LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
|PORTRAIT OF HARRIET MARTINEAU. 1850||Frontispiece|
|THE KNOLI, Ambleside. 1856||102|
HARRIET MARTINEAU’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY.
The same mail which brought back my M. S. from Mr. Murray brought the news of the flight of Louis Philippe. My petty interests seemed unworthy of mention, even to myself, in the same day with that event. Mine were re-arranged in three days, while the affairs of the Continent became more exciting from hour to hour. Towards the end of March, when my book was finished, and nearly ready for publication, letters came in, in increasing numbers, appealing to me for help, in one form or another, for or against popular interests, so far as they were supposed to be represented by Chartism. Of these letters, one was from the wife of a Cabinet Minister, an old acquaintance, who was in a terrible panic about Feargus O’Connor and the threatened Chartist outbreak of the tenth of April, then approaching. She told me that she wrote under her husband’s sanction, to ask me, now that they saw my book was advertised for publication, to use my power over the working-classes, to bring them to reason, &c., &c. The letter was all one tremor in regard to the Chartists, and flattery to myself. I replied that I had no influence, as far as I knew, with the Chartists; and that, as a matter of fact, I agreed with them in some points of doctrine while thinking them sadly mistaken in others, and in their proposed course of action. I told her that I had seen something in the newspapers which had made me think of going to London: and that if I did go, I would endeavour to see as many political leaders (in and out of parliament) as possible, and would, if she pleased, write her an account of what should seem to me the state of things, and the best to be done, by myself and others. It was an advertisement in the newspapers which had made me think of going; — the advertisement of a new periodical to be issued by Mr. Knight, called “The Voice of the People.” It was pointed out to me by several of my friends, as full of promise in such hands at such a time. The day after my letter to Lady — was sent, I heard from Mr. Knight. He desired to see me so earnestly that he said, if I could not go to town, he would come to me, — ill as he could just then spare the time: or, he would come and fetch me, if I wished it. Of course, I went immediately; and I helped to the extent Mr. Knight wished, in his new periodical. But I saw immediately, as he did, that the thing would never do. The Whig touch perished it at once. The Whig officials set it up, and wished to dictate and control its management in a way which no literary man could have endured, if their ideas and feelings had been as good as possible. But the poverty and perverseness of their ideas, and the insolence of their feelings were precisely what might be expected by all who really knew that remarkably vulgar class of men. They proposed to lecture the working-classes, who were by far the wiser party of the two, in a jejune, coaxing, dull, religious-tract sort of tone, and criticised and deprecated every thing like vigour, and a manly and genial tone of address in the new publication, while trying to push in, as contributors, effete and exhausted writers, and friends of their own who knew about as much of the working-classes of England as of those of Turkey. Of course, the scheme was a complete and immediate failure. On the insertion of an article by a Conservative Whig, (which was certainly enough to account for the catastrophe,) the sale fell to almost nothing at all; and Mr. Knight, who had before stood his ground manfully against the patrons of the scheme, threw up the business.
Meantime, the tenth of April arrived (while I was near London) and passed in the way which we all remember. Lady — wrote to me in a strain of exultation, as vulgar, to say the least, as Feargus O’Connor’s behaviour, about the escape of the government. She told of O’Connor’s whimpering because his toes were trodden on; and was as insolent in her triumph about a result which was purely a citizen work as she had been abject when in fear that the Chartists would hold the metropolis. I felt the more obliged to write the promised letter, when I had seen several leading politicians of the liberal party; and I did it when I came home. I did it carefully; and I submitted my letter to two ladies who were judges of manners, as well as of politics; and they gave it their sanction, — one of them copying it, with entire approbation. Lady —’s reply was one of such insolence as precluded my writing to her again. She spoke of the “lower classes” (she herself being a commoner by birth) as comprising all below the peerage; so that she classed together the merchants and manufacturers with “cottagers” and even paupers; and, knowing me to be a manufacturer’s daughter, she wrote of that class as low, and spoke of having been once obliged to pass a week in the house of a manufacturer, where the governess was maltreated with the tyranny which marks low people. My two consultees reddened with indignation at the personal insolence to myself; which I had overlooked in my disgust at the wrong to my “order,” and to the “cottagers” with whom she classed us. By their advice, I wrote a short note to this lady’s husband, to explain that my letter was not a spontaneous address, as his lady now assumed, but written in answer to her request. This little transaction confirmed the impression which I had derived from all my recent intercourse with official Whigs; — that there was nothing to be expected from them now that they were spoiled by the possession of place and power. I had seen that they had learned nothing by their opportunities: that they were hardened in their conceit and their prejudices, and as blind as bats to the new lights which time was introducing into society. I expected what became apparent in the first year of the war, when their incapacity and aristocratic self-complacency disgraced our administration, and lowered our national character in the eyes of the world, and cost their country many thousands of lives and many millions of treasure. I have seen a good deal of life and many varieties of manners; and it now appears to me that the broadest vulgarity I have encountered is in the families of official Whigs, who conceive themselves the cream of society, and the lights and rulers of the world of our empire. The time is not far off, though I shall not live to see it, when that coterie will be found to have brought about a social revolution more disastrous to themselves than any thing that could have been rationally anticipated from poor Feargus O’Connor and his Chartist host of April 10th, 1848.
What Mr. Knight wanted of me at that time was not mainly my assistance in his new periodical, but to carry on an old enterprise which had been dropped. The “History of the Thirty Years’ Peace” had been begun long before; but difficulties had occurred which had brought it to a stand for two years past. That his subscribers should have been thus apparently deserted, and left with the early numbers useless on their hands, was a heavy care to my good friend; and he proposed to me to release him from his uncomfortable position by undertaking to finish the work. I felt tempted; but I did not at all know whether I could write History. Under his encouragement, I promised to try, if he could wait three months. I was writing “Household Education,” and I had promised him an account of the Lake District, for the work he was publishing, called “The Land we live in.” It was on or about the 1st of August that I opened, for study, the books which Mr. Knight had been collecting and forwarding to me for the sources of my material.
This year was the beginning of a new work which has afforded me more vivid and unmixed pleasure than any, except authorship, that I ever undertook;—that of delivering a yearly course of lectures to the mechanics of Ambleside and their families. Nothing could have been further from my thoughts, at the outset, than such an extension of the first effort. On my return from the East, I was talking with a neighbour about the way in which children, and many other untravelled persons, regard the Holy Land. When Dr. Carpenter taught me in my youth, among his other catechumens, the geography of Palestine, with notices from Maundrell’s travels there, it was like finding out that a sort of fairy land was a real and substantial part of our everyday earth; and my eagerness to learn all about it was extreme, and highly improving in a religious sense. I remarked now to my neighbour that it was a pity that the school-children should not learn from me something of what I had learned in my youth from Maundrell. She seized upon the idea, and proposed that I should give familiar lectures to the monitors and best scholars of the national school, — sometimes, when convenient, to escape visitation, called the Squire’s school. I was willing, and we went to the school-mistress, whose reception of the scheme amused us much. She said she knew, and had taught the children, “all about the sources of the Nile;” but that she should be glad to hear any thing more that I had to tell. We could hardly refrain from asking her to teach us “all about the sources of the Nile:” but we satisfied ourselves with fixing the plan for my addressing the children in the school-house. I was more nervous the first time than ever after, — serious as was the extension of the plan. After the first lecture, which was to two or three rows of children and their school-mistress, a difficulty arose. The incumbent’s lady made a speech in School Committee, against our scheme, saying that the incumbent had found so much discontent in the parish from a dissenter having been allowed to set foot in the school-house, that its doors must be closed against me. She added some compliments to me and the lectures, which she expressed a great wish to hear, and so on. My neighbour immediately took all the blame on herself, saying that I had not even known where the school-house was till she introduced me to it; and that what I had done was at her request. She went straight to the authorities of the chapel which stands at the foot of my rock, and in an hour obtained from them in writing an assurance that it would give them “the greatest pleasure” that I should lecture in their school-rooms. Armed with this, and blushing all over, my neighbour came, and was relieved to find that I was not offended but amused at the transaction. I proposed to have the children in my kitchen, which would hold them very well; and that we should invite the incumbent’s lady to be present. My neighbour said “No, no: she does not deserve that,” and produced the Methodists’ gracious letter. I may add here that last year the incumbent’s lady said, in a railway carriage, in the hearing of a friend of mine, that there was great alarm among the clergy when I first came to live at Ambleside: but that it had died away gradually and completely (even after the publication of the Atkinson Letters) from their finding that, while I thought it right to issue through the press whatever I thought, I never meddled with any body’s opinions in private. I may add, too, that I have been treated with courtesy and kindness, whenever occasion brought us together.
It occurs to me also to add an anecdote which diverted me and my friends at the time, and which seems more odd than ever, after the lapse of a few years. There is a Book-club at Ambleside, the members of which are always complaining to outsiders of the dullness of the books, and the burdensomeness of the connexion. I had had hints about the duty of neighbours to subscribe to the Book-club; and when one or two books that I wished to see were circulating, I told a member that I was not anxious to join, at an expense which could hardly be compensated, — judging by what I heard about the choice of books: but that, if I ever joined, it should be then. She mentioned this to another member; and it was agreed that I should be proposed and seconded. But the gentleman she spoke to — always a friendly neighbour to me, — called on her to communicate, with much concern, his apprehension that I might possibly be black-balled. He was entirely uncertain; but he had some notion that it might be so. The lady came, very nervous, to ask whether I would proceed or not. I had half a mind to try the experiment, — it would have been such a rich joke, — so voluminous a writer, and one so familiar in literary society in London, being black-balled in a country book-club! But I thought it more considerate not to thrust myself into any sort of connexion with any body who might be afraid of me. I profited by an invitation to join a few families in a subscription to a London library, by which, for less money, I got a sight of all the books I wished to see, — and no others; for my friends and I are of the same mind in our choice of reading.
At the second lecture, some of the parents and elder brothers and sisters of the children stole in to listen; and before I had done, there was a petition that I would deliver the lectures to grown people. I saw at once what an opportunity this was, and nerved myself to use it. I expanded the lectures, and made them of a higher cast; and before another year, the Mechanics of Ambleside and their families were eager for other subjects. I have since lectured every winter but two; and with singular satisfaction. The winter was the time chosen, because the apprentices and shop-keepers could not leave their business in time, when the days lengthened. No gentry were admitted, except two or three friends who took tea with me, and went as my staff, — in order to help me, if any difficulty arose, and to let me know if I spoke either too loud or too low; a matter of which, from my deafness, I could not judge. It is rather remarkable that, being so deaf, and having never before spoken in any but a conversational tone, I never got wrong as to loudness. I placed one of my servants at the far end of the room; and relied on her to take out her handkerchief if she failed to hear me; but it always went well. I made notes on half-a-sheet of paper, of dates or other numbers, or of facts which might slip my memory; but I trusted entirely to my power at the time for my matter and words. I never wrote a sentence; and I never once stopped for a word. — The reasons why no gentry were admitted were, first, because there was no room for more than the “workies:” and next, that I wished to keep the thing natural and quiet. If once the affair got into the newspapers, there would be an end of the simplicity of the proceeding. Again, I had, as I told the gentry, nothing new to tell to persons who had books at home, and leisure to read them. — My object was to give rational amusement to men whom all circumstances seemed to conspire to drive to the public-house, and to interest them in matters which might lead them to books, or at least give them something to think about. My lectures were maliciously misrepresented by a quizzer here and there, and especially by a lawyer or two, who came this way on circuit, and professed to have been present: but they were welcome to their amusement, as long as it was an indisputable matter that they had not been present.
The second course was on Sanitary matters; and it was an effectual preparation for my scheme of instituting a Building Society. In a place like Ambleside, where wages are high, the screw is applied to the working men in regard to their dwellings. The great land-owners, who can always find room to build mansions, have never a corner for a cottage: and not only are rents excessively high, but it is a serious matter for a working man to offend his landlord, by going to chapel instead of church, for instance, when he may be met by the threat — “If you enter that chapel again, I will turn your family out of your cottage; and you know you can’t get another.” When the people are compelled to sleep, ten, twelve, or fourteen in two rooms, there can be little hope for their morals or manners; and one of the causes of the excessive intemperance of the population is well known to be the discomfort of the crowded dwellings. When the young men come home to bad smells and no room to turn, they go off to the public-house. The kind-hearted among the gentry tend the sick, and pray with the disheartened, and reprove the sinner; but I have found it singularly difficult to persuade them that, however good may be wine and broth, and prayers and admonition, it is better to cut off the sources of disease, sin and misery by a purer method of living. My recourse was to the “workies” themselves, in that set of lectures; in which I endeavoured to show them that all the means of healthy and virtuous living were around them, — in a wide space of country, slopes for drainage, floods of gushing water, and the wholesomest air imaginable. I showed them how they were paying away in rent, money enough to provide every head of a household with a cottage of his own in a few years; and I explained to them the principle of such a Building Society as we might have, — free from the dangers which beset such societies in large towns, where the members are unknown to each other, and sharp lawyers may get in to occasion trouble. They saw at once that if twenty men lay by together, instead of separately, a shilling a week each, they need not wait twenty weeks for any one to have the use of a pound; but the twentieth man may have his pound, just the same, while the other nineteen will have had earlier use of theirs, and be paying interest for it. Hence arose our Building Society; the meeting to form it being held in my kitchen. A generous friend of mine advanced the money to buy a field, which I got surveyed, parcelled out, drained, fenced, and prepared for use. The lots were immediately purchased, and paid for without default. Impediments and difficulties arose, as might be expected. Jealousy and ridicule were at work against the scheme. Some who might have helped it were selfish, and others timid. Death (among a population where almost every man drinks) and emigration, and other causes impeded an increase of members; and the property was less held by working men, and more by opulent persons, than I had desired and intended; but the result is, on the whole, satisfactory, inasmuch as thirteen cottages have arisen already; and more are in prospect: and this number is no small relief in a little country town like Ambleside. The eye of visitors is now caught by an upland hamlet, just above the parsonage, where there are two good houses, and some ranges of cottages which will stand, as the builders say, “a thousand years,” — so substantial is the mode of building the gray stone dwellings of the district. I scarcely need add that I made no reference, in the lectures or otherwise, to the form of tyranny exercised by the owners of land and houses. My business was to preclude the tyranny, by showing the people that their own interests were in their own hands, and by no means to excite angry feelings about grievances which I hoped to mitigate, or even extinguish.
The generous friend who enabled me to buy the land declined to receive the money back. She is the proprietress of two of the cottages and their gardens; and she placed the rest of the money at my disposal, for the benefit of the place, as long as it was wanted. Since my illness began, three months ago, I have transferred the trust to other hands; and there is reason to hope that the place will be provided with a good Mechanics’ Institute, and Baths, — which are now the next great want.
In the two last lectures of the Sanitary course, there was an opportunity for dealing with the great curse of the place, — its intemperance. Those two lectures were on the Stomach and Brain. I drew the outline of the stomach on a large expanse of paper, which was fixed in front of the desk; and I sent round the coloured prints, used in Temperance Societies, of the appearances of progressive disease in the drunkard’s stomach, — from the first faint blush of inflammation to the schirrous condition. It was a subject which had long and deeply engaged my attention; and my audience, so closely packed as that the movement of one person swayed the whole, were as much interested as myself; so that my lecture spread out to an hour and twenty minutes, without my being at all aware of the time. The only stir, except when the prints were handed round, was made by a young man who staggered out, and fainted at the door. He was a recent comer to the place, and had lately begun to tipple, like his neighbours. After that night, he joined my Building Society, that he might have no money for the public-house. Many told me afterwards that they were sick with pain of mind during that lecture; and I found, on inquiry, that there was probably hardly a listener there, except the children, who had not family reasons for strong emotion during an exposure of the results of intemperate habits.
The longest course I have given was one of twenty lectures on the History of England, from the earliest days of tradition to the beginning of the present century. Another was on the History of America, from its discovery by Columbus to the death of Washington. This was to have been followed by a course which I shall not live to offer; — the modern History of the United States, — with a special view to recommend the Anti-slavery cause. Last November and December, I addressed my neighbours for the last time, — On Russia and the War. At the close, I told them that if I were alive and well next winter, we would carry on the subject to the close of the campaign of 1855. I should be happy to know that some one would take up my work, and not allow my neighbours to suffer by my departure. I found myself fatigued and faint during the two last lectures; and I spoke seriously when making my conditional promise for another season; but I had no clear notion how ill I was, even then, and that I should never meet that array of honest, earnest faces again.
There was some fear that the strong political interests of the spring of 1848 would interfere with the literary prosperity of the season. Whether they did or not, I do not know. For my own part I cared more for newspapers than books in that exciting year; but my own book had an excellent sale. The remembrance of the newspaper reading of those revolutionary times recalls a group of circumstances in my own experience which may be worth recording, — to show how important a work it is to give an account of the constitution and politics of a foreign nation. — Ten years before this, — (I think it was the year before my long illness began) a gentleman was brought to a soirée at my mother’s house, and introduced to me by a friend, who intimated that the stranger had a message to deliver to me. The gentleman had been for some time resident in Sweden, where he was intimately acquainted with the late Prime Minister. The Crown Prince Oscar of that day (the present King) was earnestly desirous of introducing constitutional reforms on a large scale, many of which, as we all know, he has since achieved. The retired Prime Minister desired my guest of that evening to procure an introduction to me, and to be the bearer of an invitation to me to spend a Swedish summer at the Minister’s country-house, where his lady and family would make me welcome. His object was, he said, to discuss some political topics of deep interest to Sweden; and he conceived that my books on America showed me to be the person whom he wanted; — to be capable, in fact, of understanding the working of the constitutions of foreign nations. He wanted to talk over the condition and prospects of Sweden in the light of the experiments of other countries. I could not think of going; and I forgot the invitation till it was recalled to memory by an incident which happened in April 1839. I was then going to Switzerland with three friends, and our passage to Rotterdam was taken, when a friend of my family, the English representative of an Irish county, called on me with an earnest request that I would suspend my scheme, for reasons which he would assign in a few days. I explained that I really could not do so, as I was pledged to accompany a sick cousin. In a day or two, my friend called, to insist on my dining at his house the next Wednesday, to meet Mr. O’Connell on business of importance. Mr. O’Connell could not be in town earlier, because the freedom of some place (I forget what) was to be presented to him on Tuesday; and travelling all night would bring him to London only on Wednesday afternoon. I could not meet him, as we were to go on board the packet on Wednesday evening. — My friend, hoping still to dissuade me, told me what Mr. O’Connell wanted. He had private reasons for believing that “Peel and the Tories” would soon come into power: (in fact, the Bedchamber Question occurred within a month after) and he feared more than ever for the liberties of Ireland, and felt that not a day must be lost in providing every assistance to the cause that could be obtained. He had long been convinced that one of the chief misfortunes of Ireland was that her cause was pleaded in print by authors who represented only the violent, and vulgar and factious elements of Irish discontent; by Irish people, in fact, who could not speak in a way which the English were willing to listen to. He considered that my American books established my capacity to understand and represent the political and social condition of another country; and what he had to request was that I would study Irish affairs on the spot, and report of them. He offered introductions to the best-informed Catholic families in any or every part of Ireland, and besought me to devote to the object all the time I thought needful, — either employing twelve months or so in going over the whole of Ireland, or a shorter time in a deeper study of any particular part, — publishing the results of my observations without interference from any body, or the expression of any desire from any quarter that my opinions should be of one colour rather than another.
It was impossible for me to say any thing to this scheme at the time: but my family and friends were deeply impressed by it. It was frequently discussed by my comrades and myself during our continental journey; and one of them, — the same generous friend to whom I have had occasion to refer in connexion with my Ambleside schemes, — offered to accompany me, with a servant, to help and countenance me, and hear for me, and further the object in every possible way: and she was not the only one who so volunteered. It stood before my mind as the next great work to be undertaken: but, in another month, not only were “Peel and the Tories” sent to the right-about for the time, but I was prostrate in the illness which was to lay me aside for nearly six years. On our return from Italy, we fell in with the family of Lord Plunket, to whom, in the course of conversation about Ireland, we related the incident. Miss Plunket seemed as much struck with the rationality of the scheme as we were; and, after some consultation apart, Miss Plunket came to me with an express offer of introductions from Lord Plunket to intelligent Protestants, in any or every part of Ireland where this business might carry me. My illness, however, broke up the scheme.
This incident, again, was recalled to my memory by what happened the next time I was abroad. It occurred in the spring of 1847. Our desert party agreed, at Jerusalem, to make an excursion of three days to the Jordan and the Dead Sea. On the eve of the trip, three European gentlemen sent a petition to Lady Harriet K—, that they might be allowed to ride with our party, on account of the dangerous state of the road to Jericho. They joined our troop in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and rode among us all day. It did not occur to me to ask who they were. In the course of the next morning, when the ladies of the party were going through the wood on the bank of the Jordan, to bathe northwards, while the gentlemen went southwards, we met one of these strangers; and I told him where he might find his companions. I never doubted his being English, — he looked so like a country squire, with his close-cropped, rather light hair, and sunburned complexion. He appeared to be somewhere about five-and-thirty. On leaving the Jordan, we had to traverse an open tract, in excessive heat, to the margin of the Dead Sea. The hard sand looked trustworthy; and I put my horse to a gallop, for the sake of the wind thus obtained. I soon heard other horses coming up; and this gentleman, with two others, appeared: and he rode close by my side till an accident to one of the party obliged him to dismount and give help. I was among those who rode on when we found that no harm was done; and presently after I was asked by Lady Harriet K— whether I would allow Count Porro to be introduced to me, — he being desirous of some conversation with me. For Silvio Pellico’s sake, as well as Count Porro’s father’s and his own, I was happy to make his acquaintance; and I supposed we should meet at our halting place, — at Santa Saba. But Count Porro and his companions were to strike off northwards by the Damascus road; and they were gone before I was aware. — A few weeks afterwards, when we four, of the Nile party, rode up to our hotel at Damascus, Count Porro was awaiting us; and he helped us ladies down from our horses. He had remained some days, in order to see me. He desired some conversation with me at a convenient time; and that convenient time proved to be the next morning, when he joined me on the divan, in the alcove in the quadrangle. He was so agitated that he could scarcely speak. His English, however, was excellent. He told me that in what he was going to say he was the mouth-piece of many of his countrymen, as well as of his own wishes; and especially of several fellow-citizens of Milan. What he said was as nearly as could be a repetition of O’Connell’s plea and request. He said it was the misfortune of his country to be represented abroad by injured and exasperated patriots, who demanded more than the bulk of the people desired, and gave forth views which the citizens in general disclaimed. It was believed by the leading men in Lombardy that the changes which were really most essential might be obtained from Austria, if sought in a temperate and rational manner; and that the best way of obtaining these changes would be by means of a report on the condition of affairs by some traveller of reputation, who had shown, as they considered that I had done by my work on the United States, a capacity to understand and report of a foreign state of society. He was therefore authorised to request that I would reside in Milan for six months or a year, and to say that every facility should be afforded for my obtaining information, and all possible respect shown to my liberty of judgment and representation. All they wanted was that I should study their condition, and report it fully, on my return to England. He told me (in consideration of my deafness, which disabled me for conversation, though not, of course, for reading, in a foreign language) that every educated Milanese speaks English; and that every thing should be done to render my abode as pleasant as possible; and so forth. — I positively declined, being, in truth, heartily homesick, — longing for my green, quiet valley, and the repose of my own abode. My duties there seemed more congenial and natural than investigating the politics of Lombardy; and I did not therefore think it selfish to refuse. With increasing agitation, Count Porro declared that he would take no refusal. He asked how much time these home duties would occupy; said, in spite of all my discouragements, that he should go to England the next spring; and declared, when taking his leave next day, that, on landing at Southampton, his first step would be to put himself into the train for Ambleside, whence he would not depart without my promise to go to Milan.
When that “next spring” arrived, — the anniversary of those conversations of ours at Damascus, — Count Porro was a member of the Provisional Government at Milan, telling Austria by his acts and decrees what it was that Lombardy required. The mention, in my narrative, of the revolutions of 1848 brought up these three stories at once to my recollection; and their strong resemblance to each other seems to show that there must be something in them which makes them worth the telling.
I began my great task of the History under much anxiety of mind. My mother was known to be dying from the spring onwards; and she died in August. She was removed, while yet able, to the house of her eldest surviving son, at Edgbaston; and there, amidst the best possible tendance, she declined and died. Her life hung upon perfect quiet; and therefore, as all her children had seen her not long before, it was considered best to leave her in the good hands of one of the families. I saw her at Liverpool, on my return home from the East. By evil offices, working on her prejudice against mesmerism, she had been prevented from meeting me after my recovery: but such a cause of separation was too absurd to be perpetual. I knew that the sound of my voice, and my mere presence for five minutes, would put to flight all objections to my mode of recovery: and we did meet and part in comfort and satisfaction. I did hope to have had the pleasure of a visit from her that summer, though I proposed it with much doubt. She was now blind; and she could not but be perpetually hearing of the charms of the scenery. She could walk only on smooth and level ground; and walking was essential to her health: and it is not easy to find smooth level ground in our valley. Yet, as one main inducement to my building and settling here was that there might be a paradise for any tired or delicate members of my family to rest in, I did wish that my mother should have tried it, this first practicable summer: but she was too ill to do more than go to Edgbaston, and find her grave there. She was in her seventy-sixth year. — I have never felt otherwise than soundly and substantially happy, during this last term of my life: but certainly those months of July and August 1848 were the most anxious of the whole ten years since I left Tynemouth. The same faithful old friend to whom I have often referred, must come into my history again here. She came to me when I was becoming most anxious, and remained above two months, — saving me from being overwhelmed with visits from strangers, and taking me quiet drives, when my work was done; — a recreation which I have always found the most refreshing of all. Some of my own family came before the event, and some after; and a few old and dear friends looked in upon me, in the course of the season.
