Front Page Titles (by Subject) FAME. - Harriet Martineau's Autobiography, vol. 2 and Memorials of Harriet Martineau
Return to Title Page for Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, vol. 2 and Memorials of Harriet Martineau
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
FAME. - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
“The dignity of this end (of endowment of man’s life with new commodities) appeareth by the estimation that antiquity made of such as guided thereunto.”
“They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars, for ever and ever.”
Prophecy of Daniel.
And how did life present itself to the young lady of twenty-eight, so quick to see and feel, so clear to think, so sound to judge, so skilled to express, thus suddenly emancipated by acclamation, and freed, so to speak, by imposition of hands, from the family authority to which her strong affections always disposed her too readily to yield? We ought now to call to mind the daily events which she had been reading from childhood up, in the distressed looks of the people in the streets, in her father’s anxious face at home, in the evening sky lighted up by riot and rick-burning, as well as in the parliamentary and police reports and leading articles of the “Globe” newspaper.
Only a hand’s breadth before and after, like the section of a battle-field seen through a mountain rift, is allowed by biographical limitations to the eye that follows through the fight the course of one illustrious life: yet the narrow opening is sufficient for the same vision of a land in agony, knowing neither why nor wherefore, that set her strong, statesman-like mind and feeling heart at work to find the cause and the remedy. The sight was terrible indeed. To French statesmen and historians it then seemed as if England could not much longer hold together as a nation. To the few American observers who better knew the quality of the blood themselves had sprung from, the whole condition-of-England question was a frightful enigma. There were bloodshed and famine in the East Indies, and slavery in the West. There were twenty-five millions of people shut up to starve in the small area of the British Isles, exhausted by war, and taxed up to the war-point after the peace, in ways so distressing and vexatious as to be almost past belief. They were dying for want of bread, while hindered alike from producing and importing grain, as well as from going to live where it grew. The straitened manufacturers were compelled to witness the destruction of their property by the starving workmen, whenever they attempted to economize by means of machinery. Enterprising merit was condemned to the lifelong heart-sickness of hope deferred, by that prestige of rank which enabled the great families to appoint their own members, dependants, and supporters to the posts of profit and honour. Class wrought against class, and every man’s hand was against his brother. Coast-guard and smuggler, parson and parishioner, press-gang and peasant, landlord, tenant, and poacher, rioter, rick-burner, and cabinet minister, soldiery and mob, chill by turns with terror or hot with the sense of wrong, stood ready to clutch each other by the throat. Men in power saw no cure but in killing, and they caused the masses, driven into the streets by ignorance, starvation, and despair, to be fired upon where they stood for sedition, or destroyed individually by legal process for crime. The hangman had a fearful work to do; for men were put to death in rows at Newgate and all over the kingdom for five-shilling crimes committed to sustain life. A half-naked youth might be taken to the gallows for stealing a strip of cloth from the bleaching-ground. The only remedy in use besides the gallows and the bayonet was the old poor-law of Elizabeth’s time, so unequal to the case of the nineteenth century that it operated as a millstone round the necks of the virtuous and industrious, and as a bounty on idleness and crime. England claimed to be a Christian nation, but Catholic, Churchman, and Dissenter each denied the other the name; and Paul’s description of Pagans applied at this time to them all, — “hateful, and hating one another.”
In the midst of all this disorder government itself was coming to be considered a curse by the bulk of the people; for class-legislation had caused the poor — the many — and the rich — the few — to consider each other as natural enemies. What wonder, amid the sharp fermenting of such a state of mutual misapprehension, that Treasury, Council, and Chancellor, Privy Seal, Admiralty, and Exchequer, Boards of Trade and Control, and all the “departments,” should have been at their wits’ end, and all sense of mutual obligation between them and the people have been seen melting away?
In such a crisis it was that Harriet Martineau set herself to consider the cause. She found it in the utter ignorance of the highest and the lowest classes, and the half-informed apathy of the middle one, in combination with the selfishness of all. And why might not all be led to feel for each other as brothers, and to perceive the universal applicability of the principles she had from childhood been studying? She was sure of their power, and felt the wisdom and greatness of the minds that had discovered them. She would assail the general prejudice against political economy and its sages which stigmatized both as partial, hard, and cruel. She would appeal to that appreciation of the noble, the heroic, and the holy, beating so high in her own breast, which she felt sure had not yet died out of the British heart. How safe and happy might the nation become, if it could once be made to know and adopt the course and the principles so exactly fitted to that time and that people! They would secure the welfare of all; and to all she therefore addressed herself, in the thirty-four little volumes of “Illustrations of Political Economy,” which she sent to the press monthly during the ensuing two years and a half. She has told us the circumstances of their issue, and we have seen how her resolute despair conquered every public and private obstacle, as she undertook to bridge the gulf of ignorance and class exclusiveness which kept Englishmen at enmity, and to show them how all things contributing to the support and enjoyment of life might be produced and conveyed to all. “The people want this work, and they shall have it!” she said, at the darkest hour of her undertaking, before the attainment of the means. We know from the Autobiography* what was in her heart at the time. Let us see if there are tears in the tone that reached the public ear, out of such depths of trial and difficulty.
The Preface to the “Illustrations” that tells us is eighteen pages long, and so close-linked in statement and reasoning that it can with difficulty be divided or shortened. It declares the everlasting truth on the chosen subject. A short extract will show the tone and temper of the mind that, in view of the darkness of the past, was determined to brighten the future.
“ ‘Example is better than precept.’ We take this proverb as the motto of our design. We declare frankly that our object is to teach political economy; and that we have chosen this [narrative-pictorial] method, not only because it is new, not only because it is entertaining, but because we think it the most faithful and the most complete; . . . . and when we dedicate our series to all to whom it may be of use, we conceive that we are addressing many of every class. To address it to all whom it may concern would be the same thing as appealing to the total population of the empire.
“Is there any one breathing to whom it is of no concern whether the production of food and clothing and the million articles of human consumption goes on or ceases? whether that production is proportioned to those who live? whether all obtain a fair proportion? Is there any one living to whom it matters not whether the improvement of the temporal condition of the race shall go on, or whether it shall relapse into barbarism? Whether the supports of life, the comforts of home, and the pleasures of society shall become more scanty or more abundant? Whether there shall be increased facilities for the attainment of intellectual good, or whether the old times of slavery and hardship shall return? Is any one indifferent whether famine stalks through the land, laying low the helpless and humbling the proud; or whether, by a wise policy, the nations of the earth benefit one another, and secure peace and abundance at home, by an exchange of advantages abroad? Is there any one living, in short, to whom it matters not whether the aggregate of human life is cheerful and virtuous, or mournful and depraved? The question comes to this: for none will doubt whether a perpetuity of ease or hardship is the more favourable to virtue. If it concerns rulers that their measures should be wise, if it concerns the wealthy that their property should be secure, the middling classes that their industry should be rewarded, the poor that their hardships should be redressed, it concerns all that political economy should be understood. If it concerns all that the advantages of a social state should be preserved and improved, it concerns them likewise that political economy should be understood by all.”
