Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION I. - Harriet Martineau's Autobiography, vol. 1
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SECTION I. - 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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The little volume which I wrote during my illness, — “Life in the Sick-room,” — tells nearly as much as it can be interesting or profitable for any body to hear about this period of my life. The shorter I can make my narrative of it, the better on all accounts. Five years seem a long time to look forward; and five years of suffering, of mind or body, seem sadly like an eternity in passing through them: but they collapse almost into nothingness, as soon as they are left behind, and another condition is fairly entered on. From the monotony of sick-room life, little beyond the general impression remains to be imparted, or even recalled; and if it were otherwise, I should probably say little of that dreary term, because it is not good to dwell much on morbid conditions, for any other purpose than scientific study, for the sake of the prevention or cure of the suffering in other cases. I am aware that the religious world, proud of its Christian faith as the “Worship of Sorrow,” thinks it a duty and a privilege to dwell on the morbid conditions of human life; but my experience of wide extremes of health and sickness, of happiness and misery, leads me to a very different conclusion. For pathological purposes, there must be a study of morbid conditions; but that the study should be general, — that it should be enforced as a duty, and held up as a pleasure — seems to me one of those mistakes in morals which are aggravated and protracted by the mischievous influence of superstition. Tracts and religious books swarm among us, and are thrust into the hands of every body by every body else, which describe the sufferings of illness, and generate vanity and egotism about bodily pain and early death, — rendering these disgraces of our ignorance and barbarism attractive to the foolish and the vain, and actually shaming the wholesome, natural desire for “a sound mind in a sound body.” The Christian superstition, now at last giving way before science, of the contemptible nature of the body, and its antagonism to the soul, has shockingly perverted our morals, as well as injured the health of Christendom: and every book, tract, and narrative which sets forth a sick-room as a condition of honour, blessing and moral safety, helps to sustain a delusion and corruption which have already cost the world too dear. I know too much of all this from my own experience to choose to do any thing towards encouragement of the morbid appetite for pathological contemplation, — physical or moral. My youthful vanity took the direction which might be expected in the case of a pious child. I was patient in illness and pain because I was proud of the distinction, and of being taken into such special pupilage by God; and I hoped for, and expected early death till it was too late to die early. It is grievous to me now to think what an amount of time and thought I have wasted in thinking about dying, — really believing as I did for many years that life was a mere preparation for dying: and now, after a pretty long life, when I find myself really about to die, the event seems to me so simple, natural, and, as I may say, negative in comparison with life and its interests, that I cannot but marvel at the quantity of attention and solicitude I lavished upon it while it was yet so far off as to require no attention at all. To think no more of death than is necessary for the winding up of the business of life, and to dwell no more upon sickness than is necessary for its treatment, or to learn to prevent it, seems to me the simple wisdom of the case, — totally opposite as this is to the sentiment and method of the religious world.
On the other hand, I do not propose to nourish a foolish pride by disguising, through shame, the facts of sickness and suffering. Pain and untimely death are, no doubt, the tokens of our ignorance, and of our sins against the laws of nature. I conceive our business to be to accept these consequences of our ignorance and weakness, with as little personal shame on the one hand as vanity or pride on the other. As far as any sickness of mine can afford warning, I am willing to disclose it; and I have every desire to acknowledge my own fault or folly in regard to it, while wholly averse to treat it as a matter of sentiment, — even to the degree in which I did it, sincerely enough, in “Life in the Sick-room,” a dozen years ago. I propose, therefore, to be now as brief as I can, and at the same time, as frank, in speaking of the years between 1839 and 1845. — I have mentioned before, in regard to my deafness, that I have no doubt of its having been seriously aggravated by nervous excitement, at the age when I lived in reverie and vanities of the imagination; and that it was suddenly and severely increased by a sort of accident. That sort of accident was the result of ignorance in a person whom I need not point out: and thus it seems that my deafness is largely ascribable to disobedience to the laws of nature. And thus in regard to the disease which at this time was laying me low for so many years. It was unquestionably the result of excessive anxiety of mind, — of the extreme tension of nerves under which I had been living for some years, while the three anxious members of my family were, I may say, on my hands, — not in regard to money, but to care of a more important kind. My dear aunt, the sweetest of old ladies, was now extremely old, and required shielding from the anxiety caused by the other two. My mother was old, and fast becoming blind; and the irritability caused in her first by my position in society, and next by the wearing trial of her own increasing infirmity, told fearfully upon my already reduced health. My mother’s dignified patience in the direct endurance of her blindness was a really beautiful spectacle: but the natural irritability found vent in other directions; and especially was it visited upon me. Heaven knows, I never sought fame; and I would thankfully have given it all away in exchange for domestic peace and ease: but there it was! and I had to bear the consequences. I was overworked, fearfully, in addition to the pain of mind I had to bear. I was not allowed to have a maid, at my own expense, or even to employ a workwoman; and thus, many were the hours after midnight when I ought to have been asleep, when I was sitting up to mend my clothes. Far worse than this, my mother would not be taken care of. She was daily getting out into the crowded streets by herself, when she could not see a yard before her. What the distress from this was to me may be judged of by the fact that for many months after my retreat to Tynemouth, I rarely slept without starting from a dream that my mother had fallen from a precipice, or over the bannisters, or from a cathedral spire; and that it was my fault. These cares, to say nothing of the toils, had long been wearing me down, so that I became subject to attacks of faintness, on occasion of any domestic uneasiness; and two or three intimate friends, as well as some members of the family, urged my leaving home as frequently as possible, for my mother’s sake as well as my own, as my return was always a joyful occasion to her. My habits and likings made this moving about a very irksome thing to me; and especially when arrangements had to be made about my work, — from which I had never any holiday. I loved, as I still love, the most monotonous life possible: but I took refuge in change, as the only relief from a pressure of trouble which was breaking me down, — I was not aware how rapidly. An internal disease was gaining ground for months or years before I was aware of it. A tumour was forming of a kind which usually originates in mental suffering; and when at last I broke down completely, and settled myself in a lodging at Tynemouth, I long felt that the lying down, in solitude and silence, free from responsibility and domestic care, was a blessed change from the life I had led since my return from America. My dear old aunt soon died: my mother was established at Liverpool, in the neighbourhood of three of her children; and the other claimant of my anxious care emigrated. It is impossible to deny that the illness under which I lay suffering for five years was induced by flagrant violations of the laws of nature: and I then failed to appropriate the comforts with which Christians deprave their moral sense in such a case, as I also felt unable to blame myself individually for my incapacity. No doubt, if I had felt less respect and less affection for my mother, I might have taken the management of matters more into my own hands, and should have felt her discontent with me less than I did; and again, if I had already found the supports of philosophy on relinquishing the selfish complacencies of religion, I should have borne my troubles with strength and ease. But, as it was, I was neither proud or vain of my discipline on the one hand, nor ashamed of it on the other, while fully aware that it was the result of fault and imperfection, moral and intellectual.