When I had laid out my plan for the History, and begun upon the first portion, I sank into a state of dismay. I should hardly say “sank;” for I never thought of giving up or stopping; but I doubt whether, at any point of my career, I ever felt so oppressed by what I had undertaken as during the first two or three weeks after I had begun the History. The idea of publishing a number of my Political Economy series every month was fearful at first: but that was only the quantity of work. The Discontented Pendulum comforted me them, — not only because every month’s work would have its own month to be done in, but because there was a clear, separate topic for each number, which would enable the work to take care of itself, in regard to subject as well as time. In America, I was overwhelmed with the mass of material to be dealt with; but then, I was not engaged to write a book; and by the time I had made up my mind to do so, the mass had become classified. Now, the quantity and variety of details fairly overpowered my spirits, in that hot month of August. I feel my weakness, — more in body than (consciously) in mind — in having to deal with many details. The most fatiguing work I ever have to do is arranging my library; and even packing my trunks for a journey, or distributing the contents when I come home, fatigues me more than it seems to do other people. In this case, I fear I afflicted my friend by my discouragement, — the like of which she had never seen in me. At times, she comforted me with assurances that the chaos would become orderly; but, on the whole, she desired that I should throw up the work, — a thing which I could not even meditate for a moment, under the circumstances in which Mr. Knight found himself. No doubt, the nervous watching of the post at that time had much to do with my anxiety. My habit was to rise at six, and to take a walk, — returning to my solitary breakfast at half-past seven. For several years, while I was strong enough, I found this an excellent preparation for work. My household orders were given for the day, and all affairs settled, out of doors and in, by a quarter or half-past eight, when I went to work, which I continued without interruption, except from the post, till three o’clock, or later, when alone. While my friend was with me, we dined at two; and that was, of course, the limit of my day’s work. The post came in at half-past ten; and my object was to keep close to my work till the letters appeared. When my mother became so ill that this effort was beyond my power, I sent to meet the coach, and got my letters earlier; but the wear and tear of nerve was very great. One strong evidence of the reality of my recovery was that my health stood the struggle very well. In a few weeks, I was in full career, and had got my work well in hand. My first clear relief came when I had written a certain passage about Canning’s eloquence, and found in the course of it that I really was interested in my business. Mr. Knight, happily, was satisfied; and I was indebted to him for every kind of encouragement. By the 1st of February, the last M.S. of the first volume was in the hands of the printer. I mention this because a contemporary review spoke of “two years” as the time it had occupied me, — calling it very rapid work; whereas, from the first opening of the books to study for the History to the depositing of the M.S. of the first volume at press was exactly six months. The second volume took six months to do, with an interval of some weeks of holiday, and other work. I delivered the last sheets into Mr. Knight’s hands in November 1849.
During the year 1849, the dismal cholera year, — I found that I had been overworking; and in the autumn I accepted Mrs. Knight’s invitation to join their family at St. Leonards for a month, and then to stay with them for the remaining weeks which were necessary to finish the History. The Sunday when I put the last batch of M.S. into Mr. Knight’s hands was a memorable day to me. I had grown nervous towards the end; and especially doubtful, without any assignable reason, whether Mr. Knight would like the concluding portion. To put it out of my mind, I went a long walk after breakfast with Mr. Atkinson, to Primrose Hill (where I had never been before) and Regent’s Park. My heart fluttered all the way; and when I came home, to meet a farewell family party at lunch, I could not eat. Mr. Knight looked at me, with an expression of countenance which I could not interpret; and when he beckoned me into the drawing-room, I was ready to drop. I might have spared myself the alarm. His acknowledgments were such as sent me to my room perfectly happy; and I returned to my Knoll with a light heart. I was soon followed by an invitation from Mr. Knight to write the introductory period, from the opening of the century to the Peace, to be followed by the four years to 1850, if we should live to see the close of that year, so as to make a complete “History of the Half Century.” The work would be comparatively light, from the quantity of material supplied by the Memoirs of the statesmen now long dead. I was somewhat disappointed in regard to the pleasure of it from Mr. Knight’s frequent changes of mind as to the form in which it was to be done. I imagine he had become somewhat tired of the scheme; for, not only was I kept waiting weeks, and once three months, for a promised letter which should guide me as to space and other particulars; but he three times changed his mind as to the form in which he should present the whole. He approved, as cordially as ever, what I wrote; but finally decided to print the portion from 1800 to the Peace as an Introductory volume, relinquishing the project of completing the Half Century by a History of the last four years. I state these facts because it was afterwards believed by many people, who quoted his authority, that he broke off the scheme, to his own injury, from terror at the publication of the Atkinson Letters, — as if he had been taken by surprise by that publication. I can only say that it was as far as possible from being my intention to conceal our plan of publishing those Letters. I not only told him of it while at his house in the autumn of 1849, and received certain sarcasms from him on our “infidel” philosophy; but I read to Mrs. Knight two of the boldest of Mr. Atkinson’s letters: and it was after this that Mr. Knight invited me to write the Introductory volume. Moreover, it was after some of his changes of plan that he staid at my house (May 1850) with Mr. Atkinson and Mr. Jerrold, and considerately took Mr. Jerrold for a walk, on the last day of their visit, to leave Mr. Atkinson and me at liberty to read our manuscript. He was certainly panic-stricken when the volume appeared, in January, 1851; but, if he was surprised, it was through no fault of mine, as the dates show. In July, 1851, half-a-year after the “Letters” appeared, when he paid me for my work at his own house, he expressed himself more than satisfied with the Introductory History, and told me that, though the Exhibition had interfered with the publishing season, he had sold two thirds of the edition, and had no doubt of its entire success in the next. Before the next season opened, however, he sold off the whole work. With his reasons for doing so I have no concern, as the preceding facts show. In regard to him, I need only say, — which I do with great pleasure, — that he has continued to show me kindness and affection, worthy of our long friendship. In regard to the History, — it has passed into the hands of Messrs. Chambers of Edinburgh, who invited me, last summer, to bring the History of the Peace down to the War. I agreed to do so; and the scheme was only broken off by my present illness, which, of course, renders the execution of it impossible.
On the last evening of my stay at Mr. Knight’s a parcel arrived for me, enclosing a book, and a note which was examined as few notes ever are. The book was “Shirley;” and the note was from “Currer Bell.” Here it is.
“Currer Bell offers a copy of “Shirley” to Miss Martineau’s acceptance, in acknowledgment of the pleasure and profit she [sic] he has derived from her works. When C. B. first read “Deerbrook” he tasted a new and keen pleasure, and experienced a genuine benefit. In his mind, “Deerbrook” ranks with the writings that have really done him good, added to his stock of ideas, and rectified his views of life.”
“November 7th, 1849.”
We examined this note to make out whether it was written by a man or a woman. The hand was a cramped and nervous one, which might belong to any body who had written too much, or was in bad health, or who had been badly taught. The erased “she” seemed at first to settle the matter; but somebody suggested that the “she” might refer to me under a form of sentence which might easily have been changed in the penning. I had made up my mind, as I had repeatedly said, that a certain passage in “Jane Eyre,” about sewing on brass rings, could have been written only by a woman or an upholsterer. I now addressed my reply externally to “Currer Bell, Esq.,” and began it “Madam.” — I had more reason for interest than even the deeply-interested public in knowing who wrote “Jane Eyre;” for, when it appeared, I was taxed with the authorship by more than one personal friend, and charged by others, and even by relatives, with knowing the author, and having supplied some of the facts of the first volume from my own childhood. When I read it, I was convinced that it was by some friend of my own, who had portions of my childish experience in his or her mind. “Currer Bell” told me, long after, that she had read with astonishment those parts of “Household Education” which relate my own experience. It was like meeting her own fetch, — so precisely were the fears and miseries there described the same as her own, told or not told in “Jane Eyre.”
A month after my receipt of “Shirley,” I removed, on a certain Saturday, from the house of a friend in Hyde Park Street to that of a cousin in Westbourne Street, in time for a dinner party. Meanwhile, a messenger was running about to find me, and reached my cousin’s when we were at dessert, bringing the following note.
December 8th, 1849.
“My dear Madam,—
I happen to be staying in London for a few days; and having just heard that you are likewise in town, I could not help feeling a very strong wish to see you. If you will permit me to call upon you, have the goodness to tell me when to come. Should you prefer calling on me, my address is ... ... ... ...
“Do not think this request springs from mere curiosity. I hope it has its origin in a better feeling. It would grieve me to lose this chance of seeing one whose works have so often made her the subject of my thoughts.
“I am, my dear Madam,
My host and hostess desired me to ask the favour of C. B.’s company the next day, or any subsequent one. According to the old dissenting custom of early hours on Sundays, we should have tea at six the next evening: — on any other day, dinner at a somewhat later hour. The servant was sent with this invitation on Sunday morning, and brought back the following reply.
“My dear Madam,—
I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you at six o’clock today: — and I shall try now to be patient till six o’clock comes.”
“I am, &c., &c.”
“That is a woman’s note,” we agreed. We were in a certain state of excitement all day, and especially towards evening. The footman would certainly announce this mysterious personage by his or her right name; and, as I could not hear the announcement, I charged my cousins to take care that I was duly informed of it. A little before six, there was a thundering rap: — the drawing-room door was thrown open, and in stalked a gentleman six feet high. It was not “Currer,” but a philanthropist, who had an errand about a model lodging-house. Minute by minute I, for one, wished him away; and he did go before any body else came. Precisely as the time-piece struck six, a carriage stopped at the door; and after a minute of suspense, the footman announced “Miss Brogden;” whereupon, my cousin informed me that it was Miss Brontë; for we had heard the name before, among others, in the way of conjecture.—I thought her the smallest creature I had ever seen (except at a fair) and her eyes blazed, as it seemed to me. She glanced quickly round; and my trumpet pointing me out, she held out her hand frankly and pleasantly. I introduced her, of course, to the family; and then came a moment which I had not anticipated. When she was seated by me on the sofa, she cast up at me such a look, — so loving, so appealing, — that, in connexion with her deep mourning dress, and the knowledge that she was the sole survivor of her family, I could with the utmost difficulty return her smile, or keep my composure. I should have been heartily glad to cry. We soon got on very well; and she appeared more at her ease that evening than I ever saw her afterwards, except when we were alone. My hostess was so considerate as to leave us together after tea, in case of C. B. desiring to have private conversation with me. She was glad of the opportunity to consult me about certain strictures of the reviewers which she did not understand, and had every desire to profit by. I did not approve the spirit of those strictures; but I thought them not entirely groundless. She besought me then, and repeatedly afterwards, to tell her, at whatever cost of pain to herself, if I saw her afford any justification of them. I believed her, (and I now believe her to have been) perfectly sincere: but when the time came (on the publication of “Villette,” in regard to which she had expressly claimed my promise a week before the book arrived) she could not bear it. There was never any quarrel, or even misunderstanding between us. She thanked me for my sincere fulfilment of my engagement; but she could not, she said, come “at present” to see me, as she had promised: and the present was alas! all that she had to dispose of. She is dead, before another book of hers could (as I hoped it would) enable her to see what I meant, and me to re-establish a fuller sympathy between us. — Between the appearance of “Shirley” and that of “Villette,” she came to me; — in December, 1850. Our intercourse then confirmed my deep impression of her integrity, her noble conscientiousness about her vocation, and her consequent self-reliance in the moral conduct of her life. I saw at the same time tokens of a morbid condition of mind, in one or two directions; — much less than might have been expected, or than would have been seen in almost any one else under circumstances so unfavourable to health of body and mind as those in which she lived; and the one fault which I pointed out to her in “Villette” was so clearly traceable to these unwholesome influences that I would fain have been spared a task of criticism which could hardly be of much use while the circumstances remained unchanged. But she had exacted first the promise, and then the performance in this particular instance; and I had no choice. “I know,” she wrote (January 21st, 1853) “that you will give me your thoughts upon my book, — as frankly as if you spoke to some near relative whose good you preferred to her gratification. I wince under the pain of condemnation — like any other weak structure of flesh and blood; but I love, I honour, I kneel to Truth. Let her smite me on one cheek — good! the tears may spring to the eyes; but courage! There is the other side — hit again — right sharply!” This was the genuine spirit of the woman. She might be weak for once; but her permanent temper was one of humility, candour, integrity and conscientiousness. She was not only unspoiled by her sudden and prodigious fame, but obviously unspoilable. She was somewhat amused by her fame, but oftener annoyed; — at least, when obliged to come out into the world to meet it, instead of its reaching her in her secluded home, in the wilds of Yorkshire. There was little hope that she, the frail survivor of a whole family cut off in childhood or youth, could live to old age; but, now that she is gone, under the age of forty, the feeling is that society has sustained an unexpected, as well as irreparable loss.
I have often observed that, from the time I wrote the Prize Essays, I have never come to a stand for work; — have never had any anxiety as to whether there would be work for me; — have, in short, only had to choose my work. Holiday I have never had, since before that time, except in as far as my foreign travels, and a few months of illness could be called such: and it had now been a weight on my mind for some years that I had not got on with my autobiography, — which I felt to be a real duty. I find that I wrote this to Mr. Atkinson, when under uneasiness about whether Murray would hold to his engagement to publish “Eastern Life” (February 1848.) “It is a very great and pressing object with me to go on with my own Life; lest it should end before I have recorded what I could trust no one to record of it. I always feel this a weight upon my mind, as a duty yet undone; and my doing it within a moderate time depends on my getting this book out now.” It was got out; but then came the History, which could not be delayed, and which I should have done wrong to refuse. Now that those three great volumes were nearly done, Mr. Dickens sent me an invitation to write for “Household Words.” That kind of work does not, in my own opinion, suit me well; and I have refused to write for Magazines by the score; but the wide circulation of “Household Words” made it a peculiar case; and I agreed to try my hand, — while I was yet a good way from the end of my History. I did this with the more ease because a scheme was now rising to the light which would relieve me of much of the anxiety I felt about recording the later experiences of my life. The Atkinson Letters were by this time in preparation.
The publication of those letters was my doing. Having found, after some years of correspondence with Mr. Atkinson, that my views were becoming broader and clearer, my practice of duty easier and gayer, and my peace of mind something wholly unlike what I had ever had experience of before; and, being able to recognize and point out what fundamental truths they were that I had thus been brought to grasp, I thought that much good might be done by our making known, as master and pupil, what truths lay at the root of our philosophy. If I had known — what I could not know till the reception of our volume revealed it to me, — how small is the proportion of believers to the disbelievers in theology to what I imagined, — I might have proposed a different method; or we might have done our work in a different way. In regard to disbelief in theology, much more had already taken place than I, at least, was aware of. But there is an essential point, — the most essential of all, — in regard to which the secular and the theological worlds seem to need conviction almost equally: viz., the real value of science, and of philosophy as its legitimate offspring. It seems to us, even now, the most impossible, or, speaking cautiously, the rarest thing in the world to find any body who has the remotest conception of the indispensableness of science as the only source of, not only enlightenment, but wisdom, goodness and happiness. It is, of course, useless to speak to theologians or their disciples about this, while they remain addicted to theology, because they avowedly give their preference to theology over the science with which it is incompatible. They, in the face of clear proof that science and theology are incompatible, embrace theology as the foundation of wisdom, goodness and happiness. They incline, all the while, to what they call philosophy; — that is, to theologico-metaphysics, from which they derive, as they say, (and truly) improvement in intellectual power, and confirmation of their religious faith in one direction, nearly equivalent to the damage inflicted on it in another. The result must be, when the study is real and earnest, either that the metaphysics must dwindle away into a mere fanciful adornment of the theology, or the theology must be in time stripped of its dogmatic character, exhausted thereby of its vitality, and reduced to a mere name and semblance. Examples of the first alternative are conspicuous in the argumentative preachers and writers of the Church of England, and other Christian sects; and, we may add, in the same functionaries of the Romish Church, who thus unconsciously yield to the tendencies of their age so far as to undermine the foundations of their own “everlasting” church. Examples of the second alternative are conspicuous, in our own country and in America, in the class of metaphysical deists, — who may be, by courtesy, called a class because they agree in being metaphysical, and, in one way or another, deists; but who cannot be called a sect, or a body, because it is scarcely possible to find any two of them who agree in any thing with any approach to precision. One makes the Necessarian doctrine his chief reliance, while another denounces it as atheistic. One insists on the immortality of the soul, while another considers a future life doubtful, and a matter of no great consequence. Others belong, amid an unbounded variety of minor views, to one or another of the five sorts of pantheism. All these claim to be philosophers, and scientific in the matter of mental philosophy; while observers discover that all are wandering wide of the central point of knowledge and conviction, — each in his own balloon, wafted in complacency by whatever current he may be caught by, and all crossing each other, up and down, right or left, all manner of ways, hopeless of finding a common centre till they begin to conceive of, and seek for, a firm standpoint.
The so-called scientific men, who consider themselves philosophers, are, for the most part, in a scarcely more promising condition. Between their endless subdivision as labourers in the field of research, before they have discovered any incorporating principle; and the absorbing and blinding influence of exclusive attention to detail; and some remaining fear of casting themselves loose from theology, together with their share of the universal tendency to cling to the old notions even in their own department, — the men of science are almost as hopelessly astray, as to the discovery of true wisdom, as the theologians. Well read men, who call themselves impartial and disinterested, as they stand aloof and observe all these others, are no nearer to the blessed discovery or conviction. They extol philosophy, perhaps; but it is merely on the ground that (conceiving metaphysics to be philosophy) it is a fine exercise of the subtle powers of the intellect. As to science, they regard it either as a grave and graceful pastime, or they see no use in it, or they consider it valuable for its utilitarian results. As for the grand conception, — the inestimable recognition, — that science, (or the knowledge of fact, inducing the discovery of laws) is the sole and the eternal basis of wisdom, — and therefore of human morality and peace, — none of all these seem to have obtained any view of it at all. For my part, I must in truth say that Mr. Atkinson is the only person, of the multitude I have known, who has clearly apprehended this central truth. He found me searching after it; and he put me in clear possession of it. He showed me how all moral evil, and much, and possibly all, physical evil arises from intellectual imperfection, — from ignorance and consequent error. He led me to sympathise in Bacon’s philosophy, in a truer way than the multitude of Bacon’s theological and metaphysical professed adorers; and to see how a man may be happier than his fellows who obeys Bacon’s incitements to the pursuit of truth, as the greatest good of man. There is plenty of talk of the honour and blessedness of the unflinching pursuit of truth, wherever it may lead; but I never met any one else who lived for that object, or who seemed to understand the nature of the apostleship. I have already told where I was in (or in pursuit of) this path when Mr. Atkinson found me. Learning what I could from him, and meditating for myself, I soon found myself quite outside of my old world of thought and speculation, — under a new heaven and on a new earth; disembarrassed of a load of selfish cares and troubles; with some of my difficulties fairly solved, and others chased away, like bad dreams; and others, again, deprived of all power to trouble me, because the line was clearly drawn between the feasible and the unknowable. I had got out of the prison of my own self, wherein I had formerly sat trying to interpret life and the world, — much as a captive might undertake to paint the aspect of Nature from the gleams and shadows and faint colours reflected on his dungeon walls. I had learned that, to form any true notion whatever of any of the affairs of the universe, we must take our stand in the external world, — regarding man as one of the products and subjects of the everlasting laws of the universe, and not as the favourite of its Maker; a favourite to whom it is rendered subservient by divine partiality. I had learned that the death-blow was given to theology when Copernicus made his discovery that our world was not the centre and shrine of the universe, where God had placed man “in his own image,” to be worshipped and served by all the rest of creation. I had learned that men judge from an inverted image of external things within themselves when they insist upon the Design argument, as it is called, — applying the solution from out of their own peculiar faculties to external things which, in fact, suggest that very conception of design to the human faculty. I had learned that whatever conception is transferred by “instinct” or supposition from the human mind to the universe cannot possibly be the true solution, as the action of any product of the general laws of the universe cannot possibly be the original principle of those laws. Hence it followed that the conceptions of a God with any human attributes whatever, of a principle or practice of Design, of an administration of life according to human wishes, or of the affairs of the world by the principles of human morals, must be mere visions, — necessary and useful in their day, but not philosophically and permanently true. I had learned, above all, that only by a study of the external and internal world in conjunction can we gather such wisdom as we are qualified to attain; and that this study must be bonâ fide, — personal and diligent, and at any sacrifice, if we would become such as we hint to ourselves in our highest and truest aspirations. The hollowness of the popular views of philosophy and science, — as good intellectual exercise, as harmless, as valuable in a utilitarian sense, and even as elevating in their mere influence, — was, by this time, to me the clearest thing I ever saw: and the opposite reality, — that philosophy founded upon science is the one thing needful, — the source and the vital principle of all intellectuality, all morality, and all peace to individuals, and good will among men, — had become the crown of my experience, and the joy of my life.
One of the earliest consequent observations was, of course, that the science of Human Nature, in all its departments, is yet in its infancy. The mere principle of Mental Philosophy is, as yet, very partially recognized; and the very conception of it is new. It is so absolutely incompatible with theology that the remaining prevalence of theology, circumscribed as it is, sufficiently testifies to the infant state of the philosophy of Man. I have found Mr. Atkinson’s knowledge of Man, general and particular, physical, intellectual and moral; theoretical and practical, greater than I ever met with elsewhere, in books or conversation; and I immediately discovered that his superior knowledge was due to his higher and truer point of view, whereby he could cast light from every part of the universe upon the organisation and action of Man, and use and test the analogies from without in their application to the world within. I had long desired that the years should not pass over his head without the world being the better, as I felt myself, for his fresh method of thought, and conscientious exercise of it. I wished that some others besides myself should be led by him to the true point of view which they were wandering in search of; and I therefore went as far as I dared in urging him to give the world a piece of his mind. At length he consented to my scheme of publishing a set of “Letters on Man’s Nature and Development.” Certainly I have reason to congratulate myself on my pertinacity in petitioning for this. I do not often trouble my friends with requests or advice as to their doings: and in this case, I was careful not to intrude on my friend’s independence. But I succeeded; and I have rejoiced in my success ever since, — seeing and hearing what that book has done for others, and feeling very sensibly what a blessing it has been to myself.
Once embarked in the scheme, my friend was naturally anxious to get on; but he was wonderfully patient with the slowness to which the pressure of my other work condemned us. I have mentioned that I read two of his letters to my hostess in the autumn of 1849. The book did not appear till January 1851. My literary practice indicated that I ought to copy out the whole of Mr. Atkinson’s portion in proper order for press; and this was the more necessary because Mr. Atkinson’s hand-writing is only not so bad as Dr. Parr’s and Sydney Smith’s. When I began, I supposed I must alter and amend a little, to fit the expression to the habit and taste of the reading world; but, after the first letter, I did not alter a single sentence. The style seems to me, — as it does to many better judges than myself, — as beautiful as it is remarkable. Eminent writers and readers have said that they could not lay the book down till they had run it through, — led on through the night by the beauty of the style, no less than by the interest of the matter. Such opinions justify my decision not to touch a sentence. (I speak of the volume without scruple, because, as far as its merits are concerned, it is Mr. Atkinson’s. The responsibility was mine, and a fourth or fifth part of its contents; but my letters were a mere instigation to his utterance.)
It appears, by the dates above, that nearly the whole of 1850 elapsed during my copying. I was writing the Introductory Volume of the History, and was in the midst of a series of papers, (the title of which I cannot recal) for an American periodical, whereby I wanted to earn some money for the Abolition cause there. I sent off the last of them in April. By that time, my season guests began to arrive; and my evenings were not at my own disposal. I had engaged myself to “Household Words” for a series of tales on Sanitary subjects; and I wrote this spring the two first, — “Woodruffe the Gardener” and “The People of Bleaburn.”
I spent a fortnight at Armathwaite, a beautiful place between Penrith and Carlisle; (departing, I remember, on the day of Wordsworth’s funeral) and, though I carried my work, and my kind friends allowed me the disposal of my mornings, I could not do any work which would bear postponement. I looked forward hopefully to a ten weeks’ sojourn at a farm-house near Bolton Abbey, where I went to escape the tourist-season; and there I did get on. My house had been full of guests, from April till the end of July, with little intermission: and the greater the pleasure of receiving one’s friends, the worse goes one’s work. Among the guests of that spring were three who came together, and who together made an illustrious week, — Mr. Charles Knight, Mr. Douglas Jerrold, and Mr. Atkinson. Four days were spent in making that circuit of the district which forms the ground-plan of my “Complete Guide:” and memorable days they were. We were amused at the way in which some bystander at Strands recorded his sense of this in a Kendal paper. He told how the tourists were beginning to appear for the season, and how I had been seen touring with a party of the élite of the literary world, &c., &c. He declared that I, with these élite, had crossed the mountains “in a gig” to Strands, and that wit and repartee had genially flowed throughout the evening; — an evening, as it happened, when our conversation was rather grave. I was so amused at this that I cut out the paragraph, and sent it to Mr. Jerrold, who wrote back that, while the people were about it, they might as well have put us into a howdah on an elephant. It would have been as true as the gig, and far grander. — I owed the pleasure of Mr. Jerrold’s acquaintance to Mr. Knight; and I wish I had known him more. My first impression was one of surprise, — not at his remarkable appearance, of which I was aware; — the eyes and the mobile countenance, the stoop, and the small figure, reminding one of Coleridge, without being like him, — but at the gentle and thoughtful kindness which set its mark on all he said and did. Somehow, all his good things were so dropped as to fall into my trumpet, without any trouble or ostentation. This was the dreaded and unpopular man who must have been hated (for he was hated) as “Punch” and not as Jerrold, — through fear, and not through reason or feeling. His wit always appeared to me as gentle as it was honest, — as innocent as it was sound. I could say of him as of Sydney Smith, that I never heard him say, in the way of raillery, any thing of others that I should mind his saying of me. I never feared him in the least, nor saw reason why any but knaves or fools should fear him. — The other witty journalist of my time, Mr. Fonblanque, I knew but little, having met him only at Mr. Macready’s, I think. I once had the luck to have him all to myself, during a long dinner; and I found his conversation as agreeable for other qualities as for its wit. The pale face, the lank hair, the thin hands, and dimmed dark eye, speaking of ill health, made the humour of his conversation the more impressive, as recommended by patience and amiability.