The effect was instantaneous. The wise and benevolent few felt that they were comprehended and appreciated by a master spirit. Political leaders grasped the helm of state with a firmer hand. Leaders of parties struggled to get possession of the new influence. The poor, selfish little publisher felt his bark float, and laughed for joy that from the king to the cobbler every body was buying the Series. The reviewers read up Smith, Malthus, Mill, and Ricardo, and qualified to the best of their ability to help or hinder, as their respective party badges required. The little-great strove to illustrate themselves by the reflected light of the famous author of the “Illustrations.” The really great and good gathered round the new luminary, rejoicing in its radiance and its warmth. Half the world read these books merely as novels (as, indeed, they were, and of the rarest originality and merit); and while statesmen and members of Parliament hoped readers would not lose sight of the political problem in the charm of the characters, the witty and the frivolous boasted to each other that, be she clever as she might, she could not sift in the science so cunningly as they could contrive to skip all but the story. Publishers in other lands and languages sent to demand biographical notices to prefix to their editions, one of which came back to the author in an absolutely unknown tongue. Newspapers at home gave her pedigree, and newspapers abroad her history. Doubts were not unfrequently expressed as to the real authorship of the series; and it was always attributed to some leading statesman of the time, being thought far beyond the political ability, not merely of a woman, but of any except a great legislator. The editorial world fell to advising, in common with the moral world and the religious world; all seeming to feel personally responsible, lest so great a genius should go wrong for lack of counsel. Half the gossiping world gave her in marriage to the other half. Great historians, divines, and church dignitaries made her the homage of their works and sought the honour of her acquaintance. She was thanked in every possible form, publicly and privately, by every body who was the better for her work of justice and mercy. Complimentary letters came from all quarters like a storm of snow. These she uniformly destroyed, except when it was necessary to preserve them on account of their connection with moral business and legislation. Some such remain, showing how deep and decisive was the effect she produced on the minds that led the political and literary life of the time.
The public at large soon knew its favourite by sight, and she could not walk in public places without being followed by a deeply interested crowd. It is, perhaps, the strongest characteristic of her works, — one distinguishing every word she has since written, — that, as it came, full strength, from the depths of a heart filled with “the spirit of love and of power and of a sound mind,” so it went as deeply home to every reader’s bosom. This sort of public homage was painful to one so constitutionally timid and retiring. Sometimes, when it drew the curious and the self-seeking into her train, it gave rise to comic incidents for which she was not responsible. The unavoidable draught on her time and strength became so great that it was necessary, at length, to avoid the mere idlers who sought a selfish gratification by obtaining an introduction. A Mr. Burke begged to be presented to her. “What is your qualification?” asked the quick-witted friend to whom he proposed it. “Sir!” “I mean what purpose have you to answer? Have you any thing to tell her? or do you want to know any thing from her? Only give me your qualification.” “I know no better than that I am the last descendant of Edmund Burke.” “That won’t do. That is not in Miss Martineau’s way. She has to talk to far too many people already, with a better title than that. I cannot introduce you.”
So great a personal popularity is ever a severe trial of the strength and of the character; but hers bore a threefold strain uninjured. She was novelist, political economist, and philanthropist in one, and constantly receiving admiration in each capacity. It was perpetually said of her, not by fools, but by wise men, that she was the first woman of the age. By those who are neither fools nor wise, the people at large, she was equally appreciated. Dean Milman could have told an amusing instance of it; and how he was cheered at a sad moment by the mirthfulness with which she related to him, at a dinner at Mr. Rogers’s, when the conversation drew it from her, — the amusement she had had from a letter received by that day’s post. It was scribbled all over, in the way that lost letters are. It was addressed to “The Queen of Modern Philanthropists”; and the post-office had put in the corner, “Try Miss Martineau.” It reached her in Fludyer Street; and one could set Dean Milman laughing at any time with, “Try Miss Martineau.”
Such is fame in one of its aspects. A look into her letter-bag on any single morning of her London life will tell us something of its toils and temptations, and give us the pungent aroma of the mingled incense, ordinarily so intoxicating to the novice, which was daily offered up to her. Here are five invitations to dinner for the same day, at houses where the splendour of the appointments “always suggests to me, by contrast, the idea of the factory-children. Not that I blame the rich and noble for their enjoyments, but I would have no huge inequalities.” “It is the charming freedom from stiffness and pretension that, after all, delights me; not the blaze of lights, and the double doors, and gold plate, and rare coffee.” Here are patronesses’ tickets to their fancy-balls at Willis’s rooms, — if she can be prevailed on, they add, to give herself the recreation. Almack’s has no restrictions of costume for her. Here are cards of barristers, parliamentary commissioners, and cabinet ministers. Here are all manner of prospectuses and plans for her to “honour with her sanction.” Here are invitations from editors, to favour their reviews and magazines with her contributions. Bulwer has a quick eye for literary power; and hers shall grace “the new monthly” as well as the rest. Little “V.” of the little “Repository” has achieved greatness among the magazines. Then come heaps of concert tickets, museum tickets, library tickets: loads of blue-books, reports of sanitary, factory, and poor-law commissions, — there is no end to the variety. “Here is a curious arrival, come just in time for you, my dear mother; an honourary diploma from the Royal Jennerian Society, ‘who, the Duke of Wellington in the chair, have done themselves the honour of unanimously voting to Miss Harriet Martineau the diploma which constitutes her a member of their body.’ They are right if they think I can help the spread of vaccination, and I think I can.” These recognitions of her character as a labourer for the welfare of society were ever far more valued by her than testimonies of mere literary estimation. And yet in after days she made light of this: “I am afraid such things are sometimes a push for subscriptions to declining funds.”
She now began to feel the embarrassments of greatness in being expected to dispense patronage. Every one-sided character of her acquaintance looked to her to bring his particular insanity into a reputation for soundness. In reviewing the number of opportunities for benefiting others now laid before her, one cannot but think of poor Marmontel, oppressed in like manner by his native village after the success of his first piece; “And all this depends upon me!” But she early became aware of the risk to independence from incurring obligations to patronage, and she never hesitated to utter the unwelcome “no” which her conscience prompted when solicited to obtain advantages to which no claim existed but her request. The claims of benevolent associations with whose objects she warmly sympathized were never resisted. The Polish Association, in particular, owed much to her and to her family for the protection and maintenance of their orphans as well as the promotion of their cause. Her hymn written for their exiles, set to very touching music, made a profound impression: —
The party struggle for her political influence had by this time become so vehement that she was obliged to write a special Preface for the Corn-Law tales, declaring her determination to defend from party what she meant for mankind.
These few emphatic words, it is to be hoped, satisfied the “Examiner,” the “Critic,” “Tait’s,” “Fraser’s,” and all the newspapers: they certainly did the public at large.
It was not merely the actual merit nor the positive utility of these publications that gave them a world-wide celebrity; neither was it their exquisite adaptation to the wants of England at that time; nor their novelty in execution, or originality in design: although the idea of conveying the facts of moral science by this method was so little familiar to the public mind that multitudes supposed all science might be taught in a similar manner, and felt wronged, as by a feminine caprice, that Miss Martineau refused to move their souls a second time by a series of illustrations of natural philosophy; while at the same time, although some of the tales are comic in parts, they remonstrated against the great preponderance of painful interest in what she had written. They needed to have it explained to them that the evil institutions that wring the human heart are the only subjects of a nature to permit a scientific demonstration in the form of fiction; that although an imperfect smelting apparatus may be as fatal to the purity of gold as mistaken methods of government are to national virtue, yet fiction cannot be made the vehicle of metallurgy; nor the miseries of mistaken legislation be gayly set forth in a story of happy conclusion. There had been tales before these, awakening sympathy with suffering; but tales showing the causes of suffering in the neglect of those principles of government which men in given circumstances must adopt in order to be happy were a new thing under the sun. To this especial originality of purpose they owed a part of their unprecedented popular success.
These books were also new in their special literary aspect, as well as the beginnings in England of a science of sociology.
A feeling of resistance had long been gathering in Harriet Martineau’s mind against that law of the kingdoms of poetry and romance, generally observed by all their rulers, from Homer to Scott inclusive, of filling the scene with the great and the powerful, — the occupants of thrones and the leaders of armies; and bidding the intricacies of the plot bear them along through “high feastings of kings with nobles and dancing of knights with ladies;” till a reproach from the majority of middle-aged readers had gone forth against novels and poetry as untrue to any life that came within the observation of whole-minded human beings then living. Going to the root of the matter, she found them untrue, by reason of their one-sided partialities and aristocratic prejudices. Now, as on so many subsequent occasions, she showed the genius that directs public thought and feeling; pointing out in advance the way in which she took the lead, and proving while proclaiming the power of fiction as the agent of morals and philosophy, — the servant of the poor and the lowly.
