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WOMANHOOD. - Harriet Martineau, Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, vol. 2 and Memorials of Harriet Martineau 
Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography and Memorials of Harriet Martineau, ed. Maria Weston Chapman (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1877). 2 vols. Vol. 2.
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At the age of nearly seventeen Harriet Martineau’s school life closed. It had been very favorable to the development of her powers. It had strongly ministered to her affections, hitherto so painfully repressed, awakened the faculty of admiration, and stimulated her imagination by glimpses of a beauty in nature and a power in art till then but imperfectly felt.
It is impossible, indeed, to look down on Bristol from Brandon Hill, and watch the creeping gold that catches spire and tower as the mist gives way beneath the morning sun, till St. Stephen’s, St. Mary Redcliffe, and many another precious remnant of antiquity shine out from the belt of trees and bristling masts, without feeling how it was that here the deeper spell of poetry should have been fully opened to a mind already awakened to its marvels and its charm. No wonder that here, about Leigh Woods, King’s-Weston, and the Downs, she should have been transported, as she has told us, “to a rapture that knew no bounds:” for these are the very “beaked promontories” where Milton made Lycidas the genius of the shore; and when she read the promise “of his large recompense,” it was with a passion so deep that her early friend was haunted by the tone after the lapse of wellnigh forty years.
The circumscriptions of the English Unitarianism of that period were thus met by so strong a counteracting force as to make them an unmingled benefit. She was not, indeed, one that could be imprisoned in the ordinary Sunday-school routine of its Scripture commentaries, Gospel harmonies, sacred geographies, or Biblical lessons; but all these were fused by her active mind to a sort of basis on which her devotional feelings and her poetical conceptions alternately wrought; and where by means of scientific investigation and philosophical study she was continually adding, rejecting, and rectifying as years went on. She was always as diligent and persevering as if she had not possessed quick and brilliant faculties; always accepting at all risks whatever she found to be true.
There was little in the old cathedral city of Norwich, with its narrow, ill-paved, winding streets and uninteresting antiquity, to distract her mind or give variety to her life. It had nothing of the bustling character of the business cities of the North of England. Its very manufacturing celebrity dates from times before the Norman Conquest. These woollen manufactures have since received improvements from age to age, as religious persecution drove hither from France and Flanders the men of thought, skill, and energy, who were the leaders of the spirit of their times. Among them came the French Huguenot ancestor of the English Martineau family; and that name is among those which appear most frequently on the records of the little Protestant church founded at Norwich in 1564, at the instance of the Duke of Norfolk. The crest pertaining to the name is a water-marten.
An engraving of Harriet Martineau’s birthplace is given in this volume. The house was in a court in Magdalen Street, and she was born in the upper bay-room. But it was never her dwelling-place after the time of her removal from it at three months old. It was to her home in Magdalen Street itself that she returned from Bristol, — to the household and family duties, the manly studies, the literary pursuits, and lady-like accomplishments, which she so much enjoyed, as one does the things in which one greatly excels.
The prevailing tone of mind in England at the beginning of the present century was far more opposed than in the United States to the education of women. Public opinion on that subject had, in fact, gone backward since the times when the daughters of families assumed to be “the best” studied with their brothers the learned languages in which knowledge was then locked up; while it has been true of New England, as it still continues to be, that, among its inhabitants generally, the women possessed more literary culture than the men. Hence the idea of a professional career for women who desire it meets with so little comparative opposition here. In Miss Martineau’s youth, to say of a lady in England that she was a learned woman, was to convey a disparaging meaning; while to say in New England, in its old-fashioned phrase, “She has good learning,” was to express something greatly to her credit. I well remember the London tone of 1825 on this subject. It was the echo of twenty years before, when Matt Lewis took his mother to task for writing a novel, enjoining on her “whatever might be its merits, even if she had already made a bargain with the publisher, to break it; for he held that a woman had no business to be a public character, and that in proportion as she acquires notoriety she loses delicacy;” he “always considering a female author as a sort of half-man.” It was this feeling in the moral atmosphere that made Mrs. Martineau, naturally ambitious of social success and distinction for her daughter, direct that her serious studies should be carried on out of sight and with reserve, putting the music, fancy-work, and French, German, and Italian literature in the foreground, till the time when the pecuniary misfortunes of the family absolved its daughters from this obligation and left them free to fulfil a better work for society than obedience to its injurious whimseys. Much power now begins to be saved among women on both sides of the Atlantic that seventy years ago was wasted (and worse than wasted) by concealment and the disadvantage of indirect exercise. To no one of the intervening period is this so greatly owing as to Harriet Martineau. Her life tells upon her own and after times with a power quite unexampled, because it was a life not only true and noble, but irreproachable.
Meanwhile, obedience and humility (too much of both, had they not been prompted by filial affection and occasionally abated by good sense) continued to mark her character as in her earliest years. Her tendencies continued as strongly religious, and the intellectual preponderance to be more strikingly marked than ever. She was more favourably situated in her own family than young ladies in general, for the cultivation of her mental powers; for her mother’s fine sense, and strong consciousness of the hidden man in her own heart, were on the right side. So was the feeling of the brothers who encouraged her first literary efforts. “Go on and prosper, dear!” says the beloved eldest brother, Thomas, writing from Madeira, after receiving her first work, “Devotional Exercises;” “you are engaged in pursuits that bring with them true pleasure, and confer real advantage; may you be abundantly rewarded.” This was great encouragement to one so sensitive and self-distrusting, and encouragement was what her nature especially needed. He had already determined her career by the manner in which he received her first article in the “Monthly Repository.” “My dear, leave it to other women to make shirts and darn stockings, and do you give yourself to this.” I do not believe she ever forgot a single one of the rare words of family appreciation she received; and I have heard her relate with much feeling the effect produced on her mind by an encouraging word from her mother, when, at ten years old, she sat trying to learn to sew, under the heart-sinking apprehension that she should never succeed. She stood with her face to the window to hide her tears, as the needle squeaked through the dingy gusset she was stitching, her sister Rachel at play with a visitor, and Harriet longing to join. Her mother entered the room with her eldest sister, both dressed for making visits, and approaching the suffering, stitching, striving child, said cheerfully, as she examined the work, “Why, Harriet! if you go on in this way, you will soon be the best needlewoman of us all.” She always described the revulsion of feeling consequent on this expression of maternal satisfaction as a ray of light and life; and she dated from it her success in all those little feminine handicrafts which then went by the name of “fancy-work,” in which she so greatly delighted and excelled.
I should have related this recollection at an earlier period, but it matters the less, that her childhood was womanly and thoughtful. She herself says, “I had no spring.” I never, indeed, met one like her for wholeness of character through life. She always seemed to me to have been, so to say, of one piece. It was in part the secret of her great educational power. She not only remembered the feelings of her own childhood, but felt them over again, through life. “Why did they dress us so ill?” she once said, in talking over the griefs of childhood. “It has a dreadfully depressing influence, when it is a thing that can as well as not be helped.”