On my return from Italy, ill, my sister and her husband hospitably urged my taking up my abode with them, at least till the nature and prospects of my case were ascertained. After spending a month at a lodging in their neighbourhood in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, I removed to their hospitable house, where I was taken all possible care of for six months. They most generously desired me to remain: but there were various reasons which determined me to decline their kindness. It would have been clearly wrong to occupy their guest chamber permanently, and to impose restraints upon a healthy household: and, for my own part, I had an unspeakable longing for stillness and solitude. I therefore decided for myself that I would go to a lodging at Tynemouth, where my medical brother-in-law could reach me by railway in twenty minutes, while I was removed from the bustle and smoke of Newcastle by an interval of nine miles. With an affectionate reluctance and grudging, my family let me try this as an experiment, — all of them being fully convinced that I could not long bear the solitude and monotony, after the life of excitement and constant variety to which I had been accustomed for above seven years. I was right, however, and they were wrong. On the sofa where I stretched myself after my drive to Tynemouth, on the sixteenth of March, 1840, I lay for nearly five years, till obedience to a newly-discovered law of nature raised me up, and sent me forth into the world again, for another ten years of strenuous work, and almost undisturbed peace and enjoyment of mind and heart.
I had two rooms on the first floor in this house of my honest hostess, Mrs. Halliday, who little imagined, that March day, that the luck was happening to her of a lodger who would stay, summer and winter, for nearly five years. I had no servant with me at first; for I was not only suddenly cut off from my literary engagements, and almost from the power of work, but I had invested £1,000 of my earnings in a deferred annuity, two years before; — a step which seemed prudent at the time, and which I still consider to have been so; but which deprived me of immediate resources. It was not long before two generous ladies, (sisters) old friends of mine, sent me, to my amazement, a bank-note for £100, saying that my illness had probably interfered with certain plans which they knew I entertained. The generosity was of a kind which it was impossible to refuse, because it extended through me to others. I took the money, and applied it as intended. I need hardly say that when my working days and my prosperity returned, I repaid the sum, which was, as I knew it would be, lodged in the hands of sufferers as needy as I was when it came to me.
I was waited upon in my lodging by a sickly-looking, untidy little orphan girl of fourteen, — untidy, because the state of her eyes was such that she could not sew, or have any fair chance for cleanliness. She was the niece and dependent of my hostess, by whom she was scolded without mercy, and, it seemed to me, incessantly. Her quiet and cheerful submission impressed me at once; and I heard such a report of her from the lady who had preceded me in the lodgings, and who had known the child from early infancy, that I took an interest in her, and studied her character from the outset. Her character was easily known; for a more simple, upright, truthful, ingenuous child could not be. She was, in fact, as intellectually incapable as morally indisposed to deception of any kind. This was “the girl Jane” who recovered her health by mesmerism in companionship with me, and whom I was required by the doctors, and by the Athenæum, to “give up” as “an impostor,” after five years’ household intercourse with her, in addition to my indirect knowledge of her, through my neighbour, from the age of three. I may mention here that my unvarying good opinion of her was confirmed after the recovery of both by the experience of her household qualities for seven years, during which period she lived with me as my cook, till she emigrated to Australia, where she has lived in high credit from the beginning of 1853 till now. This Jane, destined to so curious an experience, and to so discreditable a persecution, (which she bore in the finest spirit) was at the door of my Tynemouth lodging when I arrived: and many were the heartaches I had for her, during the years that her muscles looked like dough, and her eyes like ......... I will not say what. I suffered from the untidiness of my rooms, I own; and I soon found that my Norfolk notions of cleanliness met with no response at Tynemouth. Before long, I was shifted from purgatory to paradise in this essential matter. An uncle and some cousins, who had always been kind to me, were shocked to find that I was waited upon by only the people of the house; and they provided me with a maid, who happened to be the cleanliest of her sex. She remained with me during the whole of my illness: and never, in all that time, did I see a needless grain of dust on the furniture, nor a speck on the window panes that was not removed next morning.
For the view from my window, and the details of my mode of life as an invalid I must refer all who wish to know my Tynemouth self to “Life in the Sick-room.” They will find there what the sea and shore were to me, and how kind friends came to see me, and my family were at my call; and for what reasons, and how peremptorily, I chose to live alone. One half year was rendered miserably burdensome by the cheating intrusion of an unwelcome and uncongenial person who came, (as I believed because I was told) for a month, and stayed seven, in a lodging next door. More serious mischiefs than the immediate annoyance were caused by this unwarrantable liberty taken with my comfort and convenience; and the suffering occasioned by them set me back in health not a little: but with the exception of that period, I obtained the quiet I so needed and desired.
