Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION II. - Harriet Martineau's Autobiography, vol. 1
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SECTION II. - 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 whole business of the house-building went off without a difficulty, or a shadow of misunderstanding throughout. The contractor proposed his own terms; and they were so reasonable that I had great pleasure in giving him all his own way. It is the pernicious custom of the district to give very long credit, even in the case of workmen’s wages. One of my intentions in becoming a housekeeper was to discountenance this, and to break through the custom in my own person. I told all the tradesmen that I would not deal with them on any other terms than ready money payments, alleging the inconvenience to persons of small income of having all their bills pouring in at Candlemas. At first I was grumbled at for the “inconvenience;” but, before I had lived here two years, I was supplicated for my custom, my reputation being that of being “the best paymaster in the neighbourhood.” I began with the house itself, offering to pay down £ 100 every alternate month, on condition that the work-people were paid weekly. At the end, when the contractor received his last £ 100, I asked him whether he and all his people were fully satisfied, saying that if there was any discontent, however slight, I wished to hear of it, there and then. His answer was “Ma’am, there has not been a rough word spoken from beginning to end.” “Are you satisfied?” I asked. “Entirely,” he replied. “I underrated the cost of the terrace; but you paid me what I asked; a bargain is a bargain: and I gained by other parts, so as to make up for it, and more; and so I am satisfied, — entirely.” When I afterwards designed to build a cottage and cow-stable, he came to beg the servants to help to get the job for him, — complimenting my mode of payment. I mention this because the poor man, whom I greatly esteemed, got his head turned with subsequent building speculations, fell into drinking habits, and died of a fever thus brought on, — leaving debts to the amount of £ 1,000: and I wish it to be clearly understood that I was in no degree connected with his misfortunes.
The first sod was turned on the 1st of October, by Mr. Seymour Tremenheere, in the presence of my elder brother and myself. There was only one tree on the summit of the knoll; and that was a fine thorn, which the builder kindly managed to leave, to cover a corner; and I seldom look at it, powdered with blossom in May and June, without thinking of the consideration of the poor fellow who lies in the churchyard, so miserably cut off in the vigour of his years. The winter of 1845 - 6 was, (as the potato-rot makes us all remember) the rainiest in the experience of our generation: but the new house was not injured by it; and it was ready for occupation when April arrived. If I am to give an account of my most deep-felt pleasures, I may well mention that of my sunset walks, on the few fine days, when I saw from the opposite side of the valley the progress of my house. One evening I saw the red sunset glittering on the windows, which I did not know were in. Another day, I saw the first smoke from the chimney; — the thin blue smoke from a fire the workmen had lighted, which gave a homelike aspect to the dwelling. — When the garden was to take form, new pleasures arose. The grass was entirely destroyed round the base of the knoll by the carts which brought the stone and wood; and I much wished for some sods. But the summer had been as dry as the winter and spring were wet; and no sods were to be had for love or money, — every gardener assured me. In riding over Loughrigg terrace, I saw where large patches of turf had been cut; and I asked Mr. Wordsworth whether one might get sods from the mountain. He told me that the fells were the property of the dalesmen, and that it takes 100 years to replace turf so cut. So I made up my mind to wait till grass-seed would grow, and wondered how I was to secure the seed being good. One morning, the servants told me that there was a great heap of the finest sods lying under the boundary wall; and that they must have been put over during the night. It was even so: and, though we did our best to watch and listen, the same thing happened four times, — the last load being a very large one, abundantly supplying all our need. A dirty note, wafered, lay under the pile. It pretended to come from two poachers, who professed to be grateful to me for my Game Law Tales, and to have rendered me this service in return for my opinion about wild creatures being fair game. The writing and spelling were like those of an ignorant person; and I supposed that the inditing was really so, at the bidding of some neighbour of higher quality. The Archbishop of Dublin, who was at Fox How at the time, offered me the benefit of his large experience in the sight of anonymous letters: (not the reading of them, for he always burns unread, before the eyes of his servants, all that come to him) and he instantly pronounced that the note was written by an educated person. He judged by the evenness of the lines, saying that persons who scrawl and misspell from ignorance never write straight. Every body I knew declared to me, sooner or later, in a way too sincere to be doubted, that he or she did not know any thing whatever about my sods: and the mystery remains unsolved to this day. It was a very pretty and piquant mystery. Several friends planted a young tree each on my ground. Some of the saplings died and some lived: but the most flourishing is one of the two which Wordsworth planted. We had provided two young oaks: but he objected to them as not remarkable enough for a commemorative occasion. We found that the stone pine suited his idea: and a neighbour kindly sent me two. Wordsworth chose to plant them on the slope under my terrace wall, where, in my humble opinion, they were in the extremest danger from dogs and cats, — which are our local nuisance. I lay awake thinking how to protect them. The barriers I put up were broken down immediately; but I saved one by making a parterre round it: and there it flourishes, — so finely that my successor will have to remove my best peartree ere long, to leave room for the forest tree.
The planting-scene was characteristic. Wordsworth had taken a kindly interest in the whole affair; and where my study now is, he had thrown himself down, among the hazel bushes, and talked of the meadows, and of the right aspect and disposition of a house, one summer day when he and his wife and daughter had come to view the site, and give me the benefit of their experience; and long after, when I had begun to farm my two acres, he came to see my first calf. On occasion of the planting of his pine, he dug and planted in a most experienced manner, — then washed his hands in the watering-pot, took my hand in both his, and wished me many happy years in my new abode, — and then, proceeded to give me a piece of friendly advice. He told me I should find visitors a great expense, and that I must promise him, — (and he laid his hand on my arm to enforce what he said) I must promise him to do as he and his sister had done, when, in their early days, they had lived at Grasmere.