I need but refer to certain passages from those remarkable productions so much talked of in their time as “the Scott papers;” in which, while giving to Walter Scott, with all the enthusiasm of a grateful heart, his full due, and more than he himself ever dreamed of claiming, she points out his lack of the deeper moral insight, and calls on his successors in the field of romantic literature to make good his deficiencies. Every reader’s memory will bear witness to the effect her criticism and her example have had on novel-writing since that time; but few, except the watchers by the springs of great social changes, can tell upon what multitudes fell the awakening music of her affirmation of all that is great, noble, and heroic in woman. It met a response in the universal heart. America above all felt the grandeur and beauty of the appeal. Ella of Garveloch, Cousin Marshall, Mary Kay, Letitia, little Harriet, with all the troops of the high-minded poor and the high-hearted lowly that rose from every pictured page, became the friends and educators of the young matronage of the United States. As manuals of political economy, the “Illustrations” were not then so much needed there. The Transatlantic world was already in possession of all (save one) of the blessings they demanded. But as illustrations of high character and lofty virtue and heroic endurance and uncompromising integrity, they possessed an incisive power, as welcome as it was timely, to restore the features of the antique virtue of our earlier New England time, fast softening and wearing down beneath unmarked abuses. The observation of English critics was that she understood the springs of the machine of state. American ones said, “she knew how to
‘Ope the sacred source of sympathetic tears.’ ”
As far as criticism can be a benefit, she was to be congratulated; for no writer ever received a larger share of it. From the leading reviews and great London dailies, down to the most obscure provincial and sectarian journals and magazines, all were full of the “Illustrations.” The “Edinburgh Review” was perfectly amiable in the spirit of its criticism, though utterly incompetent, in this instance, to its function, for want of breadth and power to comprehend the mind of the writer. The editor had at first admired Harriet Martineau as a lady, and afterwards esteemed her as a friend; but his attempts to reconcile her action with the feeble, narrow social views of the time were amusing instances of unconscious insult. He hardly knew how to excuse her as a student and a teacher of what he had thought exclusively manly truths. He was obliged to justify her to himself by a syllogism. “Women might, and it was becoming they should, protect and comfort the poor; political economy has an immediate connection with this; therefore a woman may be a political economist without being supposed to have abated any natural and right horror of Amazons in politics.” But he condemned any thing which could be called public life out of her own village, — the circle of a Lady Bountiful among her poor. A certain kind of knowledge is even here necessary, and so political economy might come in. He shuddered a little at Miss Martineau’s sense and spirit, but he “rejoiced to acknowledge that she had more than the fancy and feeling of Miss Edgeworth,” and he thought he had saved his admired author’s credit. How far was he from seeing that the most public of all public life was the one on which she had just entered! The life commonly called public of an ordinary member of Parliament was private in comparison. Her very thoughts were fast becoming of more public importance than all their doings for the public weal. Their doings were of importance as the complement of her feelings and thoughts.
The criticisms were as various as the powers and purposes of the men.
A critic is but a man like another; and when he chances to be the man of some specialty, most likely proves less able than another to pronounce a general judgment. He is so often obliged to “cram” for all but his own special questions, he is so often tempted to cover with a strain of brilliant sarcasm his want of power to appreciate his author, and, above all, he so often permits the actual power of judgment he may possess to be blunted by the retaining-fee of a party, or at best imperceptibly worn away by the continual suggestions of self-interest, that, in the field of real thought and action, he becomes a hindrance rather than a helper to both author and public. In the field of mere literature he may promote public pleasure by the perpetual attrition that polishes and perfects the individual writer, whose works thus formed and finished react in refinement on the public mind; but it is not in the field of literary criticism that the man capable of appreciating the great ethical natures of any time will be found: for the sympathies of such a man will draw him into their field of action. Hence it was that, with all Harriet Martineau’s immense popularity, she found but little competent criticism at this period. The crowd of review and newspaper writers were competent to only one half the case. They were profuse of eulogy because, without embracing the whole, for lack of depth and grasp, they were honestly and enthusiastically pleased with all they could comprehend. They welcomed her exactly as they might a great painter or musical artist who had charmed and won the public mind in taking it by surprise. Here was something at once out of their way and beyond their limitations; but they were pleased, with the rest of the world, and it was safe and agreeable to say so. In conquering the public she had conquered all the critics except the unscrupulously partisan ones. Without comprehending her nature or object in life, these felt, by mere oppugnancy, one quality of her power, — its freedom. It was neither to hold nor to bind nor to buy. They were afraid of it, and they tried to destroy it. Empson and Lockhart — “The Edinburgh” and “The Quarterly” — were fit types of the professionally critical power of that time. To the shallow but highly cultivated mind that could dwell in the tents of the Whigs, Harriet Martineau was a puzzle. How could she work month after month, and year after year, upon the most abstruse problems of civil polity and legislation, growing fresher and fresher as she went on? How could she make these dry bones live and dwell in the scenes and cities of all lands, painting them into pictures in which the beauty of the colouring and the force of the feeling were all used to prove the accuracy of the perspective, and yet remain so rich, so full, so free? Mr. Empson could not even imagine the power gained by living for the truth. She herself was less clear as to cause and effect (perhaps merely less precise in nomenclature) at this time than she afterwards became; while occupied in serving the world in this strenuous manner, she called the great source and stimulus of her life by the names of “principles” and “science” alternately.
Lockhart, as the editor of the Tory Quarterly, was of course hostile; that was only to have been expected. But he disgraced himself and the review by an utter want of decency and honesty. The preceding Autobiography is not very clear as to the precise point of Lockhart’s evil doing. The sensitive and the high-minded shrink from the details of falsehood and abuse which they have endured, till to do so passes into a habit of mind, almost into a principle of duty. Their great thoughts and great objects bear them above and beyond the sphere and feeling of insult. They do not care even to understand the meaning of a vicious animal’s attempt to throw them. The biographer has a different duty.
The worst feature, then, of Lockhart’s servility to his party — the party to which, as a hanger-on, he looked for literary patronage and pecuniary support — was his attempt to crush the rising young advocate of the people, by identifying her by all the weight of the great Tory party’s organ, with the advocacy of vice and crime. Because one political economist was said to have circulated papers encouraging young servant-girls and their seducers of rank to licentiousness, Mr. Lockhart thought to fling his mud and dust so dexterously as to attach to Miss Martineau the same imputation. The reaction of the indignant public mind against this baseness was such that this article of the “Quarterly” greatly promoted the popularity of the series of “Illustrations of Political Economy” it was intended to destroy.
Aside from its falsehoods, there is nothing that strikes one so singularly in Mr. Lockhart’s criticism of Miss Martineau’s “Illustrations,” or in the subsequent criticisms of the “Quarterly,” as their strain of ironical eulogy. His severest attempts now seem simple historical statements. It is curious, too, to remark at the outset the two-edged appeal to bigotry whetted sharper by masculine assumption, — well known as Lockhart was in those days as one of the orthodox who believe in nothing.
“This young lady has the high recommendation of being a Unitarian.” “Her theological works are all published, we believe, at the expense of the Unitarian Association; at least, such is the case with the ‘Essential Principles of Christianity,’ addressed to her ‘dear Roman Catholic brethren.’ ” It shows the coarseness of his nature that in this very article he calls Ella of Garveloch — one of the most nobly and beautifully conceived beings in literature — “a bare-legged Scotch quean!”
However unable to appreciate, even such a man is compelled by mere intellectual conviction and a politic reference to the same in other men to acknowledge “the praiseworthy intentions,” “benevolent spirit,” “varied knowledge,” “acute discrimination of character,” and “power of entering into and describing the feelings of the poorer classes.”