During the first half of the time, I was able to work, — though with no great willingness, and with such extreme exhaustion that it became at length necessary to give up every exertion of the kind. “Deerbrook” had come out in the spring of 1839, just before my illness declared itself. That conception being wrought out and done with, I reverted to the one which I had held in abeyance, through the objections made to it by my friend Mrs. — — —, whom alone I consulted in such matters, and on whose knowledge of books and taste in literature I reposed my judgment. Now that she was far away, my affections sprang back to the character and fortunes of Toussaint L’Ouverture. I speedily made up my mind to present that genuine hero with his actual sayings and doings (as far as they were extant) to the world. When I had been some time at Tynemouth, finding my strength and spirits declining, I gave up the practice of keeping a diary, for two reasons which I now think good and sufficient; — first, that I found it becoming a burden; and next, that a diary, kept under such circumstances, must be mainly a record of frames and feelings, — many of them morbid, and few fit for any but pathological uses: but I cannot be sorry that I continued my journal for some months, as it preserves the traces of my progress in a work which I regard with some affection, though, to say the truth, without any admiration whatever. I find, in the sickly handwriting of that spring of 1840, notices of how my subject opened before me, and of how, as I lay gazing upon the moon-lit sea, in the evenings of April and May, new traits in the man, new links between the personages, and a clearer perception of the guiding principle of the work disclosed themselves to me. I find, by this record, that I wrote the concluding portion of “The Hour and the Man” first, for the same reason that I am now writing the fifth period of this Memoir before the fourth, — lest I should not live to do the whole. It was on Saturday, the 2nd of May, 1840, that I began the book, with Toussaint’s arrival at the Jura. My notice is that I was sadly tired with the effort, but more struck than ever with the springing up of ideas by the way, in the act of writing, so much more than in that of reading, — though in reading, the profit is more from the ideas suggested than from those received. This work was a resource, and some anxiety to me, all summer: on the 17th of November, I corrected the last proof-sheet, and before the end of the month, the opinions of my friends were, for the most part, known to me. I find in my diary of this period, under the date of November 26th, an entry which it may be worth while to give here, both as an authentication of some things I have said elsewhere, and as saving explanations which might appear like afterthoughts, in regard to a point in my character which has been important to my happiness, if not to matters of higher consequence. “A letter from Moxon about the publication of my book holds out a very poor prospect. Under 500 copies are subscribed for. He offers me twenty-five copies more, both of it and of ‘Deerbrook,’ if I like to have them, — showing that he does not expect to sell them. If the book succeeds after this, it will be by its own merits purely. This seems the only good derivable from the news. Yet, as I sat at work, my spirits rose, the more I thought it over. It always is the way with me, and has been since I grew up, that personal mortifications (except such as arise from my own faults, and sometimes even then) put me in a happy state of mind. This is the news of all others (about my own affairs) which I had rather not have had: yet I don’t know when I have been more cheery than now, in consequence of it. It is always so with hostile reviewers; — the more brutal, the more animating, in a very little while. In that case it is that one’s feelings are engrossed in concern for the perpetrators, and in an anxious desire to do them good, — and looking forward to the day when their feelings will be healthier.” The lighting upon this entry reminds me of some marked days of my literary life, made happy by this tendency in me; and especially the two days which might seem to have been the most mortifying; — that of the publication of the brutal review of my Political Economy series in the Quarterly, and that on which I received the news from the publisher of the total failure (as far as money was concerned) of my “Forest and Game Law tales,” — of which no more than 2,000 copies have been sold to this day. In the first case, there was every sort of personal insult which could make a woman recoil; and in the other there was that sense of wasted labour which to me, with my strong economic faculty, was always excessively disagreeable: yet did both carry with them so direct an appeal to one’s inner force, and especially to one’s disinterestedness, that the reaction was immediate, and the rebound from mortification to joyful acquiescence was one of the most delightful experiences I have ever had. Those several occasions are white days in the calendar of my life. — As for the success of “The Hour and the Man” and “Deerbrook,” it is enough to say that both passed through two editions, and have been purchased of me for a third.*
Before my book was well out, I had planned the light and easy work, (for which alone I was now fit) of a series of children’s tales, for which a friend then nursing me suggested the capital title of “The Playfellow.” While in spirits about the reception of my novel, I conceived the plot of the first of those tales, — “Settlers at Home,” concerning which I find this entry in my diary. “How curious it would be to refer back to the sources of as many ideas as possible, in any thing one writes! Tait’s Magazine of last year had an article of De Quincy’s which made me think of snow-storms for a story: — then it occurred to me that floods were less hackneyed, and would do as well for purposes of adventure and peril. But De Quincy’s tale (a true one) is fairly the origin of mine. — Floods suggested Lincolnshire for the scene and Lauder’s book (Sir Thomas Dick Lauder’s “Floods in Morayshire,” read many years before) for the material. For Lincolnshire I looked into the Penny Cyclopedia, and there found references to other articles, — particularly “Axholme.” Hence, — finding gypsum in that region, — came the precise scene and occupations. A paragraph in a Poor Law Report on a gypsy “born in a long meadow,” suggested, (together with fishers and fowlers in the marshes) the Roger of my tale. I finished this first of my four volumes of “The Playfellow” by the end of the year, — of my first year of solitary residence at Tynemouth. The close was, on the whole, satisfactory. I found the wintry aspects of the sea wonderfully impressive, and sometimes very beautiful. I had been visited by affectionate members of my own family, and by friends, — one of whom devoted herself to me with a singular power of sympathy, and consummate nursing ability. I had reason to hope that my book had done good to the Anti-slavery cause by bringing into full notice the intellectual and moral genius of as black a negro as was ever seen; and I had begun a new kind of work, — not too heavy for my condition of health, and sure of a prosperous circulation in Mr. Knight’s hands. All this was more or less spoiled in actual experience by the state of incessant uneasiness of body and unstringing of nerves in which I was: but it was one year of the five over, and I can regard it now, as I did even then, (blank as was the future before me,) with some complacency. The remnant of life was not wholly lost, in regard to usefulness: and, as to the enjoyment, that was of small consequence.