“When you have a visitor,” said he, “you must do as we did; — you must say ‘if you like to have a cup of tea with us, you are very welcome: but if you want any meat, — you must pay for your board.’ Now, promise me that you will do this.” Of course, I could promise nothing of the sort. I told him I had rather not invite my friends unless I could make them comfortable. He insisted: I declined promising; and changed the subject. The mixture of odd economies and neighbourly generosity was one of the most striking things in the old poet. At tea there, one could hardly get a drop of cream with any ease of mind, while he was giving away all the milk that the household did not want to neighbouring cottagers, who were perfectly well able to buy it, and would have been all the better for being allowed to do so. — It was one of the pleasures of my walks, for the first few years of my residence here, to meet with Wordsworth, when he happened to be walking, and taking his time on the road. In winter, he was to be seen in his cloak, his Scotch bonnet, and green goggles, attended perhaps by half-a-score of cottagers’ children, — the youngest pulling at his cloak, or holding by his trousers, while he cut ash switches out of the hedge for them. After his daughter’s death, I seldom saw him except in his phaeton, or when I called. He gave way sadly, (and inconsiderately as regarded Mrs. Wordsworth) to his grief for his daughter’s loss; and I heard that the evenings were very sad. Neither of them could see to read by candle-light; and he was not a man of cheerful temperament, nor of much practical sympathy. Mrs. Wordsworth often asked me to “drop in” in the winter evenings: but I really could not do this. We lived about a mile and a half apart; I had only young girls for servants, and no carriage; and I really could not have done my work but by the aid of my evening reading. I never went but twice; and both times were in the summer. My deafness was a great difficulty too, and especially when his teeth were out, as they were in the evenings, when the family were alone. He began a sentence to me, and then turned his head away to finish it to somebody on the other side: so that I had no chance with him unless we were tête-à-tête, when we got on very well. — Our acquaintance had begun during the visit I paid to the Lakes in January 1845, when he and Mrs. Wordsworth had requested a conversation with me about mesmerism, which they thought might avail in the case of a daughter-in-law, who was then abroad, mortally ill. After a long consultation, they left me, much disposed for the experiment: but I supposed at the time that they would not be allowed to try; and I dare say they were not. They invited me to Rydal Mount, to see the terrace where he had meditated his poems; and I went accordingly, one winter noon. On that occasion, I remember, he said many characteristic things, beginning with complaints of Jeffrey and other reviewers, who had prevented his poems bringing him more than £ 100, for a long course of years, — up to a time so recent indeed that I will not set it down, lest there should be some mistake. Knowing that he had no objection to be talked to about his works, I told him that I thought it might interest him to hear which of his poems was Dr. Channing’s favourite. I told him that I had not been a day in Dr. Channing’s house when he brought me “the Happy Warrior,” — (a choice which I thought very characteristic also.) “Ay,” said Wordsworth: “that was not on account of the poetic conditions being best fulfilled in that poem; but because it is” (solemnly) “a chain of extremely valooable thoughts. — You see, — it does not best fulfil the conditions of poetry; but it is” (solemnly) “a chain of extremely valooable thoughts.” I thought this eminently true; and by no means the worse for the description being given by himself. — He was kind enough to be very anxious lest I should overwalk myself. Both he and Mrs. Wordsworth repeatedly bade me take warning by his sister, who had lost first her strength, and then her sanity by extreme imprudence in that way, and its consequences. Mrs. Wordsworth told me what I could not have believed on any less trustworthy authority, — that Miss Wordsworth had — not once, but frequently, — walked forty miles in a day. In vain I assured them that I did not meditate or perpetrate any such imprudence, and that I valued my recovered health too much to hazard it for any self-indulgence whatever. It was a fixed idea with them that I walked all day long. One afternoon Mr. Atkinson and I met them on the Rydal road. They asked where we had been; and we told them. I think it was over Loughrigg terrace to Grasmere; which was no immoderate walk. “There, there!” said Wordsworth, laying his hand on my companion’s arm. “Take care! take care! Don’t let her carry you about. She is killing off half the gentlemen in the county!” I could not then, nor can I now, remember any Westmoreland gentleman, except my host on Windermere, having taken a walk with me at all.
There had been a period of a few years, in my youth, when I worshipped Wordsworth. I pinned up his likeness in my room; and I could repeat his poetry by the hour. He had been of great service to me at a very important time of my life. By degrees, and especially for ten or twelve years before I saw him, I found more disappointment than pleasure when I turned again to his works, — feeling at once the absence of sound, accurate, weighty thought, and of genuine poetic inspiration. It is still an increasing wonder with me that he should ever have been considered a philosophical poet, — so remarkably as the very basis of philosophy is absent in him, and so thoroughly self-derived, self-conscious and subjective is what he himself mistook for philosophy. As to his poetic genius, it needs but to open Shelley, Tennyson, or even poor Keats, and any of our best classic English poets, to feel at once that, with all their truth and all their charm, few of Wordsworth’s pieces are poems. As eloquence, some of them are very beautiful; and others are didactic or metaphysical meditations or speculations poetically rendered: but, to my mind, this is not enough to constitute a man a poet. A benefactor, to poetry and to society, Wordsworth undoubtedly was. He brought us back out of a wrong track into a right one; — out of a fashion of pedantry, antithesis and bombast, in which thought was sacrificed to sound, and common sense was degraded, where it existed, by being made to pass for something else. He taught us to say what we had to say in a way, — not only the more rational but the more beautiful; and, as we have grown more simple in expression, we have become more unsophisticated and clear-seeing and far-seeing in our observation of the scene of life, if not of life itself. These are vast services to have rendered, if no more can be claimed for the poet. In proportion to our need was the early unpopularity of the reform proposed; and in proportion to our gratitude, when we recognized our benefactor, was the temporary exaggeration of his merits as a poet. His fame seems to have now settled in its proper level. Those who understand mankind are aware that he did not understand them; and those who dwell near his abode especially wonder at his representation of his neighbours. He saw through an imagination, less poetic than metaphysical; and the heart element was in him not strong. He had scarcely any intercourse with other minds, in books or in conversation; and he probably never knew what it was to have any thing to do. His old age suffered from these causes; and it was probably the least happy portion of a life too self-enclosed to be very happy as a whole. In regard to politics, however, and even to religion, he grew more and more liberal in his latter years. It is in that view, and as a neighbour among the cottagers, that he is most genially remembered: and, considering the course of flattery he was subjected to by his blue-stocking and clerical neighbours, who coaxed him into monologue, and then wrote down all he said for future publication, it is wonderful that there is any thing so genial to record. His admirable wife, who, I believe, never suspected how much she was respected and beloved by all who knew them both, sustained what was genial in him, and ameliorated whatever was not so. Her excellent sense and her womanly devotedness, — (especially when she grew pale and shrunk and dim-eyed under her mute sorrow for the daughter whom he mourned aloud, and without apparent consideration for the heart-sufferer by his side) made her by far the more interesting of the two to me. But, while writing these recollections, the spring sunshine and air which are streaming in through my open window remind me of the advent of the “tourist season,” and of the large allowance to be made for a “lake-poet,” subject to the perpetual incursions of flatterers of the coarsest order. The modest and well-bred pass by the gates of celebrated people who live in the country for quiet, while the coarse and selfish intrude, — as hundreds of strangers intruded every year on Wordsworth. When I came into the district, I was told that the average of utter strangers who visited Rydal Mount in the season was five hundred! Their visits were not the only penalty inflicted. Some of these gentry occasionally sent letters to the newspapers, containing their opinions of the old man’s state of health or of intellect: and then, if a particularly intrusive lionhunter got a surly reception, and wrote to a newspaper that Wordsworth’s intellects were failing, there came letters of inquiry from all the family friends and acquaintances, whose affectionate solicitudes had to be satisfied.