I have never been able to find the essay, “On Female Writers on Practical Divinity,” in which Dr. Thomas Martineau saw the promise of her future greatness, and which her mature judgment treats with so much contempt. The title indicates the turn of her thoughts at that time. With her fervent religious feelings, there was a moment, at this period, such as sends a grifted young Catholic devotee to the cloister to be a lady abbess, and bids a young man of similar genius become a bishop. One of her early and most beloved friends recollects the great regret she expressed at the marriage of a young lady, the friend of both, “because it would deprive her of larger opportunities of usefulness to the world.” This idea seems to have had but a momentary existence. It was one of the visions of eighteen.
In searching for her earlier writings I have no difficulty in finding the little book of Addresses which she valued on account of the pleasure it gave her father,* and for that alone in after years. Very recently friends of hers have expressed to me their astonishment that she should since have entirely forgotten the book of which edition after edition passed the press, not only in England, but in America. The wonder, however, would have been had she remembered it; for the form is wholly traditional, and the devotional sentiment, true and beautiful as it is, would necessarily be lost in the first influx of original thought and deeper feeling that accompany the real life. But many go no further in experience than this book; and to all that thus stop living at the threshold it will supply a want.
The book which preceded this — “Devotional Exercises” — is admirably compiled, in conformity, as she says in the Preface, with “the prayers I have been accustomed to form under the guidance of able teachers for my own use;” and it differs from the customary tone of Unitarian teachings only in a more poetical way of presenting them, and in a certain perfume of orthodoxy inseparable from her greater use of Scripture phraseology. The book is, in fact, a digest of favourite passages from the Bible poets, prophets, and apostles, cemented together by expressions which show that her fervent spirit had found prayer “under guidance” too dry a task. It is the effort of a superior mind to lift its religion out of the region of commonplace. “Being yet young,” she says (the date is 1823), “I have a vivid remembrance of the ideas and feelings which in early youth I found to be most impressive, and to excite the most powerful emotions, and which are by no means the same ideas and feelings which produce these effects at a more advanced age. Possessing these remembrances, I must believe that the young are best fitted to write for the young in most cases where the feelings and affections are concerned; and therefore I have written down the thoughts which used to present themselves in a natural train of reflection.” To the young, forty is old age; and she thought the absence of warmth which Evangelical Christians always complain of in Unitarianism, the consequence of the advanced years of its advocates. She determined, by pouring in her own glow of heart, to make the dry bones live; and not without success, as the call for the book attests. Its feeling is genuine, and the occasional escape from the traditional form is very touching; as, for example, when, after condemning those who are wholly engrossed in the care of their own happiness, she says: “O, surely the spirit of love is the noblest and best that can dwell in the human heart! it is a portion of God’s own spirit! it is the mind which was in Christ Jesus! O noble example of this glorious virtue! let that mind be in me also! May thy labours, thy sufferings, thy strivings to promote the good of all, not be lost upon me! May they animate me to follow in thy steps, to press forward to the goal which thou hast reached, like thee seeking no reward.” There is also a very beautiful and eloquent passage respecting “those lofty and sublime affections which can find no fit object on earth; that adoration of perfection, that aspiring after something nobler and better than is to be found among men.” Thus her heart and mind wrought together on the threshold of life. She was soon to seize the true purpose of these affections and aspirations; and once having clearly perceived it, the strenuous constancy of her endeavours to create among men the goodness and the nobleness she found wanting was something astonishing in its efficacy.
Her remarkable self-control had nothing of that divine hardness the ancients tell of, that makes invulnerable by pain. She was quiet and silent about her own distresses, for the sake of others, not that she might have the credit of appearing happy or unmoved, but that she might avoid giving them annoyance. This exposed her to the misconstructions of superficial observers. They called her unloving and unfeeling at the very moment when greater warmth and depth on their own part would have enabled them to fathom the reality; just as they pronounced her hard whenever her yielding and tender nature, like water suddenly struck, made one effort to maintain itself against the blow. And, although in affliction she was so nearly able to appear unmoved, I never knew her to pass a day without that frequent swell of unshed tears from which the sympathetic observer never failed to learn what she felt. An instance of devotedness or endurance, a tale of suffering or of wrong, a touching verse or song, a trait of the moral sublime, always show us in her eyes no idle tears; all that know her, know what they mean.
These years of her early womanhood, full as they were of grief, anxiety, and laborious preparation, had yet the comfort of an increasing maternal sympathy and appreciation. Her mother’s character was directly opposed to her own, in not being strong enough on the side of the imagination for the exercise of sympathy, except, so to speak, in a straight line on her own level. Her daughter, having now grown up to that line and level, came within the field of her affections.
I regret inexpressibly that Miss Martineau’s long journalizing letters of this period cannot, in consistency with her introductory principle, be made public.* With but few exceptions, such confidential family letters must needs contain too much that is common property to admit of their being printed. But one cannot help wishing this whole collection came within the terms she has laid down. Every letter is full of charm and instruction in various ways, as well as finely illustrative. So far as she is concerned, they might all go to the press as they stand, without a word of omission. They show, not the hidden springs of life, but the severely beautiful life itself. There are all the occupations of each day of absence from her mother, whether at London and vicinity, Newcastle, or Norwich; the failures and successes of each fresh effort for a maintenance, or endeavour after excellence; the little plans for making each member of the family happy in his or her own way; the kindly thought for the servants; the anxious solicitude to please and satisfy all; the passionate devotion to the young sister, to whom she was mother, sister, and teacher in one; the ever-new contrivances by which to increase her income and economize her expenditure; the consultations about the shawl or bonnet, which, by good management, she might continue to wear another year; and the presents by which she hoped to surprise and please the children, — all are charming in their simplicity, and from the absorbing family feeling that dictates the record.
Profoundly affecting is the controlled agony of the letter that tries to tell how her lover died, so as not to awaken anxiety for herself in the heart of her mother. Very touching are the occasional allusions to attentions and commendations of her works received from those whose opinions she respected; “because, my dear mother, it is your right to know, or I could not be so vain as to mention such things.” She never fails to notice with disgust any thing like flattery. She had already become a competent critic by means of the “Monthly Repository” and its editor, Mr. Fox, and uses her newly acquired power on her own productions; saying, “they praise this too much, but not so egregiously as the other,” with a love of justice entirely above personal considerations.
Here, too, are occasional gleams of Unitarian satisfaction or discomfort, as the case might be. She loved Unitarianism as the faith of her own family, without having so closely analyzed it as to have ascertained in it any want of essential stability, and she identified herself with it, without having assimilated it. Its high standard of morality was very dear to her, and stood instead of much that she missed. “Mr. —,” she says, “has been guilty of a forgery. What a disgrace to us!” Such and such writings, she goes on to say, “are a credit to us Unitarians.” Copies of the last poems she had written occasionally help to fill the enormous letters of those days, — the shilling sheet of unlimited size before the discovery of penny postage.