The second volume of “The Playfellow” was wrought upon the suggestion of a friend, for whose ability in instigation I had the highest respect. By this time I hardly needed further evidence that one mind cannot (in literature) work well upon the materials suggested by another: but if I had needed such evidence, I found it here. The story of “the Prince” was by far the least successful of the set, except among poor people, who read it with wonderful eagerness. Some of them called it “the French revelation;” and the copy in Lending Libraries was more thumbed than the others; but among children and the general reading public, there was less interest about it than any of the rest. I suppose other authors who have found, as I have, that plenty of friends have advice to give them how to write their books, (no two friends agreeing in their advice) have also found themselves called self-willed and obstinate, as I have, for not writing their books in some other way than their own. In this case, I liked the suggestion, and felt obliged by it, and did my best with it; and yet the result was a failure, in comparison with those which were purely self-derived. Throughout my whole literary career, I have found the same thing happen; and I can assure any young author who may ever read this that he need feel no remorse, no misgiving about conceit or obstinacy, if he finds it impossible to work so well upon the suggestions of another mind as upon those of his own. He will be charged with obstinacy and conceit, as I have been. He is sure of that, at all events; for among a dozen advisers, he can obey only one; and the other eleven will be offended. He had better make it known, as I had occasion to do, that advice is of value in any work of art when it is asked, and not otherwise; and that in a view more serious than the artistic, — when convictions have to be uttered, — advice cannot, by the very nature of things, be taken, because no conscience can prescribe or act for another. — This seems to be the place for relating what my own practice has been in this important matter. In regard to literature, and all other affairs, my method has been to ask advice very rarely, — always to follow it when asked, — and rarely to follow unasked advice. In other words, I have consulted those only whom I believed to be the very best judges of the case in hand; and, believing them the very best judges, I have of course been thankful for their guidance: whereas, the officious givers of unsought advice are pretty sure not to be good judges of the case in hand; and their counsel is therefore worth nothing. The case of criticism as to what is already wrought is different. I have accepted or neglected that, according as it seemed to me sound or unsound; and I believe I have accepted it much oftener than not. I have adopted subjects suggested by others, invariably with ill-success. I have always declined assistance as to the mode of treating my own subjects from persons who could not possibly be competent to advise, for want of knowing my point of view, my principle, and my materials. I was rather amused, a few weeks ago, by the proffer of a piece of counsel, by an able man who, on the mere hearing that I was too ill to defer any longer the writing of this Memoir, wrote me his advice how to do it, — to make it amusing, and “not too abstract” &c., &c., while in total ignorance of the purposes with which I was undertaking the labour, — whether to make an “amusing” book, or for a more serious object. It reminded me of an incident which I may relate here, though it occurred three years before the time under notice. It is so immediately connected with the topic I am now treating, that there could not be a better place for it.
When I was writing “Society in America,” a lady of my acquaintance sat down in a determined manner, face to face with me, to ask me some questions. A more kind-hearted woman could not be; but her one requirement was that all her friends, — or at least all her protégés, — should let her manage their affairs for them, — either with her own head and hands, or by sending round her intelligence or her notions, so as to get somebody else to do the managing before the curtain while she prompted from behind. This lady brought her sister up to me, one day, in her own house, and they asked me, point blank, whether I was going to say any thing about this, that, and the other, in my book on America. Among the rest, they asked whether I was going to say something about the position of women in the United States. I replied “of course. My subject is Society in America; and women constitute one half of it.” They entreated me “to omit that.” I told them that the thing was done; and that when the book appeared, they would see that it was necessary. Finding me impracticable, (conceited and obstinate, of course) they next called on my mother, for the purpose of alarming her into using her influence with me. They reckoned without their host, however; for my mother was thoroughly sound in doctrine, and just and generous in practice, on that great matter. She told them that she never interfered with my work, — both because she considered herself incompetent to judge till she knew the whole bearing of it, and because she feared it would be turned into patch-work if more minds than one were employed upon it without concert. Foiled in this direction, the anxious meddler betook herself to a mutual friend, — a literary man, — the Edinburgh reviewer of my Political Economy tales, — and most unwarrantably engaged his interference. He did not come to me, or write, but actually sent a message through a third friend, (who was most reluctant to convey it) requesting me to say nothing about the position of women in America, for fear of the consequences from the unacceptableness of the topic, &c., &c. When matters had come to this pass, it was clear that I must plainly assert the principle of authorship and the rights of authors, or be subject to the interference of meddlers, and in constant danger of quarrels, from that time forward. I therefore wrote to my reviewer the letter which I will here cite. It was not sent at once, because our intermediary feared it would hurt him so deeply as to break off our intercourse: but he questioned her so closely as to learn that there was a letter; and then he read it, declared we could never quarrel, and sent the reply which, in fairness to him, I append to my letter. The reply shows that he no more discerned the principle of the case after reading my letter than before; and in fact, if he had been restricted in his habit of advising every body on all occasions, he would have felt his occupation gone: but his kindly and generous temper abundantly compensated for that serious mistake in judgment, and our good understanding remained unimpaired to the day of his death.
March 5th, 1837.
“My dear Friend, —
I have received through Mrs. W — a message from you, advising me not to put into my book any opinions concerning what are vulgarly called the “Rights of Woman.”