For my part, I refused, from the first, to introduce any of my visitors at Rydal Mount, because there were far too many already. Mrs. Wordsworth repeatedly acknowledged my scrupulosity about this: but in time I found that she rather wished that I would bear my share in what had become a kind of resource to her husband. I never liked seeing him go the round of his garden and terraces, relating to persons whose very names he had not attended to, particulars about his writing and other affairs which each stranger flattered himself was a confidential communication to himself. One anecdote will show how the process went forward, and how persons fared who deserved something better than this invariable treatment. In the first autumn of my residence, — while I was in lodgings, — Mr. Seymour Tremenheere and his comrade in his Educational Commissionership, Mr. Tufnell, asked me to obtain lodgings for them, as they wished to repose from their labours beside Windermere. When they came, I told them that I could not take them to Rydal Mount. They acquiesced, though much wishing to obtain some testimony from the old poet on behalf of popular education. In a week or two, however, I had to call on Mrs. Wordsworth, and I invited the gentlemen to take their chance by going with me. We met Mr. and Mrs. Wordsworth just coming out of their door into the garden. I twice distinctly named both gentlemen; but I saw that he did not attend, and that he received them precisely after his usual manner with strangers. He marched them off to his terraces; and Mrs. Wordsworth and I sat down on a garden seat. I told her the state of the case; and she said she would take care that, when they returned, Mr. Wordsworth should understand who his guests were. This was more easily promised than done, however. When they appeared, Mr. Wordsworth uncovered his grey head as usual, wished the gentlemen improved health and much enjoyment of the lake scenery, and bowed us out. My friends told me (what I could have told them) that Mr. Wordsworth had related many interesting things about his poems, but that they doubted whether he had any idea who they were; and they had no opportunity of introducing the subject of popular education. That evening, when a party of friends and I were at tea, an urgent message came, through three families, from Rydal Mount, to the effect that Mr. Wordsworth understood that Mr. Seymour Tremenheere was in the neighbourhood; and that he was anxious to obtain an interview with Mr. Tremenheere for conversation about popular education! — Mr. Tremenheere called at the Mount the next day. He told me on his return that he had, he hoped, gained his point. He hoped for a sonnet at least. He observed, “Mr. Wordsworth discoursed to me about Education, trying to impress upon me whatever I have most insisted on in my Reports for seven years past: but I do not expect him to read Reports, and I was very happy to hear what he had to say.” The next time I fell in with Mr. Wordsworth, he said “I have to thank you for procuring for me a call from that intelligent gentleman, Mr. Tremenheere. I was glad to have some conversation with him. To be sure, he was bent on enlightening me on principles of popular education which have been published in my poems these forty years: but that is of little consequence. I am very happy to have seen him.”
In no aspect did Wordsworth appear to more advantage than in his conduct to Hartley Coleridge, who lived in his neighbourhood. The weakness, — the special vice, — of that poor, gentle, hopeless being is universally known by the publication of his life; and I am therefore free to say that, as long as there was any chance of good from remonstrance and rebuke, Wordsworth administered both, sternly and faithfully: but, when nothing more than pity and help was possible, Wordsworth treated him as gently as if he had been, — (what indeed he was in our eyes) — a sick child. I have nothing to tell of poor Hartley, of my own knowledge. Except meeting him on the road, I knew nothing of him. I recoiled from acquaintanceship, — seeing how burdensome it was in the case of persons less busy than myself, and not having, to say the truth, courage to accept the conditions on which his wonderfully beautiful conversation might be enjoyed. The simple fact is that I was in company with him five times; and all those five times he was drunk. I should think there are few solitary ladies, whose time is valuable, who would encourage intercourse with him after that. Yet I quite understood the tenderness and earnestness with which he was tended in his last illness, and the sorrow with which he was missed by his personal friends. I witnessed his funeral; and as I saw his grey-headed old friend Wordsworth bending over his grave, that winter morning, I felt that the aged mourner might well enjoy such support as could arise from a sense of duty faithfully performed to the being who was too weak for the conflicts of life. On his tombstone, which stands near Wordsworth’s own, is the cross wreathed with the thorny crown, and the inscription, so touching in this case, “By thy Cross and Passion, Good Lord, deliver me!”