“Demerara,” he admits, is powerfully written, “but the picture is drawn from the imagination, and from the accounts of antislavery missions;” and he scoffs at the “notion” that man is not property, as one who considers the claim of ownership in man founded in the eternal laws of nature, to which those of states cannot but conform. And this very year, helped to the work by this very tale, which popularized the principles of freedom as the only sound political economy, while painting the slaves as outraged human beings, the British Parliament abolished West Indian slavery. And so in like manner the three great questions touching the factories, the poor-laws, and the currency, were successively agitated, and the question of the corn-laws fairly roused. To one so absorbed in successful public service as to be personally important to all the wronged and suffering classes, and proportionately beloved and honoured by them, criticism was what it ought to be, — desired as a thing to learn by; and abuse, when its purpose was once understood, but of the slightest moment.
By this article of Lockhart’s I seem to see thrown into the mind of Harriet Martineau the first germ of her afterthoughts on the general subject of property. Quoting from the summary of principles in “Demerara,” he says: “Property is held by convention, not natural right. As the agreement to hold property in man never took place between the parties concerned, — i. e. is not conventional, man has no right of property in man.” On this he goes on to comment: “Why, by this rule, what have we a right to hold as property?” “Let Miss Martineau say where the convention sat which agreed to make the Marquis of Westminster a present of his stud or his streets. Miss Martineau is said to be high authority in the law courts. Let the next thief plead at the Old Bailey that he never agreed the prosecutor should hold property in his silk handkerchief, and therefore he has no more right to it than he, Timothy, the thief.”
Miss Martineau was never one to stop thinking because an enemy of truth (so ignorant of it at the same time as to be unable to discriminate between a just inference and a reductio ad absurdum) found it for his interest to come forward to prevent, with a mixture of sophistry and defiance like this; and we shall see hereafter to what conclusions she came on this matter of property in after years. The blank astonishment of conservatives at such plain incontrovertible statements of facts as these, — that, shut up in an island, population going on at geometrical rates, and production in arithmetical ones according to their wont, there will, without prudence, be famine, is in the mean time amusing. Neither could they comprehend any more clearly that their poor-laws were degrading and self-defeating, their lying-in hospitals a bounty on improvidence, and their almshouses a temptation to idleness. They dreaded, apparently, to see the feudal system broken up by the development of a capacity in the people to do without it; and seemed to mourn the lost occupation of Lord Lansdowne and the Duke of Devonshire, when Ireland should become well educated and industrious. The attempt to confound Miss Martineau with the low and criminal distributors of demoralizing publications and the like, was fatal to his gentlemanly character. He concluded by adjuring Miss Martineau to burn her little books; and, after quoting in a scurrilous way a quantity of ridiculous doggerel, winds up thus: “Did Miss Martineau sit for this picture? No. Such a character is nothing to a female Malthusian: a woman who thinks child-bearing a crime against society; an unmarried woman who declaims against marriage: (! ! !) a young woman who deprecates charity and a provision for the poor. (! ! !)”
This was the sort of moral gauntlet to be run in undertaking to illustrate a principle “as undeniable as the multiplication-table;” and this the tenderest and most keenly feeling heart I ever knew did not shrink from; because to teach prudence as one among many means of chasing away pauperism was to do the nation service. What the excellent Malthus had been seen to undergo of calumny and abuse (and it seemed to her so repulsive as to make her ask him how he bore it) would have been sufficient to deter one less high-minded than herself. But now seems to have begun to take ultimate shape that heroic type of character which became in after life so recognized a part of her greatness, that the persecuted for whatever right’s sake felt the glorious reproach of their cross to be a claim she could not set aside. Her infant visions of martyrdom, little as she respected their memory, as mingled with childish vanity and unbalanced by the sound knowledge and vigorous judgment of the after time, were yet the basis of the noble temple of life she was always at work in building. Whether this stepping to the front under fire, publicly to express the reverence and gratitude felt for those who have aroused to noble work or shown the excellent way, be, as church and clergy claim, a special trait of Christianity, or as nobles feel, an evidence of nobility, is of little consequence to decide. That it was the only way that became her to “fulfil all righteousness” was, in brain and blood, a part of Harriet Martineau’s being. As Gibbon says of Bayle, “Nature meant her to think as she pleased, and to speak as she thought.”
All the reviews of this period, hostile as well as friendly, took for granted the fact of her great genius. Unquestioned as it was by the world, by herself it was always steadily denied, not only at this time, but ever afterwards. Her friendly critic of the “Edinburgh Review” was so impressed by her as a woman of genius, that he vigorously contested the point with her in argument. And surely if genius be the faculty called divine, of creating in literature, from what life actually is, the vision of what it may be, — if it be the intellectual force or creative inspiration in life itself, which brings forth, directs, and organizes, whether by “a special instinct or faculty,” by “grace from on high,” or by “superiority of organization” (as different schools might express the same fact), — if it be that inspiration of great thoughts and great things which instantly distinguishes from the crowd and arrays inferiority against itself, — if it be that power in action which, to whatever department of human life it come, seems to change the nature of things, or that power in utterance which drives a keener tide of blood through them that read or hear, — then surely Harriet Martineau was in truth the genius that popular enthusiasm declared her to be. Nor the less so because the popular definition of the word has taught her countrymen on both sides of the ocean (if I may say so) that “genius is that talent or aptitude that men receive from nature to excel in any one thing whatever,” while she excelled in many. Nor is she the less “a genius” because the Sheridans, the Fieldings, the George Sands, have habituated the world to associate genius with selfishness, disorder, and licentiousness, and caused a doubt whether it can exist in even balance with perfect self-control and wise and steady self-devotedness. Thus I have often argued with herself, but, I am bound in truth to state, without effect. She always persisted in the same final reply, “I am pained and ashamed when any body I care for talks of my possessing genius.” I think the difference between her and others on this point arose from her want of general self-esteem, of which deficiency I have seen a thousand instances; she held so tenaciously to the French proverbial opinion, that “le génie doit faire ses preuves,” that she obtained at this time of a reviewer whose article came to her knowledge before publication, that his high estimate of her genius as a writer of fiction should be suppressed. “Not,” she said, “till I have succeeded in making a plot.” Thus much I was willing to concede in the argument; that a character less truly proportioned, faculties less accurately balanced, might, even while weakening its actual effect, have produced a higher general estimate of her genius, — just as we are most struck by the disproportion, the deformity or caricature that lessens the goodness of a face or the real value of a portrait; for I observed this known effect of perfect proportion in reducing the popular estimate of size, in her elder and grander time; and as her faculties were taking a wider and stronger range, I seemed to see them less generally, though more worthily appreciated. But if genius be the perfection of good sense, she possessed it as few others have done. How many have we seen proclaimed geniuses, on the American side of the ocean, by mere dint of deficiency or irregularity, who would never have been named in that category, had they been, like her, subjected to the remorseless English higher-middle-class training which at once grinds down oddity, nor likes to spare even originality, and which only true genius can survive and profit by.
Had Harriet Martineau been only a reviewer or essayist, — only a great religious, political, or philosophical writer, — only a novelist, traveller, or historian, — she would have necessarily seemed greater as an author to the generality of readers. They love to see power pushed in one direction. They can only judge of it so. They measure only length, so to speak, and take little account of breadth and depth. They have been so accustomed to minute subdivision in mental as in other labors, as to have enchained their minds by a proverb, that “the Jack at all trades is good at none;” and this very means of exclusive application which they take to avoid mediocrity is the reason why this century affords so few universally admirable persons like Harriet Martineau. This variety of mental accomplishment, this natural and cultivated capacity to meet each man on his own ground, made her one of the most popular, while her overflowing sympathy of the heart made her one of the most beloved of authors. She pleased and amused the public, though she never made it an object to do so.