But to return to my summer of 1850. At Bolton I was not by any means lonely; for tourists came there too; and relations and friends gave me many a pleasant day and evening. But, on the whole, the History got on very well in the mornings, and the transcribing of the Letters in the evening; and, but for the relaxing air of the place, which injured my health, that Bolton sojourn would have been a season of singular enjoyment. With the same dear, faithful old friend whom I have so often referred to, I saw Ilkley and Benrhydding, and some of the finest parts of the West of Yorkshire. I found time to write another long story for “Household Words,” (“The Marsh fog and the Sea breeze”) and engaged to make my subscription to the new weekly journal, “the Leader” (which has lagged terribly, instead of leading) in the form of twelve “Sketches from Life,” which I began before the Atkinson Letters were well off my hands. Another small piece of authorship which interposed itself was really no fault of mine. In 1848 (I think it was) I had begun an experiment of very small farming, which I never intended to become an affair of public interest. My field, let to a neighbour, was always in such bad condition as to be an eye-sore from my windows. I found myself badly and expensively served with cream and butter, and vegetables, and eggs. In summer, there was no depending on the one butcher of the place for meat, even though joints had been timely ordered and promised, — so great and increasing was the pressure of the tourist multitude. In winter, when I was alone, and did not care what came to table, I could have what I liked: but in summer, when my house was full, it was frequently an anxiety how to get up a dinner when the butcher was so set fast as to have to divide the promised joint between three houses. All the while, I had to pay an occasional gardener very high, to keep the place in any order at all, — over and above what my maids and I could do. A more serious consideration was the bad method of farming in the Lake District, which seemed to need an example of better management, on however humble a scale. My neighbours insisted on it that cows require three acres of land apiece; whereas I believed that, without emulating Cobbett, I could do better than that. I procured an active, trustworthy married labourer from Norfolk, and enlisted his ambition and sympathy in the experiment. We have since kept about a cow and a-half on my land, with the addition of half an acre which I rent from the adjoining field; and the purchase of a fourth part of the food is worth while, because I am thus kept constantly supplied with milk, while able to sell the surplus; besides that the stable may as well hold a second cow; and that two cows are little more trouble than one. My whole place is kept in the highest order: I have the comfort of a strong man on the premises (his cottage being at the foot of the knoll) for the protection of my household and property; and I have always had the satisfaction of feeling that, come who may, there are at all times hams, bacon and eggs in the house. The regular supply of fresh vegetables, eggs, cream and butter is a substantial comfort to a housekeeper. A much greater blessing than all these together is that a plentiful subsistence for two worthy people has been actually created out of my field; and that the spectacle has certainly not been lost on my neighbours. At first, we were abundantly ridiculed, and severely condemned for our methods; and my good servant’s spirits were sometimes sorely tried: but I told him that if we persevered good-humouredly, people would come round to our views. And so they did. First, I was declared deluded and extravagant: next, I was cruel to my live stock; then, I petted them so that they would die of luxury; and finally, one after another of our neighbours admitted the fine plight of my cows; and a few adopted our methods. At the end of a year’s experience, I wrote a letter, by request, to an Assistant Poor-law Commissioner, who was earnest in his endeavours to get workhouses supplied with milk and vegetables, by the labour of the inmates on the land. To my amazement, I found my letter in the “Times,” one day while I was at Bolton. How it got there, I know not. Other papers quoted portions of it which, separated from the rest, gave rise to wrong impressions; so that I found it necessary to write a second letter, giving the result of the second year’s tillage; and to issue the two as a small pamphlet. I need say nothing here about our method of farming, as the whole story is told in that pamphlet. I may simply add that we go on with it, very comfortably; and that my good farm-servant is a prosperous man. Strangers come every summer to see the place as a curiosity; and I am assured that the invariable remark is that not a foot of ground is lost, and not a sign of neglect appears in any corner. I have added a little boiling-house, a root-house, and a capital manure-pit, since those letters were written; and I have put up a higher order of fences, — to the improvement at once of the appearance and the economy of my little estate. All this, with the growth of the shrubs and little copses, and the spread of roses and evergreen climbers over the house, makes my Knoll dwelling, to say the truth, a charming spectacle to visitors; — though not half so much as to me. Some have called it “a perfect poem:” and it is truly that to me: and so, speaking frankly, is the life that I have passed within it.
With all the writing that I have particularised on my hands, it is not to be wondered at that November arrived before Mr. Atkinson was wanted, to finish off our work for press: and by that time, my winter course of lectures was due. So much for the “leisure,” and the “dulness” which distant friends have attributed to my life at the Lakes. This winter’s course was the arduous one of twenty lectures on the History of England, — the first of which was delivered on the fifth of November, and the last on the first of April, 1851. Amidst the undeniable overwork of that winter, I had a feeling, which I remember expressing to one friend at least, that this might probably be the last season of work for me. It seemed to me probable that, after the plain-speaking of the Atkinson Letters, I might never be asked, or allowed, to utter myself again. I had, on four previous occasions of my life, supposed the same thing, and found myself mistaken; but the “audacity,” (as a scientific reader called my practice of plain avowal) was so much greater in appearance (though not in reality) in the present case than ever before, that I anticipated excommunication from the world of literature, if not from society. This seems amusing enough, now, when I have enjoyed more prosperity since the publication of that volume, realised more money, earned more fame of a substantial kind, seen more of my books go out of print, and made more friendships and acquaintance with really congenial people than in any preceding four years of my life. But the anticipation was very sincere at the time; and I took care that my comrade in the work knew what my anticipation was. — There was to me, I must observe, no choice about making known, in this form or some other, my views at this period. From the time when, in my youth, I uttered my notions and was listened to, I had no further choice. For a quarter of a century past I had been answerable to an unknown number of persons for a declaration of my opinions as my experience advanced; and I could not stop now. If I had desired it, any concealment would have been most imprudent. A life of hypocrisy was wholly impracticable to me, if it had been endurable in idea; and disclosure by bits, in mere conversation, could never have answered any other purpose than misleading my friends, and subjecting me to misconception. So much for the necessity and the prudence of a full avowal. A far more serious matter was the duty of it, in regard to integrity and humanity. My comrade and I were both pursuers of truth, and were bound to render our homage openly and devoutly. We both care for our kind; and we could not see them suffering as we had suffered without imparting to them our consolation and our joy. Having found, as my friend said, a spring in the desert, should we see the multitude wandering in desolation, and not show them our refreshment? We never had a moment’s doubt or misgiving; though we anticipated (or I did, for I ought only to speak for myself) all manner of consequences which never ensued.
Just as I am writing on this subject, an old letter of mine to Mr. Atkinson is put before my eyes. It was written before the publication of “Eastern Life;” and I will insert a part of it, both because it indicates the kind of difficulty I had to deal with, on these occasions, and because it is an honest comfort to see what I had gained in courage, strength and cheerfulness in the three years which intervened between the publication of the two books.
“I am not afraid of censure,” I wrote in February 1848, “from individuals or from the world. I don’t feel, at present, any fear of the most thorough pulling to pieces that I suppose can ever befal me. The book once out, I am in for it, and must and will bear every thing. ... ... ... The fact is, however, — this book is, I believe, the greatest effort of courage I ever made. I only hope I may not fail in the proof. Some people would think the Population number of my Political Economy, and the Women and Marriage and Property chapters in my American books, and the Mesmerism affair, bolder feats: but I know that they were not. I was younger and more ardent then; and now the forecast and love of ease belonging to age are coming upon me. Then, I believed in a Protector who ordered me to do that work, and would sustain me under it: and, however I may now despise that sort of support, I had it then, and have none of that sort now. I have all that I want, I believe, in the absolute necessity of saying what I really believe, if I speak at all on those Egyptian and Mosaic subjects; and I would not exchange my present views, imperfect and doubtful as they are, — I had better say, I would not exchange my freedom from old superstition, if I were to be burned at the stake next month, for all the peace and quiet of orthodoxy, if I must take the orthodoxy with the peace and quiet. Nor would I, for any exemption, give up the blessing of the power of appeal to thoughtful minds. There was — —, the other day, at the reading of the Sinai part of my book. I should have expected her to be purely shocked at so much of it as to carry away a bad impression of the whole: but she was beyond all measure interested, — beyond any thing ever seen in her. So I would not have any thing otherwise than as it is, as to my fate in consequence of my opinions, or absence of belief. What I dread is being silenced, and the mortification and loss of the manner of it: (from a refusal to publish the book.) Yet, if it happens, I dare say it will become clear to me what I ought to do; and that is the only really important thing. ... ... ... ... Well: I have had plenty of painful enterprises to go through, and found support from the two considerations that I could not help being so circumstanced, and that I believed myself right. ... ... ... ... I will tell you of a terrible pain I have had about this matter of religious opinion. When I was at — in September, I was told about a Town Missionary, Mr. —, who desired particularly to see me. He came to the house, when it appeared, (— no, we knew it before; but, however,) he had formed himself upon my books, — the more serious ones particularly, — and we found, had taken up that notion of me which we know to be idealism, — all but idolatry. In every thing else he seemed a rational, as he certainly was a very interesting young man. Such a face! so full of life and happiness, — all made up of benevolence. He was delicate; and so was his young wife. He was then thinking of undertaking the — City Mission. He did so: and soon sank; — had influenza, and fell into rapid consumption. A friend of his at Birmingham wrote me that he declared himself dying, in his letter to her received that day: and she immediately wrote to suggest to me that a letter from me would gratify him. There was scarcely any thing I would not rather have done: but it was impossible to refuse. I wrote at once; and every word was as true to my own state of mind as what I write to you now: but I feared it would be taken for a Christian letter. There was not a word about the future, or of God, or even Christ. It was a letter of sympathy in his benevolent and happy life, and also, of course, in his present weakness. It reached him on the last day of his life. It was read to him. When a little revived, he asked for it, and read it himself; and then desired his wife to tell all who loved him of ‘this last flush on his darkness.’ This is dreadful pain to me. I feel as if I had told him a lie for my last words to him. I cannot now see how I could have acted otherwise. It would have been hard and unkind not to write: and it was impossible to disturb his life at the last. Yet I feel that that letter did not carry my real mind to him, and does not to the many who are reading it. His poor delicate young widow is strong in heart; but she has two young infants to maintain, and not a shilling in the world. But missionaries’ widows are, I believe, always cared for, — as I am sure they ought to be.”
It is cheering to read this letter now, and feel how much clearer and stronger my mind had become before the time arrived for the far greater enterprise which caused me so much less apprehension, and which was to release me for ever from all danger of misleading missionaries, or any body else, by letters of sympathy under solemn circumstances, which they would interpret by their preconceptions. I can write such letters now to all kinds of sufferers, in full assurance that, whether they satisfy or not, they are not misapprehended.
On the nineteenth of November, my friend and I revised his last letter, I wrote my preface, and we tied up our M.S. for press; and on the twentieth, he went away. As we were going to the coach he said, “I am glad we have done this work. We shall never repent it.” We next met in London, in the summer, when our book had run the gauntlet of all the reviews, and we found ourselves no worse for the venture we had made, and well satisfied that we had borne our testimony to the truth, — not in vain for many who had sorely needed the support and blessing which our philosophy had long afforded to ourselves.
When Mr. Atkinson was gone, the printing began; and I highly enjoyed the proof-correcting. That is always the time when I begin to relish any book that I have part in. The conception I enjoy, of course, or I should not write the book; but during the work I am doubtful, and the manuscript disgusts me. Then come the proofs, when one sees exactly, and in order, what one has really said; and the work appears to advantage. What my pressure of business was at that time is shown by a sad piece of weakness of mine, which I have sorely repented since; — trusting to the printing-office the proof-correcting of the Appendix. Almost three-fourths of the Appendix being sent in print to the office, and the rest in the remarkably good handwriting of a helpful neighbour, I did hope that errors might be avoided; and I inquired about it, and was assured that I might trust the printer. But never did I see such a shameful mess as those sheets; and never could I have conceived of such an ignorant sort of blunders being allowed to pass. I have never forgiven myself for my laziness in letting any part of the business out of my own hands.
The neighbour who helped me kindly in getting up the Appendix was a sickly retired clerk living close by my gate, — a man of good tastes and fond of reading. I, as I thought, hired him for a succession of evenings to write for me; and, by working together, we soon finished the business. He would not have supper, nor any refreshment whatever; and, to my consternation, (and admiration too) he declined all remuneration in such a way that I could only accept his gift of his time and labour. Since that time he has had the loan, daily, of my newspaper: — his wife buys milk of my dairy; and he sends me many a dish of trout; and I lend books to his good son. Thus we go on; and very pleasant it is.
It was while our evenings were thus filled up, that Mr. Quillinan, Wordsworth’s son-in-law, called one day, full of kindly pleasure, to tell me that I must dine with him next Thursday; and sadly blank he looked when I told him I was engaged every evening that week. Could I not put off my engagement? — No: Miss Brontë was coming on Monday; and I had business which must be finished first. His disappointment was great; for he had a benevolent scheme of bringing me into the favourable acquaintance of certain clergy of the neighbourhood, and of a physician whose further acquaintance I by no means desired. I have before mentioned that, from the first, I avoided visiting among all my neighbours, except a very few intimates; and of course, I had no intention of beginning now, when a book was in the press which would make them gnash their teeth at me in a month or two. Mr. Quillinan had ascertained from the whole party that they should be happy to meet me; and he enjoyed, as he told me, “bringing neighbours together, to like each other.” It had never occurred to him that I might not like to meet them; and sadly disconcerted he was. However, I promised to take Miss Brontë with me, one day, if he would dine early enough to enable my delicate guest to return before nightfall. That was a truly pleasant day, — no one being there, in addition to the family, but Mr. Arnold, from Fox How, and ourselves. And when “Currer” and I came home, there were proof-sheets lying; and I read her Mr. Atkinson’s three letters about the distribution of the brain. She was exceedingly impressed by what she called “the tone of calm power in all he wrote;” moreover, she insisted on having the whole book, when it came out; and no one, so little qualified by training to enter into its substance and method, did it more generous justice. She was very far indeed from sympathising in our doctrine; and she emphatically said so; but this did not prevent her doing justice to us, under our different view. In a preceding letter, she had said “I quite expect that the publication of this book will bring you troublous times. Many who are beginning to draw near to you will start away again affrighted. Your present position is high. Consequently there are many persons, very likely, precisely in the mood to be glad to see it lower. I anticipate a popular outcry which you will stand much as the Duke of Wellington would; — and in due time, it will die round you; but I think not soon.” A month afterwards she wrote, “Having read your book, I cannot now think it will create any outcry. You are tender of others: — you are serious, reverent and gentle. Who can be angry?” This appreciation, from one who declared (as she did to me) that our doctrine was to her “vinegar mingled with gall,” was honourable to her justice and candour. And so was the readiness with which she admitted and accepted my explanation that I was an atheist in the vulgar sense, — that of rejecting the popular theology, — but not in the philosophical sense, of denying a First Cause. She had no sympathy whatever with the shallow and foolish complaint that we were “taking away people’s faith.” She thought that nobody’s faith was worth much which was held, more or less, because I held it too; and of course she saw that truth and Man would never advance if they must wait for the weak, who have themselves no means of progression but by the explorations of the strong, or of those more disposed for speculation than themselves. As I have had occasion to say to some people who seem to have forgotten all they knew of the history of Opinion, and as Luther, and many others greater than I have had to say, “If your faith is worth any thing, it does not depend on me: and if it depends on me, it is not worth any thing.” This reminds me of an incident perhaps worth relating, in connexion with this absurd plea for standing still, which, under the laws of the mind, means retrogression.
When I was publishing “Eastern Life,” I rather dreaded its effects on two intimate friends of mine, widows, both far removed from orthodoxy, and zealous all their lives long for free thought, and an open declaration of it. If I might judge by their profession of principle, I should become more dear to them in proportion to my efforts or sacrifices in the discovery and avowal of truth: but I knew that they could not be so judged, because neither of them had encountered any serious trial of their principle. They bore “Eastern Life” better than I expected, — not fully perceiving, perhaps, the extent of the speculation about belief in a future life. In the “Atkinson Letters,” the full truth burst upon them; and it was too much for them. They had been accustomed to detail to me their visions of that future life, which were curiously particular, — their “heaven” being filled with the atmosphere of their respective homes, and framed to meet the sufferings and desires of their own individual minds. I never pretended to sympathise in all this, of course; but neither had I meddled with it, because I never meddle, except by invitation, with individual minds. After “Eastern Life,” they must have been thoroughly aware that they had not my sympathy; but, while they insisted (against my wish) in reading the “Atkinson Letters,” which was altogether out of their way, they blamed me excessively, — wholly forgetting their professions in favour of free-thought and speech. One partially recovered herself: the other had not power to do so. She went about every where, eloquently bemoaning my act, as a sort of fall, and doing me more mischief (as far as such talk can do damage) than any enemy could have done; and, by the time she began to see how she stood, she had done too much for entire reparation, — earnestly as I believe she desires it. As for the other, an anecdote will show how considerable her self-recovery was. The very woman who had taken on herself to inform me that God would forgive me was not long in reaching the point I will show. — She came to stay with me a year afterwards; and when she departed, I went down to the gate, to put her into the coach, when an old acquaintance greeted me, — an aged lady living some miles off. The two fellow-passengers talked me over, and the aged one related how fierce an opinionated old lady of the neighbourhood was against me, — without having read the book; — the narrator confessing that she herself thought I was “exceedingly wrong to take away people’s faith.” Did not my friend think so? She replied that if I was wrong on that ground, — in seeking truth, and avowing it in opposition to the popular belief, so was every religious reformer, in all times, — mounting up through Luther to St. Paul. “Why, that’s true!” cried the old lady. “I will remember that, and tell it again.” “And as to the moral obligation of the case,” continued my friend, “we must each judge by our own conscience: and perhaps Harriet is as able to judge as Mrs. —.” “Yes, indeed, and a great deal better,” was the reply.
I certainly had no idea how little faith Christians have in their own faith till I saw how ill their courage and temper can stand any attack upon it. And the metaphysical deists who call themselves free-thinkers are, if possible, more alarmed and angry still. There were some of all orders of believers who treated us perfectly well; and perhaps the settled-orthodox had more sympathy with us than any other class of Christians. They were not alarmed, — safely anchored as they are on the rock of authority; and they were therefore at leisure to do justice to our intentions, and even to our reasoning. Having once declared our whole basis to be wrong, — their own being divine, — they could appreciate our view and conduct in a way impossible to persons who had left the anchorage of authority, and not reached that of genuine philosophy. Certainly the heretical, — from reforming churchmen to metaphysical deists, — behaved the worst. The reviews of the time were a great instruction to us. They all, without one exception, as far as we know, shirked the subject-matter of the book, and fastened on the collateral, antitheological portions. In regard to these portions, the reviewers contradicted each other endlessly. We had half a mind to collect their articles, and put them in such juxtaposition as to make them destroy one another, so as to leave us where they found us. It is never worth while, however, to notice reviews in their bearing upon the books they discuss. When we revert to reviews, so-called, it is for their value as essays; for it is, I believe, a thing almost unknown for a review to give a reliable account of the book which forms its text, if the work be of any substance at all. This is not the place for an essay on reviewing. I will merely observe that the causes of this phenomenon are so clear to me, and I think them so nearly unavoidable, that I have declined reviewing, except in a very few instances, since the age of thirty; and, in those few instances, my articles have been avowedly essays, and not, in any strict sense, reviews.
As for the “outcry” which “Currer Bell” and many others anticipated, I really do not know what it amounted to, — outside of the reviewing world. If I knew, I would tell: but I know very little. To the best of my recollection, we were downright insulted only by two people; — by the opinionated old lady (above eighty) above referred to, and by one of my nearest relations; — the former in a letter to me (avowing that she had not seen the book) and the latter in print. Another old lady and her family, with whom I was barely acquainted, passed me in the road thenceforth without speaking, — a marriage into a bishop’s family taking place soon after. Others spoke coldly, for a time; and one family, from whom more wisdom might have been expected, ceased to visit me, while continuing on friendly terms. I think this is all, as regards my own neighbourhood. My genuine friends did not change; and the others, failing under so clear a test, were nothing to me. When, in the evenings of that spring, I went out (as I always do, when in health) to meet the midnight on my terrace, or, in bad weather, in the porch, and saw and felt what I always do see and feel there at that hour, what did it matter whether people who were nothing to me had smiled or frowned as I passed them in the village in the morning? When I experienced the still new joy of feeling myself to be a portion of the universe, resting on the security of its everlasting laws, certain that its Cause was wholly out of the sphere of human attributes, and that the special destination of my race is infinitely nobler than the highest proposed under a scheme of “divine moral government,” how could it matter to me that the adherents of a decaying mythology, — (the Christian following the heathen, as the heathen followed the barbaric-fetish) were fiercely clinging to their Man-God, their scheme of salvation, their reward and punishment, their arrogance, their selfishness, their essential pay-system, as ordered by their mythology? As the astronomer rejoices in new knowledge which compels him to give up the dignity of our globe as the centre, the pride, and even the final cause of the universe, so do those who have escaped from the Christian mythology enjoy their release from the superstition which fails to make happy, fails to make good, fails to make wise, and has become as great an obstacle in the way of progress as the prior mythologies which it took the place of nearly two thousand years ago. For three centuries it has been undermined, and its overthrow completely decided, as all true interpreters of the Reformation very well know. To the emancipated, it is a small matter that those who remain imprisoned are shocked at the daring which goes forth into the sunshine and under the stars, to study and enjoy, without leave asked, or fear of penalty. As to my neighbours, they came round by degrees to their former methods of greeting. They could do no more, because I was wholly independent of all of them but the few intimates on whom I could rely. As one of these last observed to me, — people leave off gossip and impertinence when they see that one is independent of them. If one has one’s own business and pleasure and near connexions, so that the gossips are visibly of no consequence to one, they soon stop talking. Whether it was so in my case, I never inquired. I am very civilly treated, as far as I see; and that is enough.
As to more distant connexions, I can only say the same thing. I had many scolding letters; but they were chiefly from friends who were sure to think better of it, and who have done so. For a time there was a diminution of letters from mere acquaintances, and persons who wanted autographs, or patronage, or the like: but these have increased again since. I went to London the summer after the publication of the book, and have done so more than once since; and my friends are very kind. I think I may sum up my experience of this sort by saying that this book has been an inestimable blessing to me by dissolving all false relations, and confirming all true ones. No one who would leave me on account of it is qualified to be my friend; and all who, agreeing or disagreeing with my opinions, are faithful to me through a trial too severe for the weak are truly friends for life. I early felt this; and certainly, no ardent friendships of my youthful days have been half so precious to me as those which have borne unchanged the full revelation of my heresies. As to my fortunes, — I have already said that my latest years have been the most prosperous since the publication of my Political Economy series.
When my friends in Egypt and I came down from, and out of, the Great Pyramid, we agreed that no pleasure in the recollection of the adventure, and no forgetfulness of the fatigue and awfulness of it should ever make us represent the feat as easy and altogether agreeable. For the sake of those who might come after us, we were bound to remember the pains and penalties, as well as the gains. In the same way, I am endeavouring now to revive the faded impressions of any painful social consequences which followed the publication of the “Atkinson Letters,” that I may not appear to convey that there is no fine to pay for the privilege of free utterance. I do not remember much about a sort of pain which was over so long ago, and which there has been nothing to revive; but I am aware in a general way, that the nightly mood which yields me such lofty pleasure, under the stars, and within the circuit of the solemn mountains, was not always preserved; and that, if I had not been on my guard in advance, and afterwards supported by Mr. Atkinson’s fine temper, I might have declined into a state of suspicion, and practice of searching into people’s opinion of me. To renew the impressions of the time, I have now been glancing over Mr. Atkinson’s letters of that spring, which I preserved for some such purpose: and I am tempted to insert one or two, as faithful reflexions of his mood at the time, which was the guide and aid of mine. This reminds me that one of our amusements at the time was at the various attempts, — in print, in letters, and in conversation, — to set us at variance. One of our literary magnates, who admires the book, said that this was the first instance in history of an able man joining a woman in authorship; and the novelty was not likely to be acquiesced in without resistance. In print, Mr. Atkinson was reproached, — in the face of my own preface, — with drawing me into the business, and making me his “victim,” and so forth, by persons who knew perfectly well that, so far from wanting any aid in coming forward, he had lectured, and published his lecture, containing the same views, both physiological and anti-theological, before we had any acquaintance whatever: and, on the other hand, I was scolded for dragging forth a good man into persecution which I had shown I did not myself care for. On this sort of charge, which admitted of no public reply, (if he had replied to any thing) Mr. Atkinson wrote these few words, — after reading the one only review which stooped to insult, — insult being, in that instance, safe to the perpetrator by accident of position. “The thing that impressed me, in reading that review was, — how ingenious men are in seeking how to poison their neighbours, and how men themselves do just what they accuse others of doing. Honest scorn I don’t at all mind: but I don’t like a wrong or undue advantage being taken. I don’t like a cabman to charge a shilling extra when one is with ladies, thinking you won’t dispute it. All our principles of honour and justice and benevolence seem to me to be implicated in questions of truth; and in this, I certainly feel firm as a rock, and with the courage of the lion:—that the position is to be maintained, and the thing to be done, and there’s an end of it, — be the consequences what they may.” Then came a letter to him, “candidly advising” him to do himself justice, as speedily as might be, by publishing something alone, to repair the disadvantage of having let a woman speak under the same cover: and on the same day, came a letter to me, gently reproving my good-nature in lending my literary experience to any man’s objects. Sometimes the volume was all mine, and sometimes all his, — each taking the advantage of the other’s name. There was a good deal of talk to the same purpose; and Mr. Atkinson’s comment on this policy was, — “the aim is evident, — to stir up jealousy between us. But it won’t do. They don’t know the man, — nor the woman either.”