One of my objects during this summer was to become acquainted with the Lake District, in a complete and orderly manner. It has been a leading pleasure and satisfaction of mine, since I grew up, to compass some one department of knowledge at a time, so as to feel a real command of it, succeeding to a misty ignorance. The first approach to this was perhaps my acquaintance with the French and Latin languages; and the next my study of the Metaphysical schools of Mental Philosophy. But these pursuits were partly ordained for me in my educational course; and they belonged to the immature period of my mind. Perhaps my first thorough possession was of the doctrine of Necessity, as I have explained in its place. Then, there was the orderly comprehension of what I then took to be the science of Political Economy, as elaborated by the Economists of our time: but I believe I should not have been greatly surprised or displeased to have perceived, even then, that the pretended science is no science at all, strictly speaking; and that so many of its parts must undergo essential change, that it may be a question whether future generations will owe much more to it than the benefit (inestimable, to be sure) of establishing the grand truth that social affairs proceed according to great general laws, no less than natural phenomena of every kind. Such as Political Economy was, however, I knew what it meant and what it comprehended. — Next came my study of the United States republic: and this study yielded me the satisfaction I am now referring to in full measure. Before I went, I actually sat down, on the only spare evening I had, to learn how many States there were in the American Union. — I am not sure that I knew that there were more than thirteen: and in three years after, one of the first constitutional lawyers in America wrote me the spontaneous assurance that there was not a single mistake in my “Society in America,” in regard to the political constitution of the republic. I really had learned something thoroughly: — not the people, of course, whom it would take a lifetime to understand; but the social system under which they were living, with the geography and the sectional facts of their country. — The next act of mastery was a somewhat dreary one, but useful in its way. I understood sickness and the prospect of death, with some completeness, at the end of my five years at Tynemouth. — Now, on my recovery, I set myself to learn the Lake District, which was still a terra incognita, veiled in bright mists before my mind’s eye: and by the close of a year from the purchase of my field, I knew every lake (I think) but two, and almost every mountain pass. I have since been complimented with the task of writing a Complete Guide to the Lakes, which was the most satisfactory testimony on the part of my neighbours that they believed I understood their beloved District. — After that, there was the working out for myself of the genealogy of the faiths of the East, as represented in my “Eastern Life.” Lastly, there was the history of the last half century of the English nation, as shown in my “History of the Peace,” and in my articles for the “Daily News,” at the beginning of the present war. I need not say that I feel now, as I have ever felt, hedged in by ignorance on every side: but I know that we must all feel this, if we could live and learn for a thousand years: but it is a privilege, as far as it goes, to make clearings, one at a time, in the wilderness of the unknown, as the settler in the Far West opens out his crofts from the primeval forest. Of these joyous labours, none has been sweeter than that of my first recovered health, when Lakeland became gradually disclosed before my explorations, till it lay before me, map-like, as if seen from a mountain top.
I had not been settled many days in my lodging at Waterhead before I was appealed to by my landlady and others on behalf of sick neighbours, to know whether mesmerism would serve them, and whether I would administer it. After what I owed to mesmerism, I could not refuse to try; and, though my power has always been very moderate, I found I could do some good. Sometimes I had seven patients asleep at one time in my sitting-room; and all on whom I tried my hand were either cured or sensibly benefited. One poor youth who was doomed to lose both arms, from scrofulous disease in the elbows, was brought to me, and settled beside me, to see what could be done till it could be ascertained whether his lungs were or were not hopelessly diseased. I mesmerised him twice a day for ten weeks, giving up all engagements which could interfere with the work. He obtained sleep, to the extent of thirteen hours in twenty-four. He recovered appetite, strength, and (the decisive circumstance) flesh. In six weeks, his parents hardly knew him, when they came over to see him. He lost his cough, and all his consumptive symptoms; we made him our postman and errand-boy; and he walked many miles in a day. But alas! my house was not built: he could not remain in the lodging when the weather broke up: his return to his father’s cottage for the winter was inevitable; and there he fell back: and the damps of February carried him off in rapid decline. None who knew him doubt that his life was lengthened for several months, and that those were months of ease and enjoyment through the mesmeric treatment. The completest case under my hands was one which I always think of with pleasure. My landlady came up one day to ask my good offices on behalf of a young nursemaid in the service of some ladies who were lodging on the ground floor of the house. This girl was always suffering under sick headache, so that her life was a burden to her, and she was quite unfit for her place. I agreed to see her; but her mistress declared that she could not spare her, as she was wanted, ill or well, to carry the baby out. One day, however, she was too ill to raise her head at all; and, as she was compelled to lie down, her mistress allowed her to be brought to my sofa. In seven minutes, she was in the mesmeric trance. She awoke well, and never had a headache again. The ladies were so struck that they begged I would mesmerise her daily. They came, the second day, to see her asleep, and said she looked so different that they should not have known her; and they called her the “little Nell,” of Dickens. In a few days she went into the trance in seven seconds: and I could do what I pleased with her, without her being conscious that I sent her all over the house, and made her open windows, make up the fire, &c., &c. She began to grow fast, became completely altered, and was in full health, and presently very pretty. Her parents came many miles to thank me; and their reluctant and hesitating request was that I would not mesmerise her in the presence of any body who would tell the clergy, on account of the practice of unbelievers of traducing the characters of all who were cured by mesmerism. I was sorry, because Professor Gregory and his lady, and some other friends, were coming for the purpose of pursuing the subject; and this girl would have been valuable to us in the inquiry: but, of course, I could not resist the wish of the parents, which I thought perfectly reasonable. — This reminds me of an incident too curious not to be related. There is at Ambleside a retired surgeon, confined to the sofa by disease. A former patient of his, an elderly woman, went to him that summer, and told him that the doctors so completely despaired of her case that they would give her no more medicine. Mr. C— was very sorry, of course; but what could be said? The woman lingered and hesitated, wanting his opinion. There was a lady, — she was lodging at Waterhead, — and she did wonderful cures. What did Mr. C— think of an application to that lady? “Why not?” asked Mr. C—, if the doctors would do nothing more for the patient? He advised the attempt. After more hesitation, the scruple came out. “Why, Sir, they do say that the lady does it through the Old ’Un.” The sick woman feared what the clergy would say; and, in spite of Mr. C—’s encouragement, she never came.