One of these poems, written for music, and afterwards set and admired, may have a place here, because, apart from the music, it has never been printed before.
Another of these little poems seems never to have been printed. It was written in 1822.
Her poetry (all of it at least that I have been able to collect) is very correct and flowing, but, like most early versification, entirely imitative in its form. No one could infer from it what she afterwards became. It is the voice of one who, in the vision of the poets, has drunk of the first pool, and heard the first bidding, “Be holy and cold!” She was to drink, long afterwards, of all, — world’s use, world’s love, world’s cruelty,* — that she might fitly lead, not chant, the world’s great battle-march against wrong.
She thought it singular, on revisiting in after life the large, plain, comfortable house where these and the succeeding years were passed, that it should have been the spot where her imagination wrought most strongly. Yet, notwithstanding the absence of outward stimulants, this does not seem otherwise than natural, in the circumstances of her greatly increasing deafness, and the severity of her sufferings from what one cannot help seeing to have been a most wearing degree of friction in the family life. Less sensibility, less filial piety, or more experience would have neutralized this last source of pain; but experience it is impossible to have at these years; and she preserved her best feelings unimpaired, by taking refuge in the world of dreams when the world of letters and of actual life became too severe a trial to her slender stock of health. It was the natural sanctuary of a mind too large for its circumstances. It was not an aimless, diseased wandering of the fancy, as she seems to have supposed in those days, but a state of renovating aspiration and high resolution which greatly aided in overcoming all obstacles, particularly those her deafness threw in her way.
Her course with regard to this great trial was the same she always pursued in all cases of trial and suffering. Though she often wrote of it, she never made it a subject of conversation. She was silent respecting it with intimate and family friends, to whom talking of it might prove a source of affliction and misunderstanding, — till such a time as she might seek the alleviation of that not too painful sympathy which the world at large never fails to give to them that use their own sufferings as a means of ministering to its relief. During the whole course of our intimate friendship and correspondence she never once mentioned to me what, with her career, duties, and aspirations, could not have been any thing less than a continual pressure of heavy calamity. I have reason to think that the simple and affecting statement in a preceding volume as to the labour of living a life of undiminished usefulness under such a deprivation will be a revelation to most of her friends.*
The peculiar anxieties and responsibilities of womanhood were now at hand. It is not for me to do more than mark this as the heart-wearing period of long uncertainty which preceded her engagement with Mr. W —; of the loss of property that involved a change in all her parents’ hopes and prospects for their daughters; of the death of her dear elder brother and his infant child; the death of her father; the death of her lover, in the moment of happy union of heart; and, heaviest blows of all, coming as they did from a quarter which should have given only sympathy and furtherance, the evil offices which, by creating delay and misunderstanding, contributed to his death. They who had the privilege of being her personal friends during these terrible hours have told me that her demeanour was nobly calm and composed; but she seems, notwithstanding, to have been still, from time to time, beset by the idea that suffering necessarily proves something blameworthy in the sufferer.
is always the thought of the heart that has been tormented by fault-finding, whether with itself or with human nature. This superstition is one of the most difficult to be eradicated, because it springs out of the deep and real grounds whence come our best intimations for the government of life.
These were times of terrible toil as well as of terrible sorrow. Besides the labours performed for discipline, preparation, and maintenance, what she wrote in one year, 1826 - 7, under the influence of thoughts and feelings that would be expressed, an imagination too active to keep silence, a high sense of duty, and some stirrings of ambition, would amount to volumes. I will hereafter give a list of their subjects; and now need mention but one, — a little tale called “The Rioters,” which was the true precursor of the coming fame. Of her other stories of this period none strikes me so much as the one called, I think, “Mary and her Grandmother.” I found it in the Mansarde of a Paris friend, and stood reading on the spot where I took it up, without the least idea of its authorship. It seemed a Sunday-school book, but how different from its class in general! It was crude and strange in a sense, and impressed one, as so many of her after works have done, as a plant that has outgrown its bed; but the sacred fire was there. She did not, however, remember it, and thought it could not have been written by herself; still I was assured of the authorship by those whom I might suppose to know. It was beginning to be a work of experience. “Five Years of Youth,” written some time afterwards, leaves the same impression. But “The Rioters” leaves no impression of inequality or discrepancy on the mind. It came home to the business and bosoms of the lace-makers of Derby and Nottingham with so much power that they instantly put themselves in communication with Miss Martineau, requesting a second story on Wages. These tales are remarkable, not only for their deep political insight and even-handed humanity; not only as coming from one of her youth and sex, on subjects hitherto thought the special province of elderly members of Parliament; not merely as able illustrations of political economy. They are the first examples of a new application of the modern novel. To the biographical and the philosophical novel, the descriptive and the historical novel, the romantic and the domestic novel, the fashionable and the religious novel, and the novel of society, was now to be added the humanitarian or novel of social reform. These tales are the pioneers, not only of the thirty-four monthly volumes of her illustrations of political economy, but of the multitudes of social-reform novels that have since followed, up to the time of Mrs. Gaskell and Mrs. Stowe.
Among the papers of the time immediately succeeding I find many that more perfectly illustrate Harriet Martineau’s nature and character than could possibly be done by any recollections of hers or any statements of mine. Written without any thought that they could possibly meet the public eye, we have in them the actual reflection of what she then was; and they differ from autobiography and from narrative, as the object from the picture, as life itself from the story of a life.
First in the order of time is the following paper, written at Norwich, and dated June, 1829: —
For some years past my attention has been more and more directed towards literary pursuits; and, if I mistake not, my capacity for their successful prosecution has increased, so that I have now fair encouragement to devote myself to them more diligently than ever. After long and mature deliberation, I have determined that my chief subordinate object in life shall henceforth be the cultivation of my intellectual powers, with a view to the instruction of others by my writings. On this determination I pray for the blessing of God.
I wish to hold myself prepared to relinquish this purpose, should any decided call of duty interfere; but I pray that no indolence or caprice in myself, no discouragement or ill-grounded opposition from others, may prevail on me to relinquish a resolution which I now believe to be rational, and compatible with the highest desire of a Christian.
I am now just twenty-seven years of age. It is my wish to ascertain (should life and health be spared) how much may be accomplished by diligent but temperate exertion in pursuit of this object for ten years.
I believe myself possessed of no uncommon talents, and of not an atom of genius; but as various circumstances have led me to think more accurately and read more extensively than some women, I believe that I may so write on subjects of universal concern as to inform some minds and stir up others. My aim is to become a forcible and elegant writer on religious and moral subjects, so as to be useful to refined as well as unenlightened minds. But, as I see how much remains to be done before this aim can be attained, I wish to be content with a much lower degree of usefulness, should the Father of my spirit see fit to set narrow bounds to my exertions. Of posthumous fame I have not the slightest expectation or desire. To be useful in my day and generation is enough for me. To this I henceforth devote myself, and desire to keep in mind the following rules. (A frequent reference to them is necessary.)