The following morsel may serve to show our view of the large class of censors who, believing nothing themselves, of theology or any thing else, were scandalised at our “shaking the faith” of other people. A lawyer of this class, avowing that he had not read the book, launched “a thunderbolt” at me, — possibly forgetting how many “thunderbolts” I had seen him launch at superstitions, like that of a future life, and at those who teach them. Mr. Atkinson’s remark on this will not take up much space. “Bravo —! A pretty lawyer he, to give judgment before he has read his brief! What a Scribe it is! lawyer to the backbone! I wish he would tell us what truths we may be allowed to utter, and when. Certainly it seems a pity to hurt any one’s feelings: but Christianity was not so tender about that: nor does Nature seem very particular. It is all very fine, talking about people’s religious convictions; but what is to become of those who have no such convictions, — that increasing crowd filling up the spaces between the schisms of the churches? The Church is rotting away daily. Convictions are losing their stability. Men are being scattered in the wilderness. Shall we not hold up a light in the distance, and prepare them a shelter from the storm? The religious people, you will see, will respect us more than the infidels, who have no faith in truth, no light but law, no hope for Man but his fancies, (“convictions.”) — No, I don’t feel any thing at “thunderbolts” of this kind, I assure you. I think it more like the squash of a rotten apple. Let such thunderbolts come as thick as rain; and they will not stir a blade of grass.” On April eleventh, my friend wrote, in reply to some accounts of excursions with two nieces, who were staying with me.
“Here is a nice packet of letters from you. It is delightful to read your account of your doings. You have no time to be miserable and repent, — have you? no time to be thinking of your reputation or your soul. Your cheerful front to the storm and active exertions will make you respected; and remember, the Cause requires it. It would be hard for a Christian to be brave and cheerful in a Mahomedan country, with any amount of pitying and abusing; and so you have not a fair chance of the effect of your faith on your happiness in life, — as it will be for all when the community think as you do, and each supports each, and sympathy abounds. ... ... ... As for Dr. B. and the rest, — when men don’t like the end, of course they find fault with the means. How could it be logical and scientific if it leads to a different conclusion from them: — them — yes, all of them thinking differently! F. in “Fraser” does not think any thing of a future life from instinct, or a God from design: but these points are just what the others insist on. To my mind, F.’s article and the one in the “Westminster” are full of sheer assertion and error and bad taste. I think they want logic, science, or whatever they may term it. If I am wrong and unscientific, why do they not put me right? — taking the “Letters” as a mere sketch, of course, and presenting only a few points of the subject. It is but a slight sketch of the head, leaving the whole figure to be completed. The fact is, these reviewers skip over the science to the theology, and talk nonsense when they feel uncomfortably opposed, — perhaps insulted. I don’t mean in the least to argue that I am not wrong: only, those who think so ought to show how and why. Mr. F. reasons from analogy when my chief argument is in opposition to those analogical reasonings. The analogy with Christ is curious, as showing how minds are impressed with resemblances. Some see a man with the slightest curve of the nose, and say “how like the Duke of Wellington!” or with a club-foot, and say “how like Byron!” I am certainly well contented with F.’s praise; for one reason only: that people won’t think you so foolish in bringing me forward in the way you have. As for the book, it is left by the critics just where it was: nothing disproved, — neither the facts nor the method, nor Bacon: and after all, if mine is “a careless sketch,” (and I dare say it is) the question is the truth of what it contains. If these men are such good artists, they will read the fact out of a rough sketch. F. throws out that idea about Bacon again, and calls it a moral fault in me. I cannot see it, especially as I am supported by others well acquainted with Bacon. The sin was of a piece with the rest of his doings, — in a measure essential at the time for getting a hearing at all for his philosophy: and F. forgets that if Bacon was an atheist, there was no offence against sacred matters, seeing that he did not consider them sacred, but ‘the delirium of phrenetics;’ and thus it was rather a showing of respect and yielding. I do not see that this can spoil him as an authority, any more than Macaulay spoils him: and if it did, he had better be no authority at all than an authority against science. Lord Campbell says Bacon was accustomed in his youth to ridicule religion, thinks the Paradoxes were his, but that in riper years he probably changed his opinion; the only reason given for which is a sentence in the Advancement of Learning, — his earliest great work. The passage there is, ‘A little or superficial knowledge of philosophy may incline the mind of man to atheism, &c;’ which is absurd, if it were insisted on by Campbell. (I suppose Pope’s ‘a little learning is a dangerous thing,’ is taken from this passage.) Of course, people will say I am wrong; but let them show it, with all their logic; and we shall see who has the best of it. — So you think the storm is at its height. It shows how little I know of it, — I thought it was all over. The organ now playing a wretched tune before my windows is more annoyance than all their articles put together. If they generally speak so of it, methinks there must be something in it, and they are not indifferent to it. Your American correspondent is quite a mystic. What curious turns and twists the human mind takes, before it gets into the clear road of true philosophy, walking through the midst of the facts of Nature, the view widening and clearing at every step! Men like — and — don’t like our book because it makes so little of theirs and all their study, by taking a more direct line to the results. I can’t think what — can have to say that has not been said. So he is reading Comte, is he? I hope it will do him good. — Make Dr. — understand that repetition of the general fact was not the thing required or intended. I had other things to say, and to press into a mere notice. It is this very fact of incompleteness, &c., &c., that I believe Bacon would have praised. There is nothing cut and dried. There are facts; and in a certain order; a form for thinking men to work upon, — not to satisfy superficial men with a show of completeness. There are ‘particulars not known before for the use of man,’ which is better than all their logic: the one is mere measure and music, — the other ‘for future ages,’ — the grain of mustard seed only, perhaps, but a germ full of life. The first letters are a sketch expository of my views on mental science and the means of discovery; and the following letters merely an example (like Bacon’s Natural History) of the kind of fact that will throw light on the nature of the mind’s action, out of which, when extended and arranged in order, inductions are to be made of the laws of action. The rest is little more than conversational replies to your questions.”
Another of these letters was written when I was ill under an attack of influenza, which disabled me from duly enjoying a visit I was paying in the north of the district, and from getting on with my next great scheme. After telling me how ill every body was at that time, he says:
“It is sad to be making your visit now. As to our concerns, — there is no saying how the next post may alter every thing. There really is no place for an ill feeling, or a disturbed one, if we could but keep it so in view. It seems to me that life is either too holy, or a matter too indifferent to be moved by every silly thought or angry feeling. With regard to what they say about us, it is only precisely what you anticipated they would say: and it seems to me that after all is said, our facts and position remain untouched. It seems that we ought to have something to bear. I value this more every day. If I can be safe from flatterers and inducements to indulgence, I will be thankful for all the rest, and smile at all their scandal, and their great discovery that I am not allwise. It all presents some new matter for contemplation; and if we cannot absolutely love our enemies, at least we may thank them for showing us our faults, which flattering friends hide from us. It seems all kinds of things must happen to us before we can become at all wise. First, we must become disenchanted of many delusions, that we may discover the pure gold through all the alloy which passes with it in the current coin of life. The Idols of the Market are inveterate; but down they must go, if we would be in the least wise: and the process must be healthful when one does not become soured, but feels one’s heart rather expanding and warming than cooling with years; and more thankful for every kindness, and not exacting as formerly. — I have been staying a few days in the country. We went over to a charming place, one day. Such a common! Perfectly beautiful! Acres of cherry-blossom, and splendid furze, like heaps of living gold; and the dark pine-trees rising from the midst! But one can’t describe such things. I walked about there alone while the others were shooting young rooks, — the parson at the head of them. I had a little volume which pleased me much. It was never published. ... ...
... ... There does not seem to be any chance of my having got at Comte’s ideas through any indirect channel; and I know nothing of him directly. Knight’s volume by Lewes is the whole of my acquaintance with him. What I do think is by labour in the fields or wild commons, and on the bench in the Regent’s Park. — That unqualified condemnation of us in regard to Bacon looks rather like the condemnation by prejudiced and ignorant divines which Bacon grieves over. The whole matter is not worth wasting good feelings upon: but it should rather bring them forth, not injured, but strengthened. If, from being ill, we cannot depend on our forces, we can only make the best of it. I will soon tell you what I think I can best do now, in furtherance of our subject. All before us seems clear and sure, and the prospect even full of gaiety, if only I knew that you were quite well again. We must have our sad moments that we may have our wise ones.”
Here is his Good Friday letter, written amidst the ringing of church bells. It begins with a comment on an unhappy aged person, — of whom we had been speaking.
“Age is a sad affair. If men went out of life in the very fulness of their powers, in a flash of lightning, one might imagine them transferred to heaven: but when the fruit fails, and then the flower and leaf, and branch after branch rots by our side while we yet live, we can hardly wish for a better thing than early death. Yes; it is true; — we do good to those to whom we have done good: we insult those we have insulted. Goodness is twice blessed: but hatred cankers the soul; and there is no relief, no unction, but in hating on. But of all the sad effects of age, the saddest is when as in this case a person reverses the noble principle of his life, — like the insane mother who detests the child she has so tenderly nurtured and loved. Every thing is flimsy, wrong, illogical, which does not confirm such an one in his own opinions: as a lady declared last evening who had been accusing me of not giving a fair consideration to the other side of the question, while I was recommending her to read so and so. ‘Well,’ said she, ‘it does not signify talking: in plain truth, I do not care to know about any body’s views or reasons which will not confirm me in my own faith.’ This was a sudden burst of honest pride, and eagerness, in the midst of the confusion, to hold tight where she had got footing. Notions are worth nothing which are uttered in irritation partly, and in ignorance greatly, and in the spirit of old age, — not of Christ or of Paul. If what I have said is wrong in logic or in fact, it is no use abusing us: the thing is to exhibit the error; and I am sure none will be more thankful for the correction than I. F— is the only one who has tried to do this; and I thank him for it, though I think him wholly wrong on matters of fact. — The book is objected to on religious grounds. Now, what is the use of all the millions spent, of all the learning of the colleges, and of all the parsons, — as thick as crows over the land, — if they cannot correct what is ‘shallow’ and ‘superficial?’ No; they feel otherwise than as they assert. They fear that however arrogant or superficial the book may be, there is substance in the midst of it; there is danger to the existing state of things; and they dare not honestly face the facts, and meet the argument which they declare to be too superficial to deceive any one. They dare not honestly and fairly do it. Shame upon the land! With that skulking phantom of a dressed-up faith that dares not face the light, in broad day: with God upon their lips, and preaching Christ crucified, they fear to encounter God’s truth by the way side! Why does Gavazzi waste his breath upon the Pope? Let him face the wide world, and denounce its false faith, and show them how God walks with them in Nature as he did by Adam in Eden, and they hide away in shame, worship the devil, and feed on the apple of sin every day of their lives. Men are subdued by fear. There is no faith in change, in progress, in truth, in virtue, in holiness. It is a terror-stricken age; and men fly to God to save them, and God gives them truth in his own way; and they receive it not. There is every kind of stupid terror got up about the Great Exhibition. F. is in terror about phreno-mesmerism: he would drown himself, — go out of the world if the thing were true. They like ‘Deerbrook’ — yes, as a picture: but the spirit of ‘Deerbrook’ is not in them, or they would love the spirit of the author of ‘Deerbrook.’ Well! it is not so bad as Basil Montagu used to say. ‘My dear Atkinson, they will tear you to pieces.’ It is something then to say what we have said, and remain in a whole skin. ... ... ... The world is ripe if there were but the towering genius that would speak to it. We are all dead asleep. We want rousing from a lethargy, that we may listen to the God of heaven and of earth who speaks to us in our hearts. The word of God is in every man, if he will listen. God is with us in all Nature, if we will but read the written law; written not on tables of stone, but on the wide expanse of nature. Yes, the savage is more right. God is in the clouds, and we hear him in the wind. Yes; and in the curse of ignorance, and the voice of reprobation, there too is God, — warning us of ignorance, — of unbelief of temper, — putting another law in our way, that we may read and interpret the book of fate. O! that some great teacher would arise, and make himself heard from the mountain top! The man whom they crucified on this day gave a Sermon on a mount. It is in every house, in every head; it is known, passage after passage: but in how few has it touched the heart, and opened the understanding! Men are but slowly led by pure virtue or by pure reason. They require eloquence and powerful persuasion; deep, solemn, unceasing persuasion. The bible is a dead letter. Men worship the air and call it God. God is truth, law, morals, noble deeds of heroism, conscience, self-sacrifice, love, freedom and cheerfulness. Men have no God. It is yet to be given them. They have but a log, and are croaking and unsatisfied; and tomorrow they try King Hudson or the devil.”
The looking over these letters has revived my recollection of the really critical time at which they were written, — the trials of which I had forgotten as completely as the fatigues of the outside, and the gloomy horror of the inside of the Pyramid. — I shall say nothing of the counterpart of the experience; of the vast discoveries of sympathy, the new connexions, the pleasant friendships, and the gratitude of disciples which have accrued to us, from that time to the present hour. The act was what I had to give an account of, and not its consequences. The same reasons which have deterred me from exhibiting the praises awarded to other works are operative here. — I will conclude the whole subject with observing that time shows us more and more the need there is of such testimony as any of us can give to the value of philosophy, and of science as its basis. Those who praised us and our book, in print or in conversation, seem to have no more notion than those who condemned us of the infinite importance of philosophy, — not only to intellectual wisdom, but to goodness and happiness; and, again, that, in my comrade’s words, “the only method of arriving at a true philosophy of Mind is by the contemplation of Man as a whole, — as a creature endowed with definite properties, capable of being observed and classified like other phenomena resulting from any other portion of Nature.” The day when we agreed upon bearing our testimony, (in however imperfect a form) to these great truths was a great day for me, in regard both to my social duty and my private relations. Humble as was my share in the book, it served to bring me into a wide new sphere of duty; and, as to my private connexions, it did what I have said before; — it dissolved all false relations, and confirmed all true ones. Its great importance to me may excuse, as well as account for, the length to which this chapter of my life has extended.
It appears, from two or three notices above, that Comte’s philosophy was at this time a matter of interest to me. For many months after, his great work was indeed a means of singular enjoyment to me. After hearing Comte’s name for many years, and having a vague notion of the relation of his philosophy to the intellectual and social needs of the time, I obtained something like a clear preparatory view, at second-hand, from a friend, at whose house in Yorkshire I was staying, before going to Bolton, in 1850. What I learned then and there impelled me to study the great book for myself; and in the spring of 1851, when the “Atkinson Letters” were out, and the History was finished, and I intended to make holiday from the pen for awhile, I got the book, and set to work. I had meantime looked at Lewes’s chapter on Comte in Mr. Knight’s Weekly Volume, and at Littré’s epitome; and I could thus, in a manner, see the end from the beginning of the complete and extended work. This must be my excuse for the early date at which I conceived the scheme of translating the Philosophie Positive.
My course of lectures on English History finished on the first of April: and on the eighth, I sent off the last proof-sheet of my history. On the fourteenth, my nieces left me; and there was an interval before my spring visits which I employed in a close study of the first volume of Comte’s work. On the twenty-fourth, the book arrived from London; and I am amazed, and somewhat ashamed to see by my Diary, that on the twenty-sixth, I began to “dream” of translating it; and on the next night (Sunday the twenty-seventh) sat up late, — not dreaming, but planning it. On the second of May, I was in such enthusiasm that I wrote to one of the best-informed men on this matter in the kingdom, (an old friend) to ask his opinion on my scheme. He emphatically approved my design, — of introducing the work to the notice of a wide portion of the English public who could never read it in the original; but he proposed a different method of doing it. He said that no results could compensate to me for the toil of translating six volumes in a style like Comte’s, and in the form of lectures, whereby much recapitulation was inevitable. He proposed that I should give an abstract of Comte’s philosophy, with illustrations of my own devising, in one volume; or, at most, in two of a moderate size. I was fully disposed to do this; and I immediately began an analysis, which would, I thought, be useful in whatever form I might decide to put forth the substance. I know no greater luxury, after months of writing, than reading, and making an analysis as one goes. This work I pursued while making my spring visits. On the eighth of May, I went for a fortnight to stay with some friends, between whom and myself there was cordial affection, though they were Swedenborgians, of no ordinary degree of possession (for I will not call it fanaticism in people so gentle and kind.) Their curiosity about Comte rather distressed me; and certainly it is not in the power of the most elastic mind to entertain at once Swedenborg and Comte. They soon settled the matter, however. My host kept aloof, — going out to his fishing every morning, while I was at work, and having very different matters to talk about in the evenings. It was his lady who took up the matter; and I was amused to see how. She came to my writing-table, to beg the loan of the first volume, when I was going out for a walk. When her daughter and I returned from our walk, we met her in the wood; and the whole affair was settled. She knew “all about it,” and had decided that Comte knew nothing. I inquired in amazement the grounds of this decision. She had glanced over the first chapter, and could venture to say she now “knew all about it.” There was mere human science, (which, for that matter, Swedenborg had also;) and such science bears no relation to the realities which concern men most. This was all very well: and I was rejoiced that the thing had passed over so easily, though marvelling at the presumption of the judgment in one whom I consider nearly the humblest of women where her own qualities are concerned. A year later, however, she sent me a letter of rebuke about my work, which had less of the modesty, and more of the presumption, than I should have expected. I reminded her of what we had often agreed upon, with remarkable satisfaction, — the superiority of the Swedenborgians to all other religious sects in liberality. Not only does their doctrine in a manner necessitate this liberality, but the temper of its professors responds to the doctrine more faithfully than that of religious professors in general. I was sorry, as I told my friend, to see this liberality fail, on a mere change of the ground, — from that of religious controversy to that of the opposition between science and theology. I claimed my liberty to do the work which I thought best for the truth, for the same reason that I rejoiced in seeing her and her excellent family doing what they thought best for what they regarded as truth. I have had no more censure or remonstrance from any of the family, and much kindness, — the eldest daughter even desiring to come and nurse me, when she heard of my present illness: but I have no doubt that all the heresy I have ever spoken and written is tolerable in their eyes, in comparison with the furtherance given to science by the rendering of Comte’s work into a tongue which the multitude can read; and which they will read, while the young men should be seeing visions and the old men dreaming dreams.
During other visits, and a great press of business about cottage-building, and of writing for “Household Words” and elsewhere, I persevered in my study and analysis, — spending the evenings in collateral reading, — the lives and the history of the works of eminent mathematicians, and other scientific men. This went on till the twenty-sixth of June, when tourists began to fill the place and every body’s time, and I must be off to London and into Norfolk, and leave my house to my tenant for three months. My first visit was to some beloved American friends in London, by whom I was introduced to the Great Exhibition. I attended the last of Mr. Thackeray’s lectures of that season, and paid evening visits, and saw many old friends. But I was now convinced that I had lost my former keen relish for London pleasures. The quiet talks late at night with my hostesses were charming; and there was great pleasure in meeting old acquaintances: but the heat, and the glare, and the noise, and the superficial bustle, so unlike my quiet life of grave pursuit and prevailing solitude at home showed me that my Knoll had in truth spoiled me for every other abode.
The mention of Mr. Thackeray’s name here reminds me that it does not occur in my notes of literary London twenty years ago. At that time I saw him, if I remember right, only once. It was at Mr. Buller’s, at dinner; — at a dinner which was partly ludicrous and partly painful. Mrs. Buller did not excel in tact; and her party was singularly arranged at the dinner table. I was placed at the bottom of the table, at its square end, with an empty chair on the one hand, and Mr. Buller on the other, — he being so excessively deaf that no trumpet was of much use to him. There we sat with our trumpets, — an empty chair on the one hand, and on the other, Mr. J. S. Mill, whose singularly feeble voice cut us off from conversation in that direction. As if to make another pair, Mrs. Buller placed on either side of her a gentleman with a flattened nose, — Mr. Thackeray on her right, and her son Charles on the left. — It was on this day only that I met either Mr. Dickens or Mr. Thackeray during my London life. About Mr. Thackeray I had no clear notion in any way, except that he seemed cynical; and my first real interest in him arose from reading M. A. Titmarsh in Ireland, during my Tynemouth illness. I confess to being unable to read “Vanity Fair,” from the moral disgust it occasions; and this was my immediate association with the writer’s name when I next met him, during the visit to London in 1851. I could not follow his lead into the subject of the Bullers, (then all dead) so strong was my doubt of his real feeling. I was, I fear, rather rough and hard when we talked of “Vanity Fair;” but a sudden and most genuine change of tone, — of voice, face and feeling, — that occurred on my alluding to Dobbin’s admirable turning of the tables on Amelia, won my trust and regard more than any thing he had said yet. “Pendennis” much increased my respect and admiration; and “Esmond” appears to me the book of the century, in its department. I have read it three times; and each time with new wonder at its rich ripe wisdom, and at the singular charm of Esmond’s own character. The power that astonishes me the most in Thackeray is his fertility, shown in the way in which he opens glimpses into a multitudinous world as he proceeds. The chief moral charm is in the paternal vigilance and sympathy which constitute the spirit of his narration. The first drawback in his books, as in his manners, is the impression conveyed by both that he never can have known a good and sensible woman. I do not believe he has any idea whatever of such women as abound among the matronage of England, — women of excellent capacity and cultivation applied to the natural business of life. It is perhaps not changing the subject to say next what the other drawback is. Mr. Thackeray has said more, and more effectually, about snobs and snobbism than any other man; and yet his frittered life, and his obedience to the call of the great are the observed of all observers. As it is so, so it must be; but “O! the pity of it! the pity of it!” Great and unusual allowance is to be made in his case, I am aware; but this does not lessen the concern occasioned by the spectacle of one after another of the aristocracy of nature making the ko-tow to the aristocracy of accident. If society does not owe all it would be thankful to owe to Mr. Thackeray, yet it is under deep and large obligations to him; and if he should even yet be seen to be as wise and happy in his life and temper as he might be any day, he may do much that would far transcend all his great and rising achievements thus far; and I who shall not see it would fain persuade myself that I foresee it. He who stands before the world as a sage de jure must surely have impulses to be a sage de facto.
Of Mr. Dickens I have seen but little in face-to-face intercourse; but I am glad to have enjoyed that little. There may be, and I believe there are, many who go beyond me in admiration of his works, — high and strong as is my delight in some of them. Many can more keenly enjoy his peculiar humour, — delightful as it is to me; and few seem to miss as I do the pure plain daylight in the atmosphere of his scenery. So many fine painters have been mannerists as to atmosphere and colour that it may be unreasonable to object to one more: but the very excellence and diversity of Mr. Dickens’s powers makes one long that they should exercise their full force under the broad open sky of nature, instead of in the most brilliant palace of art. While he tells us a world of things that are natural and even true, his personages are generally, as I suppose is undeniable, profoundly unreal. It is a curious speculation what effect his universally read works will have on the foreign conception of English character. Washington Irving came here expecting to find the English life of Queen Anne’s days, as his “Sketch-book” shows: and very unlike his preconception was the England he found. And thus it must be with Germans, Americans and French who take Mr. Dickens’s books to be pictures of our real life. — Another vexation is his vigorous erroneousness about matters of science, as shown in “Oliver Twist” about the new poor-law (which he confounds with the abrogated old one) and in “Hard Times,” about the controversies of employers. Nobody wants to make Mr. Dickens a Political Economist; but there are many who wish that he would abstain from a set of difficult subjects, on which all true sentiment must be underlain by a sort of knowledge which he has not. The more fervent and inexhaustible his kindliness, (and it is fervent and inexhaustible,) the more important it is that it should be well-informed and well-directed, that no errors of his may mislead his readers on the one hand, nor lessen his own genial influence on the other.
The finest thing in Mr. Dickens’s case is that he, from time to time, proves himself capable of progress, — however vast his preceding achievements had been. In humour, he will hardly surpass “Pickwick,” simply because “Pickwick” is scarcely surpassable in humour: but in several crises, as it were, of his fame, when every body was disappointed, and his faults seemed running his graces down, there has appeared something so prodigiously fine as to make us all joyfully exclaim that Dickens can never permanently fail. It was so with “Copperfield:” and I hope it may be so again with the new work which my survivors will soon have in their hands. — Meantime, every indication seems to show that the man himself is rising. He is a virtuous and happy family man, in the first place. His glowing and generous heart is kept steady by the best domestic influences: and we may fairly hope now that he will fulfil the natural purpose of his life, and stand by literature to the last; and again, that he will be an honour to the high vocation by prudence as well as by power: so that the graces of genius and generosity may rest on the finest basis of probity and prudence; and that his old age may be honoured as heartily as his youth and manhood have been admired. — Nothing could exceed the frank kindness and consideration shown by him in the correspondence and personal intercourse we have had; and my cordial regard has grown with my knowledge of him.
When I left London, it was for the singular contrast of spending the next night in a workhouse. Two of my servants (brother and sister) had been sent to me from Norfolk, — the maid by my own family, and the man by the excellent master of the Union Workhouse near Harling. The girl (now married to the master of the Ragged School at Bristol) had a strong inclination to school-keeping, and had pursued it in this workhouse and elsewhere with such assiduity as to lose her health. During the five years that she lived with me (beloved like a daughter by me, and honoured by all who knew her) she in a great measure recovered her health; and when she married from my house, at Christmas 1852, she went to resume her vocation, in which she is now leading the most useful life conceivable. We went to Harling, she and I, in this July 1851, to see her old friends, and the old school, and her old parents, and the success of the agricultural part of the management of this Guiltcross Union. Thus it was that I went from London to sleep in a workhouse. Very comfortable and agreeable I found it.