My own experience that year was an instructive one. I have mentioned that, during my recovery, I was never in the mesmeric sleep, — never unconscious. From the time that I was quite well, however, I fell into the sleep, — sometimes partially and sometimes wholly; though it took a long while to convince me that I was ever unconscious. It was only by finding that I had lost an hour that I could be convinced that I had slept at all. One day, when mesmerised by two persons, I had begun to speak; and from that time, whenever I was thus double mesmerised, I discoursed in a way which those who heard it call very remarkable. I could remember some of the wonderful things I had seen and thought, if questioned immediately on my waking; but the impressions were presently gone. A shorthand writer took down much of what I said; and certainly those fragments are wholly unlike any thing I have ever said under any other circumstances. I still believe that some faculties are thus reached which are not, as far as can be known, exercised at any other time; and also that the conceptive and imaginative faculties, as well as those of insight and of memory, are liable to be excited to very vigorous action. When consciousness is incomplete, — or rather, when unconsciousness is all but complete, — so that actual experience is interfused with the dreams of the mesmeric condition, there is danger of that state of mind which is not uncommon under mesmeric treatment, and which renders the superintendence of an experienced and philosophical mesmeriser so desirable as we see it to be — a state of exaltation almost amounting to delusion, when imaginative patients are concerned. Nobody would consider me, I think, a particularly imaginative patient; and nothing could be more common-place and safe than the practice while I was either wide awake or so completely asleep as to remember nothing of my dreams afterwards; but, in the intermediate case, I was subject to a set of impressions so strong that, — having seen instances of the clairvoyant and prophetic faculty in others, — it was scarcely possible to avoid the belief that my constant and highly detailed impressions were of the same character. It is impossible to be absolutely certain, at this moment, that they were not; but the strongest probably is that they were of the same nature with the preachments and oracular statements of a host of mesmeric patients who give forth their notions about “the spiritual world” and its inhabitants.* It is observed, in all accounts of spirit-rappings and mesmeric speculation, that, on the subject of religion, each speaker gives out his own order of opinions in the form of testimony from what he sees. We have all the sects of Christendom represented in their mesmerised members, — constituting, to the perplexity of inexperienced observers, as remarkable a Babel in the spiritual world as on our European and American soil; and, when there is no hope of reconciling these incompatible oracles, the timid resort to the supposition of demoniacal agency. There is no marvel in this to persons who, like myself, are aware, from their own experience, of the irresistible strength of the impressions of mesmeric dreaming, when more or less interfused with waking knowledge; nor to philosophical observers who, like my guardian in this stage of my experience, have witnessed the whole range of the phenomena with cool judgment, and under a trained method of investigation. Under different management, and without his discouragements and cool exposure of the discrepancies of dreaming, I might have been one of the victims of the curiosity and half-knowledge of the time; and my own trust in my waking faculties, and, much more, other people’s trust in them, might have been lost; and my career of literary action might have prematurely come to an end. Even before I was quite safe, an incident occurred which deeply impressed me. — Margaret Fuller, who had been, in spite of certain mutual repulsions, an intimate acquaintance of mine in America, came to Ambleside while Professor and Mrs. Gregory and other friends were pursuing the investigations I have referred to. I gave her and the excellent friends with whom she was travelling, the best welcome I could. My house was full: but I got lodgings for them, made them welcome as guests, and planned excursions for them. Her companions evidently enjoyed themselves; and Margaret Fuller as evidently did not, except when she could harangue the drawing-room party, without the interruption of any other voice within its precincts. There were other persons present, at least as eminent as herself, to whom we wished to listen; but we were willing that all should have their turn: and I am sure I met her with every desire for friendly intercourse. She presently left off conversing with me, however; while I, as hostess, had to see that my other guests were entertained, according to their various tastes. During our excursion in Langdale, she scarcely spoke to any body; and not at all to me; and when we afterwards met in London, when I was setting off for the East, she treated me with the contemptuous benevolence which it was her wont to bestow on common-place people. I was therefore not surprised when I became acquainted, presently after, with her own account of the matter. She told her friends that she had been bitterly disappointed in me. It had been a great object with her to see me, after my recovery by mesmerism, to enjoy the exaltation and spiritual development which she concluded I must have derived from my excursions in the spiritual world: but she had found me in no way altered by it: no one could have discovered that I had been mesmerised at all; and I was so thoroughly common-place that she had no pleasure in intercourse with me. — This was a very welcome confirmation of my hope that I had, under Mr. Atkinson’s wise care, come back nearly unharmed from the land of dreams; and this more than compensated for the unpleasantness of disappointing the hopes of one whom I cordially respected for many fine qualities, intellectual and moral, while I could not pretend to find her mind unspoiled and her manners agreeable. She was then unconsciously approaching the hour of that remarkable regeneration which transformed her from the dreaming and haughty pedant into the true woman. In a few months more, she had loved and married; and how interesting and beautiful was the closing period of her life, when husband and child concentrated the powers and affections which had so long run to waste in intellectual and moral eccentricity, the concluding period of her memoirs has shown to us all. Meantime, the most acceptable verdict that she could pronounce upon me in my own function of housekeeper and hostess, while the medical world was hoping to hear of my insanity, was that I was “common-place.”
Some members of that medical world were, in that summer at Waterhead (1845) demonstrating to me what my duty was in regard to poor Jane, at Tynemouth, — usually called my maid, but not yet so, nor to be so till the spring of 1846. The sudden cessation of mesmerism was disastrous to the poor girl. — Her eyes became as bad as ever; and the persecution of the two doctors employed by Dr. Forbes fell upon her alone, — her ignorant and selfish aunt refusing to let her be mesmerised, and permitting her rather to go blind. When she was blind, these two men came to her with a paper which they required her to sign, declaring that she had been guilty of imposture throughout; and they told her that she should be taken to prison if she did not, then and there, sign their paper. She steadily refused, not only to sign, but to answer any of their questions, saying that they had set down false replies for both her aunts; and in this her aunts took courage to support her, in the face of threats from the doctors that they would prevent these poor widows having any more lodgers. An Ambleside friend of mine, calling on Jane at Tynemouth, found her in this plight, and most kindly brought over from South Shields a benevolent druggist, accustomed to mesmerise. The aunt refused him admission to her house; and he therefore went to the bottom of the garden, where Jane was supported to a seat. At the end of the séance, she could see some bright thing on her lap; and she had an appetite, for the first time for some weeks. The aunt could not resist this appeal to her heart and her self-interest at once; and she made the druggist welcome. As soon as I heard all this, I begged my kind aunts to go over from Newcastle, and tell Jane’s aunt that if she could restore Jane so far as to undertake the journey to Ambleside, I would thenceforth take charge of her. It was a fearful undertaking, under the circumstances; but I felt that my protection and support were due to the poor girl. The aunt had her mesmerised and well cared for; and in two or three weeks she said she could come. I had, as yet, no house; and there was no room for her in my lodging; so I engaged a cottager near Ambleside to receive the girl, and board her for her services in taking care of the children till my house should be habitable. She was so eager to reach me that, when she found the Keswick coach full, she walked sixteen miles, rather than wait, and presented herself to me tearful, nervous, in sordid clothes (for her aunt had let the poor girl’s wardrobe go to rags while she was too blind to sew) and her eyes like those of a blind person, looking as if the iris was covered with tissue paper. My heart sank at the sight. I told her that I had not mentioned mesmerism to her hostess, because, after all she had gone through, I thought the choice should be hers whether to speak of it or not. I had simply told the woman that I wished Jane to take a walk to my lodgings, three or four times a week. Jane’s instant reply was that she did not wish for any secret about the matter; and that she thought she ought not to mind any ill-treatment while God permitted sick people to get well by a new means, whether the doctors liked it or not. I soon found that she was mesmerising a diseased baby in the cottage, and teaching the mother to do it; — whereby the child lived for months after the medical man declined visiting it any more, because it was dying. I mesmerised Jane three times a week; and in ten days her eyes were as clear as my own. When, henceforth, I saw any doubtful appearance in them, I mesmerised her once or twice; and that set all right. She never had any more trouble with them, except during my long absence in the East. They looked ill when I returned; when again, and finally, a few séances cured them. She lived with me seven years, and then went, with my entire approbation, to Australia. She immediately became cook in the family of the High Sheriff of Melbourne, where she is still. The zeal with which she assisted in furnishing and preparing my new house may be imagined; and how happy she was in those opening spring days when we met at the house early in the mornings, and staid till nine at night, making all ready in the new house which we longed to occupy. The first night (April 7th, 1846) when we made our beds, stirred up the fires, and locked the doors, and had some serious talk, as members of a new household, will never be forgotten, for its sweetness and solemnity, by my maids or myself.