I. To improve my moral constitution by every means; to cultivate my moral sense; to keep ever in view the subordination of intellectual to moral objects; by the practice of piety and benevolence, by entertaining the freedom and cheerfulness of spirit which results from dependence on God, to promote the perfection of the intellectual powers.
II. To seek the assistance of God in my intellectual exertions, and his blessing on their results.
III. To impart full confidence to my family respecting my pursuits, but to be careful not to weary them with too frequent a reference to myself; and to be as nearly as possible silent on the subject to all the world besides.
IV. To study diligently, 1. The Scriptures, good commentators, works of religious philosophy and practice, — for moral improvement; 2. Mental philosophy, — for intellectual improvement; 3. Natural philosophy and natural history, languages and history, — for improvement in knowledge; 4. Criticism, belles-lettres, and poetry, — for improvement in style. Each in turn, and something every day.
V. While I have my intellectual improvement ever in view, to dismiss from my thoughts the particular subject on which I have written in the morning for the rest of the day, i. e. to be temperate in my attention to an object.
VI. By early rising, and all due economy of time, and especially by a careful government of the thoughts, to employ my life to better purpose than heretofore.
VII. To exalt, enlarge, and refresh my mind by social intercourse, observation of external nature, of the fine arts, and of the varieties of human life.
VIII. To bear in mind that as my determination is deliberately formed and now allowed to be rational, disappointments should not be lightly permitted to relax my exertions. If my object is conscientiously adopted, mortifications of vanity should prove stimulants, rather than discouragements. The same consideration should induce patience under painful labour, delay, and disappointment, and guard me against heat and precipitation.
IX. To consider my own interests as little as possible, and to write with a view to the good of others; therefore to entertain no distaste to the humblest literary task which affords a prospect of usefulness.
X. Should my exertions ultimately prove fruitless, to preserve my cheerfulness, remembering that God only knows how his work may be best performed, and that I have no right to expect the privilege of eminent usefulness, though permitted to seek it. Should success be granted, to take no honour to myself, remembering that I possess no original power or intrinsic merit, and that I can receive and accomplish nothing, except it be given me from Heaven.
Such were the sheet-anchors: no wonder the vessel never drifted in any stress of weather. By comparison of dates it must have been these of which she says, “I promised myself that nothing should ever draw me away from them.” I now recall to mind the seal, — a present from her grandmother. It was one then in fashionable and sentimental use, — an evergreen leaf, with the motto, “Je ne change qu’en mourant.” But her friends were often surprised in this way to find that what with others might be a matter of fancy or of course, was with her a thing of solemn significance. I shall often have occasion to tell of such instances. One sees by such a record as this in the early life of such a person, that stability of character is affected by change of “views” exactly as the dropping of the bark affects the tree.
After reading these ten resolutions, no one would fear to predict admirable results. One of the first was the “Traditions of Palestine.” The title and the treatment of the stories indicated a more than Unitarian severance from authority. This was more felt in America than in England; and in the Boston reprint, the beautiful title was changed to fit the new meridian. The same self-constituted editor had caused the latest edition of the “Devotional Exercises” to be republished, with an apology on his own part for an able additional essay on the study of the Scriptures, “where in one or two instances the writer may be thought to have expressed herself incautiously.” The American Unitarian public knows the “Traditions of Palestine” under the name of “Times of the Saviour.” The “poetical expressions,” as the editor called some of the beauties of the book, are cut out, and the whole structure of one story spoiled; but it matters little, as the “Traditions” still are continually republished in their original form in England.
It was this book which first brought Miss Martineau fairly before her own Unitarian public. Her studies, tastes, and feelings all combined to make it interesting, and it still gives great delight to all, especially to those whose interest in the Scriptures has been impaired by injudicious methods of reading. It is a successful effort to give actuality to the past, — to make her imagination the ally of the unimaginative faith into which she was born.
But whoever desires to watch the progress of her mind and the effect of her literary education should read the fifty-five miscellaneous papers of this year. I will mention one especially, — the review of the Essays of Bailey, of Sheffield, on the Pursuit of Truth, Progress of Knowledge, and Principle of Evidence, — because it was the one which more than any other showed to Mr. Fox, then editor of the “Monthly Repository,” her value as a contributor, and made him predict that she would “be one of the first of the age by and by.” It was the old (and in her latest, mature judgment, unsound) argument against Hume’s treatment of the miracles. At that time, however, it was not only new to her, but mainly original, being wrought out by her own mind; and she gave me an account of the circumstances under which she wrote it. It was in June, before the Municipal Reform Bill, so that the old Norwich Mayor’s feast was still in existence, — the guild feast, — a dinner in St. Andrew’s Hall, to about six hundred gentry of the county and city, with a ball at the assembly-rooms. “I was never,” she said, “at one of those dinners, nor wished to be. I regularly avoided them. On that occasion all the family were absent from Norwich but brother Henry, Rachel, and myself. They went: I stayed at home, to their great amazement, to write my review. It was a convenience, because the servants always expected to go out and see the shows of the day. So I dressed Rachel, and saw them off in their hackney-coach before four o’clock; had the tea-things set out on the sideboard and the kettle filled in the kitchen, sent out the servants, locked the doors, and wrote. When the servants returned at ten, they set cold meat and bread on the sideboard, and I sent them to bed and sat down again. I remember that the time seemed but five minutes, till I was startled by the ring of the door-bell. I opened it, and lo! it was daylight, between three and four. Rachel was weary and out of curl, and I was as fresh as twelve hours before. That review did more for me with Mr. Fox than any one article, and he did not think it so unsound as he doubtless does now. But the thing which makes me so vividly remember this day was the miraculous passage of twelve hours, and especially of the last five. I doubt whether I have ever since experienced such absorption in work, though I have made a similar stretch more than once. The mere work will appear nothing remarkable to you, but the experience was really so to me.”
This “mere work,” which she supposed would appear so little remarkable to me, may be found in the American edition of her Miscellanies, Vol. II. p. 174, through twenty pages onwards, — a train of close, steady, and condensed thought on philosophical necessity, the limitations of human testimony, causation, possibility and probability, and the various abstruse considerations involved in a treatise on the Principle of Evidence. The limitations of her field of thought at this time are plainly indicated, but the vigor of her thinking faculties is very strikingly demonstrated. The exercise of them in this way was her true vocation; and she says, in a letter to her mother, written at this time, “Writing is a more delightful employment to me than ever, and I could sit all day at it.” There were periods, about this time, when, after writing ten hours a day for six weeks, she says, “Never be uneasy, dear mother, about my writing so much. It is impossible to give you an idea of the increasing facility and delight which come with practice. It is the purest delight to me, when there is a fair prospect of usefulness; and it is easier than the mere manual act once was. How I once marvelled at the manufacture of a volume! Now I wonder that those who once write do not always write.”