The next weeks were spent in the neighbourhood of Norwich, and at Cromer, where I was joined by my younger sister and her children. It was at Cromer that a strange impulse on my part, — an impulse of yielding chiefly, — caused me to go into an enterprise which had no result. It put me, for a time, in the difficulty of having too many irons in the fire; but that was not my fault; for I could have no conception of the news which was awaiting me in London, on my return. While at Cromer, I was justified in feeling that I might take as much time as I pleased about Comte. It depended wholly on myself: but before I got home, the case was changed, as I shall presently have to tell. The intervening anecdote has been hitherto a profound secret, by my own desire; — perhaps the only secret of my own that I ever had: and this was part of the amusement. One reason why I tell it now is because it affords a confirmation out of my own experience of what many of my friends have wondered to hear me say; — that one cannot write fiction, after having written (con amore, at least) history and philosophy.
Ever since the “Deerbrook” days, my friends had urged me to write more novels. When “Currer Bell” was staying with me, the winter before the time I have arrived at, she had spoken earnestly to me about it, and, as it appeared to us both, wholly in vain. While at Cromer, however, I read “Pendennis” with such intense enjoyment, and it seemed so much the richer from its contrast with “the Ogilvies,” and some other metaphysical, sentimental novels that had fallen in my way, that the notion of trying my hand once more at a novel seized upon me; and I wrote to Charlotte Brontë, to consult her as to the possibility of doing it secretly, and getting it out anonymously, and quite unsuspected, — as a curious experiment. She wrote joyously about it, and at once engaged her publisher’s interest in the scheme. She showed the most earnest friendliness throughout. She sent me a packet of envelopes directed by herself to her publisher; and she allowed his letters to me to come through her hands. When I reached home, on the first of October, I was somewhat scared at what I had undertaken, — the case of Comte having so changed, as I will tell; and the matter was not made easier by my inability to tell Mr. Chapman, who was to publish Comte, or Mr. Atkinson, who was in almost daily correspondence with me, what was delaying the progress of the philosophical half of my work. The difficulty was at an end before Christmas by the scheme of the novel being at an end. It was on an odd plan. It was no oddness in the plan, however, which discouraged me; but I doubted from the first whether I could ever again succeed in fiction, after having completely passed out of the state of mind in which I used to write it. In old days, I had caught myself quoting the sayings of my own personages, so strong was the impression of reality on myself; and I let my pen go as it would when the general plan of the story, and the principal scenes, were once laid down. Now I read and pondered, and arranged, and sifted, and satisfied myself, before I entered upon any chapter, or while doing it: — carrying, in fact, the methods and habits of historical composition into tale-telling. I had many misgivings about this; but, on the whole, I thought that the original principle of the work, and some particular scenes, would carry it through. At Christmas, I sent the first volume to Charlotte Brontë, who read it before forwarding it to the publisher. She wrote gloriously about it: and three days after came a pathetic letter from the publisher. He dared not publish it, on account of some favourable representations and auguries on behalf of the Catholics. That was a matter on which C. Brontë and I had perpetual controversy, — her opinion being one in which I could by no means agree; and thus expressed, after I had claimed credit for the Catholics, as for every body else, as far as their good works extended: — “Their good deeds I don’t dispute; but I regard them as the hectic bloom on the cheek of disease. I believe the Catholics, in short, to be always doing evil that good may come, or doing good that evil may come.” Yet did my representation of the Catholics in no way shake her faith in the success of my novel; and her opinion, reaching the publisher the day after he had written his apprehensions to me, aggravated, as he said, his embarrassment and distress. He implored me to lay aside this scheme, and send him a novel “like Deerbrook.” That was no more in my power now than to go back to thirty years of age. C. Brontë entreated me merely to lay aside my novel, if I would not finish it on speculation, saying that some things in it were equal to, or beyond, any thing I had ever written. I did intend at first to finish it: but other works pressed; the stimulus, and even the conception, passed away; and I burned the M.S. and memoranda, a few months since, not wishing to leave to my survivors the trouble of an unfinished M.S. which they could make no use of, and might scruple to burn. I told Mr. Atkinson and my Executor the facts when the scheme was at an end; and I hereby record the only failure of the sort I had experienced since the misleading I underwent about the Life of Howard, at the outset of my career. I may add that the publisher behaved as well as possible, under the circumstances. He showed me civility in various ways, was at all times ready to negotiate for another novel “like Deerbrook,” and purchased the copy-right of “Deerbrook” itself, in order to bring it out in a cheap series, with the novels of Mr. Thackeray and “Currer Bell.”
While I write, I recal, with some wonder, the fact that I had another literary engagement on my hands, at that very time. On recurring to my Diary, I find it was even so; and I wonder how I could justify it to myself. It was at Cromer, as I have said, that this scheme of the novel was framed, after I had consulted Mr. Chapman in London about publishing Comte’s “Positive Philosophy.” We had a clear understanding that it was to be done; but I was then wholly free in regard to time. On my return, I spent a week in London (then “empty,” according to the London use of the word) with a cousin, in a lodging, for the sole object of seeing the Exhibition in our own way, and in peace and quiet. On the last day, Mr. Chapman, who had been trying to track me, overtook me with a wonderful piece of news. Mr. Lombe, a Norfolk country gentleman, and late High Sheriff of the county, had for many years been a disciple of Comte, and had earnestly wished to translate the “Positive Philosophy,” but had been prevented by ill health. He was a perfect stranger to me, and residing in Florence; but, hearing from Mr. Chapman what I was doing, he sent me, by him, a draft on his bankers for £500. His obvious intention was to give me the money, in recompense for the work; but I preferred paying the expenses of paper, print and publication out of it, taking £200 for my own remuneration. To finish now about the money part of the affair, — I took advice how to act, in regard to so important a trust; and, in accordance with that advice, I immediately invested the whole amount in the Three per Cents., and, on the death of Mr. Lombe, in the next winter, I added a codicil to my will, appointing two trustees to the charge and application of the money, in case of my dying before the work was completed and published. Just when Mr. Lombe died, I was proposing to send him a portion of my M.S., to see whether my method and execution satisfied him. When the whole sum was distributed, and the work out, I submitted the accounts and vouchers to two intimate friends of Mr. Lombe, both men of business, and obtained their written assurance of their entire approbation of what I had done, — with the one exception that they thought I ought to have taken more of the money myself. As to the profits of the sale, — it seemed to me fair that M. Comte should have a portion; and also Mr. Chapman, through whom Mr. Lombe had become interested in the scheme. The profits have therefore been, up to this time, and will be henceforward, divided among the three, — M. Comte, Mr. Chapman and myself or my legatees. — My engagement to Mr. Chapman was to deliver the M.S. entire within two years of my return home; that is, in October, 1853; and this was precisely the date at which I delivered the last sheets. The printing had been proceeding during the summer; so that the work appeared at the beginning of November, 1853.
The additional work to which I have referred, as upon my hands at the same time, was this. I returned home, in the autumn of 1851, by Birmingham, where I spent a month at my brother Robert’s house, at Edgbaston. The proprietors of “Household Words” had all this time been urgent with me to write stories for them. I found myself really unable to do this with any satisfaction, — not only because of the absurdity of sending fiction to Mr. Dickens, but because I felt more and more that I had passed out of that stage of mind in which I could write stories well. It struck me that a full, but picturesque account of manufactures and other productive processes might be valuable, both for instruction and entertainment: and I proposed to try my hand on two or three of the Birmingham manufacture, under the advantage of my brother’s introduction, in the first place, and, in the next, of his correction, if I should fall into any technical mistakes. The proposal was eagerly accepted; and I then wrote the papers on Electro-plating, Papier-mâché and the Nail and Screw manufacture, — which stand in “Household Words” under the titles of “Magic Troughs at Birmingham,” “Flower-shows in a Birmingham Hot-house,” and “Wonders of Nails and Screws.” These succeeded so well that I went on at home with such materials as the neighbourhood afforded, — the next papers which appeared being “Kendal Weavers,” and “The Bobbin-mill at Ambleside.” Moreover, it was presently settled that I should spend a month at Birmingham after Christmas, to do another batch. Thereby hangs a pretty little tale: — at least, so it appears to me. My brother and sister having taken for granted that I should go to their house, I begged them not to take it amiss if I preferred going to a lodging, with my maid. My reasons were that I was going for business purposes, which would occupy all the daylight hours at that time of year; that I must therefore dine late; that I should be going about among the manufactories, with my maid to hear for me; and that I really thought my family and I should enjoy most of one another’s society by my lodging near enough to go to tea with them every evening, and spend the Sundays at their house. They appeared to acquiesce at once, — saying, however, that I ought to be very near, on account of the highway robberies, with violence, which were at that time taking place at Edgbaston almost every evening. My sister wrote me an account of the rooms she had secured. I was rather struck by her recommendations about leaving terms and arrangements to my landlady, and by an odd bit of deprecation about not expecting the charms of my beautiful home. The next letter from one of my nephews at first dispersed a nascent doubt whether they were not intending to take me in, — in both senses. He wrote, “your rooms are in one of those houses near Mrs. F—’s, in the Highfield Road; so that you will not have so far to go to our tea-table but that you will be very safe from thieves. Your landlady is a very trustworthy person. She lived with us when we lived in the Bristol road; and she left that place, not for any fault, but for a better situation.” On a second reading, it struck me that this was all true of his mother, and of their house; and I was not therefore wholly surprised when the nephew who met us at the station directed the car to my brother’s house. I was surprised, however, when I saw what preparation they had made for me and my work. They had taken down a bed in one of the prettiest rooms in the house, and had put in a writing-table, a sofa, a lamp, and all possible conveniences. As one of my nephews had to dine late, there was no difficulty about that; and my sister and nieces went every where with me, one at a time, to listen with and for me, make notes, and render all easy. It really was charming. I then wrote ten more papers, as follows:
“The Miller and his Men,” — The Birmingham Flour-mills.
“Account of some treatment of Gold and Gems,” Gold refining, Gold Chains and Jewellery.
“Rainbow-Making,” — Coventry Ribbons.
“Needles,” — the Redditch Manufacture.
“Time and the Hour,” — Coventry Watches.
“Guns and Pistols,” — Birmingham Gun-manufacture.
“Birmingham Glass-works,” — Messrs. Chances and Messrs. Oslers.
“What there is in a Button,” — Birmingham buttons.
“Tubal Cain,” — Brass-founding.
“New School for Wives,” — Evening School for Women.
Invitations were sent me, when the authorship of these papers got abroad, from various seats of manufacture; but the editors and I agreed that our chief textile manufactures were already familiar to every body’s knowledge; and I therefore omitted all of that kind except Kendal carpets, Coventry ribbons, and Paisley shawls. This last was done the next summer, when I was in Scotland, at the same time with Paper-hangings (“Household Scenery”) and “News of an old Place,” — the Lead works at “Leadhills.” From Scotland, my niece and I passed into Ireland, as I shall have to tell; and there I wrote, at the Giant’s Causeway, “the Life of a Salmon;” and afterwards “Peatal aggression,” — the Peat Works near Athy: the “English Passport system,” — Railway ticket manufacture; “Triumphant Carriages,” — Messrs. Hutton’s Coach factory at Dublin: “Hope with a Slate Anchor,” — the slate quarries in Valentia: “Butter,” “the Irish Union,” a workhouse picture; and “Famine-time,” a true picture of one of the worst districts, at the worst time of the visitation. I have done only two more of the same character, — of the productive processes; — Cheshire Cheese,” and “How to get Paper,” — both last year, (1854.) — It will be seen that I need have entertained no apprehension of enforced idleness in consequence of the publication of the “Atkinson Letters.” It appears that, at the close of the same year, I was over-burdened with work; and I will add, for truth’s sake, that I was uneasy, and dissatisfied with myself for having undertaken so much. The last entry in my Diary (a mere note-book) for 1851 is on the thirtieth of December. “As I shall be travelling to Birmingham tomorrow, I here close my journal of this remarkable year; — an improving and happy one, little as the large world would believe it. I have found it full of blessings.”
All this time, my study of Comte was going on; and I continued the analysis for some weeks; but at length I found that I had attained sufficient insight and familiarity to render that work unnecessary. The first day on which I actually embodied my study of it in writing, — the first day on which I wrote what was to stand, — was June 1st, 1852: and a month before that, the greatest literary engagement of my life had been entered upon, of which I shall have to speak presently. After my return from Birmingham, I had had to give my annual course of lectures to the Mechanics; and my subject, the History of the United States, from Columbus to Washington, required some study. Before I left home for the tourist season, I had got into the thick of the mathematical portion of Comte; and there I had to stop till my return in the middle of October. I had then to write an article on Ireland for the “Westminster Review,” and other matters; so that it was the first of December before I opened Comte again, and Christmas day when I finished the first of the six volumes. After that, the work went on swimmingly. All the rest was easy. I finished Astronomy in the middle of January, and Biology on the twenty-third of April; so that I had five months for the three last volumes, which were by far the easiest to do, though half as long again as the first three. I had a perpetual succession of guests, from April till the end of September; but I did not stop work for them; nor did I choose to leave home till I had fulfilled my engagement. It was on the eighth of October that I put the finishing stroke to the version: on the ninth I wrote the Preface; and on the tenth, I had the pleasure of carrying the last packet of M.S. to the post. Some cousins who were staying with me at the time went on an excursion for the day; and when they returned, they sympathised with me on the close of so long and so arduous a task. I was much exhausted, — after a summer of abundant authorship in other ways, as well as of social engagement from the number and variety of guests, and the absence of my usual autumn retirement to the sea, or some other quiet place: but the gain was well worth the toil. I find in my diary some very strong expressions of rapture about my task; and I often said, to myself and others, in the course of it, that I should never enjoy anything so much again. And I believe that if I were now to live and work for twenty years, I could never enjoy any thing more. The vast range of knowledge, through which one is carried so easily, is a prodigious treat; and yet more, the clear enunciation, and incessant application of principles. The weak part of the book, — the sacrifices made to system and order, — happens just to fall in with my weak tendency in that direction; so that it required some warning from others, and more from within, to prevent my being carried away altogether by my author. After all deductions made, on the score of his faults as a teacher, and my weakness as a learner, the relation was a blessed one. I became “strengthened, stablished, settled” on many a great point; I learned much that I should never otherwise have known, and revived a great deal of early knowledge which I might never otherwise have recalled: and the subdued enthusiasm of my author, his philosophical sensibility, and honest earnestness, and evident enjoyment of his own wide range of views and deep human sympathy, kept the mind of his pupil in a perpetual and delightful glow. Many a passage of my version did I write with tears falling into my lap; and many a time did I feel almost stifled for want of the presence of some genial disciple of my instructor, to whom I might speak of his achievement, with some chance of being understood.
As for my method of working at my version, about which I have often been questioned, — it was simple enough. — I studied as I went along, (in the evenings, for the most part) the subjects of my author, reviving all I had ever known about them, and learning much more. Being thus secure of what I was about, I simply set up the volume on a little desk before me, glanced over a page or a paragraph, and set down its meaning in the briefest and simplest way I could. Thus, my work was not mere translation: it involved quite a different kind of intellectual exercise; and, much as I enjoy translating, — pleasant as is the finding of equivalent terms, and arranging them harmoniously, — it is pleasanter still to combine with this the work of condensation. To me, in truth, nothing was ever pleasanter: and I had no sympathy with the friends who hoped, as I proceeded, that I should not again occupy myself with translation. I told them that it was like going to school again while doing the useful work of mature age; and that I should relish nothing better than to go on with it as long as I lived. As for the average amount of my daily work, (four or five days in the week) I was discontented if it was under twenty pages of my author, and satisfied if it was any where from twenty-five to thirty. The largest day’s work, in the whole course of the business, was forty-eight pages: but that was when I had breakfasted before seven, to dismiss a guest; and on a Saturday, when there was no post to London, and I had set my mind on finishing a volume. I worked nearly all day, and finished after midnight. I find fifty pages set down on another occasion; but in that case there was an omission of a recapitulatory portion. In saying what was the daily amount done, I ought to observe that it was really done. I finished as I went along; and I looked at my work no more till it came in the shape of proof-sheets. — I have stated in my Preface to the work that, on my expressing my intention to obtain a revision of the three first Books, (Mathematics, Astronomy and Physics) by a scientific man, Professor Nichol kindly offered his services. His revision of that portion (in which he found, he said, no mistakes) and the few notes and observations which he inserted, made me easy about the correctness of what I was putting forth; and I did not run the risk of spoiling the freshness of what I had done so enjoyably by any retouching. It came out precisely as I wrote it, day by day.
One part of my enjoyment was from the hope that the appearance of a readable English version would put a stop to the mischievous, though ludicrous mistakes about Comte’s doctrine and work put forth by men who assumed, and might be expected, to know better. The mistakes were repeated, it is true; but they were more harmless, after my version had appeared. When I was studying the work, I was really astonished to see a very able review article open with a false statement about Comte, not only altogether gratuitous, but so ignorant that it is a curious thing that it could have passed the press. It alleged that a man called Auguste Comte, who assumed in 1822 to be a social prophet, had declared the belief and interest in theology to be at an end; whereas, here was the whole kingdom, thirty years later, convulsed with theological passion, about Papal aggression and the Gorham controversy. Now, this was a treble blunder. In the first place, Comte has never said that theology and the popular interest in it are over. In the next, he has written largely on the social turmoil which this generation is in, and generations to come will be in, from the collision between the theological passion of one social period, and the metaphysical rage of another, with the advance of the positive philosophy which is to supersede them both. If there is one thing rather than another reiterated to weariness in Comte’s work, it is the state of turmoil, and its causes, of which the Gorham controversy was an admirable exemplification. In the third place, Comte’s doctrine is that theology can be extinguished only by a true Science of Human Nature; that this science is as yet barely initiated; and that therefore theology is very far from being yet popularly superseded.
At a later time, in October, 1851, when an eminent philosopher from Scotland was my guest for a few days, I invited to meet him at dinner a friend of his, who was in the neighbourhood, and that friend’s lady, and another guest or two. I was before alightly acquainted with this couple, and knew that the gentleman was highly thought of, by himself and others (by the late Dr. Arnold, among the rest) as a scholar and writer. When he was taking me in to dinner, he asked me whether I had heard that M. Comte was insane. I replied that it was not true, — M. Comte being perfectly well the week before; and I told him that I was engaged on his work. My guest replied that he had heard the whole story, — about Mr. Lombe’s gift and all, — from another gentleman, then present. He asked me an insulting question or two about the work, and made objections to my handling it, which I answered shortly, (the servants being present) and put down my trumpet, to help the fish. While I was so engaged, he asked questions which I could not hear, across me, of my philosopher guest; and then, with triumph and glee, reported to me my friend’s replies, as if they were spontaneous remarks, and with gross exaggeration. During the whole of dinner, and in the presence of my servants, he continued his aspersions of Comte, and his insults to me as his translator; so that, as it came to my knowledge long afterwards, my other guest wondered that I put up with it, and did not request him to leave the house. I saw, however, that he knew nothing of what he was talking about; and I then merely asked him if he had read the portion of the work that he was abusing. Being pressed, he reluctantly answered — No; but he knew all about it. When the dessert was on the table, and the servants were gone, he still continuing his criticisms, I looked him full in the face, and again inquired if he had read that portion of the Philosophie Positive: — “N—n—o;” but he knew all about it. I said I doubted it; and asked if he had read the book at all. “N—n—o:” but he knew all about it. “Come,” said I: “tell me, — have you ever seen the book?” — “No; I can’t say I have;” he replied; “but I know all about it.” “Now,” said I, “look at the book-shelves behind you. You see those six volumes in green paper? Now you can say that you have seen the book.” I need not say that this was the last invitation that this gentleman would ever have from me.
Again, — a lady, younger than myself, who shrinks from the uncomfortable notion that there is any subject which she is not qualified to lay down the law upon, folded her hands on her knees, and began in an orderly way to reprehend me for translating a book which had such shocking things in it as Comte’s work. I made the usual inquiry, — whether she had read it. She could not say she had; but she too “knew all about it,” from a very clever man; a very clever man, who was a great admirer of Comte, and on my “side.” She was sorry I could introduce into England the work of a man who said in it that he could have made a better solar system than the real one; — who declared that he would have made it always moonshine at night. I laughed, and told her she was the victim of her clever friend’s moonshine. She ended, however, with a firm faith in her clever friend, in preference to reading the book for herself. She will go on to the end of her days, no doubt, regarding the “Positive Philosophy” as a recipe for making permanent moonshine, in opposition to the nineteenth Psalm.
Once more, (and only once, though I might fill many pages with anecdotes of the blunders about Comte made by critics who assume to understand their subject:) — a professor of Mental Philosophy has, even since the publication of my version, asserted, both in print, and repeatedly in his lectures in London, that Positive philosophers declare that “we can know nothing but phenomena:” and the lecturer fancies that he has confuted the doctrine by saying that the knowledge of phenomena would occupy Man’s observing faculties only, and leave the reasoning and other faculties without exercise. In this case, the lecturer has taken half Comte’s assertion, and dropped the other half, — “and their laws.” This restoration, of course, overthrows the lecturer’s argument, even if it were not otherwise assailable. It is true that Mr. Atkinson and I, and many others, have made the assertion as the lecturer gives it; — that “we can know nothing but phenomena,” — the laws being themselves phenomena: but in that view, as in the case of the restoration of Comte’s text, the lecturer’s argument about the partial use of the human faculties is stultified. Some of his pupils should have asked him what we can know but phenomena. The onus of showing that certainly rests with him. Such are, at present, the opponents of Comte among us, while his work is heartily and profitably studied by wiser men, who choose to read and think and understand before they scoff and upbraid.
A letter of Mr. Atkinson’s in my possession seems to me to give so distinct an account of what Man “can know,” and of the true way of obtaining the knowledge, that I am tempted to insert a part of it here as settling the question with our incompetent critics, as to what we declare that we can and cannot know.
“Man cannot know more than has been observed of the order of Nature, — he himself being a part of that nature, and, like all other bodies in nature, exhibiting clear individual effects according to particular laws. The infinite character and subtlety of Nature are beyond his power of comprehension; for the mind of Man is no more than (as it were) a conscious mirror, possessing a certain extent of interreflexion. In a rude state, as before it has become reduced to a proper focus, and cleansed and purified by knowledge, it is subject to all manner of spectral illusions, presumptuous and vain conceits, which may be well termed a kind of normal or infantine madness; a kind of disease like the small-pox or the measles; conditions to which all children are subject: and it is well if the child can be helped through these strange malignant conditions in early youth, and be then and there cleansed from them for ever.
“If we study the formation of the globe, and the history of nations or of individuals, or glance at the progress of knowledge in the human mind, we shall perceive that difficulties have been overcome, and advances achieved in the early stages through violent means; that that which we call evil has always in effect been working for the general good; and that, in the very nature of things, that good could not have come about by any other means: and thus, whatever is is good, in its place and season. Concluding thus, I think we may henceforth dispense with that very popular gentleman in black, the Devil. Indeed, once for all, we may sign ourselves Naturalists, as having no knowledge, or having no means of knowing any thing, beyond Nature. To advance by the acquiring of knowledge and by reason is the high privilege and prerogative of Man: for, as glorious as it is to possess a just, candid, and truth-loving nature, essential as it is that we know what is true, — yet must we be content that in the first instance, and for some short space, the progress should be slow and devious; for the errors and imperfections of the mind itself prevent men from attaining that knowledge which is almost essential to the cure of those very errors, imperfections, and impediments. Thus, mankind have had to rely upon a genius springing up here and there, — great men who have had the strength to overleap the difficulties, and the sense to see what was before them; and the honesty to declare what they have seen.
“The power of knowledge is in the knowledge of causes; that is, of the material conditions and circumstances under which any given effect takes place. These conditions we have termed Second Causes: but of the primitive matter which is sui generis we know nothing: for knowledge is limited by the senses. The knowledge of a thing includes a sense of its material cause or conditions, — its relative or distinguishing qualities, — the laws of form and quantity implicated in the case, and the laws of action in sequence and duration. — The higher laws are discovered in the analogy of knowledge: but of the primitive or fundamental cause or matter, — that “cause of causes itself without a cause,” — we know and can know absolutely nothing. We judge it to be something positive: to so much the nature of the mind compels assent: but we do not know what this positive something is in itself, in its absolute and real being and presence. We must rest content to take it as we find it, and suppose it inherently capable of performing or flowing into all those effects exhibited throughout nature. We only recognise a primitive matter as a required cause and necessary existence implied in the sensational phenomena which appear to include it in their embraces. But the existence of matter cannot be proved; nor can we form any conception of its real nature, because we can only divine by similitudes; and our similitudes cannot press beyond sensational phenomena and the simple inference. ‘So that all the specious meditations, speculations, and theories of mankind (in regard to the nature of nature) are but a kind of insanity.’ ‘But those who resolve not to conjecture and divine, but to discover and know; not to invent buffooneries and fables about worlds, but to inspect, and, as it were, dissect the nature of this real world, must derive all from things themselves: nor can any substitution or compensation of wit, meditation or argument (were the whole wit of all combined in one) supply the place of this labour, investigation, and personal examination of the world: our method then must necessarily be pursued, or the whole for ever abandoned.’