My replying to you is rendered unnecessary by the fact that what I have to say on that subject at present has been printed these two months: but I think it desirable to write, to settle at once and for ever this matter of interference with opinions, or the expression of them. You and I differ so hopelessly on the very principle of the matter, that I have no expectation of converting you: but my declaration of my own principle may at least guide you in future as to how to treat me on such matters.
I say nothing to you of the clear impertinence (in some through whom I conclude you had your information) of questioning an author as to what is to be in his book, in order to remonstrate, and get others to remonstrate, against it. You will agree with me in this. It was in answer to questions only that I mentioned the subject at all, to some friends of ours.
Nor need I tell you how earnestly I have been besought by various persons to say nothing about Democracy, nothing about Slavery, Commerce, Religion, &c.; and again, to write about nothing else but each of these. In giving me advice how to write my book, you are only following a score of other friends, who have for the most part far less weight with me.
But you ought to know better than they what it is to write a book. You surely must know that it is one of the most sacred acts of conscience to settle with one’s own intellect what is really and solemnly believed, and is therefore to be simply and courageously spoken. You ought to be aware that no second mind can come into the council at all; — can judge as to what are the actual decisions of the intellect, or felt obligations of the conscience. — If you regard a book in the other aspect, of a work of Art, are you not aware that only one mind can work out the conceptions of one mind? If you would not have the sculptor instructed how to bring out his Apollo; or Handel helped to make an oratorio, — on the same principle you should not interfere with the very humblest efforts of the humblest writer who really has any thing to say. In the present case, the appearance of my book will show you the impossibility of any one who does not know the scheme of it being able to offer applicable advice. I analyse Society in America, — of which women constitute the half. I test all by their own avowed democratic principles. The result, you see, is inevitable.
Either you think the opinions objectionable, or you kindly fear the consequences to myself, or act from a more general regard to my influence. Probably you are under all the three fears. If the opinions are objectionable, controvert them. The press is as open to you as to me. But do not seek to suppress the persuasions of a mind which, for aught you know, has been as patient, and careful, and industrious in ascertaining its convictions as your own.
Perhaps you fear for my influence. I fully agree with an American friend of mine who says, in answer to the same plea addressed to him as an abolitionist, “I do not know what influence is good for if it is not to be used.” For my own part, I have never sought influence: and by God’s blessing, I never will seek it, nor study how to use it, as influence. This is a care which God has never appointed to creatures so incapable of foresight as we are. Happily, all we have to do is to be true in thought and speech. What comes of our truth is a care which we may cast, with our other cares, upon him.
This is answer enough to your kind concern for myself. I know well enough what are likely to be the consequences of a perfectly free expression of opinion on any moral subject whatever. I will not say how I can bear them: but I must try. You and I differ as to what I can do; and what, if I am to render any service to society, is the kind of service which I am likely to render. You estimate what would be commonly called my talent far higher than I do. We will not dispute about what can be proved only by the event. But I will tell you what I know, — that any human being, however humble or liable to error, may render an essential service to society by making, through a whole lifetime, a steady, uncompromising, dispassionate declaration of his convictions as they are matured. This is the duty to which I some time ago addressed myself. What my talents, my influence, my prosperity may turn out to be, I care little. What my fidelity may be eventually proved to have been, I do care, — more than for life, and all that makes life so sweet as it is. My best friends will not seek to divert me from my aim.
You may think I am making too serious a matter of this. I can only say that I think it a very serious one. The encroachment of mind upon mind should be checked in its smallest beginning, for the sake of the young and timid who shrink from asserting their own liberty.
May I ask you not to destroy this letter: but to keep it as a check upon any future solicitudes which may arise out of your friendship for me? When shall we see you?
Believe me &c., &c.,
“My dear Friend,—
Many thanks for the unreservedness of your letter, which I only got yesterday, when I called on Mrs. W—. It sets me quite at ease, in this instance, on the serious question of self-reproach at the reluctance and almost cowardice with which I usually set about to offer my advice to my friends. It would be personally an infinite relief to me if all those in whom I am interested would release me from what I feel to be one of the most painful obligations of friendship, by telling me with equal frankness, that advice tendered under any of the points of view which you enumerate was an undue encroachment of mind on mind.
Do not imagine that my personal interest in your happiness and usefulness will be one jot less sincere when the expression of it is limited within the conditions which you require.
If I can call to-day, &c., &c.
I will add only one more incident in connexion with this subject. The friend who suggested the taking the life of Louis XVII. for my tale was one of my rebukers for not taking counsel; — that is, for not adopting all his suggestions when he would suggest a dozen volumes in the course of a single evening. I adopted more of his than of any body’s, because I often admired them. (I wrote “How to Observe” at his request, and a good many things besides.) He one day desired to be allowed to see and criticise the first chapter of my “Retrospect of Western Travel.” I gave him the M. S. at night; and in the morning he produced it, covered with pencil marks. I found on examination, and I convinced him, that he had altered about half the words; — on an average, every other word in the chapter: and I put it to him what would become of my book if I submitted the M. S. to other friendly critics, equally anxious to deal with it. He could not answer the question, of course; so he called me conceited and obstinate, and I rubbed out his pencil marks, — without any detriment on either side to our friendship. My chapter would have cut a curious figure, dressed in his legal phraseology; as I should expect his legal opinions to do, if I were to express them in my own unprofessional style. Painters complain of interference: musicians, I believe, do not. Amateurs let them alone. It is to be hoped that, some time or other, literary works of art, — to say nothing of literary utterance being a work of conscience, — will be left to the artist to work out, according to his own conception and conviction. At present, it seems as if few but authors had any comprehension whatever of the seriousness of writing a book.