She was thus early the most substantially successful author of her time, without ever having sacrificed to success. She had deliberately chosen her part, — to utter, as fast as she attained it, what seemed to her good and true, let the personal result be what it might. Her works had brought round her the leading men of her time, and she began to judge them as fit or unfit for the times, with continual personal and political effect. Her influence many a time put the right man in the right place, who came to thank her and ask her advice as to how he should best fulfil his duty in it. She could and did sway from time to time the administration, while counselling the leaders of opposition. A less comprehensive mind could have done but one of these things. But both sides felt that she was warmly with them as men, while free from “entangling alliance” with either as parties. Now came the moment when, strong in her knowledge of the general public mind, — its tastes, its habits, its views, its leaders, — the temptation might have come to her that wrecks so many first-rate writers, — the temptation of giving to the public sentimental expressions and agreeable drollery signifying nothing, but all the more enriching, in the pecuniary sense, for its want of reality. Now might well have come the temptation to leave unturned the last uncompromising screw that takes the writer out of the hands of his readers, and lays upon him the responsibility of leading, instead of leaving him in the exercise of the subaltern function of amusing them. But she never seems to have felt it. Literature remained ever to her a sacerdocy; and through its most trying phase, — that of becoming through its means world famous, — her sheet-anchor of secret resolutions* never dragged. She does not need, like Dr. Young’s man of the world, to “resolve or re-resolve.” Without doing either, she will clearly “die the same.”
Before inserting such of the few letters as I rightfully and dutifully may, from the great mass of those of this period which now lie before me, I will gather up a few of the recollections of that time. Some of her old friends (not the most intimate) were astonished at her coolness in these new circumstances; while others, superficial observers, pronounced her, on account of it, the proudest person living. Of these she said, “They little know how utterly I sometimes despise my work, — its execution, I mean. But not the less do I mean to avail myself coolly and amply of all the advantages of society it brings me.” And this work, of whose execution she speaks, was the one thing the world was so delighted with. Mrs. Bellenden Ker tells of a pretty little illustrative scene, which shows how it seized the minds of the least impressible. “My father came in to dine with us just as dinner was served. ‘How do you do, my love?’ says he, and takes up “Demarara.” In vain did we call him, and remind him that dinner was waiting. He was like one under strong possession, and never thought of dinner or laid down the book till he had read it through.”
I must not forget to say that the “Series of Illustrations of Political Economy” was printed at a cheaper rate than it would have otherwise been, on account of the clearness of the writing; a thing worthy to be put on record in vindication of the rights of printers.
All the compliments and admiration of the early period of these years of fame, — phrenologists declaring her head incomparably the best female head they had a cast of, both for size and harmony; admission for the first time, in her person, of a lady to the distribution of prizes at the London University (this year by Lord John Russell), the head professor’s family declaring “her presence gave it a consequence which they wished to secure for it;” huntings-up of her early writings, — “the Chancellor wants the ‘Traditions’ sent after him to Bath;” Coleridge watching anxiously for the numbers; family consultations in so many distinguished households about who was sufficiently distinguished to make one with herself at the same dinner-party, and what great previous celebrity should be spared such a wound to his self-complacency as witnessing the homage paid to the new one, and the like sweet social flatteries ad infinitum, — all this had no ill effect on her appearance or character. At the end of her first London year Sydney Smith said, “She has gone through such a season as no girl before ever knew, and she has kept her own mind, her own manners, and her own voice. She’s safe.”
And so the last year of the first London life left her; though the trial, from being merely superficial, as at first, and such as literary ladies and gentlemen were all in their lesser measure subjected to, had become the deeper one that statesmen only, in conscious possession of the nature that is a power in the land, can feel. Now there was mush buzzing and flinging the sounding-line about a pension. Lord Brougham evidently did not like the result. He clearly saw the inconvenience to the government of having one standing in the relation of pensioner on whom it could never reckon with any greater security than its own adherence to the people’s interests might claim. The language of friends whose characters had been moulded by personal aspirations and political expediency was not likely to bring her own mind into a state to be pensioned. “Provided,” said one of them, “that you do nothing in the mean time to upset your dish with the government, you are sure of one.” Without coming to any decision on the general subject of literary pensions, the thoughts such experiences suggested made her only the more solicitous to preserve her own independence as the advocate of the people’s interests, and naturally pointed out her course in after years as often as the time for decision came.
Appreciation in the highest quarter was not wanting to her. “Lord and Lady Durham told me,” she said, “how delighted the Princess Victoria was with my series, and this took place. I told Lord Durham that that particular young lady’s reading was of some consequence, and that it was worth something for her to know what the inside of a workhouse, for instance, was like; but that I did hope she did not read for the story only. In her position it really would be a very good thing that she should understand the summaries and trace them in the stories. He agreed, and in a few days he sent me a note to say that my hint had been well taken and was attended to. Lady Durham told me how, one evening, the little girl (then eleven years old) came with hop, skip, and jump from the inner drawing-room to show her mother the next paper, with the advertisement of the ‘Illustrations of Taxation,’ whereby her pleasure was extended, when she thought the series was just done. The Queen has always said that ‘Ella of Garveloch’ was her favourite.”
Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography gives the impression the world made upon her: a memoir ought to give the impression she made on the world. Of this there would be no end of books: — a few traits must suffice in the space afforded by one. She was, Mr. Carlyle used to say, an instance, and the only one he knew, of clear activity being compatible with happiness. He could not talk before her, he added, about every effort being painful and all labour sorrow. “You are,” he said to herself, “like a Lapland witch on her broomstick, going up and down as you will. Other people, without broomsticks, drop down, and cannot come up when they would; and that’s the difference between them and you. Hartley Coleridge declared her to be “a monomaniac about every thing.” Sydney Smith was of a similar opinion. “A true heroic nature,” he said. But it was not remarkable men alone who were stirred to admiration. She made a profound impression on every body she met. The busy mother of a family of a dozen children, cumbered with much serving, with whom she was one evening taking tea, forgot every thing else in the charm of her conversation, and said, while following her to the door as she took leave, “I am so sorry, — so sorry you came, for I cannot bear to have you go!”
It was after the completion of “the series” that Monsieur Guizot, then Minister of Public Instruction in France, was establishing a new periodical for its promotion. He directed that the numbers should each open with a biographical sketch, as always sure to interest the readers, and he ordered the first to be a memoir of Harriet Martineau; she, he said, affording the only instance on record of a woman having substantially affected legislation otherwise than through some clever man.
The public action of this period directly to be traced to Harriet Martineau’s political influence may be seen in the reform song, sung with uncovered heads by what were called the “monster meetings,” — the immense assemblages of the people that in 1831 shook the kingdom into a speedy but pacific and constitutional reform in 1832.
“Demerara” told upon slavery; “Cousin Marshall,” upon strikes, in conjunction with the author’s constant testimony against them to the people. The “Charmed Sea” was influential upon the Polish cause. The Corn-Law and other tales told upon monopolies. For the influence of “The Tenth Haycock” upon tithes, and for the effect upon the house and other taxes, the new postage and Canada, reference being had to the Autobiography and to the “History of the Peace,” there need be no further mention of them here. An amusing dialogue between Lord Althorp and “an adviser” may be found in the “History of the Peace,” — the adviser being Harriet Martineau herself.
Some of her letters to her mother here subjoined were written during the publication of the “Illustrations.”
London, Tuesday night, June 11, 1833.
I thought I should have nothing to tell you, dear mother, for some time, so quiet a life as this fortnight is to be; but some little matters usually turn up which it strikes me you would like to hear, and you see I always fill a letter somehow.