“The intellect, in a general sense, is simply an observing faculty. The highest efforts of reason and of imagination are but an extension of observation. A law is but the observed form of a fact; and in truth, the entire conscious mind may be termed a faculty of observation. To deny this is only to make a quibble about distinctions not really essential. The most important fact which the experienced mind observes is the fixed order in nature: and the trained philosopher instinctively concludes, and I may say perceives, the necessity of this order, just as he acknowledges the existence of objects in their objective or material appearance: (and this in spite of all that Bishop Berkeley and others have said.) The human mind by the constitution of its nature recognises the necessity of a determinate order in nature, — dependence in causes, and form or law in effects: and on this faith we build all our confidence that similar results will always flow, as a necessary consequence, from similar causes. In this fact we have the reason of reason, and the power of knowledge over nature, applying the principles of nature by art to the wants of Man. The instinct or sense of Man acknowledges a fundamental cause in the primitive matter, and the necessity of a particular form and order in objects and their effects: and that it is absolutely impossible that things should be different from what they are found to be. Now, until a man clears his mind, and abstracts it from all fanciful causes, to rest upon the true and fundamental cause in the primitive matter, perceiving at the same time that this cause must be positive, and capable of producing all the effects and variety of nature, and in a form and order absolutely fixed in ‘an adamantine chain of necessity;’ — until, I say, a man is fully and deeply impressed with this law of laws, this form of forms, evolved from the inherent nature of the ultimate fact and cause (this primitive matter and cause being fundamental, neither depending upon nor requiring any other cause) he is not a philosopher, but a dreamer of dreams, a poor wanderer on a false scent, seeking for a cause out of nature, and in a magnified shadow of himself. ‘If,’ says Bacon, ‘any man shall think, by view and inquiry into these sensible and material things, to attain to any light for the revealing of the nature or will of God, he shall dangerously abuse himself.’ — ‘And this appeareth sufficiently in that there is no proceeding in invention of knowledge but by similitude; and God is only self-like, having nothing in common with any creature, otherwise than as in shadow and trope.’ These remarks of Bacon in regard to the ‘invention’ of a cause out of nature apply equally to the ‘invention’ of the nature of the cause in nature: for all the knowledge we can have of the primitive matter is by way of negatives and exclusions.
“I hold then with Democritus, Heraclitus, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Anaximenes and others that matter is eternal, possessing an active principle, and being the source of all objects and their effects: for you may as well suppose time and space to have a beginning, and to have been created, as that matter should have been brought out of nothing, and have had a beginning. The active principle and the properties of matter are essential to our very conception of matter: and the necessary form of the effects we term Laws: — laws, not to be considered in a political sense, as rules laid down by a ruler, and capable of alteration and change; but the rule of rules; — the essential and necessary form and life and mind, so to speak, of what is in fact not a ruling power at all, but simply the principle or form of the result, — just as grammar exhibits the form of language.
“The belief in the freedom of the will, or that any thing is free in any other way than as being unimpeded and at liberty to move according as it is impelled by that which determines its motion or choice, is absolutely nonsense: and the doctrine of chance is as absurd as would be the belief that Nature arose from a rude mob of lawless atoms, arranging themselves by chance; a notion which is clearly nonsense, — a weak and unmitigated atheism, to escape from which men impose upon themselves a despotism in the shape of a King Log or a King Stork, as the case may be. That which they suppose to be divine and most holy is but a presumptuous, shallow, and ridiculous assumption. It is a folly built upon a shifting sand-bank, which the tide will presently carry away, exhibiting the true stronghold of the understanding built upon the solid granite rock of Nature; — that Nature which is no despotism, but a pure and free republic, and a law unto itself, — an eternal, unalterable law unto itself: for two and two will never become five; nor will the three angles of a triangle ever be less than two right angles; nor will the great law of gravity be changed nor the Atomic rule in chemical effects; nor the material conditions essential to thought and feeling be reversed. The world may come to an end, — become worn out, and dissolve away, or explode; but the nature of the particles of matter cannot change: the principles of truth will hold the same, and a new world will rise out of the dust.
“With regard to the origin of the mind itself, — it is clearly a consequence or result of the body evolved under particular laws: — as much so as a flower is a consequence of the growth of a tree, — instinct of the lower animal body, — light of a tallow candle. The light and heat of a candle may set light to other candles, or react upon its own body, as mental conditions may, when they cause the heart to beat, and the face to flush, and tears to flow, and the whole frame to be convulsed by laughter. So may the bile, or any other secretion, react on the body: but not the less is the mind the effect and consequent of the body, dependent on the condition of the body, and the proper supply of air and food. To suppose otherwise is to give up all hope and all philosophy, and to desert common sense and universal experience. The mind proper is simply the conscious phenomenon which is not a power at all, but the representative or expression of an unconscious power and condition to which it is a concomitant. Strictly speaking, there are but two conditions in nature; matter the physique, and the conscious mind, or the metaphysique, — the positive and the negative. The conscious mind is purely phenomenal: it is not therefore the mind proper which acts upon the body, but that force which underlies the mind, of which the mind is simply the result, expression or exponent. The mind’s unconscious working power or sphere is evident in almost every act of the body, as well as in almost every fact of the mind. It may be studied in the higher phenomena of clairvoyance and prophecy, — higher, only as an extending of experience by another and a clearer sense. We spring up from the earth like a flower. We live, love, and look abroad on the wide expanse of heaven, wondering at the night which lies behind, and at the dim shadows and flickering lights which coming events cast before them: and then we expire, and give place, as others have given place to us. We have but a glance at existence; yet the laws we discover are eternal truths. Knowledge is not infinite. A few simple principles or elements are fundamental to the whole; as a few simple primitive sounds form into glorious music, and all the languages which exist: and therefore knowledge is not infinite, and progress has its limit. ... ... ... ... Still, ‘the mighty ocean of truth lies before us,’ and its advance is irresistible; and it will be well to remember King Canute, and take the hint in time; — to look abroad upon the expanse, and up to the multitude of stars; and to listen to the deep-speaking truths which are now making themselves heard in society; and not to seek to resist what is inevitable. That the new day will be bright and glorious when Man will know his own power and nature, and rise into his new dignity as a rational human being, is enough for us now to prophecy.”
I have referred, some pages back, to a great opening for work, of a delightful kind, which offered while I was busy about Comte. As I have explained, the whole version, except half of Comte’s first volume (that is, about a sixteenth part) was done between Christmas 1852 and the following October: and it remains to be told what else I had to do while engaged on that version. In April 1852, I received a letter from a literary friend in London, asking me, by desire of the Editor of “Daily News,” whether I would “send him a ‘leader’ occasionally.” I did not know who this editor was; had hardly seen a number of the paper, and had not the remotest idea whether I could write ‘leaders:’ and this was my reply. I saw that this might be an opening to greater usefulness than was likely to be equalled by anything else that I could undertake; so I was not sorry to be urgently invited to try. The editor, my now deeply-mourned friend, Mr. Frederick Knight Hunt, and I wrote frank and copious letters, to see how far our views and principles agreed; and his letters gave me the impression which all my subsequent knowledge of him confirmed; that he was one of the most upright and rational of men, and a thorough gentleman in mind and manners. I sent him two or three articles, the second of which (I think it was) made such a noise that I found that there would be no little amusement in my new work, if I found I could do it. It was attributed to almost every possible writer but the real one. This “hit” set me forward cheerily; and I immediately promised to do a ‘leader’ per week, while engaged on Comte. Mr. Hunt begged for two; and to this I agreed when I found that each required only two or three hours in an evening, and that topics abounded. I had sufficient misgiving and uncertainty to desire very earnestly to have some conversation with Mr. Hunt; and I offered to go to London (on my way to Scotland) for the purpose. He would not hear of this, but said he would come to me, if public affairs would allow of his leaving the office. Then parliament was dissolved; and the elections kept him at home; so that I looked for him in vain by every train for ten days before my niece and I started for Edinburgh. He came to us at Portobello; and for two half days he poured out so rich a stream of conversation that my niece could not stand the excitement. She went out upon the shore, to recover her mind’s breath, and came in to enjoy more. It was indeed an unequalled treat; and when we parted, I felt that a bright new career was indeed opened to me. He had before desired that I should write him letters from Ireland; and he now bespoke three per week during our travels there. This I accomplished; and the letters were afterwards, by his advice and the desire of Mr. Chapman, published in a volume. It was on occasion of that long journey, which extended from the Giant’s Causeway to Bantry Bay, and from the Mullet to Wexford, that I first felt the signs of failure in bodily strength which I now believe to have been a warning of my present fatal malady. My companion was an incomparable help. It was impossible to be more extensively and effectually aided than I was by her. She took upon herself all the fatigue that it was possible to avert from me; and I reposed upon her sense and spirit and watchfulness like a spoiled child. Yet I found, and said at the time, that this must be my last arduous journey. The writing those Letters was a pure pleasure, whether they were penned in a quiet chamber at a friend’s house, or amidst a host of tourists, and to the sound of the harp, in a salon at Killarney; but, in addition to the fatigue of travelling and of introductions to strangers, they were too much for me. I had some domestic griefs on my mind, it is true. During the spring, my neighbours had requested me to deliver two or three lectures on Australia; and one consequence of my doing so was that my dear servant Jane resolved to emigrate (for reasons which I thought sound) and she was to sail in November: and now at Cork, the news met me that the other servant, no less beloved, was going to marry the Master of the Ragged School at Bristol, who had been her coadjutor in the Norfolk Workhouse School before mentioned. I wrote to advise their marriage at Christmas; but it was with the sense of a heavy misfortune having befallen me. I did not believe that my little household could ever again be what it had been since I built my house: and I should have been thankful to have foreseen how well I should settle again, — to change no more. I did not fully recover my strength till our pretty wedding was over, and I was fairly settled down, in winter quiet, to Comte and my weekly work for “Daily News.” — The wedding was truly a charming one. My dear girl had the honour of having Miss Carpenter for her bridesmaid, and the Revd. Philip P. Carpenter to perform the ceremony, — the Bristol Ragged School being, as every body knows, the special care of Miss Carpenter. I told the bride, the week before the bridegroom and guests arrived, that, as I could not think of sending the former to the kitchen table, nor yet of separating them, it would be a convenience and pleasure to me if she would be my guest in the sitting-rooms for the few days before the marriage. She did it with the best possible grace. She had worked hard at her wedding clothes during my absence, that she might be free for my service after my return: and now, after instructing her young successor, she dressed herself well, and dined with us, conversing freely, and, best of all, making a good dinner, while watching that every body was well served. A more graceful lady I never saw. She presented me with a pretty cap of her own making for the wedding morning; and would let nobody else dress me. The evening before, when Mr. Carpenter delivered a Temperance lecture, Miss Carpenter and I sent the entire household to the lecture; and we set out the long table for the morning, dressed the flowers (which came in from neighbouring conservatories) and put on all the cold dishes; covered up the whole, and shut up the cat. The kitchen was the only room large enough for the party; and there, after the ceremony, we had a capital breakfast, with good speaking, and all manner of good feeling. When all were gone, and my new maids had dried their sympathetic tears, and removed the tables, and given away the good things which that year served my usual Christmas day guests for dinner at home instead of here; and when I had put off my finery, and sat down, with a bursting headache, to write the story to the bride’s family, and the Carpenters’ and my own, I felt more thoroughly down-hearted than for many a year. — All went well, however. The good couple are in their right place, honoured and useful; and “our darling,” as Miss Carpenter called my good girl, is beloved by others as by me. There have been no more changes in my household; and, as for me, I soon recovered entirely from my griefs in my delectable work.
When summer was coming on, and Comte was advancing well, I agreed to do three leaders per week for Mr. Hunt. All the early attempts at secrecy were over. Within the first month, I had been taxed with almost every article by somebody or other, who “knew me by my style,” or had heard it in omnibuses, or somehow; and, after some Galway priests had pointed me out by guess, in the Irish papers, as the writer of one of the Irish Letters, and this got copied into the English papers, Mr. Hunt wrote me that all concealment was wholly out of the question, and that I need not trouble myself further about it. In the summer he came to see me; and we settled that I should send him four articles per week when Comte was out of my hands. During that visit of his, we went by the lake, one day, to pay a visit a few miles off, — he rowing me in one of the lake skiffs. A windy rain overtook us on our return. I had no serious idea of danger, or I should not have talked as I did, about drowning being an easy death, and my affairs being always settled, even to the arrangement of my papers &c. We came home to dinner without his giving me (experienced boatman as he was) any idea of our having had a serious adventure. I found afterwards that he had told his friends in London that we had been in extreme danger from the swell on the lake; and that when I was talking of the ease of drowning, in comparison with other deaths, he was thinking of his wife and children. He requested me to write an article, at the opening of the next season, on the criminal carelessness of our boatkeepers in letting those little skiffs to strangers, on a lake subject to gusts and sudden storms: and this I did. How little did he imagine that before the beginning of yet another season, he would have been months in his grave, and I standing on the verge of mine!
Immediately on the publication of my “Positive Philosophy,” I went to London and Birmingham for nearly three months. I visited so many hosts, and saw so much society that I became fully and finally satisfied that my settling myself at Ambleside was, as Wordsworth had said, the wisest step of my life. It is true, I was at work the whole time. Besides the plentiful assistance which I desired to give the “Daily News,” while on the spot, and some papers for “Household Words,” a serious piece of business required my attention. The impending war rendered desirable an earnest and well-studied article on England’s Foreign Policy, for the “Westminster Review;” and I agreed to do it. I went to the Editor’s house, for the purpose, and enjoyed both my visit and my work. — On taking possession of my room there, and finding a capital desk on my table, with a singularly convenient slope, and of an admirable height for writing without fatigue, it struck me that, during my whole course of literary labour, — of nearly five-and-thirty years, it had never once occurred to me to provide myself with a proper, business-like desk. I had always written on blotting paper, on a flat table, except when, in a lazy mood in winter, I had written as short-sighted people do (as Mrs. Somerville and “Currer Bell” always did) on a board, or something stiff, held in the left hand. I wrote a good deal of the “Political Economy” in that way, and with steel pens; and the method had the effect, advantageous or not, of making the writing more upright, and thereby increasing the quantity in a page. But it was radically uncomfortable; and I have ever since written on a table, and with quill pens. Now, on occasion of this visit at my friend’s, Mr. Chapman’s, I was to begin on a new and most luxurious method, — just, as it happens, at the close of my life’s work. Mr. Chapman obtained for me a first-rate regular Chancery-lane desk, with all manner of conveniences, and of a proper sanitary form: and, moreover, some French paper of various sizes, which has spoiled me for all other paper: ink to correspond; and a pen-maker, of French workmanship, suitable to eyes which were now feeling the effects of years and over-work. I had before me the prospect of more moderate work than for a quarter of a century past, with sure and sufficient gain from it; work pleasant in itself, and recommended by all agreeable appliances. Never was I more homesick, even in the wilds of Arabia, than I now was, amidst the high civilisation of literary society in London. — I came home very happy; and well I might.
Mr. Hunt escorted me part of the way to my host’s, on our last meeting for that time, for the sake of some conversation which he, very properly, called serious. He told me that he had something to say which he begged me to consider well. He told me that he had been looking back through my connexion with “Daily News;” and he found that of nearly 300 articles that I had sent him, only eight had not been used; and that (I think) six of those eight had been sent during the first few weeks, before I had got into the ways of the paper. I had now written four or five per week for a considerable time, without one rejection. His advice was that I should henceforth do six per week, — under the liability, of course, of a few more being unused, from the enhanced chances of being intercepted by recent news, when my communications were daily. If I should agree to this, and continue my other literary connexion, he thought I ought to lay out money freely in books, and in frequent visits to London, to keep up with the times. This scheme suited me exactly; for my work, under his guidance, had become thoroughly delightful.
His recourse to me was avowedly on account of the “History of the Peace;” and now that war was beginning, my recent study of the politics of the last half-century was a fair qualification. We were precisely agreed as to the principle of the war, as to the character of the Aberdeen Ministry, as to the fallaciousness and mischievousness of the negotiations for the Austrian alliance, and as to the vicious absurdity of Prussia, and the mode and degree in which Louis Napoleon was to be regarded as the representative of the French nation. For some time past, the historical and geographical articles have been my charge; together with the descriptive and speculative ones, in relation to foreign personages and states. At home, the agricultural and educational articles were usually consigned to me; and I had the fullest liberty about the treatment of special topics, arising any where. With party contests, and the treatment of “hot and hot” news, I never had any concern, — being several hundred miles out of the way of the latest intelligence. Mr. Hunt thought my distance from London no disadvantage; and he was quite plain-spoken about the inferiority of the articles I wrote in London and Birmingham to those I sent him from home. — I followed his suggestions with great satisfaction, — his wife and family having already made a compact with me for an exchange of visits, when I wanted London news, and they needed country refreshment. So I bought books to the amount of above £100, under his guidance, and came home exceedingly happy, — little dreaming that in one year from that time, he would be in his grave, his wife a broken-spirited widow, and I myself under sentence of death, and compelled to tell her that we should never meet again.
That eventful year, 1854, began most cheerily to us all. Mr. Hunt had raised the paper to a condition of high honour and prosperity. He enjoyed his work and his position, and was at ease about his affairs and his beloved family, after years of heroic struggle, and the glorious self-denial of a man of sensitive conscience and thoroughly domestic heart. He had to bear the wear and tear which a man of his order of conscience has to endure in a post of such responsibility as his; and this, we all believe, was a predisposing cause of his inability to resist an attack of disease. But at the opening of the year, he was in his usual health, and had every reason to be very happy. As for me, — my life was now like nothing that I had ever experienced. I had all the benefits of work, and of complete success, without any of the responsibility, the sense of which has always been the great drawback on my literary satisfactions, and especially in historical writing, — in which I could have no comfort but by directing my readers to my authorities, in all matters of any importance. Now, while exercising the same anxious care as to correctness, and always referring Mr. Hunt to my sources of information, I was free from the responsibility of publication altogether. My continued contributions to the “Westminster Review” and elsewhere preserved me from being engrossed in political studies; and I had more leisure for philosophical and literary pursuits than at any time since my youth. Two or three hours, after the arrival of the post (at breakfast time now) usually served me for my work; and when my correspondence was done, there was time for exercise, and the discharge of neighbourly business before dinner. Then, — I have always had some piece of fancy-work on hand, — usually for the benefit of the Abolition fund in America; and I have a thoroughly womanish love of needle-work; — yes, even (“I own the soft impeachment”) of wool-work, many a square yard of which is all invisibly embossed with thoughts of mine wrought in, under the various moods and experiences of a long series of years. It is with singular alacrity that, in winter evenings, I light the lamp, and unroll my wool-work, and meditate or dream till the arrival of the newspaper tells me that the tea has stood long enough. Before Mr. Rowland Hill gave us a second post delivery at Ambleside, Mr. Hunt had made arrangements by which I received the paper of the day at tea time. After tea, if there was news from the seat of war, I called in my maids, who brought down the great atlas, and studied the chances of the campaign with me. Then there was an hour or two for Montaigne, or Bacon, or Shakspere, or Tennyson, or some dear old biography, or last new book from London, — historical, moral or political. Then, when the house and neighbourhood were asleep, there was the half-hour on the terrace, or, if the weather was too bad for that, in the porch, — whence I seldom or never came in without a clear purpose for my next morning’s work. I believe that, but for my country life, much of the benefit and enjoyment of my travels, and also of my studies, would have been lost to me. On my terrace, there were two worlds extended bright before me, even when the midnight darkness hid from my bodily eyes all but the outlines of the solemn mountains that surround our valley on three sides, and the clear opening to the lake on the south. In the one of those worlds, I saw now the magnificent coast of Massachusetts in autumn, or the flowery swamps of Louisiana, or the forests of Georgia in spring, or the Illinois prairie in summer; or the blue Nile, or the brown Sinai, or the gorgeous Petra, or the view of Damascus from the Salahiey; or the Grand Canal under a Venetian sunset, or the Black Forest in twilight, or Malta in the glare of noon, or the broad desert stretching away under the stars, or the Red Sea tossing its superb shells on shore, in the pale dawn. That is one world, all comprehended within my terrace wall, and coming up into the light at my call. — The other and finer scenery is of that world, only beginning to be explored, of Science. The long study of Comte had deeply impressed on me the imagery of the glorious hierarchy of the sciences which he has exhibited. The time was gone by when I could look at objects as mere surface, or separate existences; and since that late labour of love, I had more than ever seen the alliance and concert of the heavenly bodies, and the mutual action and interior composition of the substances which I used to regard as one in themselves, and unconnected in respect to each other. It is truly an exquisite pleasure to dream, after the toil of study, on the sublime abstractions of mathematics; the transcendent scenery unrolled by astronomy; the mysterious, invisible forces dimly hinted to us by Physics; the new conception of the constitution of Matter originated by Chemistry; and then, the inestimable glimpses opened to us, in regard to the nature and destiny of Man, by the researches into vegetable and animal organisation, which are at length perceived to be the right path of inquiry into the highest subjects of thought. All the grandeur and all the beauty of this series of spectacles is deepened by the ever-present sense of the smallness of the amount of discovery achieved. In the scenery of our travels, it is otherwise. The forest, the steppe, the lake, the city, each filled and sufficed the sense of the observer in the old days when, instead of the Western Continents, there were dreams of far Cathay; and we of this day are occupied for the moment with any single scene, without caring whether the whole globe is explored. But it is different in the sphere of science. Wondrous beyond the comprehension of any one mind is the mass of glorious facts, and the series of mighty conceptions laid open; but the shadow of the surrounding darkness rests upon it all. The unknown always engrosses the greater part of the field of vision; and the awe of infinity sanctifies both the study and the dream. Between these worlds, and other interests, literary and political, were my evenings passed, a short year ago. Perhaps no one has had a much more vivid enjoyment than myself of London society of a very high order; and few, I believe, are of a more radically social nature than myself: yet, I may say that there has never been, since I had a home of my own, an evening spent in the most charming intercourse that I would not have exchanged (as far as the mere pleasure was concerned) for one of my ordinary evenings under the lamp within, and the lights of heaven without.
I did not at once, however, sit down in comparative leisure on my return. I had before promised, most unwillingly, and merely for neighbourly reasons, to write a Guide to Windermere and the neighbourhood; and this, and an article on the Census (requiring much care) for the “Westminster Review” for April, were pressing to be done, as soon as I could sit down on my return home. Then there was a series of articles (on Personal Infirmities, — the treatment of Blindness, Deafness, Idiotcy, &c.) promised for “Household Words.”
I must pause a moment here to relate that these papers were the last I sent to “Household Words,” except two or three which filled up previous schemes. I have observed above that Magazine writing is quite out of my way; and that I accepted Mr. Dickens’s invitation to write for his, simply because its wide circulation went far to compensate for the ordinary objections to that mode of authorship. I did not hesitate on the ground on which some of my relations and friends disapproved the connexion; on the ground of its being infra dig: for, in the first place, I have never stopped to consider my own dignity in matters of business; and, in the next, Mr. Dickens himself being a contributor disposed of the objection abundantly. But, some time before the present date, I had become uneasy about the way in which “Household Words” was going on, and more and more doubtful about allowing my name to be in any way connected with it: and I have lately finally declined Mr. Wills’s invitation to send him more papers. As there is no quarrel concerned in the case, I think it is right to explain the grounds of my secession. My disapproval of the principles, or want of principles, on which the Magazine is carried on is a part of my own history; and it may be easily understood that feelings of personal friendliness may remain unaffected by opposition of views, even in a matter so serious as this. I think the proprietors of “Household Words” grievously inadequate to their function, philosophically and morally; and they, no doubt, regard me as extravagant, presumptuous and impertinent. I have offered my objections as a reply to a direct request for a contribution; and Mr. Wills has closed the subject. But, on all other ground, we are friends.
In the autumn of 1849, my misgivings first became serious. Mr. Wills proposed my doing some articles on the Employments of Women, (especially in connexion with the Schools of Design and branches of Fine-Art manufacture;) and was quite unable to see that every contribution of the kind was necessarily excluded by Mr. Dickens’s prior articles on behalf of his view of Woman’s position; articles in which he ignored the fact that nineteen-twentieths of the women of England earn their bread, and in which he prescribes the function of Women; viz., to dress well and look pretty, as an adornment to the homes of men. I was startled by this; and at the same time, and for many weeks after, by Mr. Dickens’s treatment in his Magazine of the Preston Strike, then existing, and of the Factory and Wages controversy, in his tale of “Hard Times.” A more serious incident still occurred in the same autumn. In consequence of a request from Mr. Dickens that I would send him a tale for his Christmas Number, I looked about for material in real life; for, as I had told him, and as I have told every body else, I have a profound contempt of myself as a writer of fiction, and the strongest disinclination to attempt that order of writing. I selected a historical fact, and wrote the story which appears under the title of “The Missionary” in my volume of “Sketches from Life.” I carried it with me to Mr. Wills’s house; and he spoke in the strongest terms of approbation of it to me, but requested to have also “a tale of more domestic interest,” which I wrote on his selection of the ground-work (also fact.) Some weeks afterwards, my friends told me, with renewed praises of the story, that they mourned the impossibility of publishing it, — Mrs. Wills said, because the public would say that Mr. Dickens was turning Catholic; and Mr. Wills and Mr. Dickens, because they never would publish any thing, fact or fiction, which gave a favourable view of any one under the influence of the Catholic faith. This appeared to me so incredible that Mr. Dickens gave me his “ground” three times over, with all possible distinctness, lest there should be any mistake: — he would print nothing which could possibly dispose any mind whatever in favour of Romanism, even by the example of real good men. In vain I asked him whether he really meant to ignore all the good men who had lived from the Christian era to three centuries ago: and in vain I pointed out that Père d’Estélan was a hero as a man, and not as a Jesuit, at a date and in a region where Romanism was the only Christianity. Mr. Dickens would ignore, in any publication of his, all good catholics; and insisted that Père d’Estélan was what he was as a Jesuit and not as a man; — which was, as I told him, the greatest eulogium I had ever heard passed upon Jesuitism. I told him that his way of going to work, — suppressing facts advantageous to the Catholics, — was the very way to rouse all fair minds in their defence; and that I had never before felt so disposed to make popularly known all historical facts in their favour. — I hope I need not add that the editors never for a moment supposed that my remonstrance had any connexion with the story in question being written by me. They knew me too well to suppose that such a trifle as my personal interest in the acceptance or rejection of the story had any thing to do with my final declaration that my confidence and comfort in regard to “Household Words” were gone, and that I could never again write fiction for them, nor any thing in which principle or feeling were concerned. Mr. Dickens hoped I should “think better of it;” and this proof of utter insensibility to the nature of the difficulty, and his and his partner’s hint that the real illiberality lay in not admitting that they were doing their duty in keeping Catholic good deeds out of the sight of the public, showed me that the case was hopeless. To a descendant of Huguenots, such total darkness of conscience on the morality of opinion is difficult to believe in when it is before one’s very eyes.