It is worthy of notice that even in these early writings there is that strong grasp of facts, and correctness in drawing inferences from them, which want of opportunity for study and observation makes uncommon in the works of women. From the beginning, Harriet Martineau’s anonymous writings have always been attributed to a man; her industry, judgment, and insight went so far to supply the want of what men learn in the university and the market-place.
What are the elements of that strange gift of influence that some human beings possess in addition to all their other gifts? I notice about this period the first instance of the great power possessed by Miss Martineau to lead and control human affairs, sometimes without the thought or purpose of doing so, — an article on India, which occasioned a sermon on Indian abuses, and a consequent investment in East India stock, to enable the holder to influence the Company’s doings by his vote. Yet these were the times in England when so many prejudices existed against women’s thinking and acting in conformity to their natural endowments, that on the publication of the “Traditions of Palestine,” Miss Martineau, in writing to Norwich about advertising it there, felt the necessity of breaking it to her mother. It was ever a peculiarity of Harriet Martineau’s writings that their reality operated as a personal introduction to her readers. The first thought was, “She will know exactly how we feel and be able to tell us exactly what we wish to know and what we ought to do.” The second was, “What is she like? how does she look? I must see and know her.”
She is described at this period of her young ladyhood as plain and unattractive in appearance, and many of her own pleasantries in conversation confirm it. She was pale and thin, rather above the ordinary height, with abundant dark brown hair. “I never had but one civil speech about my looks,” she used to say, “and that was a compliment to my hair. As a child, I used to take the matter into consideration. ‘What did I take myself to be?’ Not pretty, certainly. But was it a hopeless matter altogether? The chin was not bad (advancing and retreating before the glass), it had rather a nice point, I fancied. But at fifteen a saucy speech of a satirical cousin — ‘How ugly all my mother’s daughters were, Harriet in particular’ — settled the question for me. I never doubted my ugliness after that. I tried to think I danced well, and my feet did go well enough. But I was too weak to be a good dancer, and all my complacency in dancing was destroyed on being told by my sister (an admirable dancer herself) of a quizzing clergyman who got behind me and imitated me till every body laughed.”
She was herself very serious in these days of humiliation; like the ugly duckling, so superior in nature to those about her, that, judging in the only way possible to them, — by comparison, — their self-love looked down contemptuously upon the future swan. Colonel Radice, an Italian of the emigration of 1822, a favourite with her mother, said of her at the age of twenty, in his foreign English, “James [her brother] lauch [laughs] seldom; Henriette lauch never.” Of this brother Colonel Radice remarked, “Henriette is always his defendart.”
By and by the weight of Norwich began to lift. Occasional visits to Newcastle, London, and its neighbourhood showed her what provincial opinion is worth. As appreciation gave her more freedom, and more freedom made her more and more appreciated, the singularly attaching quality of her character was constantly made manifest. Especially did persons possessing any superiority of ability become strongly interested in her. She was, during these years, more than a great general favourite: she was also held in admiring respect by the most remarkable persons in the society she met. Ladies of great musical genius, elderly gentlemen of business, the clerical, the legal, the literary, the learned, all became in their several ways what is called romantically attached to her: they felt, to wit, without analyzing the causes, the comprehensiveness of her intellect and the power of her sympathy. All that they were she could have been in a greater degree.
In estimating her powers at this time, one should think not so much of what is commonly considered literary and critical ability, as the quality and depth of thought that measures human life aright; and one finds the means for making such an estimate in her remarks on biography, written at the age of twenty-seven.
“And yet, in no department of literature, perhaps, is there so much imperfection; in none so much error and deception. The causes of this imperfection are so obvious, and so many curious discoveries have been made here and there, that a pretty general distrust of the fidelity of biographers now exists; and few but children and the wilfully credulous now believe all that is told them of the great and good and wonderful people whom they long to resemble. This distrust, however unavoidable, has a very demoralizing effect; and it is worth a serious inquiry whether there is any probability, or at least whether there is not a possibility, of its being removed. . . . .
“Have we ever met with a representation of character supported by facts at all approaching in fairness to those discussions of the characters of our friends which are held in conversation while they are alive and active? For ourselves we can answer, never. In the longest and most fair-seeming narrative of a life we have always found something deficient, something unsatisfactory, something which we cannot reconcile, or which it is impossible to believe. Much as we grieve, we do not wonder at this, for we see where the difficulties lie; and these difficulties are so various and so nearly insuperable, that we consider the position of a conscientious biographer one of the most perplexing that can be conceived. Did he know intimately the character he is going to describe? If he did, how can he bring himself to notice the weakness, the follies, the peculiarities, which he desires should be forgotten in the grave, and which, to the eye of friendship, have already faded away into shades too slight to be caught ere they vanish? If he did not know him, how is he qualified for the task he has undertaken? Did he love the departed? If he did, can he form an impartial estimate of his virtues? If not, how came he by the knowledge of those finer qualities of soul which can only be revealed to a kindred soul, and which yet must not be omitted in a delineation of the mind? It is obvious that no delineation of the mind can be complete. The obstacles are too many and too great. But true philosophy can argue from things that are known to those which are not known; and here we have a method by which we may surmount many difficulties. For this purpose, the facts with which we are furnished must be true, the details faithful, the materials of unquestionable originality. If we cannot have the whole truth, we ought to be told nothing but the truth; and if this rule be observed (as in common fairness it ought), we will contrive to make out for ourselves whatever it is of material consequence to ascertain. But can we ever feel entirely satisfied of the fidelity of the meagre relations which are afforded us? Alas! in very few cases; but in a few we may. How do we know, how do we distinguish such cases from the many? By the presence of a simplicity which carries conviction with it; by an impress of truth which cannot be counterfeited; by a verisimilitude analogous to that by which we are enabled to pronounce on the resemblance of a portrait without having seen the original. Where are we to look for such? Not in volumes of panegyric which assume the form of narrative. Not in quartos whose chapters contain one fact enveloped in a multitude of observations, where the author forgets his subject while striving to immortalize himself. Not among the equivocations of timid friendship, or the mysterious insinuations of a writer who sports with the interest of his readers, and seems proud of knowing more than he chooses to tell.”
This remained her permanent judgment; as one may learn by reference to the Preface of her “Biographical Sketches” in 1869, forty years later, when expressing her satisfaction at the extensive appreciation which had attended her endeavours to discharge a biographer’s duty, — a satisfaction greater than any literary success can yield; for this appreciation was to her an assurance that the deliberate judgment of society pronounces for an ethical standard of character in the first place, and in the next for fidelity to that standard.
Early and late, she thought men’s characters a more important possession than any thing they could do. More than their deeds is what they were, and how they came to be what they were.
She by no means absolved a biographer from presenting the whole truth because it was unacceptable or painful. “It is high time that some one should set an example of intrepid fidelity.” Later she confirms this; and, remarking the confusion of thought and the unchastened feelings which occasion so many readers to misapprehend altogether the purpose and character of biography, she asks if readers do not feel that there is no right way but to tell, in the spirit of justice, the whole truth about the characters of persons important enough to have their lives publicly treated at all.