Yesterday I read diligently for the Corn-Laws. Mr. Malthus, passing the door at nine o’clock, inquired when I was to return from Paris, where he saw by the papers I now am; and to-day he came and stayed an hour. Mrs. Coltman sent for me to dinner, and Mrs. Malthus and I had much pleasant talk, and at dinner I sat between father and son. This morning I corrected proof, made summary of Corn-Laws, and drew out some of my story. It is to be in the picturesque part of Yorkshire, near Sheffield, where there are hills for my miller, foundries for my artisans, meadows for my farmers, sheep-walks and farms for my land-owners, black moors and grouse for their sons, and so on. I do believe that as an illustration it will be perfect, whatever it may turn out in other respects. I will give free course to my feelings and opinions on this tremendous subject, and it shall go hard with me but I will make others think and feel too. I wonder whether you ever heard the story Mr. Potter tells of a college companion of his, who blundered dreadfully under his examination for ordination. As a last resource, he was asked if he could repeat any one text from the Old or New Testament. He readily quoted “And Moses said, when he was in the whale’s belly, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” It is long since I heard a jumble that tickled me so much. And now good night.
It is late, dear mother, and I have had a hard day’s work; but I cannot let my birthday pass without a line to you. I was reminded of it by a sweet letter from —, thought of and written with her accustomed grace of sisterly love. I never passed so quiet a birthday, and never, assuredly, so happy a one. I had set it apart for work, and much work I have done with pen and needle, and much more with thoughts. These are the days when I can scarcely believe my own destiny, and when I feel that I can never work too diligently or disinterestedly for my own great responsibilities. Good Janetta writes her congratulations and wonder at my not being altered. If she was here she would see that there is that in my office which forbids levity as much as it commands cheerfulness, and that I have more need than ever of old friends and their supporting love, as gazers and admirers of my efforts crowd round me. When my efforts relax, these last will retreat; and then what would become of me if I was “altered,” or had lost my old friends? What a year this has been! “Ella” was published this day twelve months, but how little way had I made compared to what I have now! I trust this Corn-Law story will carry me on further; and if it helps to open eyes and soften hearts on the tremendous question which involves millions of lives and centuries of happiness or misery, my birthday will have been well spent in working upon it. To make quite sure, I have for the half-dozenth time compared the summary and the plan, and I am certain that the summary contains the whole question, and that the story illustrates every bit of the summary. I am also sure that the characters are characters, if I can but keep them up. I mean to get it all into one number if possible, and shall therefore condense the emotion into great depth and retrench the description as much as possible. Every page shall tell. How singular is the faculty of conception! That Yorkshire vale with its people is become as perfect a real existence to me since yesterday morning as if I had lived there. May it soon be so to you! And may I be permitted for yet another year thus to handle God’s works for the good of those who so unhappily and unconsciously abuse them! To-morrow is to be quiet too, the only engagement being to take William Stoker* to see the model of the copper-mine in the Strand. This we can do between dinner and tea. Cresson called to-day;† so did Mr. —, bringing me a pretty coffee apparatus for making my own breakfast without a fire, in first-rate style. He also offers an order for the opera for Monday or Tuesday next, which I accept. Mr. Evans called to fix on to-morrow for a final sitting.* I have done a chapter to-day of “Sowers not Reapers.” Now for tea, and then filling up my frank, and to bed. One of the funniest things is the number of tradesmen’s cards that pour in, beautifully sealed and directed, puffing a hundred things I shall never want, — lamps and stays, china, shoes, and soaps, harps, divine oils, and celestial essences.
Mr. — says I should suit his purpose as a critic much better if I was more vain. If he could find a sore place he would rub and rub, as he declares he delights to do. But I see all the faults of my books, he says, as plainly as he does. I tell this only to you, as I know it will please you. I do believe more has been done for me and my books by my being glad of enlightened criticism, than by any one part of me besides.
Pardon this, dear mother, and take it not as vanity, but the communicativeness which you ever command from your most affectionate
P. S. I find the newspapers report me as in Paris; and Mr. Fisher has just sent to know when I am expected to return from Paris! The Jeffreys have just called, and are kind and pleasant. The Lord Advocate is in a thorough panic about the country. The Queen† and royal family are behaving abominably. The King will not make peers, and the House of Lords can and will throw out the Ministry. Will they get back as quietly as before? Every body is full of this to-day. Lady Mary Shepherd was surprised to hear yesterday that I am not in Paris. Had told Lord Henley I was. Now I am to meet him there next week.
O, but do you know Coleridge told me yesterday that he watches “anxiously,” for my numbers from month to month? Can it be that I am paying him in any measure for what he has done for me? He now never stirs from his Highgate abode. He is not sixty, and looks eighty, — and such a picture of an old poet! He is most neatly dressed in black; has perfectly white hair; the under lip quivering with the touching expression of weakness which is sometimes seen in old age; the face neither pale nor thin; and the eyes — I never saw such! — glittering and shining so that one can scarcely meet them. He read me (most exquisitely) some scraps of antique English; and, talking about metres, quoted some poetry so as to make my eyes water. He talked some of his transcendentalism, which I wanted to hear. He talks on and on, with his eyes fixed full on you, and distinctly as possible. He told me wherein he differed and wherein he agreed with me; but this is too transcendental for a letter. . . . . He begged me to see him again. I must go.
Mr. Hallam has just been giving me a comfortable, long call. I like him much, with all his contradictiousness. Did I tell you how popular the whole story of Vanderput is? — i. e. Mrs. B. Wood, Mr. William Smith, Mr. Hallam, and many others love “Christian” to my heart’s content. Mr. Hallam says the whole story is one of my best, — the idea new, the picture faithful, and Christian exceeding almost any thing preceding. I hope he is right. But Whately and the poor-law commissioners pronounce “The Parish”* the best thing I have done.
I am delighted at the number of people who now ask me about Mr. Fox and Finsbury Chapel, and go to hear him. Nothing could exceed him yesterday, and there were plenty to hear him. It was on the different ways of loving the world, — the duty and delight of loving it in its upward tendency, and the guilt and despicableness of seeking it in its defilements and sinking into them. Paul and Demas were the examples. This is a good thought to sleep upon; so good night, dearest mother.
You see more notices of me than I do, I believe. I have not seen the “Spectator” for months; and the “Englishman’s” dedication has not met my eye.
And now my candle is just burnt out, and it is bedtime; so good night, dearest mother. Fancy me always, in the midst of clamour and applause, merrily at work by “my ain fireside.” When I first lose five minutes’ sleep by night or tranquillity by day from any thing the world says, I shall think myself in a bad way. I sleep “like an infant,” to use your own expression, and am as happy as the day is long. This once for all.
Dear love to your home party, and love abroad where due, from your most affectionate
What between the scoffing of the “Quarterly” and the scepticism of the “Edinburgh,” the hungry people are ill fed. I hope a third quarterly will some day arise, wherein the people may be grounded in the grand truth that faith in God — in his PRINCIPLES — is inseparably connected with faith in man. This will soon happen, now that circumstances are teaching us the utter helplessness of a system of expediency. Meantime I have chosen my lot. It is to teach principles, let what will come of it. Nothing but good can eventually come of it, and I have and shall have many helpers. . . . . Dearest mother, never mind the “Quarterly.”
— — called, and requested me to mark out the line of inquiry I wish him to pursue. I have promised to ponder the matter. The idea was not only my own. — and others suggested — — to me as the man; but my having written on factory-children gives me a sort of claim to suggest.
I breakfasted with — — this morning, and have since had a letter from that precious little lady. She sends her kind regards to your party. Old Niemcewicz called yesterday, which he is fond of doing. Fine old man! As a poet he is pleased, he says, with “the rare union of imagination and logic” in my tales, and would fain translate them into Polish, if there were any book-market in that unhappy land. They are actually translated into German, which you will be glad to hear. A large party to-morrow.