I need not add that my hopes from the influence of “Household Words” were pretty nearly annihilated from that time (the end of 1853) forwards: but there was worse to come. I had supposed that the editors would of course abstain from publishing any harm of catholic priests and professors, if they would admit no good; but in this I have recently found myself mistaken; and great is my concern. I had just been reading in an American advertisement a short account of the tale called “The Yellow Mask,” with its wicked priest, when I received from the Editor of “Household Words” another request for an article. I had not read “The Yellow Mask;” but a guest then with me related the story so fully as to put me in complete possession of it. I will cite the portion of my letter to Mr. Wills which contains my reply to his request. It is abundantly plain-spoken; but we were plain-spoken, throughout the controversy; and never did occasion more stringently require the utmost plainness of remonstrance on the side of the advocate of religious liberty and social justice, and any clearness of reply that might be possible on the opposite side. — Here is my letter, as far as relates to Mr. Wills’s petition.
“ ... ... ... ... Another paper from me? you ask. No — not if I were to live twenty years, — if the enclosed paragraph from an American paper be no mistake; and except, of course, in case of repentance and amendment.
“The ‘Yellow Mask,’ in Twelve Chapters: Philadelphia.
“This pamphlet is a re-print from Dickens’s ‘Household Words.’ The story is ingenious, and fraught with considerable interest. The despicable course of ‘Father Rocco’ pursued so stealthily for the pecuniary benefit of ‘holy mother church’ shows of what stuff priestcraft is made.”
“The last thing I am likely to do is to write for an anti-catholic publication; and least of all when it is anti-catholic on the sly. I have had little hope of ‘Household Words’ since the proprietors refused to print a historical fact (otherwise approved of) on the ground that the hero was a Jesuit: and now that they follow up this suppression of an honourable truth by the insertion of a dishonouring fiction (or fact, — no matter which) they can expect no support from advocates of religious liberty or lovers of fair-play: and so fond are English people of fair-play, that if they knew this fact, you would soon find your course in this matter ruinous to your publication. — As for my writing for it, — I might as well write for the ‘Record’ newspaper; and, indeed, so far better, that the ‘Record’ avows its anticatholic course. No one wants ‘Household Words’ to enter into any theological implication whatever: — but you choose to do it, and must accept accordingly the opinions you thereby excite. I do not forget that you plead duty; and I give you credit for it, — precisely as I do to the Grand Inquisitor. He consecrates his treatment of heretics by the plea of the dangers of Protestantism: and you justify your treatment of Catholics by the plea of the dangers of Romanism. The one difference that there is, is in his favour; — that he does not profess Protestant principles while pursuing the practices of Jesuitry. — No, I have no more to say to ‘Household Words;’ and you will prefer my telling you plainly why, and giving you this much light on the views your course has occasioned in one who was a hearty well-wisher to ‘Household Words,’ as long as possible.
Mr. Wills replied that he felt justified in what he had done; that we should never agree on the matter; and that, agreeing to differ, we would drop the subject. — Such are the grounds, and such was the process, of my secession from the corps of Mr. Dickens’s contributors.
When I fancied I was going to do what I pleased till I left home in July 1854, the proprietor of the Windermere Guide made an irresistible appeal to me to do the whole district, under the form of a “Complete Guide to the Lakes.” Still in hope that leisure would come at last, and feeling that I should enjoy it the more for having omitted no duty, I gave up my holiday evenings now. I made the tour of the district once more, with a delightful party of friends, — reviving impressions and noting facts, and then came home, resigned to work “double tides” for the remaining weeks before my summer absence, — dining early, after my morning’s work, and writing topography in the evenings. I received much aid in the collection of materials from the publisher, and from the accomplished artist, Mr. Lindsey Aspland, who illustrated the volume: and I finished my work, and went forth on a series of visits, which were to occupy the tourist season, — my house being let for that time. I little imagined, when I left my own gate, that the ease and light-hearted pleasure of my life, — I might almost say, my life itself, — were left behind me; — that I was going to meet sickness and sorrow, and should return to sorrow, sickness and death.
If I had been duly attentive to my health, I might have become aware already that there was something wrong. Long after, I remembered that, from about March, I had been kept awake for some little time at night by odd sensations at the heart, followed by hurried and difficult breathing: and once, I had been surprised, while reading, to find myself unable to see more than the upper half of the letters, or more of that than the word I was reading. I laid aside my book; and if I thought at all of the matter, it was to suppose it to be a passing fit of indigestion, — though I had no other sign of indigestion. While at Liverpool, I found myself far less strong than I had supposed; and again in Wales and at Shrewsbury; but I attributed this to the heat. Mr. Hunt met me and my maid at the Station in London, and took us over to his house at Sydenham, giving us bad news by the way of the spread of cholera. A poor carpenter had, the week before, died of cholera while at work in Mr. Hunt’s house, — the seizure being too sudden to admit of his removal to his own unhealthy home, — from whence, no doubt, he brought the disease. On our way from the Sydenham station to Mr. Hunt’s house, he pointed out to me an abominable pond, covered with slime and duckweed, which he had tried in vain to draw official attention to. During my short visit, and just after it, almost all of us were ill, — my host and hostess, some of the children, a servant, and myself: and after my removal to an airy lodging at Upper Norwood, opposite the Crystal Palace fence, I had repeated attacks of illness, and was, in fact, never well during the five weeks of my residence there. — It was a time of anxiety and sorrow. My good friend and publisher, Mr. Chapman, had just failed, — in consequence of misfortunes which came thick upon him, from the time of Mr. Lombe’s death, which was a serious blow to the “Westminster Review.” Mr. Chapman never, in all our intercourse, asked me to lend him money; yet the “Westminster Review” was by this time mortgaged to me. It was entirely my own doing; and I am anxious, for Mr. Chapman’s sake, that this should be understood. The truth of the case is that I had long felt, as many others had professed to do, that the cause of free-thought and free-speech was under great obligations to Mr. Chapman; and it naturally occurred to me that it was therefore a duty incumbent on the advocates of free-thought and speech to support and aid one by whom they had been enabled to address society. Thinking, in the preceding winter, that I saw that Mr. Chapman was hampered by certain liabilities that the review was under, I offered to assume the mortgage, — knowing the uncertain nature of that kind of investment, but regarding the danger of loss as my contribution to the cause. At first, after the failure, there was every probability, apparently, that Mr. Chapman’s affairs would be speedily settled, — so satisfied were all his creditors who were present with his conduct under examination, and the accounts he rendered. A few generous friends and creditors made all smooth, as it was hoped; but two absent discontented creditors pursued their debtor with, (as some men of business among the creditors said) “a cruelty unequalled in all their experience.” One of their endeavours was to get the review out of Mr. Chapman’s hands; and one feature of the enterprise was an attempt to upset the mortgage, and to drive Mr. Chapman to bankruptcy, in order to throw the review into the market, at the most disadvantageous season, when London was empty, and cholera prevalent, — that these personages might get it cheap. One of them made no secret of his having raised a subscription for the purpose. It was the will of the great body of the creditors, however, that Mr. Chapman should keep the review, which he had edited thus far with great and rising success; and his two foes were got rid of by the generosity of Mr. Chapman’s guaranteeing supporters. The attempt to upset the mortgage failed, of course. I had an intimation in twenty-four hours that I was “not to be swindled out of the Review:” but the whole anxiety, aggravated by indignation and pain at such conduct on the part of men who had professed a sense of obligation to Mr. Chapman, extended over many weeks. The whole body of the creditors were kept waiting, and the estate was deteriorating for those weeks, during which the two persecutors were canvassing for subscriptions for the review which one of them endeavoured to drive into a bad market, at my expense, and to the ruin of its proprietor. The business extended over my residence at Sydenham. I had long before promised an article, involving no small labour, for the next number of the review (“Rajah Brooke;”) and, when I was reckoning on my return home, two misfortunes occurred which determined me to stay another week, and work. A relative of Mr. Chapman’s, his most valued friend and contributor, was struck down by cholera in the very act of writing an article of first-rate consequence for the forthcoming number: and, while my poor friend was suffering under the first anguish of this loss, another contributor, wrought on by evil influences, disappointed the editor of a promised article at the time it ought to have been at press. I could not but stay and write another; and I did so, — being bound however to be at home on the nineteenth of September, to receive the first of a series of autumn guests. On the night of my arrival at home, after a too arduous journey for one day, I was again taken ill; and next morning, the post brought the news of the death of another of my dear aunts, — one having died during my absence from home. I had left Mr. Hunt in a very poor state of health, — as indeed every body seemed to be during those melancholy months; but we hoped that a shooting excursion would restore him to business in his usual vigour. It appeared to do so; but cholera was making such ravage among the corps of the paper that those who could work were compelled to over-work; and the editor slept at the office during the most critical time. Every circumstance was against him; and we began to be uneasy, without having any serious apprehension of what was about to befal.
There was great enjoyment in that Sydenham sojourn, through all its anxieties. During the first half of the time that I was in lodgings, a dear young niece was with me; and for the other half, a beloved cousin, — my faithful friend for forty years. Some whole days, and many half holidays, I spent with them in the Crystal Palace, with great joy and delight. I dwell upon those days now with as much pleasure as ever, — the fresh beauty of the summer morning, when we were almost the first to enter, and found the floors sprinkled, and the vegetation revived, and the tables covered with cool-looking viands, and the rustics coming in, and venting their first amazement in a very interesting way: — and again, our steady duties in the Courts in the middle of the day; and again, the walk on the terrace, or the lingering in the nave when the last train was gone, and the exhibitors were shutting up for the day. There were also merry parties, and merry plans at Mr. Hunt’s. We went, a carriage-full, to the prorogation of parliament, when I had a ticket to the Peeresses’ gallery, where, however, we were met by the news (which encountered us every where) of a mournful death from cholera, — Lord Jocelyn having died that afternoon. We had a plan for going, a party of fifteen, to Paris, in the next April: — to Paris, for the opening of the Exhibition on May-day. May-day has passed without the opening of the Exhibition: Mr. Hunt has been above five months in his grave; and I have been above three months in daily expectation of death. In November, when Mr. Hunt was ill, but we knew not how ill, I wrote to him that, on consideration, it seemed to me that the party to Paris would be better without me, (for political reasons:) and Mr. Hunt’s message (the last to me) was that it would be time enough to settle that when April came. I suspect that he foresaw his fate. — In November, my correspondence was with the sub-editor, because Mr. Hunt was ill. The cashier told me next of his “alarm” about his beloved friend: but the sub-editor wrote that he was not alarmed like the rest. Then the accounts were worse; there was one almost hopeless: and then, he was dead. I did not think that such capacity for sorrow was left in me. He was so happy in life; and the happiness of so many was bound up in him! He was only forty; and he had fairly entered on a career of unsurpassed usefulness and honour, and was beginning to reap the natural reward of many years of glorious effort! But he was gone; and I had not known such a personal sorrow since the loss of Dr. Follen, in 1840, by the burning of a steamer at sea. I certainly felt very ill; and I told my family so; but I thought I could go to London, and work at the office during the interval till his place could be filled. I offered to do so; but the proprietors assured me that I could help them best by working daily at home. The cousin who had been my companion at Sydenham wrote that she was glad I had not gone; for she believed, after what she had seen in September, that it would have killed me. I believe she was right, though it seemed rather extravagant at the time.
By December, I felt somewhat better; but I was not able to write my usual New Year’s letters to my family. The odd obliteration of words and half letters when I read returned once or twice when there was certainly no indigestion to account for it; and a symptom which had perplexed me for months grew upon me, — an occasional uncertainty about the spelling of even common words. I had mentioned this, as an odd circumstance, to a Professor of Mental Philosophy, when he was my guest in October; and his reply was, “there is some little screw loose somewhere:” and so indeed it proved. Throughout December and the early part of January, the disturbance on lying down increased, night by night. There was a creaking sensation at the heart (the beating of which was no longer to be felt externally;) and, after the creak, there was an intermission, and then a throb. When this had gone on a few minutes, breathing became perturbed and difficult; and I lay till two, three, or four o’clock, struggling for breath. When this process began to spread back into the evening, and then forward into the morning, I was convinced that there was something seriously wrong; and with the approbation of my family, I wrote to consult Dr. Latham; and soon after, went to London to be examined by him. That honest and excellent physician knew beforehand that I desired, for reasons which concerned others more than myself, to know the exact truth; and he fulfilled my wish. — I felt it so probable that I might die in the night, and any night, that I would not go to the house of any of my nearest friends, or of any aged or delicate hostess; and I therefore declined all invitations, and took rooms at Mr. Chapman’s, where all possible care would be taken of me, without risk to any one. There Dr. Latham visited and examined me, the day after my arrival, and frankly told me his “impression,” — observing that it could not yet be called an opinion. The impression soon became an opinion, as I knew it would, because he would not have told me of such an impression without the strongest ground for it. He requested me to see another physician; and Dr. Watson’s opinion, formed on examination, without prior information from Dr. Latham or me, was the same as Dr. Latham’s. Indeed the case appears to be as plain as can well be. It appears that the substance of the heart is deteriorated, so that “it is too feeble for its work;” there is more or less dilatation; and the organ is very much enlarged. Before I left London, the sinking-fits which are characteristic of the disease began to occur; and it has since been perfectly understood by us all that the alternative lies between death at any hour in one of these sinking-fits, or by dropsy, if I live for the disease to run its course.
Though I expected some such account of the case, I was rather surprised that it caused so little emotion in me. I went out, in a friend’s carriage, to tell her the result of Dr. Latham’s visit; and I also told a cousin who had been my friend since our school-days. When I returned to my lodgings, and was preparing for dinner, a momentary thrill of something like painful emotion passed through me, — not at all because I was going to die, but at the thought that I should never feel health again. It was merely momentary; and I joined the family and Mr. Atkinson, who dined with us, without any indisposition to the merriment which went on during dinner, — no one but my hostess being aware of what had passed since breakfast. In the course of the evening, I told them; and I saw at once what support I might depend on from my friend. I did not sleep at all that night; and many were the things I had to think over; but I never passed a more tranquil and easy night. As soon as my family heard the news, a beloved niece, who had repeatedly requested to be allowed to come to me, joined me in London, and gave me to understand, with her parents’ free consent, that she would not leave me again. I sent for my Executor, made a new will, and put him in possession of my affairs, my designs and wishes, as fully as possible, and accepted his escort home to Ambleside. As there was but one possible mode of treatment, and as that could be pursued in one place as well as another, I was eager to get home to the repose and freshness of my own sweet place. It was not only for the pleasure of it; but for the sake of my servants; and because, while prepared, in regard to my affairs, to go at any time, there were things to be done, if I could do them, to which the quiet of home was almost indispensable. The weather was at that time the worst of a very bad winter; and it was a very doubtful matter whether I could perform the journey. By the kindness of a friend, however, the invalid carriage of the North Western Railway was placed at my disposal; and we four, — my niece, my Executor, my maid and myself, travelled in all possible comfort. The first thing I saw in my own house, — the pale, shrunk countenance of the servant I had left at home, — made me rejoice that I had returned without further delay. I found afterwards that she had cried more than she had slept from the time that she had heard how ill I was, and what was to happen. — That was three months ago: and during those three months, I have been visited by my family, one by one, and by some dear friends, while my niece has been so constantly with me as to have, in my opinion, prolonged my life by her incomparable nursing. The interval has been employed in writing this Memoir, and in closing all my engagements, so that no interest of any kind may suffer by my departure at any moment. The winter, after long lingering, is gone, and I am still here, — sitting in the sun on my terrace, and at night going out, according to old custom, to look abroad in the moon or star-light. We are surrounded by bouquets and flowering plants. Never was a dying person more nobly “friended,” as the Scotch have it. My days are filled with pleasures, and I have no cares; so that the only thing I have to fear is that, after all the discipline of my life, I should be spoiled at the end of it.
When I learned what my state is, it was my wish (as far as I wish any thing, which is indeed very slightly and superficially) that my death might take place before long, and by the quicker process: and such is, in an easy sort of way, my wish still. The last is for the sake of my nurse, and of all about me; and the first is mainly because I do not want to deteriorate and get spoiled in the final stage of my life, by ceasing to hear the truth, and the whole truth: and nobody ventures to utter any unpleasant truth to a person with “a heart-complaint.” I must take my chance for this; and I have a better chance than most, because my nurse and constant companion knows that I do not desire that any body should “make things pleasant” because I am ill. I should wish, as she knows, to live under complete and healthy moral conditions to the last, if these can be accommodated, by courage and mutual trust, with the physical conditions. — As to the spoiling process, — I have been doubting, for some years past, whether I was not undergoing it. I have lived too long to think of making myself anxious about my state and prospects in any way; but it has occurred to me occasionally, of late years, whether I could endure as I formerly did. I had become so accustomed to ease of body and mind, that it seemed to me doubtful how I might bear pain, or any change; for it seemed as if any change must be for the worse, as to enjoyment. I remember being struck with a saying of Mrs. Wordsworth’s, uttered ten years ago, when she was seventy-six, — that the beauty of our valley made us too fond of life, — too little ready to leave it. Her domestic bereavements since that time have doubtless altered this feeling entirely; but, in many an hour of intense enjoyment on the hills, I have recalled that saying; and, in wonder at my freedom from care, have speculated on whether I should think it an evil to die, then and there. I have now had three months’ experience of the fact of constant expectation of death; and the result is, as much regret as a rational person can admit at the absurd waste of time, thought and energy that I have been guilty of in the course of my life in dwelling on the subject of death. It is really melancholy that young people, (and, for that matter, middle-aged and old people) are exhorted and encouraged as they are to such waste of all manner of power. I romanced internally about early death till it was too late to die early; and, even in the midst of work and the busiest engagements of my life, I used to be always thinking about death, — partly from taste, and partly as a duty. And now that I am awaiting it at any hour, the whole thing seems so easy, simple and natural that I cannot but wonder how I could keep my thoughts fixed upon it when it was far off. I cannot do it now. Night after night since I have known that I am mortally ill, I have tried to conceive, with the help of the sensations of my sinking-fits, the act of dying, and its attendant feelings; and, thus far, I have always gone to sleep in the middle of it. And this is after really knowing something about it; for I have been frequently in extreme danger of immediate death within the last five months, and have felt as if I were dying, and should never draw another breath. Under this close experience, I find death in prospect the simplest thing in the world, — a thing not to be feared or regretted, or to get excited about in any way. — I attribute this very much, however, to the nature of my views of death. The case must be much otherwise with Christians, — even independently of the selfish and perturbing emotions connected with an expectation of rewards and punishments in the next world. They can never be quite secure from the danger that their air-built castle shall dissolve at the last moment, and that they may vividly perceive on what imperfect evidence and delusive grounds their expectation of immortality or resurrection reposes. The mere perception of the incompatibility of immortality and resurrection may be, and often is, deferred till that time; and that is no time for such questions. But, if the intellect be ever so accommodating, there is the heart, — steady to its domestic affections. I, for one, should be heavy-hearted if I were now about to go to the antipodes, — to leave all whom I love, and who are bound up with my daily life, — however certain might be the prospect of meeting them again twenty or thirty years hence; and it is no credit to any Christian to be “joyful,” “triumphant” and so forth, in going to “glory,” while leaving any loved ones behind, — whether or not there may be loved ones “gone before.” An unselfish and magnanimous person cannot be solaced, in parting with mortal companions and human sufferers, by personal rewards, glory, bliss, or any thing of the sort. I used to think and feel all this before I became emancipated from the superstition; and I could only submit, and suppose it all right because it was ordained. But now, the release is an inexpressible comfort; and the simplifying of the whole matter has a most tranquillizing effect. I see that the dying (others than the aged) naturally and regularly, unless disturbed, desire and sink into death as into sleep. Where no artificial state is induced, they feel no care about dying, or about living again. The state of their organisation disposes them to rest; and rest is all they think about. We know, by all testimony, that persons who are brought face to face with death by an accident which seems to leave no chance of escape, have no religious ideas or emotions whatever. Where the issue is doubtful, the feeble and helpless cry out to God for mercy, and are in perturbation or calmness according to organisation, training, and other circumstances: but, where escape appears wholly impossible, the most religious men think and feel nothing religious at all, — as those of them who have escaped tell their intimate friends. And again, soldiers rush upon death in battle with utter carelessness, — engrossed in other emotions, in the presence of which death appears as easy and simple a matter as it does to me now. — Conscious as I am of what my anxiety would be if I were exiled to the antipodes, — or to the garden of Eden, if you will, — for twenty or thirty years, I feel no sort of solicitude about a parting which will bring no pain. Sympathy with those who will miss me, I do feel, of course: yet not very painfully, because their sorrow cannot, in the nature of things, long interfere with their daily peace; but to me there is no sacrifice, no sense of loss, nothing to fear, nothing to regret. Under the eternal laws of the universe, I came into being, and, under them, I have lived a life so full that its fulness is equivalent to length. The age in which I have lived is an infant one in the history of our globe and of Man; and the consequence is, a great waste in the years and the powers of the wisest of us; and, in the case of one so limited in powers, and so circumscribed by early unfavorable influences as myself, the waste is something deplorable. But we have only to accept the conditions in which we find ourselves, and to make the best of them; and my last days are cheered by the sense of how much better my later years have been than the earlier; or than, in the earlier, I ever could have anticipated. Some of the terrible faults of my character which religion failed to ameliorate, and others which superstition bred in me, have given way, more or less, since I attained a truer point of view: and the relief from old burdens, the uprising of new satisfactions, and the opening of new clearness, — the fresh air of Nature, in short, after imprisonment in the ghost-peopled cavern of superstition, — has been as favourable to my moral nature as to intellectual progress and general enjoyment. Thus, there has been much in life that I am glad to have enjoyed; and much that generates a mood of contentment at the close. Besides that I never dream of wishing that any thing were otherwise than as it is, I am frankly satisfied to have done with life. I have had a noble share of it, and I desire no more. I neither wish to live longer here, nor to find life again elsewhere. It seems to me simply absurd to expect it, and a mere act of restricted human imagination and morality to conceive of it. It seems to me that there is, not only a total absence of evidence of a renewed life for human beings, but so clear a way of accounting for the conception, in the immaturity of the human mind, that I myself utterly disbelieve in a future life. If I should find myself mistaken, it will certainly not be in discovering any existing faith in that doctrine to be true. If I am mistaken in supposing that I am now vacating my place in the universe, which is to be filled by another, — if I find myself conscious after the lapse of life, — it will be all right, of course; but, as I said, the supposition appears to me absurd. Nor can I understand why any body should expect me to desire any thing else than this yielding up my place. If we may venture to speak, limited as we are, of any thing whatever being important, we may say that the important thing is that the universe should be full of life, as we suppose it to be, under the eternal laws of the universe: and, if the universe be full of life, I cannot see how it can signify whether the one human faculty of consciousness of identity be preserved and carried forward, when all the rest of the organisation is gone to dust, or so changed as to be in no respect properly the same. In brief, I cannot see how it matters whether my successor be called H. M. or A. B. or Y. Z. I am satisfied that there will always be as much conscious life in the universe as its laws provide for; and that certainty is enough, even for my narrow human conception, which, however, can discern that caring about it at all is a mere human view and emotion. The real and justifiable and honourable subject of interest to human beings, living and dying, is the welfare of their fellows, surrounding them, or surviving them. About this, I do care, and supremely; in what way I will tell presently.
Meantime, as to my own position at this moment, I have a word or two more to say. — I had no previous conception of the singular interest of watching human affairs, and one’s own among the rest, and acting in them, when on the verge of leaving them. It is an interest which is full even of amusement. It has been my chief amusement, this spring, to set my house and field in complete order for my beloved successor; — to put up a handsome new garden fence, and paint the farming man’s cottage, and restore the ceilings of the house, and plan the crops which I do not expect to see gathered. The mournful perplexity of my good farm-servant has something in it amusing as well as touching; — the necessity he is under of consulting me about his sowings, and his plans for the cows, — relating to distant autumn months, and even to another spring, — the embarrassing necessity that this is to him, while his mind is full of the expectation that I shall then be in my grave. In the midst of every consultation about this or that crop, he interposes a hope that I may live to see his hay, and to eat his celery and artichokes and vegetable marrow, and to admire the autumn calf; and his zeal for my service, checked by the thought that his services are in fact for others, has something in it as curious as touching. — And so it is, more or less, with all my intercourses, — that a curious new interest is involved in them. Mere acquaintances are shocked that the newspapers should tell that I am “in a hopeless state,” that “recovery is impossible” &c., while my own family and household have no sort of scruple in talking about it as freely as I do. A good many people start at hearing what a cheerful, — even merry — little party we are at home here, and that we sometimes play a rubber in the evenings, and sometimes laugh till I, for one, can laugh no more. To such wonder, we answer — why not? If we feel as usual, why not do as usual? Others, again, cannot conceive how, with my “opinions,” I am not miserable about dying; and declare that they should be so; and this makes me wonder, in my turn, that it does not strike them that perhaps they do not comprehend my views and feelings, and that there may be something in the matter more than they see or understand. There is something very interesting to me in the evidences of different states of mind among friends and strangers in regard to my “good” or “bad spirits,” — a matter which appears to me hardly worth a thought. As it happens, my spirits are good; and I find good spirits a great blessing; but the solicitude about them, and the evident readiness to make much of bad spirits, if I had them, are curious features in my intercourse with acquaintance or strangers who are kind enough to interest themselves in my affairs. One sends me a New Testament (as if I had never seen one before) with the usual hopes of grace &c., though aware that the bible is no authority with me; and, having been assured that I am “happy,” this correspondent has the modesty to intimate that I ought not to be happy, and that people sometimes are so “without grounds.” It is useless to reply that, as I have not pursued happiness as an aim, all this kind of speculation is nothing to me. There is the fact; and that is enough. — Others, again, who ought, by their professions, to know better, are very glad about this “happiness,” and settle it in their own minds that christian consolations are administered to me by God without my knowing it. If so, I can only say it is a bounty not only gratuitous, but undesired. Christian consolations would certainly make me any thing but happy, after my experience of them in contrast with the higher state of freedom, and the wider sympathies opened by my later views.