Many persons, before doubtful or adverse, began to take a true view of this girl and her case when I was in the East. When they saw that, instead of accepting large sums of money to go about as a clairvoyante, with lecturers on mesmerism, she remained at her post in my house, during the long fourteen months of my absence, they were convinced that she was no notoriety-seeker, or trickster, or speculator for money. She practiced the closest economy, and invested her savings carefully, because she doubted her eyes, and wished to provide against accidents; and, when she emigrated, she had money enough for a good outfit, and to spare. But she might have had ten times as much if she had been tempted to itinerate as a clairvoyante. With these facts I close her history. I have given it fully, because it happened repeatedly during the seven years that she lived with me, that reports appeared in the newspapers, or by applications to myself through the post, that I had dismissed her in disgrace. My reply always was that if I had seen reason to doubt her honesty in the matter of the mesmerism, or in any other way, I should have felt myself bound to avow the fact in print, after all that had happened. My final declaration is that I have never known a more truthful person than my Jane; and I am confident that, among all the neighbours to whom she was known for seven years, and among her Tynemouth neighbours, who knew her for the nineteen preceding years of her life, there are none who would dissent from my judgment of her.
My notion of doing no work during the gladsome year 1845 soon gave way, — not before inclination, (for I was sorely reluctant) but duty. When the potato famine was impending, and there was alarm for the farming interest, Mr. Bright’s Committee on the Game-laws published the evidence laid before them; and it appeared that there could not be a better time for drawing public attention to a system more detrimental to the farming class, and more injurious to the production of food than any of the grievances put forth by the complaining “agricultural interest.” I was told that I ought to treat the subject as I had treated the topics of Political Economy in my Series; and I agreed that I ought. Mr. Bright supplied me with the evidence; I collected historical material; and I wrote the three volumes of “Forest and Game-Law Tales” in the autumn of 1845. Above 2,000 copies of these have sold; but, at the time, the publication appeared to be a total failure; — my first failure. The book came out, as it happened, precisely at the time when Sir R. Peel was known to be about to repeal the Corn-laws. It was said at the time that for three weeks no publisher in London sold any thing, with the one exception of Wordsworth’s new and last edition of his works, wherein he took his farewell of the public. Nearly 1,000 copies of my book were sold at once; but, reckoning on a very large sale, we had stereotyped it; and this turned out a mistake, — the stereotyping more than cutting off the profits of the sale. From that work I have never received a shilling. On my own account, I have never regretted doing the work, — reluctant as I was to work that happy autumn. I know that many young men, and some of them sure to become members of the legislature, have been impressed by those essentially true stories to a degree which cannot but affect the destination and duration of the Game-laws; and this is enough. That the toil was an encroachment on my fresh pleasures at the time, and has proved gratuitous, is of no consequence now, while it is certain that a few young lords and gentry have had their eyes opened to the cost of their sport, and to their duty in regard to it. If I could but learn that some of the 2,000 copies sold had gone into the hands of the farmers, and had put any strength into their hearts to assert their rights, and resist the wrongs they have too tamely submitted to, I should feel that the result deserved a much greater sacrifice. As it was, I set down the gratuitous labour as my contribution to, or fine upon, the repeal of the Corn-laws.
That repeal was now drawing nigh. It was in the November and December of that year that Lord John Russell condescended to that struggle for power with Sir R. Peel which will damage his fame in the eyes of posterity, and which reflected disgrace at the time on the whole Whig party, as it waned towards dissolution. During the struggle, and the alternate “fall” of the two statesmen, much wonder was felt by people generally, and, it is believed, especially by Sir R. Peel, that the great middle-class body, including the Anti-corn-law League, showed so little earnestness in supporting Peel; so that when the matter was placed in Peel’s hands by his restoration to power, it did not seem to get on. I had occasion to know where the hitch was; and, as it appeared to me, to act upon that knowledge, in a way quite new to me, — indisposed as I have always been to meddle in matters which did not concern me. — While I was ill at Tynemouth, Colonel Thompson and Mr. Cobden called on me; and we had a long talk on League affairs, and the prospect of a repeal of the Corn Laws. Mr. Cobden told me that he and his comrades were so incessantly occupied in lecturing, and in showing up to multitudes the facts of a past and present time, that they had no leisure or opportunity to study the probable future; and that the opinions or suggestions of a person like myself, lying still, and reading and thinking, might be of use to the leaders of the agitation; and he asked me to write to him if at any time I had any thing to criticise or suggest, in regard to League affairs. I had not much idea that I could be of any service; but I made the desired promise.