It was a sort of compromise. The Chancellor was there, but went away early. I was placed between the Chief Justice and Malthus, both of whom were very talkative to me. What a fine face Denman’s is! We were eleven. Mr. Wishaw was going to Holland House, and offered to bring me home, calling by the way on Mrs. Marcet at the Edward Romilly’s. They are just home from Ludlow, of which place Mr. E. R. is member. Mrs. Marcet is sorry to find that Mr. E. R. and I are of the same opinion about the Factory Bill, and I am very glad. She ought to hold the same, namely, that legislation cannot interfere effectually between parents and children in the present state of the labour-market. Our operations must be directed towards proportioning the labour and capital, and not upon restricting the exchange of the one for the other, — an exchange which must be voluntary, whatever the law may say about it. We cannot make parents give their children a half-holiday every day in the year, unless we also give compensation for the loss of the children’s labour. The case of those wretched factory-children seems desperate; the only hope seems to be that the race will die out in two or three generations, by which time machinery may be found to do their work better than their miserable selves. Every one’s countenance falls at the very mention of the evidence which has lately appeared in the papers.
A note from Lady Mary Shepherd this morning, to say she would send the carriage for me between three and four o’clock, which was done. I have had a long, pleasant confab with Lord Henley, whom I like very much. We had lunch, coffee, and much talk, — we two, Lady Mary, and her daughter. The real object of the interview evidently was to urge me to America instead of on the Continent, when the series is done. Lord Henley says that however inferior the Americans are in some respects, in others they have got down to principles of justice and mercy in their institutions better than we have. . . . . He thinks our Church, in its present state, the dead-weight on our improvement, and instances our cathedral towns as being worse than others. He told me that till he read “Cousin Marshall” he never thought of any thing more in the way of charity than easing sorrow when it was before him, and had at first much difficulty in reconciling me with his Christianity.
Now the plot of my extraordinary life thickens, dearest mother! I can give you no idea of the scramble which is going on for me among parties. . . . The poor-law information on which I proceed is ten times what is published, and the publication was not contemplated when I undertook the work. The Chancellor tried in vain to persuade Lord Melbourne to delay it till mine was out. I am glad it was published, as it corroborates me, and leaves me plenty of material which cannot be published except in my tales. . . . . However it may take away my breath to see my early guides and friends taking away my supports from under me, and leaving me to stand or fall by my principles alone, I will not allow my weakness to overcome me, while I see clearly what those principles are, and feel that they are trustworthy. . . . . But what strength they must suppose in me while they bring these conflicting principles to bear upon me! It would not be politic in the Radicals thus to prove me if they did not believe I could stand it; and they shall end in respecting me for my independence, as the Tories do under all their sarcasms, and as the Whigs do amidst all their regret for my “exaltation of sentiment” and what not. Mr. Fox’s mission is to lead a party, and nobly he discharges it. Mine is to keep aloof from party, to take my stand upon science and declare its truths, leaving it to others to decide whether these be Tory, Whig, or Radical. One by one I shall surmount hindrances if I live. Ridicule has been tried, has failed, and is done with. I trust to disprove Whig prognostications by completing my work regularly, rationally, and consistently; and the Radicals will presently find I am not under their control. Here I am, placed in an unparalleled position, left to maintain it by myself, and (believe me) able to maintain it; and by God’s grace I will come out as the free servant of his truth. This language is not too high for the occasion. The more my connections enlarge, the more I see the eagerness of speculation as to what I am to turn out; and (for your sake I add) the more affectionate is the respect and the more cordial is the confidence of my reception wherever I have once appeared. There is no misinterpretation of me by any who have seen me. They see and admit that the ground of my confidence is principles and not my own powers; and they therefore trust me, and eagerly acquit me of presumption. . . . .
I send you the Preface to the Corn-Law story. I dare say you will find an opportunity of sending it back before printing-time next month. I think you will all like it.
I am confident it is not the partiality of friendship which makes me see in the package of letters from which I have made these random selections material for a most interesting and instructive volume. But the writer meant them only as material for something which I might write, and I do not know enough of the private or public relations of the vast numbers of persons whose lives at this period touched hers, to venture to give this revelation of them to the press, even if I were doubtful as to her intentions. But my instructions left no doubt. “Read them,” she told me, “as throwing light upon my life at that time. How much or how little I cannot tell, for I dare not read them myself; and I dread to think that you may find them full of egotism and vanity.” I do not so find them; what would be so, if said to another, is only dutiful to mother, brother, and sister, husband, child, or next friend. And for the rest, it is a self-confidence as rare as well deserved, when one on the confines of age can thus confide to another’s eye the records of youth. But she knew they were all right when they were written, — true, that is, to her light and judgment of that time: and this committal of them to help my knowledge of her before we met seems to me in fact an illustration of her courageous integrity.
The pride and satisfaction of the mother, so constantly kept informed of the happenings of each day, was too great to remain satisfied at a distance, and the hazardous step was taken by Harriet Martineau of adding to all the public cares and private labours of her London life the care of a household. I find, by reference to these letters, how trying the position became, to which she so tenderly alludes in the Autobiography as a “troubling of the affections.” The more she loved and honoured her mother, the more truly she estimated the many really admirable qualities that made her character, the more she must naturally have suffered from a fretful and domineering temper which claimed continually what it was absurd and wrong in the daughter to yield. She was not a second time guilty of the folly of sacrificing her career of life and duty to her mother’s insufficient judgment, but she suffered profoundly from the pain of resisting it; and in combining her mother’s wishes and her own loving sense of filial duty with the exigencies of her position as one owing a duty to the world, took every proper precaution against the readily foreseen ill consequences of the new step.
TO MRS. MARTINEAU.
July 8, 1833.
Dearest Mother, —
I have rather put off writing, feeling that I have much to say, and now I must write after all more briefly than usual. Mrs. Ker has told you that I am well, and so I go on to what you most want to know next. About our future. I know of no risks that you are not at present aware of, and I have no fresh doubts. You are aware that I must travel, after 1834, for a year or little short of it; and we all know that my resources depend on health, and in some degree on popularity. I say “in some degree,” because I am pretty sure that I can now never be without employment unless I choose. I wish to put the pension out of the question because, though it is as fully designed for me as ever, I am just as likely to refuse as to accept it; and besides, it is intended for purposes of improvement, unless sickness should oblige me to live upon it. But I incline more and more to refuse it, though I need not make up my mind till I see how I am circumstanced with respect to the people when it is offered. I have every hope of being able to supply my annual £150, and you are as well aware of the chances against it as myself. I shall be very happy to invest £200 in furniture, in addition to that of my own two rooms, and you can take it out, if that plan will make you easy, at your convenience. If not, we shall not differ about these matters, I am sure. My advice is that we begin modestly, — with a house which we may keep after a time, when our income may be reduced. With prudence I think we may hope to live comfortably on our means, while I may be laying by something against a time of rest, if it should please God to preserve my health. I see no other plan which promises equal comfort for the three parties concerned, and if you are willing to trust to our industry and care, so am I; and I have no doubt we shall make one another happy, if we at once begin with the change of habits which our change of position renders necessary. I fully expect that both you and I shall occasionally feel as if I did not discharge a daughter’s duty, but we shall both remind ourselves that I am now as much a citizen of the world as any professional son of yours could be. You shall be most welcome to my confidence, as ever, and to any comfort that may be derived from living in the same house, and meeting at the same table, and taking frequent walks, and having many mutual friends. My hours of solitary work and of visiting will leave you much to yourself; this you know and do not fear; so now the whole case is before you, and you know exactly under what feelings I say “Come.” I may just mention that I see no sign of disapprobation on any hand, though there are naturally doubts here and there as to how a removal from a place where you have lived so many years may affect you. We, however, know that removal to be necessary, whether you come to London or fix your abode elsewhere; there is another chance, dear mother, and that is, of my marrying. I have no thoughts of it. I see a thousand reasons against it. But I could not positively answer for always continuing in the same mind. It would be presumptuous to do so; and I especially feel this when I find myself touched by the devoted interest with which some few of my friends regard my labours. I did not know till lately any thing of the enthusiasm with which such services as I attempt can be regarded, nor with what tender respect it could be testified. I mean no more than I say, I assure you; but, strong as my convictions are against marrying, I will not positively promise. As for my money prospects, the sale cannot now fall below the point of profit, and large profit; and there is the cheaper edition to look to, which every body says will yield an income for years to come. . . . .