The lesson taught us by these kindly commentators on my present experience is that dogmatic faith compels the best minds and hearts to narrowness and insolence. Even such as these cannot conceive of my being happy in any way but theirs, or that there may be views whose operation they do not understand. In a letter just received, a dear friend says “I have seen no one since I left you who is ‘sorry’ about you (about my ‘opinions.’) Still I see that the next row, and the next, still more so, are ‘very sorry’ and ‘very very sorry.’ ” The unconscious insolence revealed in this “sorrow” is rebuked by the more rational view of others who are no nearer agreeing with me than the second and third “row.” “Not agreeing,” says my friend, “they still see no more reason for lamentation over you than for you to lament over them. ‘Il y a aussi loin de chez toi chez moi que de chez moi chez toi,’ is the perfectly applicable French proverb.” Another, who professes to venerate martyrs and reformers (if only they are dead) is “sorry” again because this, that, or the other Cause suffers by my loss of influence. The mingled weakness and unconscious insolence of this affords a curious insight. First, there is the dereliction of principle shown in supposing that any “Cause” can be of so much importance as fidelity to truth, or can be important at all otherwise than in its relation to truth which wants vindicating. It reminds me of an incident which happened when I was in America, at the time of the severest trials of the Abolitionists. A pastor from the southern States lamented to a brother clergyman in the North the introduction of the Anti-slavery question, because the views of their sect were “getting on so well before!” “Getting on!” cried the northern minister. “What is the use of getting your vessel on when you have thrown both captain and cargo overboard?” Thus, what signifies the pursuit of any one reform, like those specified, — Anti-slavery and the Woman question, — when the freedom which is the very soul of the controversy, the very principle of the movement, — is mourned over in any other of its many manifestations? The only effectual advocates of such reforms as those are people who follow truth wherever it leads. The assumption that I have lost influence on the whole exposes itself. Nobody can know that I have lost influence on the whole, either in regard to ordinary social intercourse or to subjects of social controversy; and I have reason to believe that I have (without at all intending it) gained influence in proportion to the majority that the free-thinkers of our country constitute to the minority existing in the form of the sect in which I was reared, or any other.
As to the curious assortment of religious books and tracts sent me by post, they are much what I have been accustomed to receive on the publication of each of my books which involved religious or philosophical subjects. They are too bad in matter and spirit to be safe reading for my servants; so, instead of the waste-basket, they go into the fire. I have not so many anonymous letters now as on occasions of publication; but some which are not anonymous are scarcely wiser or purer. After the publication of “Eastern Life,” I had one which was too curious to be forgotten with the rest. It was dated “Cheltenham,” and signed “Charlotte;” and it was so inviting to a reply that, if it had borne any address, I should have been tempted to break through my custom of silence in such cases. “Charlotte” wrote to make the modest demand that I would call in and destroy all my writings, “because they give pain to the pious.” It would have been amusing to see what she would think of a proposal that “the pious” should withdraw all their writings, because they give pain to the philosophical. It might have been of service to suggest the simple expedient, in relief of the pious, that they should not read books which offend them. After the publication of the “Atkinson Letters,” anonymous notes came in elegant clerical hand-writing, informing me that prayers would be offered up throughout the kingdom, for my rescue from my awful condition, “denying the Lord that bought me,” &c. Now, the concern seems to be of a gentler sort, and to relate more to my state of spirits at present than to my destiny hereafter. — But enough of this. I have referred to these things, not because they relate to myself, but because the condition of opinion in English society at present affords material for profitable study; and my own position at this moment supplies a favourable opportunity. In the midst of the meddlesomeness, I do not overlook the humanity thus evidenced. My only feeling of concern arises from seeing how much moral injury and suffering is created by the superstitions of the Christian mythology; and again, from the chaotic state of opinion among Christians themselves, and among those who would fain retain the name, while giving up all the essentials, and unfurnished with a basis of conviction, while striving to make the fabrics of the imagination serve the purpose. — As for me, who unexpectedly find myself on the side of the majority of thoughtful persons on these questions, I am of course abundantly solaced with sympathy which I can accept; and I am more and more sensible, as I recede from the active scenes of life, of the surpassing value of a philosophy which is the natural growth of the experience and study, — perhaps I may be allowed to say, — the progression of a life. While conscious, as I have ever been, of being encompassed by ignorance on every side, I cannot but acknowledge that philosophy has opened my way before me, and given a staff into my hand, and thrown a light upon my path, so as to have long delivered me from doubt and fear. It has moreover been the joy of my life, harmonising and animating all its details, and making existence itself a festival. Day by day do I feel that it is indeed
- “Not harsh and crabbed as dull fools suppose;
- But musical as is Apollo’s lute.”
A state like mine of late has its peculiar privileges, — the first felt of which is its freedom from cares and responsibilities. I have hitherto loved solitude perhaps unduly; partly, no doubt, on account of my deafness, which, from its attendant fatigues, has rendered solitude necessary, to husband my strength, — (always, I now suspect, below the average,) for my work; but partly also from the unusual amount of intellectual labour which it has been my duty to undertake. Now, when my work is done, I am enjoying genuine holiday, for the first time for a quarter of a century. I relish, very keenly, the tending of affection, and the lawful transference of my responsibilities to the young and strong, and those who have a tract of life before them, and who are pausing on their way to give me the help I need. I am now free for intellectual luxury, — to read what charms me most, without the feeling that I am playing truant from the school of technical knowledge, for which I shall have no further occasion. Again, I enjoy the free expenditure of my resources. It is something pleasant not to have to consider money, — the money which I have earned, and laid up to meet such an occasion. But it is more and better not to grudge my time. My hours are now best spent in affectionate intercourses, and in giving a free flow to every passing day. I need not spare my eyes, nor husband my remaining hearing. I may, in short, make a free and lavish holiday before I go.
Such is the selfish aspect of the case; and I am bound, having begun, to tell the whole case. — Far greater are the privileges I enjoy in regard to the world outside my home. I need not say that one’s interests in regard to one’s race, and to human life in the abstract, deepen in proportion to the withdrawal of one’s own personal implication with them. Judging by my own experience, one’s hopes rise, and one’s fears decline as one recedes from the action and personal solicitude which are necessary in the midst of life, but which have a more or less blinding and perturbing influence on one’s perception and judgment. When at the zenith, clouds are apt to come between one’s particular star and the wide world; whereas, on the clear horizon, at the moment of the star’s sinking, nothing intervenes to shroud or distort the glorious scene. I was always hopeful for the world; but never so much so as now, when I am at full leisure to see things as they are, and placed apart where the relation of the past and the future become clear, and the meeting-point of the present is seen in something like its due proportion. It appears to me now that, while I see much more of human difficulty from ignorance, and from the slow working (as we weak and transitory beings consider it) of the law of Progress, I discern the working of that great law with far more clearness, and therefore with a far stronger confidence, than I ever did before.
When I look at my own country, and observe the nature of the changes which have taken place even within my own time, I have far more hope than I once had that the inevitable political reconstitution of our state may take place in a peaceable and prosperous manner. There have been times in my life when, having a far obscurer view than I now entertain of the necessity of a total change in the form of government, I yet apprehended a revolution in the fearful sense in which the word was understood in my childhood, when the great French Revolution was the only pattern of that sort of enterprise. I now strongly hope that, whenever our far-famed British Constitution gives place to a new form of government, it may be through the ripened will of the people, and therefore in all good will and prudence. That the change must be made, sooner or later, was certain from the time when the preponderance of the aristocratic over the regal element in our state became a fact. From the natural alliance between king and people, and the natural antagonism of aristocracy and people, the occurrence of a revolution is always, in such a case, a question merely of time. In our case, the question of time is less obscure than it was in my childhood. The opponents of the Reform Bill were right enough, as every body now sees, in saying that the Constitution was destroyed by that act; though wrong, of course, in supposing that they could have preserved the balance by preventing the act of reform. A constitution of checks and balances, made out of old materials, can never be more than a provisional expedient; and, when the balance is destroyed, — when the power of the Crown is a mere lingering sentiment, and the Commons hold the Lords in the hollow of their hand, while no recent House of Commons has been in any degree worthy of such a trust, the alternative is simply between a speedy revolution with an unworthy House of Commons, or a remoter one, with a better legislature in the mean time. The circumstances of the hour in which I write seem to show that so much social change is near as may be caused by the exposure of administrative incompetence under the stress of the war. It may be this, or it may be something else which will rouse the people to improve the House of Commons: and under an improved House of Commons, the establishment of a new method of government may be long delayed. From the general state of prosperity and contentment at home, the retrieval of Ireland, the rapid advance of many good popular objects, and the raising of the general tone of the popular mind, we may hope that what has to be done will be done well. — Meantime, the thing that causes me most anxiety, in regard to our political condition, is the universal ignorance or carelessness about the true sphere of legislation. Before the people can be in any degree fit for the improved institutions, it is highly necessary that they should understand, and be agreed upon, the true function of legislation and government; and this is precisely what even our best men, in and out of parliament, seem to know nothing about. I regard this as a most painful and perilous symptom of our condition, — though it has been brought to light by beneficent action which is, in another view, altogether encouraging. Our benevolence towards the helpless, and our interest in personal morality, have grown into a sort of public pursuit; and they have taken such a hold on us that we may fairly hope that the wretched and the wronged will never more be thrust out of sight. But, in the pursuit of our new objects, we have fallen back, — far further than 1688, — in the principle of our legislative proposals, — undertaking to provide by law against personal vices, and certain special social contracts, while refusing that legitimate legislative boon, — a system of national education, — which would supersede the vices and abuses complained of by intelligence more effectually than acts of parliament can ever obviate them by penalty. If I were to form one hope rather than another in relation to the political condition of England, it would be that my countrymen should rise to the level of their time, and of their intelligence in other respects, in regard to the true aims of government and legitimate function of legislation.
As to the wider political prospects outside our own empire, I am of much the same opinion now as when I wrote a certain letter to an Anti-slavery friend in America in 1849, which I will subjoin. That letter was published in the newspapers at the time by my correspondent, and it has been republished in England since the outbreak of the war with Russia.
October 1st, 1849.
“My Dear —;
We can think of little else at present than of that which should draw you and us into closer sympathy than even that which has so long existed between us. We, on our side the water, have watched with keen interest the progress of your War of Opinion, — the spread of the great controversy which cannot but revolutionize your social principles and renovate your social morals. For fifteen years past, we have seen that you are ‘in for it,’ and that you must stand firm amidst the subversion of Ideas, Customs and Institutions, till you find yourselves encompassed by ‘the new heavens and the new earth’ of which you have the sure promise and foresight.
We, — the whole population of Europe, — are now evidently entering upon a stage of conflict no less important in its issues, and probably more painful in its course. You remember how soon after the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars our great Peace Minister, Canning, intimated the advent, sooner or later, of a War of Opinion in Europe; a war of deeper significance than Napoleon could conceive of, and of a wider spread than the most mischievous of his quarrels. The war of Opinion which Canning foresaw was in fact a war between the further and nearer centuries, — between Asia and Europe, — between despotism and self-government. The preparations were begun long ago. The Barons at Runnymede beat up for recruits when they hailed the signature of Magna Charta; and the princes of York and Lancaster did their best to clear the field for us and those who are to come after us. The Italian Republics wrought well for us, and so did the French Revolutions, one after the other as hints and warnings; and so did the voyage of your Mayflower, — and the Swiss League, and German Zollverein, and in short, every thing that has happened for several hundreds of years. Every thing has tended to bring our continent and its resident nations to the knowledge that the first principles of social liberty have now to be asserted and contended for, and to prepare the assertors for the greatest conflict that the human race has yet witnessed. It is my belief that the war has actually begun, and that, though there may be occasional lulls, no man now living will see the end of it.
Russia is more Asiatic than European. It is obscure to us who live nearest to her where her power resides. We know only that it is not with the Emperor, nor yet with the people. The Emperor is evidently a mere show, — being nothing except while he fulfils the policy or pleasure of the unnamed power which we cannot discern. But, though the ruling power is obscure, the policy is clear enough. The aim is to maintain and extend despotism; and the means chosen are the repression of mind, the corruption of conscience, and the reduction of the whole composite population of Russia to a brute machine. For a great lapse of time, no quarter of a century has passed without some country and nation having fallen in, and become a compartment of the great machine; and, the fact being so, the most peace-loving of us can hardly be sorry that the time has come for deciding whether this is to go on, — whether the Asiatic principle and method of social life are to dominate or succumb. The struggle will be no contemptible one. The great tarantula has its spider-claws out and fixed at inconceivable distances. The people of Russia, wretched at home, are better qualified for foreign aggression than for any thing else. And if, within her own empire, Russia knows all to be loose and precarious, poor and unsound, and with none but a military organisation, she knows that she has for allies, avowed or concealed, all the despotic tempers that exist among men. Not only such Governments as those of Spain, Portugal, Rome and Austria are in reality the allies of Eastern barbarism; but all aristocracies, — all self-seekers, — be they who and where they may. It is a significant sign of the times that territorial alliances are giving way before political affinities, — the mechanical before the essential union: and, if Russia has not for allies the nations that live near her frontier, she has those men of every nation who prefer self-will to freedom.
This corrupted “patriarchal” system of society, (but little superior to that which exists in your slave States) occupies one-half of the great battle-field where the hosts are gathering for the fight. On the other, the forces are ill-assorted, ill-organised, too little prepared; but still, as having the better cause, sure, I trust, of final victory. The conflict must be long, because our constitutions are, like yours, compromises, our governments as yet a mere patch-work, our popular liberties scanty and adulterated, and great masses of our brethren hungry and discontented. We have not a little to struggle for among ourselves, when our whole force is needed against the enemy. In no country of Europe is the representative system of government more than a mere beginning. In no country of Europe is human brotherhood practically asserted. Nowhere are the principles of civilisation of Western Europe determined and declared, and made the ground-work of organised action, as happily your principles are as against those of your slave-holding opponents. But, raw and ill-organised as are our forces, they will be strong, sooner or later, against the serried armies of the Asiatic policy. If, on the one side, the soul comes up to battle with an imperfect and ill-defended body, on the other, the body is wholly without a soul, and must, in the end, fall to pieces. The best part of the mind of Western Europe will make itself a body by dint of action, and the pressure which must bring out its forces; and it may be doubted whether it could become duly embodied in any other way. What forms of society may arise as features of this new growth, neither you nor I can say. We can only ask each other whether, witnessing as we do the spread of Communist ideas in every free nation of Europe, and the admission by some of the most cautious and old-fashioned observers of social movements that we in England cannot now stop short of “a modified communism,” the result is not likely to be a wholly new social state, if not a yet undreamed-of social idea.
“However this may be, — while your slave question is dominant in Congress, and the Dissolution of your Union is becoming a familiar idea, and an avowed aspiration, our crisis is no less evidently approaching. Russia has Austria under her foot, and she is casting a corner of her wide pall over Turkey. England and France are awake and watchful; and so many men of every country are astir, that we may rely upon it that not only are territorial alliances giving way before political affinities, but national ties will give way almost as readily, if the principles of social liberty should demand the disintegration of nations. Let us not say, even to ourselves, whether we regard such an issue with hope or fear. It is a possibility too vast to be regarded but with simple faith and patience. In this spirit let us contemplate what is proceeding, and what is coming, doing the little we can by a constant assertion of the principles of social liberty, and a perpetual watch for opportunities to stimulate human progress.
“Whether your conflict will be merely a moral one, you can form a better idea than I. Ours will consist in a long and bloody warfare — possibly the last, but inevitable now. The empire of brute force can conduct its final struggle only by brute force; and there are but few yet on the other side who have any other notion or desire. While I sympathise wholly with you as to your means as well as your end, you will not withhold your sympathy from us because our heroes still assert their views and wills by exposing themselves to wounds and death in the field, and assenting once more to the old non sequitur about Might and Right. Let them this time obtain the lower sort of Might by the inspiration of their Right, and in another age, they will aim higher. But I need not thus petition you; for I well know that where there is most of Right, there will your sympathies surely rest.
“Believe me your friend,
I have no doubt whatever of the power of France and England to chastise Russia, without the aid of any other power. I should have no doubt of the power of England alone (if that power were well administered) to humble Russia, provided the case remained a simple one. But that is precisely what appears impossible, under the existing European dynasties. I now expect, as I have anticipated for many years, a war in Europe which may even outlast the century, — with occasional lulls; and I suppose the result must be, after a dreary chaotic interval, a discarding of the existing worn-out methods of government, and probably the establishment of society under a wholly new idea. Of course, none but a prophet could be expected to declare what that new idea will be. It would be rational, but it is not necessary here, to foretell what it would not be or include. But all that I feel called on to say now, when I am not writing a political essay, is that the leading feature of any such radical change must be a deep modification of the institution of Property; — certainly in regard to land, and probably in regard to much else. Before any effectual social renovation can take place, men must efface the abuse which has grown up out of the transition from the feudal to the more modern state; the abuse of land being held as absolute property; whereas in feudal times land was in a manner held in trust, inasmuch as every land-holder was charged with the subsistence of all who lived within his bounds. The old practice of Man holding Man as property is nearly exploded among civilised nations; and the analogous barbarism of Man holding the surface of the globe as property cannot long survive. The idea of this being a barbarism is now fairly formed, admitted, and established among some of the best minds of the time; and the result is, as in all such cases, ultimately secure.
These considerations lead my thoughts to America; and I must say that I regard the prospects of the republic of the United States with more pain and apprehension than those of any other people in the civilised world. It is the only instance, I believe, of a nation being inferior to its institutions; and the result will be, I fear, a mournful spectacle to the world. I am not thinking chiefly, at this moment, of American slavery. I have shown elsewhere what I think and expect about that. Negro slavery in the United States, as regards the existing Union, is near its end, I have no doubt. I regard with a deeper concern the manifest retrogression of the American people, in their political and social character. They seem to be lapsing from national manliness into childhood, — retrograding from the aims and interests of the nineteenth century into those of the fifteenth and sixteenth. Their passion for territorial aggrandisement, for gold, for buccaneering adventure, and for vulgar praise, are seen miserably united with the pious pretensions and fraudulent ingenuity which were, in Europe, old-fashioned three centuries ago, and which are now kept alive only in a few petty or despised States, where dynasty is on its last legs. I know that there are better men, and plenty of them, in America than those who represent the nation in the view of Europe; but those better men are silent and inactive; and the national retrogression is not visibly retarded by them. I fear it cannot be. I fear that when the bulk of a nation is below its institutions, — whether by merely wanting the requisite knowledge, or by being in an immature moral condition, — it is not the intelligence and virtue of a small, despairing, inactive minority that can save it from lapse into barbarism. I fear that the American nation is composed almost entirely of the vast majority who coarsely boast, and the small minority who timidly despair, of the Republic. It appears but too probable that the law of Progression may hold good with regard to the world at large without preventing the retrogression of particular portions of the race. But the American case is not exactly of this kind. I rather take it to be that a few wise men, under solemn and inspiring influences, laid down a loftier political programme than their successors were able to fulfil. If so, there is, whatever disappointment, no retrogression, properly speaking. We supposed the American character and policy to be represented by the chiefs of the revolution, and their Declaration of Independence and republican constitution; and now we find ourselves mistaken in our supposition. It is a disappointment; but we had rather admit a disappointment than have to witness an actual retrogression.
Effacing these national distinctions, in regarding the peoples as the human race, the condition of humanity appears to one who is taking leave of it very hopeful, though as yet exceedingly infantine. It is my deliberate opinion that the one essential requisite of human welfare in all ways is scientific knowledge of human nature. It is my belief that we can in no way but by sound knowledge of Man learn, fully and truly, any thing else; and that it is only when glimpses of that knowledge were opened, — however scantily and obscurely, — that men have effectually learned any thing else. I believe that this science is fairly initiated; and it follows of course that I anticipate for the race amelioration and progression at a perpetually accelerated rate. Attention is fully fixed now on the nature and mode of development of the human being; and the key to his mental and moral organisation is found. The old scoff of divines against philosophers must now soon be dropped, — the reproach that they have made no advance for a thousand years; — that there were philosophers preaching two thousand years ago, who have hardly a disciple at this day. In a little while this can never more be said; nor could it be said now by any one who understood the minds of the people among whom he lives. The glorious aims and spirit of philosophy have wrought for good in every age since those ancient sages lived; and the name and image of each is the morning star of the day in which each lived. In this way were the old philosophers truly our masters; and they may yet claim, in a future age, the discipleship of the whole human race. But to them scientific fact was wanting: by them it was unattainable. Their aim and their spirit have led recent generations to the discovery of the element wanting, — the scientific fact; and, now that is done, the progression of philosophy is secure. The philosophy of human nature is placed on a scientific basis; and it, and all other departments of philosophy, (for all depend mainly on this one) are already springing forward so as to be wholly incomparable with those of a thousand years ago. There is no need to retort the scoff of divines, as facts are against them. There is no need to inquire of them what is the state of Christianity at the end of 1800 years, nor what it has done in regenerating human nature, and establishing peace on earth and goodwill among men, according to its promise. Leaving divines on one side, as professionally disqualified for judging of the function and prospects of philosophy, and looking at the matter in a speculative, and not an antagonistic way, I should say that the time cannot be far off when, throughout the civilised world, theology must go out before the light of philosophy. As to the fact, the civilised world is now nearly divided between gross Latin or Greek catholicism and disbelief of Christianity in any form. Protestantism seems to be going out as fast as possible. In Germany the Christian faith is confessedly extinct; and in France it is not far otherwise. The Lutheranism of Sweden is, in its effects, precisely like the catholicism of Spain or Italy, and will issue in “infidelity” in the one country as surely as in the others. In England, the lamentations of the religious world, and the disclosures of the recent Census, show how even outward adhesion to Christianity is on the decline: and if they did not, the chaotic state of religious opinion would indicate the fact no less reliably. In America we see Protestantism run wild, — each man being his own creed-maker; and the result, — a seeking erelong for something true and stable, — is secure. — Not only is such the state of the civilised world, but it must be so. Precisely in proportion to Man’s ignorance of his own nature, as well as of other things, is the tendency of his imagination to inform the outward world with his own consciousness. The fetish worshipper attributes a consciousness like his own to every thing about him; the imputation becomes more select and rare through every rising grade of theology, till the Christian makes his reflex of himself invisible and intangible, or, as he says, “spiritual.” His God is an invisible idol, fading away into a faint abstraction, exactly according to the enlightenment of the worshipper, till he who does justice to his own faculties gives up the human attributes, and the personality of that First Cause which the form of his intellect requires him to suppose, and is called an atheist by the idolaters he has left behind him. By the verification and spread of the science of human nature, the conflict which has hitherto attended such attainment as this will be spared to our successors. When scientific facts are established, and self-evident truths are brought out of them, there is an end of conflict; — or it passes on to administer discipline to adventurers in fresh fields of knowledge. About this matter, of the extinction of theology by a true science of human nature, I cannot but say that my expectation amounts to absolute assurance; and that I believe that the worst of the conflict is over. I am confident that a bright day is coming for future generations. Our race has been as Adam created at nightfall. The solid earth has been but dark, or dimly visible, while the eye was inevitably drawn to the mysterious heavens above. There, the successive mythologies have arisen in the east, each a constellation of truths, each glorious and fervently worshipped in its course; but the last and noblest, the Christian, is now not only sinking to the horizon, but paling in the dawn of a brighter time. The dawn is unmistakable; and the sun will not be long in coming up. The last of the mythologies is about to vanish before the flood of a brighter light.
With the last of the mythologies will pass away, after some lingering, the immoralities which have attended all mythologies. Now, while the state of our race is such as to need all our mutual devotedness, all our aspiration, all our resources of courage, hope, faith and good cheer, the disciples of the Christian creed and morality are called upon, day by day, to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling,” and so forth. Such exhortations are too low for even the wavering mood and quacked morality of a time of theological suspense and uncertainty. In the extinction of that suspense, and the discrediting of that selfish quackery, I see the prospect, for future generations, of a purer and loftier virtue, and a truer and sweeter heroism than divines who preach such self-seeking can conceive of. When our race is trained in the morality which belongs to ascertained truth, all “fear and trembling” will be left to children; and men will have risen to a capacity for higher work than saving themselves, — to that of “working out” the welfare of their race, not in “fear and trembling,” but with serene hope and joyful assurance.
The world as it is is growing somewhat dim before my eyes; but the world as it is to be looks brighter every day.