In the autumn of 1845, when Sir R. Peel retired from the government to make way for Lord J. Russell, Mr. Cobden made a speech to his Stockport constituents, in which he spoke in terms of insult of Peel. I saw this with much regret; and, recalling my promise, I wrote to Mr. Cobden, telling him that it was as a member of the League, and not as a censor that I wrote to him. It was no business of mine to criticise his temper or taste in addressing his constituents; but I reminded him that his Stockport speech was read all over the kingdom; and I asked him whether he thought the object of the League would be furthered by his having insulted a fallen Minister; — whether, indeed, any thing had ever been gained, since society began, by any man having insulted any other man. Before my letter reached Mr. Cobden, he had spoken in yet more outrageous terms of Peel, at a crowded meeting in Covent Garden theatre, leaving himself without the excuse that, in addressing his constituents, he had lost sight of the consideration of the general publicity of his speech. Mr. Cobden’s reply was all good-humour and candour as regarded myself; but it disclosed the depth of the sore in his mind in regard to his relations with Sir R. Peel. There is no occasion to tell at length the sad story of what had passed between them in February 1843, when Peel charged Cobden with being answerable for assassination, and Cobden, losing his presence of mind, let the occasion turn against him. It was the worst act of Peel’s public life, no doubt; and the moment was one of such anguish to Cobden that he could never recall it without agitation. He referred to it, in his reply to me, in extenuation of his recent outbreak, — while declining to justify himself. I wrote again, allowing that Peel’s conduct admitted of no justification; but showing that there were extenuating circumstances in his case too. Of these circumstances I happened to know more than the public did; and I now laid them before my correspondent, — again saying that I did not see why the cause should suffer for such individual griefs. In the course of two or three weeks, plenty of evidence reached me that the great manufacturing classes were holding back on account of this unsettled reckoning between Peel and their leader; and also that Cobden had suffered much and magnanimously, for a course of years, from the remonstrances and instigations of liberal members, who urged his seeking personal satisfaction from his enemy. Mr. Cobden had steadily refused, because he was in parliament as the representative of the bread-eaters, and had no right, as he thought, to consume the time and attention of parliament with his private grievances. It struck me that it was highly important that Sir R. Peel should know all this, as he was otherwise not master of his own position. I therefore wrote to a neutral friend of his and mine, laying the case before him. He was a Conservative M. P., wholly opposed to the repeal of the Corn-laws; but I did not see that that was necessarily an obstacle. I told him that he must see that the Corn-laws must be repealed, and that there would be no peace and quiet till the thing was done; and I had little doubt that he would be glad of the opportunity of bringing two earnest men to a better understanding with each other. My friend did not answer my letter for three weeks; and when he did, he could send me nothing but fierce vituperation of his abjured leader. Time was now pressing; and I had not felt it right to wait. The whole move would have failed but for the accident that Mr. Cobden had sat in a draught, and suffered from an abscess in the ear which kept him from the House for three weeks or so. What I did was this.
As I sat at breakfast on New Year’s day, (1846) thinking over this matter, it struck me that no harm could be done by my writing myself to Sir R. Peel. He would probably think me meddlesome, and be vexed at the womanish folly of supposing that, while the laws of honour which are so sacred in men’s eyes remain, he could make any move towards a man who had insulted him as Mr. Cobden had recently done. But it was nothing to me what Sir R. Peel thought of the act. He was a stranger to me; and his opinion could not weigh for an instant against the remotest chance of abridging the suspense about the Corn-laws. I frankly told him this, in the letter which I wrote him after breakfast. I laid the case before him; and, when I came to the duelling considerations, I told him what a woman’s belief is in such a case, — that a devoted man can rise above arbitrary social rules; and that I believed him to be the man who could do it. I believed him to be capable of doing the impossible in social morals, as he was proving himself to be in politics. I told him that my sole object was to put him in possession of a case which I suspected he did not understand; and that I therefore desired no answer, nor any notice whatever of my letter, which was written without any body’s knowledge, and would be posted by my own hand. By return of post came a long letter from Sir R. Peel which moved me deeply. Nothing could be more frank, more cordial, or more satisfactory. It was as I suspected. He had not had the remotest idea that what he had said in the House by way of amende, the next (Monday) evening after the insult, had not been considered satisfactory. He wrote strongly about the hardship of being thus kept in the dark for years, — neither Mr. Cobden nor any other member on either side of the House having hinted to him that the matter was not entirely settled. — Now that it was clear that Sir R. Peel would act on his new knowledge in one way or another, the question occurred to me, — what was to be done with Mr. Cobden, whose want of presence of mind had aggravated the original mischief. The same deficiencies might spoil the whole business now. — I had told Sir R. Peel, whilst praising Mr. Cobden, that of course he knew nothing of what I was doing. I now wrote to Mr. Cobden, the most artful letter I ever penned. It really was difficult to manage this, my first intrigue, all alone. I told Mr. Cobden that the more I pondered the existing state of the Corn-law affair, the more sure I felt that Sir R. Peel must become aware of the cause of the backwardness of the Manchester interest; and also, that my view of certain unconspicuous features of the Minister’s character led me to expect some magnanimous offer of an amende; and I ventured to observe what a pity it would be if Mr. Cobden should be so taken by surprise as to let such an occasion of reconciliation be lost. I also wrote to Sir R. Peel, telling him that, however it might appear to him, Mr. Cobden was of a relenting nature, likely to go more than half way to meet an adversary; and that, though he knew nothing of my interference, I had a confident hope that he would not be found wanting, if an occasion should present itself for him finally to merge his private grief in the great public cause of the day.
The next morning but one, the post brought me a newspaper directed by Sir R. Peel, and autographed by him; and, as usual, the “Times.” There was also a note from Mr. Cobden which prepared me for something interesting in the report of the Debates. His note was scrawled in evident feebleness, and expressive of the deepest emotion. He dated at 3 a. m., and said he had just returned from the House, and that he could not lay his head on his pillow till he had sent me the blessing on the peacemaker. He declared that his mind was eased of a load which had burdened it for long and miserable years; and now he should be a new man. The “Times” told me how immediately Sir R. Peel had acted on his new information, and that that union of effort was now obtained under which the immediate repeal of the Corn-laws was certain. How well the hostile statesmen acted together thenceforth, every body knows. But scarcely any body knows (unless Sir R. Peel thought proper to tell) how they came to an understanding. Mr. Cobden has told his friends that it was somehow my doing; but he never heard a word of it from or through me. — He wrote, after some time, to beg me to burn any letters of his which contained his former opinion of Sir R. Peel. I had already done so. I wished to preserve only what all the parties implicated would enjoy seeing twenty years later: and I should not have related the story here if I had not considered it honourable to every body concerned.