And now, after so much toil and conscientious preparation, as laid down in the resolutions; after having written in the course of it the matter of at least half a dozen octavo volumes, with fancy-work, needful needle-work, and German literature crowded deep into the night, the way seemed to be opening to a successful literary career, when the very next month brought the failure of the Norwich manufacturing house of which her father had been formerly the head.
She has told how her hopes were disappointed; but how she bore the disappointment the following letter tells better. She writes thus to her mother, absent at Birmingham:—
Norwich, July 5, 1829.
My dearest Mother,—
I am glad that our good friend Mr. Hutton goes straight to Birmingham, that we may make him the bearer of some comfort to you. He will tell you that we are well and cheerful, and I am sure we shall be yet more so when we have heard of you. This is our great anxiety at present, and we can scarcely turn our thoughts to the future, till we know how you have borne what is past. It must, indeed, be a very heavy blow to you; and all other considerations, we find, shrink to nothing compared to this. I wish it were possible to transfer to you all the comfort we derive from the circumstances which are happening every hour; but I am afraid there are no means of assuring you, till you come home to witness it, how manifold are the consolations which arise from the respect and kindness of friends. Still, there are better consolations than this, and you possess them; and if it will gratify you to hear it from your children, I have pleasure in expressing what we all feel, that if we should be found able to go through this trial better than some, it is to you chiefly that we owe it. We have by you been trained to habits of industry and economy, which will now prove our best wealth. We may thank God that, instead of wealth, he has given us more durable blessings, various and abundant. Our best comfort, dearest mother, will be to hear from you. I am sure fresh trials inspire fresh love, and in this belief I sign myself more than ever your dutiful and affectionate.
Your letter has just arrived. What a blessing it is to us! Our greatest anxiety is now at an end.
Mrs. Martineau having decided that her daughter’s hopes of a literary career should be crushed, the daughter wrote thus. Talking over with old friends this obedience of hers (this “going back with them and being subjected unto them”), one of them said, “How could she be so foolish?” “Nevertheless,” replied the other, “it was Christlike.”
The following letter is the story of that time, told at that time:—
Stamford Hill, January 22, 1830.
My dear Mother,—
I received your letter yesterday, and the purpose of my answering it already is to prevent —’s having the trouble of writing. He knows how I like hearing from him, but his time is very fully occupied, and I shall be glad to save him trouble. I have read yours to my dear aunt, who has been my confidante in the business, and we agree in seeing that there is not a shadow of doubt as to what I am to do. We chiefly regret that such painful feelings should have been excited, where my sole intention was to offer a confidence which is your due. I could not but let you know how entirely my prospects are declared to depend on certain circumstances; but once knowing your wishes, I have no other desire than to comply with them, reserving to myself, however, the liberty of changing my plans when I find my resources fail, as Mr. Fox says they inevitably will, if I remain at a distance from town. There is no periodical work ever sent into the country, and my choice lies between the little stories for Houlston and Darton, and original works, which I have neither capital nor courage to undertake. Mr. Fox is exceedingly sorry that I am obliged to decline the three offers which have been made me, — the Westminster, the larger engagement for the M. R., and Mr. Hill’s assistance. If Mr. Fox can get his work done under his own eye, I cannot expect him to send it to a distance, and he declines doing so. Mr. Hill has asked the essential question, whether I have continual access to the Museum and other libraries, and literary society here; and finding that I live in the country, can do nothing for me, and “Pemberton”* is coming back to me. I must try if Baldwin or somebody else will take it. Mr. Fox will keep his eye upon my interests, and, if anything offers, I shall be sure to have the benefit of it. A better and kinder friend I cannot have; and he shows his kindness in not puffing me up with false hopes. He says £100 or £150 per year is as much as our most successful writers usually make, with all the advantages of town: and I must not expect any such thing except in particularly lucky years. Neither he nor I dreamed of writing to dispel selfish doubts in you, my dear mother, but only to show that my change of views arose from no fancy of my own. When I came, I believed as firmly as you do that my means of subsistence were in my own power at home. Now I see that they will probably not be so; but I am not anxious, while I have any prospect at all of useful employment. I have given up Derby. We see no use in going to Bristol, as there are no literary people but Sydney Smith, who is but a slight acquaintance of Aunt K.’s and has little literary influence, and there I should not have the leisure for writing which I should enjoy at Derby. So, if you please, I will remain here for a few weeks, and make the most of my time and opportunities. My aunt insists on my remaining here, as being near Mr. Fox. One thing more, — I never entertained so preposterous an idea for a moment as that of going alone into lodgings, and must have expressed myself very ill if I led you to think so. It would be positively disreputable. I thought of boarding in a family. So the conclusion of the whole matter is that you will see me in two or three months, quite inclined to be happier at home than any where else, as long as I can maintain myself there in a useful way; but holding the power of seeking employment elsewhere, should my resources fail. I cannot regret (and here my aunt bears me out) having mentioned to you the proposals I have received; but if the manner has caused you pain, I ask your forgiveness, and beg you to forget the matter as speedily as possible. We know well how far you are from being selfish on such occasions, and this consideration made me the more ready to be perfectly open with you. And here I make an end of the subject entirely.
I have been enjoying myself exceedingly since I last wrote, and some very pleasant things have happened. The thing which was more wanting to my peace than any one circumstance besides has been granted me. Albina W —* called on me at Chiswell Street on Monday; and we had a very long and satisfactory explanation of past mysteries, the particulars of which you shall hear when we meet. There is nothing so delightful as coming to a clear understanding in such cases, and a load has been taken off our minds by it. She is a very sensible girl, and talked in a way that I liked very much. She is not in the slightest degree like her brother in countenance, which disappointed me. I think I never before failed to trace a family resemblance. . . . .
My aunt is so pleased with the basket making that she has given me two dozen pieces of braid and cord, satin, — lilac, blue, and pink, — paper, etc. How very kind! I have seen a most beautiful new sort of bag, which I find I can imitate; and I have several orders already in this family, and shall probably make two or three guineas by them. . . . . As I write much and often to you, I am obliged to hurry, which I hope you will pardon.