There is something to be told about the origin of the third volume of “The Playfellow.” I had nearly fixed on a subject of a totally different kind when Mr. Laing’s book on Norway fell in my way, and set my imagination floating on the fiords, and climbing the slopes of the Dovre Fjeld. I procured Inglis’s travels, and every thing that I could get hold of about the state of Norway while connected with Denmark; and hence arose “Feats on the Fiord.” Two or three years afterwards, a note from Mr. Laing to a relative of his in Scotland travelled round to me, in which he inquired whether his relative could tell him, or could learn, when and for how long I had resided in Norway, as he concluded I had, on the evidence of that story. I had the pleasure of transmitting to him the fact that I knew scarcely any thing about Norway, and had chosen another scene and subject, when his book caught my fancy, and became the originator of my tale. I hope he enjoyed the incident as much as I did.
The fourth and last volume, — “The Crofton Boys” — was written under the belief that it was my last word through the press. There are some things in it which I could not have written except under that persuasion. By that time, I was very ill, and so sunk in strength that it was obvious that I must lay aside the pen. I longed to do so; and yet I certainly had much enjoyment in the free outpouring of that book. When it was sealed up and sent, I stretched myself on my sofa, and said to myself, with entire sincerity, that my career as an author was closed. I find an entry in my Diary of the extreme need in which I was, — not of idleness, but of my mind being free of all engagement to work. I was under the constant sense of obligation to do what I am doing now, — to write my life; but otherwise I was at liberty and leisure. The strictest economy in my way of living was necessary from the time of my ceasing to earn; but my relations now, as I explained before, enabled me to have a servant. My lodgings were really the only considerable expense I had besides; for I had left off dining from total failure of appetite, and my consumption of food had become so small that the wonder was how life could be supported upon it.
To finish the subject of my authorship during this period, I will now tell how my anonymous volume, “Life in the Sickroom,” came into existence, and how I, who never had a secret before or since, (as far as I can now remember) came to have one then. — In the book itself it is seen what I have to say on the subject of sympathy with the sick. When I had been living for above three years alone (for the most part) and with merely the change from one room to another, — from bed to sofa, — in constant uneasiness, and under the depression caused both by the nature of my disease and by heavy domestic cares, I had accumulated a weight of ideas and experiences which I longed to utter, and which indeed I needed to cast off. I need not repeat (what is amply explained in the book) that it was wholly my own doing that I lived alone, and why such was my choice; and the letters which I afterwards received from invalids satisfied me, and all who saw those letters, that my method was rational and prudent. It was not because I was destitute of kind nurses and visitors that I needed to pour out what was in my mind, but because the most perfect sympathy one can meet with in any trial common to humanity is reached by an appeal to the whole mind of society. It was on the fifteenth of September, 1843, that this mode of relief occurred to me, while I lay on my sofa at work on my inexhaustible resource, fancy-work. I kept no diary at that time; but I find inserted under that date in a note-book, “A new and imperative idea occurred to me, — ‘Essays from a Sick-room.’ ” This conception was certainly the greatest refreshment I had during all those heavy years. During the next few days, while some of my family were with me, I brooded over the idea; and on the nineteenth, I wrote the first of the Essays. I never wrote any thing so fast as that book. It went off like sleep. I was hardly conscious of the act, while writing or afterwards, — so strong was the need to speak. I wrote the Essays as the subject pressed, and not in the order in which they stand. As I could not speak of them to any body, I suspended the indulgence of writing them while receiving the visits which I usually had in October, — preparatory to the long winter solitude; and it was therefore November when I finished my volume. I wrote the last Essay on the fourth. It was now necessary to tell one person; — viz, a publisher. I wrote confidentially to Mr. Moxon who, curiously enough, wrote to me on the same day, (so that our letters crossed,) to ask whether I was not able, after so long an interval of rest, to promise him some work to publish. My letter had a favourable reception; he carefully considered my wishes, and kept my secret, and I corrected my last proof on the twenty-sixth of November. On the seventh of December, the first news of the volume being out arrived in the shape of other letters than Mr. Moxon’s. I was instantly and universally detected, as I had indeed supposed must be the case. On that day, my mother and eldest sister came over from Newcastle to see me. It was due to them not to let them hear such a fact in my history from the newspapers or from strangers; so, assuring them that it was the first time I had opened my lips on the subject, and that Mr. Moxon was the only person who had known it at all, I told them what I had done, and lent them my copy to take home. They were somewhat hurt, as were one or two more distant friends, who had no manner of right to be so. It proved to me how little reticence I can boast of, or have the credit for, that several friends confidently denied that the book was mine, on the ground that I had not told them a word about it, — a conviction in which I think them perfectly justified. There could not be a stronger proof of how I felt that book than my inability to speak of it except to my unknown comrades in suffering. My mother and sister had a special trial, I knew, to bear in discovering how great my suffering really was; and I could not but see that it was too much for them, and that from that time forward they were never again to me what they had been.