I little dreamed during that winter how I should pass the next. The months slipped away rapidly, amidst the visits of family and friends, writing, study, house-building, and intercourse with the few neighbours whom I knew. A young nephew and niece came late in the autumn, and others in the spring; and we went little journeys on foot among the mountains, carrying knapsack or basket, and making acquaintance among the small country inns. In the spring, there was the pleasure of bringing home basketsful of the beautiful ferns and mosses of the district, and now and then a cartful of heather, to cover my rocks; and primroses and foxgloves and daffodils and periwinkle for the garden; and wood-sorrel for the copses, where the blue-bells presently eclipsed the grass. A friend in London, who knew my desire for a sundial, and heard that I could not obtain the old one which had told me so important a story in my childhood, presented me with one, to stand on the grass under my terrace wall, and above the quarry which was already beginning to fill with shrubs and wild-flowers. The design of the dial is beautiful, — being a copy of an ancient font; and in grey granite, to accord with the grey-stone house above it. The motto was an important affair. A neighbour had one so perfect in its way as to eclipse a whole class; — the class of bible sayings about the shortness of life and the flight of time. “The night cometh.” In asking my friends for suggestions, I told them of this; and they agreed that we could not approach this motto, in the same direction. Some good Latin ones, to which I inclined, were put aside because I was besought, for what I considered good reasons, to have nothing but English. It has always been my way to ask advice very rarely, and then to follow it. But on this occasion, I preferred a motto of my own to all that were offered in English; and Wordsworth gave it his emphatic approbation. “Come, Light! visit me!” stands emblazoned on my dial: and it has been, I believe, as frequent and impressive a monitor to me as ever was any dial which bore warning of the fugacious nature of life and time.
Summer brought a succession of visitors, — very agreeable, but rather too many for my strength and repose. I began to find what are the liabilities of Lake residents in regard to tourists. There is quite wear and tear enough in receiving those whom one wishes to see; one’s invited guests, or those introduced by one’s invited friends. But these are fewer than the unscrupulous strangers who intrude themselves with compliments, requests for autographs, or without any pretence whatever. Every summer they come and stare in at the windows while we are at dinner, hide behind shrubs or the corner of the house, plant themselves in the yards behind or the field before; are staring up at one’s window when one gets up in the morning, gather handfuls of flowers in the garden, stop or follow us in the road, and report us to the newspapers. I soon found that I must pay a serious tax for living in my paradise: I must, like many of my neighbours, go away in “the tourist season.” My practice has since been to let my house for the months of July, August and September, — or for the two latter at least, and go to the sea, or some country place where I could be quiet.
I do not know that a better idea of the place could be given than by the following paragraphs from a palpable description of our little town (under the name of Haukside, — a compound of Hawkshead and Ambleside) which appeared some time since in “Chambers’s Journal.”
“The constitution of our town suffers six months of the year from fever, and the other six from collapse. In the summer-time, our inns are filled to bursting; our private houses broken into by parties desperate after lodgings; the prices of every thing are quadrupled; our best meat, our thickest cream, our freshest fish, are reserved for strangers; our letters, delivered three hours after time, have been opened and read by banditti assuming our own title; ladies of quality, loaded with tracts, fusillade us; savage and bearded foreigners harass us with brazen wind instruments; coaches run frantically towards us from every point of the compass; a great steam-monster ploughs our lake, and disgorges multitudes upon the pier; the excursion-trains bring thousands of curious vulgar, who mistake us for the authoress next door, and compel us to forge her autograph; the donkeys in our streets increase and multiply a hundredfold, tottering under the weight of enormous females visiting our waterfalls from morn to eve; our hills are darkened by swarms of tourists; we are ruthlessly eyed by painters, and brought into foregrounds and backgrounds, as ‘warm tints’ or ‘bits of repose;’ our lawns are picknicked upon by twenty at a time, and our trees branded with initial letters; creatures with introductions come to us, and can’t be got away; we have to lionise poor, stupid, and ill-looking people for weeks, without past, present, or future recompense; Sunday is a day of rest least of all, and strange clergymen preach charity-sermons every week with a perfect kaleidoscope of religious views.
“The fever lasts from May until October.
“When it is over, horses are turned out to grass, and inn-servants are disbanded; houses seem all too big for us; the hissing fiend is ‘laid’ upon the lake; the coaches and cars are on their backs in outhouses, with their wheels upward; the trees get bare, the rain begins to fall, grass grows in the streets, and Haukside collapses.
“Our collapse generally lasts from November to May. During this interval, we residents venture to call upon each other. Barouches and chariots we have none, but chiefly shandrydans and buggies; we are stately and solemn in our hospitalities, and retain fashions amongst us that are far from new; we have evening-parties very often, and at every party — whist! Not that it is our sole profession: not that it is our only amusement: it is simply an eternal and unalterable custom — whist! We have no clubs to force it into vigour; the production is indigenous and natural to the place. It is the attainment of all who have reached years of maturity; the dignity of the aged, and the ambition of the young; a little whirling in the dance, a little leaning over the piano, a little attachment to the supper-table, a little flirting on both sides — all this is at Haukside as elsewhere; but the end, the bourn to which male and female alike tend at last after experiencing the vanity of all things else, and from which none ever returns, is — the whist-table.”
The autumn of 1846 had been fixed on for a series of visits to some of my family, and to London; and I let my house to a young couple of my acquaintance for their honeymoon, and went to Liverpool, to my younger sister’s, on the last day of August, little dreaming how long it would be before I came back again. I should have gone away even more sad than I was, if I had known.
[* ]An eminent literary man said lately that he never was afraid of dying before; but that he now could not endure the idea of being summoned by students of spirit-rapping to talk such nonsense as their ghosts are made to do. This suggests to me the expediency of declaring my conviction that if any such students should think fit to summon me, when I am gone hence, they will get a visit from — not me, — but the ghosts of their own thoughts: and I beg beforehand not to be considered answerable for any thing that may be revealed under such circumstances. — I do not attempt to offer any explanation of that curious class of phenomena, but I do confidently deny that we can be justified in believing that Bacon, Washington and other wise men are the speakers of the trash that the “spiritual circles” report as their revelations.