Farewell. With dear love to all, believe me, dear mother, your very affectionate
This disappointment was a severe one, but it was not in her nature to stay disappointed. The very next day after her return from London she began to prepare for the competition proposed by the Unitarian Association, as a means of obtaining the best effort of the denomination for the promotion of its views among Catholics, Jews, and Mahometans. Instinctively placing herself, with her own belief and opinions, as far as possible in their point of view, and seeking whatever agreement existed, with a courtesy and sympathy rare in theological writings, she avoided controversy, and strove to make Unitarianism an affirmative faith. These essays placed her at the head of the denomination. They are able and complete in all Unitarian learning, and in the clear order and arrangement of the arguments and the appropriateness of the style give proof that she had thoroughly accomplished herself as a writer. In execution they answer exactly to what the French call des travaux admirables et serieux. They are not works of experience, but beautified traditions, such as youthful piety receives unquestioning from the beloved elders, and delights to worship and adorn. One fruit of her own thoughts, however, as well as the heartfelt respect for the right of opinion, is to be seen in them all, — that doctrine of necessity, predestination, election, or by whatever name men call it, whose inconsistency with other parts of Unitarianism seems to have struck neither herself, her judges, nor the denomination at large. The tone and handling of these three subjects are so excellent as to take attention from the anatomy and the perspective. They were immediately translated into French and Spanish, and the Catholic one was circulated on the Continent. Whether or not it made converts there I cannot learn. She herself seems to suppose not. But it certainly must have struck strangely on the ears of the persecuted English Catholics of that time to be addressed as “our Roman Catholic brethren.” This truly catholic tone subjected her afterwards to insult from one of the Anglican Church who had long lost all notion of the meaning either of brotherhood or protest.
It was ever one of Harriet Martineau’s strongest characteristics that nothing in life came to her void or left her profitless. This seems to have been the compensation of her great misfortune of deafness, which, in conjunction with her actual faculties, compelled so much closer observation and reflection than others exercise. It was at this period that the distinguished Hindoo Rammohun Roy visited England; and I gather from her correspondence of this date that his character, appearance, and, above all, the manner of his reception, afforded a lesson soon to be of essential service to her. She honoured in him the high qualities of the man, set off to advantage by his high position, and was astonished to see persons striving selfishly to use his celebrity for their own illustration; and she was thus prepared to rate at its true value much of the general homage that waits on greatness.
She was now to share with the great Hindoo convert the regards of the English Unitarian world. She writes thus to Norwich on the occasion. The letter begins with a preface from her cousin, certifying to her health, and prudence in exertion.
London, Wednesday morning.
There, dear mother! will this do? I thank you a thousand times for your friendly and tender warning, but I do assure you that I am in perfect health. I have been resting at Maidstone, and I further assure you that I know too well what it is to want health, to venture to trifle with the very unusual portion now granted to myself. On Nelly’s affairs I will write when I have seen her. In the mean time, this glorious meeting to-day is engrossing all our thoughts. We had such a crowd this morning, and are expecting a greater to-night! The Rajah was there. Little as I had reckoned on the mere sight of him, I shall never forget it. Never did I see any thing so touching. He looks spirit-broken and wasted by illness. I believe his domestic troubles have been very severe. So melting an expression of meek suffering was never seen. I could not have pressed upon him for an introduction, as a hundred ladies did. I had rather wait and see him in peace and quietness. The people actually stood on the benches to catch a glimpse of him. What a moment it was to me, when the most beautiful of the hymn-tunes was being sung, when the Rajah was bending his head on his breast, and my old friend Dr. Carpenter was sitting next him! With these feelings mingled some for myself, for I had just heard that the committee had talked of inserting my name in the report, and had determined that the winning of the prizes was too remarkable and honourable an achievement to be passed over in silence, and that they had jokingly said they should put the Rajah on one side of the chair and me on the other. I was afraid I must stay away to-night, but my friends say it would be a sad pity to lose such a meeting. How little could I have imagined, but lately, that I should be publicly noticed as the benefactor and advocate of a cause which I have always had at heart, but scarcely hoped to aid! The result to-morrow. I begin to be afraid that dear Nelly* will not come. It is scarcely to be expected, but I do especially wish it.
And now to my narrative again, dear mother. I went very early, and as I left the gate gave a sigh to poor Ellen, who, I thought, could not be coming; and it was easy to see that this meeting would be infinitely grander than all former meetings. There was a crowd about the unopened doors when I arrived, and when we got in, Mr. Fox, who stood aloft on the platform, directed me to the corner of a quiet pew. In a very few minutes the whole place, except the platform and the reporter’s seat, was filled to overflowing. The windows, even, were crowded. Then Mr. Mardon† came to be introduced and make his obeisance about the essays. His wife sat beside me and pointed people out whom I did not know. Mr. Aspland made a capital chairman. After the money-matters had been discussed, the report was read by Mr. Mardon, who stood on my side, so that I heard every word. My corner was so quiet that I thought nobody saw me; but I was mistaken, for when, after a pause in the midst of the book part, Mr. Mardon cast an instantaneous glance at me from the corner of his eye, I saw them all on the platform turn half round and away again, to see whether I was attending. Then followed this, which Ellen thinks is nearly word for word as delivered.
“It will be remembered that three premiums were offered last year for the best essays whose purpose should be the introduction and promotion of our faith among Catholics, Jews, and Mahometans. The first of these prize essays was printed some months ago under the title of ‘Essential Faith of the Universal Church.’ The other two have been so recently adjudged, that your committee must leave to their successors the work of printing and publishing, and of causing translations of them to be prepared in the various European languages in which it is intended they should be circulated. For the purpose of fulfilling to the utmost the intentions of their predecessors, your committee appointed three distinct committees for this special purpose, three judges being provided in each department. The result is, that after the strictest and most impartial investigation the premiums are all awarded to the same individual. It cannot but be thought most honourable to the successful competitor, Miss Harriet Martineau of Norwich, that her compositions have united all suffrages.”
Then came a round of loud applause. I was glad enough when Mr. Mardon went on to other things. When all the business was discussed, and two or three of the resolutions, a buzz announced that the Rajah was coming. He seemed very feeble, and was quite perplexed to know what the clapping and cheering meant, and very simply asked Mr. Aspland. He does not object to it, however. Then Bowring made a capital speech about him. I wonder he could say so much before his face, but it really was beautiful, particularly the parallel between the Rajah and Peter the Great. There is something about Rammohun Roy that melts one irresistibly, and the more, the more one looks at him. He spoke briefly on account of his chest, and was heard only by a few. Two sentences, however, reached the ears and hearts of all. “I have done nothing to cause all this, — nothing for your Association. What I have studied in the Gospels was for my own salvation. I have done nothing for you.” His upward look at Mr. Aspland, the meek expression of his countenance, his majestic bending figure, and the peculiarities of complexion and costume, made it such a picture as I shall never again behold. The enthusiasm was beautiful; and when the chairman requested assent to the resolution of welcome to the illustrious stranger by rising instead of the usual method, the instantaneous compliance was startling. The Rajah may well “never forget it till his latest breath,” as he says. After the resolution had been unanimously carried, the place suddenly thinned almost to emptiness. It was over by a quarter past ten, and all agree that such a meeting was never before held. The Rajah left (through inability to remain) about an hour and a half after he came in. My party were in the gallery, and when I joined them at the foot of the stairs, I was delighted to see Ellen with them. She had set off in bare time, put herself into an omnibus, and arrived just before the business began. She had leave of absence till breakfast-time, so we talked over all affairs during the late night and early morning.