What the “success” of the book was, the fact of a speedy sale of the whole edition presently showed. What my own opinion of it is, at the distance of a dozen years, it may be worth while to record. My note-book of that November says that I wrote the Essays from the heart, and that there never was a truer book as to conviction. Such being the fact, I can only now say that I am ashamed, considering my years and experience of suffering, that my state of mind was so crude, if not morbid, as I now see it to have been. I say this, not from any saucy elevation of health and prosperity, but in an hour of pain and feebleness, under a more serious and certainly fatal illness than that of 1843, and after ten intervening years of health and strength, ease and prosperity. All the facts in the book, and some of the practical doctrine of the sick-room, I could still swear to: but the magnifying of my own experience, the desperate concern as to my own ease and happiness, the moaning undertone running through what many people have called the stoicism, and the total inability to distinguish between the metaphysically apparent and the positively true, make me, to say the truth, heartily despise a considerable part of the book. Great allowance is to be made, no doubt, for the effect of a depressing malady, and of the anxieties which caused it, and for an exile of years from fresh air, exercise, and change of scene. Let such allowance be made; but the very demand shows that the book is morbid, — or that part of it which needs such allowance. Stoical! Why, if I had been stoical I should not have written the book at all: — not that book; but if any, one wholly clear of the dismal self-consciousness which I then thought it my business to detail. The fact is, as I now see, that I was lingering in the metaphysical stage of mind, because I was not perfectly emancipated from the débris of the theological. The day of final release from both was drawing nigh, as I shall have occasion to show: but I had not yet ascertained my own position. I had quitted the old untenable point of view, and had not yet found the one on which I was soon to take my stand. And, while attesting the truth of the book on the whole, — its truth as a reflexion of my mind of that date, — I still can hardly reconcile with sincerity the religious remains that are found in it. To be sure, they are meagre and incoherent enough; but, such as they are they are compatible, I fear, with only a metaphysical, and not a positive order of sincerity. I had not yet learned, with decision and accuracy, what conviction is. I had yet no firm grasp of it; and I gave forth the contemporary persuasions of the imagination, or narratives of old traditions, as if they had been durable convictions, ascertained by personal exertion of my faculties. I suffered the retribution of this unsound dealing, — the results of this crude state of mind, — in the latent fear and blazoned pain through which I passed during that period; and if any one now demurs to my present judgment, on the score of lapse of time and change of circumstances, I would just remind him that I am again ill, as hopelessly, and more certainly fatally than I was then. I cannot be mistaken in what I am now feeling so sensibly from day to day, — that my condition is bliss itself in comparison with that of twelve years ago; and that I am now above the reach (while my brain remains unaffected by disease) of the solicitudes, regrets, apprehensions, self-regards, and inbred miseries of various kinds, which breathe through these Sick-room Essays, even where the language appears the least selfish and cowardly. I should not now write a sick-room book at all, except for express pathological purposes: but if I did, I should have a very different tale to tell. If not, the ten best years of my life — the ten which intervened between the two illnesses, — would have been lost upon me.
Before I dismiss this book, I must mention that its publisher did his duty amply by it and me. I told him at first to say nothing to me about money, as I could not bear to think of selling such an experience while in the midst of it. Long after, when I was in health and strength, he wrote that circumstances had now completely changed, and that life was again open before me; and he sent me a cheque for £ 75. On occasion of another edition, he sent me £ 50 more.
The subject of money reminds me that by this time a matter was finally settled which appears of less consequence to me than many have supposed, — probably because my mind was clear on the point when the moment of action came. On my first going to reside in London, at the end of 1832, a friend of Lord Brougham’s told me that there was an intention on the part of government to give me a pension which should make me independent for life. The story then told me, I believed of course, though it was not long before I found that it was almost entirely one of Lord Brougham’s imaginations or fictions. He said that Lord Grey, then Premier, wished to make me independent, that I might not be tempted, or compelled, to spend my powers (such as they were) on writing for periodicals: that he (Lord Brougham) had spoken to the King about it, and that the King had said divers gracious things on the occasion; but that the two Ministers had judged it best for me to wait till my Political Economy series was finished, lest the Radicals should charge me with having been bought by the Whigs. Fully believing this story, I consulted, confidentially, three friends, — a Tory friend, my Whig Edinburgh reviewer, and my brother James. The two first counselled my accepting the pension, — seeing no reason why I should not. My brother advised my declining it. If it had then been offered, I believe I should have accepted it, with some doubt and misgiving, and simply because I did not then feel able to assign sufficient reasons for doing an ungracious act. — The next I heard of the matter was a year afterwards, when I was two-thirds through my long work. Lord Durham then told me, after inquiring of Lord Grey, that the subject had never been mentioned to the King at all; but that Lord Grey intended that it should be, and that I should have my pension. Some months afterwards, when I was about to go to America, Lord Grey sent to Lord Durham for my address, for the avowed purpose of informing me of the intended gift. I left England immediately after, and fully understood that, on my return, I should be made easy for life by a pension of £ 300 a year. Presently, the Whigs went out, and Sir R. Peel was Premier for five months, to be succeeded by the Whigs, who were in power on my return. But meantime, my mind had become clear about refusing the pension. When at a distance from the scene of my labours, and able to think quietly, and to ascertain my own feelings at leisure, the latent repugnance to that mode of provision came up again, and I was persuaded that I should lose more independence in one way than I should gain in another. I wrote to Lord Durham from America, requesting him to beg of Lord Grey that the idea might be laid aside, and that no application might be made to me which would compel me to appear ungrateful and ungracious. Lord Grey saw that letter of mine; and I supposed and hoped that the whole subject was at an end.
After my return, however, and repeatedly during the next two years (1837 and 1838) some friends of the government, who were kind friends of my own, remonstrated with me about my refusal. I could never make them understand the ground of my dislike of a pension. One could see in it nothing but pride, and held up to me the name of Southey, and others whom I cordially honoured, and told me that I might well accept what they had not demurred to. Another chid me for practically censuring all acceptors of pensions; whereas, it was so earnestly my desire to avoid all appearance of such insolence and narrowness, that I entreated that the express offer might not be made. As for Lord Brougham, he said testily, before many hearers, when my name was mentioned, — “Harriet Martineau! I hate her!” Being asked why, he replied “I hate a woman who has opinions. She has refused a pension, — making herself out to be better than other people.” Having done all I could to be quiet about the matter, and to avoid having to appear to imply a censure of other people by an open refusal, I took these misconstructions as patiently as I could; and I can sincerely declare that I never did, in my inmost mind, judge any receiver of a pension by my own action in a matter which was more one of feeling than of judgment or principle. When my part was taken beyond recall, a friend of mine showed me cause for belief that it would have been convenient for me to have accepted a pension at that time, on account of an exposure of some jobbery, and a consequent stir about the bestowal of pensions. Certainly, the few most popular pensioners’ names were paraded in parliament and the newspapers in a way which I should not relish; and though no suspicion of my name being desired for justificatory reasons had any thing to do with my refusal, I was more than ever satisfied with what I had done when I saw the course that matters were taking.
