes she was detained as of course, there is no need to describe. She was already lost and gone; and I have never heard of her since. Her voice often comes back upon my memory, and her vivid affectionate countenance, as she pulled at her mistress’s gown, and clasped her knees with the anxious question, — “Ain’t you well?” This one illustration of the villany of the system roused more indignation and sympathy in many hearts than a whole row of books of argument or description of Slave institutions in the abstract. I could not have done for Ailsie what I purposed, as my affairs turned out; but there were many of my friends who could, and who were anxious to assume the charge. But she was never to be heard of more.
The continental journey that I have referred to was undertaken chiefly for the sake of escorting an invalid cousin to Switzerland. As soon as “Deerbrook” was published, and my “Guides to Service” finished, the weather was fine enough to permit our departure. Two mutual friends joined us; and our party thus consisted of four ladies, a maid-servant and a courier. We crossed to Rotterdam on the 17th of April, went up the Rhine, and by the usual route to Lausanne, except that one of my companions slipped across the frontier with me, for the sake of seeing Toussaint L’Ouverture’s prison and grave. I was furnished with a copious and comprehensive passport for myself and maid, obtained by the Lord Advocate’s kindness from the Secretary of State, as the Austrian interdict against my entrance into the empire might otherwise be still an impediment. My friend offered to personate my maid just for the day which would take us from the frontier to the castle of Joux. We excited great wonder at the douane, of course, with our destitution of baggage, and our avowed intention of leaving France in the afternoon; but we accomplished our purpose, and it was virtually decided that “The Hour and the Man” should be written.
While I was walking up a hill in Germany, one of my companions had observed to another that I was, in her opinion, on the verge of some terrible illness. It was at Venice that the extent of my illness became unquestionable. My cousin had been deposited at her place of abode; and the rest of us had gone on to Venice, intending to take a look at her at Lausanne on our return. My illness, however, broke up all our plans. My kind nurses contrived a couch for me in the carriage; and on that I was brought home by the straightest road, — by the Via Emilia, and the St. Gothard, down the Rhine, where we were joined by one of my brothers and a brother-in-law. We took passage to London, from Antwerp: and I was soon on my mother’s couch in Fludyer Street. Not to remain, however. I was conveyed without delay to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, to be under the care of my brother-in-law; and from that neighbourhood I did not remove for nearly six years.
Here closed the anxious period during which my reputation, and my industry, and my social intercourses were at their height of prosperity; but which was so charged with troubles that when I lay down on my couch of pain in my Tynemouth lodging, for a confinement of nearly six years, I felt myself comparatively happy in my release from responsibility, anxiety and suspense. The worst sufferings of my life were over now; and its best enjoyments and privileges were to come, — though I little knew it, and they were as yet a good way off.
[* ]Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. II., page 146.