She writes again about the Rajah:—
He always leads the conversation, and expects others to follow; and he talks to people in their own way or what he thinks such, with exquisite politeness, and a knowledge which appears almost miraculous. With all this cultivation, the most remarkable thing about him, his finest characteristic, is his intensity of feeling. Nothing surprises me more than the notions of some folks at a distance who seem to think the Unitarians must all be on intimate terms with him; or that we may be kind to him as we might to refugees. They forget that he is, by rank, a companion of our Royal Dukes, if they had the minds of a Brougham. . . . . Feeling as I do about him, I was better pleased to hear of his advancing to sweeten Mr. Fox’s coffee on Saturday, than of any of his sayings about us. . . . . He looks as if he had gone the round of human griefs, to perfect in himself the dignity of meekness.
I am sure this letter, in spite of the egotism, will give you great pleasure. I hope to become more steadily and reasonably industrious in proportion to my encouragements; and having been granted the honor of spreading my favourite principles in so many strange lands, to cherish them up into their full perfection in my own spirit. How few women have had so extraordinary a stimulus!
Farewell, dearest mother.
Ever yours most affectionately,
Few women indeed! This was the full, complete measure of sectarian and provincial fame, — won at the first grasp. Here was the door flung wide open to that tempting missionary ground where the youthful imagination loves to revel. The chosen expositor of the faith to foreign lands, the main pillar of its periodical literature at home, the leader of its devotions in song and prayer, — where she began, aged doctors of divinity are content to utter their nunc dimittis. Why could not she have sat down with Carpenter and Chalmers and Rowland Hill and Robert Hall, a crowned ruler in her denominational realm? I find nothing among her papers of this date foreshadowing any higher destiny. She would then have avoided life, and enjoyed an industrious repose; escaped the pain of that growth that bursts the bonds of family traditions and fraternal dictation, the hold of friendship and the habits of thought induced by society. There seems evidence to show that she had very nearly begun her work for the world in the cramped church-fashion that can reduce the strongest powers to its own narrowness. To one sect it would hardly have been possible to confine her; but to all dissenting ones, she might have been an oracle, if not indeed a centre of union. About this time she began to be sought by “highly evangelical” and “very superior” men. Students of Oriental literature, first attracted by the “Traditions of Palestine,” were now more deeply interested by the essays. Her “parables,” “tales,” and “musings” were cited by divines as ministrations of imagination to the cause of religion. These were the days when the artificial method of sermonizing seemed to her the most natural and effectual mode of approach to the minds of educated persons; and when she could utter exclamations of delight at fanciful dogmatism. “O this sermon!” she says of one she was so fortunately placed as to be able to hear. “The text was, ‘He hath made every thing beautiful in its time,’ and after the adaptations in the beautiful objects of nature were pointed out, we had the whole survey of all the principal religions in the world, with suggestions that each was beautiful in its time, and that there is one whose time of ceasing to be beautiful can never arrive.” “I was much struck with J. J. Tayler’s ‘Evidences of the Resurrection.’ ” But Biblical science soon took the lead of Biblical literature, and she now thought of preparing a work on the natural history of the Bible; and meeting the excellent Dr. Stokes, who had given up a professorship for conscience’ sake, he offered to place at her disposal his valuable body of manuscript notes on the subject. Mr. Kenrick, too, “has sent me Jahn’s Biblical Archæology, from the York library, to keep till the close of the vacation. It would cost three guineas; and, necessary and valuable as it is, I could not afford that. Little did I think to make such a use of German already. I am busy now, reading the Bible through in course for my work.”
Singularly enough, with these alternate workings of fancy and matter-of-fact within their ordinary range, comes a single glance into the less frequented region of thought which became long afterwards so delightful to her. “In conversation with Mr. Fox he spoke to me of his illnesses, and their effect on the nerves and on the mind. It is well worth while for philosophers to be ill, that we may have the benefit of their observations.” In a similar spirit was written her review of Major Carmichael’s “Physical Considerations connected with Man’s Ultimate Destination.” It is the forerunner of the philosophical studies of her after years. It is a stretching after proof on subjects where assumption had been deemed sufficient, and will be extremely interesting to all who are curious to see the first workings of a great mind in search of reality below the traditional limits. This paper was afterwards read with great interest in America, and was much sought for at the time in England. A High-Church clergyman immediately ordered the “Monthly Repository,” and employed another, his friend, to find out the author. This latter was so much struck by the article that he thanked Miss Martineau in the church porch, where they first met, for writing it. Such things were the beginnings of the discontent springing up in England with the diseased ghostly element in religion.
The essays, meanwhile, were at work, and she writes thus to her mother in relation to the work they did.
August 28, 1831.
“O my mother, one of the greatest joys I have in success is in your share of my pleasure and gratitude. And now I have something to tell you which far exceeds all I have had to relate. I was not sure of all the facts till this hour, or I should have told you before; and even now I am bound not to tell names at present. A Catholic priest, a young, talented, educated man, has been converted by my tract, and has nobly renounced his office and all his expectations, and avowed himself a Unitarian. He has now but £ 5 in the world, and no prospect. His case is under the consideration of the Unitarian committees in London and here. They will probably send him to York for two years, to qualify him for our ministry; but this is uncertain, and not to be repeated, therefore. He belongs to a large city, where he is well known, and where his conversion, when fully understood, may produce a great effect, and probably emulation of his conscientiousness. I cannot describe what I feel when I read the letter which says that this is all true, and that the essay is the cause of it all.”
One cannot help remarking the main elements of this joy over her convert to Unitarianism. It was the noble conscientiousness, the resistance of authority, the renunciation of office and expectations by one who had not £ 5 in the world. Righteousness was stronger in her soul than sect. But one is obliged to admit that, in ceasing to be a Unitarian, she burst as strong a tie of denominational consideration, sectarian attachment, and theological training as ever held a confessor to the shrine of his faith.
Why, why could she not be content to let her spirit sleep upon her fame, and live on, — half fancifully, half studiously, — an imitation life, such as would have sent her down to her grave crowned with Unitarian blessings, — a mother in the little Israel into which she was born? Why could she not have taken warning from that “look of one who had gone the round of human griefs,” that sunk so deep into her heart from the countenance of Rammohun Roy,—to escape the bitterest grief of all, as well as to distrust the noisiest praise?
It could not be; for real life now opened before her, strenuous and grand. And, happily for the world, she shrunk from none of its high obligations.
[* ]This was the “Addresses,” the second “Book of Devotions,” 1826.
[* ]Vol. I. p. 1.
[* ]Mrs. Browning’s “Vision of the Poets.”
[* ]See Vol. I. p. 57.
[* ]I think “Pemberton and its Politics” is the “Brook Farm” of the Political Economy series.
[* ]The sister of her betrothed.
[* ]Her youngest and favourite sister.
[† ]Rev. Benjamin Mardon, Secretary of the Unitarian Association.