The subject was revived at the close of 1840, through an old friend of mine; and again in August, 1841, just before Lord Melbourne went out of office. Mr. Charles Buller wrote to me to say that Lord Melbourne understood how my earnings were invested (in a deferred annuity) and was anxious to give me present ease in regard to money: that he was sorry to have no more to offer at the moment than £ 150 a year, (which however I was given to understand might be increased when opportunity offered;) and that my answer must be immediate, as Lord Melbourne was going out so soon as to require the necessary information by return of post. I was very ill, the evening that this letter arrived, — too ill to write myself; but my brother Robert and his wife happened to be with me; and my brother transmitted my reply.* I did not feel a moment’s hesitation about it. While fully sensible of Lord Melbourne’s kindness, I felt that I could not, with satisfaction to myself, accept such a boon at his hands, or as a matter of favouritism from any minister. I should have proudly and thankfully accepted ease and independence in the form of a pension bestowed by parliament, or by some better judge than Minister or Sovereign can easily be: but, distinct and generous as were the assurances given that the pension was offered for past services, and ought not to interfere with my political independence, I felt that practically the sense of obligation would weigh heavily upon me, and that I could never again feel perfectly free to speak my mind on politics. At that time, too, the popular adversity was very great; and I preferred sharing the poverty of the multitude to being helped out of the public purse. From time to time since, I have been made sensible of the prudence of my decision; and especially in regard to that large undertaking of a subsequent period, — my “History of the Thirty Years’ Peace.” No person in receipt of a pension from government, bestowed by Lord Melbourne, could have written that History; and I have had more satisfaction and pleasure from that work than any amount of pension could have given me. My family, — the whole clan, — behaved admirably about the business, except the adviser in the former case, who had changed his mind, and blamed me for my decision. All the rest, whether agreeing with me or not as to my reasons or feelings, said very cordially, that, as such were my reasons and feelings, I had done rightly; and very cheering to me, in those sickly days of anxious conscience, was their generous approval. Some of the newspapers insulted me: but I did not care for that. All the mockery of strangers all over the world could be nothing in comparison with the gratification afforded by one incident, with which the honoured name of Lady Byron is connected. Lady Byron, with whom I had occasionally corresponded, wrote to a visitor of mine at that time that henceforth no one could pity me for narrow circumstances which were my own free choice: but that she thought it hard that I should not have the pleasure of helping people poorer than myself. She had actually placed in the bank, and at my disposal, £ 100 for beneficent purposes: and, lest there should be any possible injury to me from the circumstances becoming known, she made the money payable to another person. How rich and how happy I felt with that £ 100! It lasted nearly the whole time of my illness; and I trust it was not ill-spent.
During the whole time of my illness, comforts and pleasures were lavishly supplied to me. Sydney Smith said that every body who sent me game, fruit and flowers was sure of Heaven, provided always that they punctually paid the dues of the Church of England. If so, many of my friends are safe. Among other memorials of that time which are still preserved and prized in my home are drawings sent me by the Miss Nightingales, and an envelope-case, (in daily use) from the hands of the immortal Florence. I was one of the sick to whom she first ministered; and it happened through my friendship with some of her family.
Some time after the final settlement of this pension business, some friends of mine set about the generous task of raising a Testimonial Fund for my benefit. It is necessary for me to offer the statement, as expressly and distinctly as possible, that I had nothing whatever to do with this proceeding, and that I did every thing in my power to avoid knowing any particulars while the scheme was in progress. This declaration, indispensable to my honour, is rendered necessary by the behaviour of one person whose indiscretion and double-dealing involved me in trouble about the testimonial business. It is enough to say here that so determined was I to hear nothing of the particulars of the affair that, when I found it impossible to prevent that officious person telling me all she knew, and representing me as compelling her to tell it, in excuse for her own indiscretion, I engaged my aunts, who were then lodging close by, to come in whenever that visitor entered, — to stop her when she spoke on the forbidden subject, and to bear witness that it was my resolute purpose to hear nothing about it. One of my dear aunts was always instantly on the spot, accordingly, to the discomfiture of the gossip, who complained that she never saw me alone: and at last, (but not till I was liable to serious injury in the minds of many people) I succeeded in being so completely outside of the affair as to be ignorant of all but the first steps taken. To this day I have never seen the list of subscribers, nor heard, probably, more than ten or twelve of them. The money raised was mainly invested, with the entire approbation of the managers of the business, in the Long Annuities, — the object being to obtain the largest income procurable from £ 1,400 for the period during which it was then supposed that I might live. I have since enjoyed ten years of health, (after many months more of that sickness) and it seemed probable that I should outlive that investment. Now again the scene is changed; and it appears that I shall leave the remnant of the kindly gift behind me. I do not know that I could better express the relief and satisfaction that I derived from that movement of my friends than by citing here the circular in which I made my acknowledgments.
“To the Contributors to a Testimonial to H. Martineau. —”
“My dear Friends, —
To reach you individually from my retirement is not very easy; and to convey to you the feelings with which I accept your kindness is impossible: yet I cannot but attempt to present to each of you my acknowledgments, and the assurance of the comfort I feel, from day to day, in the honour and independence which you have conferred upon me. By your generous testimony to my past services you have set me free from all personal considerations, in case of my becoming capable of future exertion. The assurance which I possess of your esteem and sympathy will be a stimulus to labour, if I find I have still work to do: and if I remain in my present useless condition, it will be a solace to me under suffering, and a cordial under the depressions of illness and confinement.
I am, with affectionate gratitude,