Do not trouble yourselves about the vagabond who took my name at the police-office the other day. Nobody but “The Age” will take her to be me.
Then follows the usual journal of the week. Visitors, dinners, evening parties, work completed. It was at this time that the fine incense of the eighteenth century was made to smoke around her by Mrs. Berry and her friends. It appears to have been delicately done; for, after a long list of distinguished names, — “a charming little party to meet me,” — she acknowledges that it was very pleasant, “though I was made the principal person, quite.” She goes on: —
I have been doing again about the factory business. What a sweet letter from Ellen! I am much obliged by Aunt Rankin’s bag. Dear love to you two from
Yours most affectionately,
The above letter is dated “July 8,” from the house of a lady who tells her mother, on the same sheet, of the merry time they are having together, — “rather noisy, sometimes romping even, but on the whole reasonable,” — “freaks of opera-dancing,” etc., which Mrs. — — wishes might last a month. This lady always saw with the most painful sympathy how sad a thing it was that one like Harriet Martineau, with a head so clear, hands so busy, and a heart so tender, — constantly devoting herself for her family, and feeling as if, in fact, she could never do enough for their interests and pleasure, — should have been subjected to the trial, to her the greatest possible, of a deficiency in tenderness. But “that which is wanting cannot be numbered.” Mrs. Martineau, always a severe mother, had now become an exacting and jealous one, and no precautionary measures could avail. As her daughter’s sphere of duty outgrew her own, she again became as really unable to sympathize with her as when, in childhood, she had so fatally mismanaged her.
A loving, dutiful, and reverential nature never sees at the time where the cause of such a difficulty as this lies, especially when, as in this case, the place of the string wanting is filled with all the vigour and activity of a strong character.
It is wide of the present purpose, the harmonious, mournful verse of the finely endowed Felicia Hemans, that
since the same, as far as it is true, is equally so of illustrious persons of both sexes; as the lives of so many great men show, notwithstanding the public opinion of these centuries; which, favouring the notion that it is man’s exclusive privilege to do great things, has hindered woman in doing them by abundance of morbid statements like the above.
But greatness, in man or woman, must bear its special burdens. They are neither heavier nor widely different from those imposed by littleness. It is a very common thing to see family peace wrecked where there is no greatness to awaken jealousy.
Though all her devotedness failed to satisfy her mother’s unreasonable requisitions, one thing could be and was done by Harriet Martineau at this time. She relieved literature of the reproach of making human character undomestic and irritable, and showed, in her own instance, that public duty does but fit the better for private life. It needed as high a motive, joined to all her filial tenderness, to go on to the very end of possibility with this suffering family life. It was not (as we who look back upon it can now readily see) the best thing to have done for the parties concerned; but it shielded literature and the character of woman from a reproach which, at that period — the birthday of a new public question — it was of the utmost consequence to avoid. Her “unvarying sweetness of temper,” so often mentioned by early friends, enabled her to fulfil to the utmost the domestic duty of this period.
Happily, the heavy trial of the time was divided to Harriet Martineau by her American life. On leaving London she seized the opportunity of visiting her good elder brother Robert and his wife, her early friend, with their numerous young family, at Birmingham. It was an hour of delightful heart’s ease and recreation. Before leaving them for Liverpool, to embark, she begged the beloved little flock to say what they wished her to bring them from America. The same shy, dutiful answer from all, — “whatever Aunt Harriet pleased,” except the little Maria, who said, “Bring me a humming-bird’s nest.” It was this child who, twenty years after, joined her in London, at the time that her recovery was pronounced hopeless, with the devoted determination of never leaving her again; who was unto her as a daughter, and who died by her side.
But I must not anticipate.
Meanwhile, amid present anxieties and future hopes, proofs of the success of her labours for the public welfare were continually reaching her. Not only did the Manchester workmen declare that “her hero was their hero,” and their conviction that “she must have passed her life in a mill,” to have written of their hopes and wrongs, their sorrows and temptations, their rights and their needs, in a manner so experimental and effectual. The most influential among the employers were of the same mind, and co-operated to their utmost in the way she indicated. Her mind was of the high mediatorial character that can seize the truth and the right amid conflicting interests, and make it seen and felt of all. About this time her friend, Lord Durham, wrote to her thus: —
Lambton Castle, January 18, 1834.
Dear Miss Martineau, —
I have desired a Newcastle paper to be sent you, with an account of some observations of mine on the unions of this district, and of the steps taken to counteract their bad tendency by the institution of an association carrying into effect all the good objects of the old unions, without their accompanying evils. I will send you the rules, etc., when they are printed. Hitherto the attempt has succeeded well. There were 1200 members when I addressed them, and many have joined since, on the mere hearsay report of what I had said. No doubt it is expensive, for it will cost me £200 per annum at least; but so much is at stake that I do not grudge it. I hope to engraft on this association schools and libraries. The funds are flourishing; at the end of this their first year they have a balance of more than £500.
I assure you when I was addressing the men I could not help thinking how much more effective it would have been had I merely read to them an extract from your Manchester strike.
I hope you will, however, enable me soon to circulate amongst them that which will compensate for my deficiency.
Yours very truly,
The members only subscribe 4d. a week. They collected, in 1833, £1,170 13s. 2d., and spent £663 15s. 9d., leaving a balance on hand of £506 17s. 5d. I, as proprietor, name the president, and the members elect the committee and stewards.
Lambton Castle, January 1st, 1834.
Dear Miss Martineau, —
I have read your excellent paper with great pleasure, and thank you most sincerely for having spared us a portion of your valuable time. I shall see Mr. Morton to-day, and arrange with him as to the best mode of circulating it. Its style and tone is perfectly adapted to win the confidence and convince the understandings of the working classes. No time is to be lost, for on the Tyne the combination is spreading rapidly, and the most violent and bloody measures are openly avowed.
I leave Lambton to-morrow, and expect to be in London on Monday night. . . . . I am endeavouring to unite our three great parishes of Chester, Houghton, and Gateshead under one overseer, with a liberal salary, to carry into effect the Southwell principle of administering the poor-laws, — in fact, that which is illustrated in your works. If I succeed, you might perhaps tell me where I could find the proper person. The salary would be large enough to tempt a first-rate person to undertake the office.
Yours very truly,
The fearful “Condition-of-England Question,” which Harriet Martineau thus confronted in her active time, was not without cause; one of its causes was the ignorance and apathy of the middle class.
Persons of the highest intelligence, literary cultivation, and religiously trained thought, like Sara Coleridge, took such a mistaken and merely literary view of the matter as this: —
“What a pity it is, that, with all her knowledge of child-nature, she should try to persuade herself and others that political economy is a fit and useful study for growing minds and limited capabilities, — a subject of all others requiring matured intellect and general information as its basis! This same political economy which quickens the sale of her works now, will, I think, prove heavy ballast for a vessel that is to sail down the stream of time. . . . . And she might have rivalled Miss Edgeworth! . . . . And then, what practical benefit can such studies have for the mass of the people for whom, it seems, that Miss M— intends her expositions? They are not like religion, which may and must mould the thoughts and acts of every-day life, the true spirit of which, therefore, cannot be too much studied and explained. But how can poor people help the corn-laws, except by sedition?”
[* ]Vol. I. p. 100.
[* ]From “The Charmed Sea,” Illustrations Political Economy, Vol. V.
[* ]See page of resolutions, ante.
[* ]William Stoker, then a boy of thirteen, the only son of her landlady.
[† ]Elliot Cresson, who tried to deceive her about the colonization society.
[* ]This was the unsatisfactory full-length portrait that hung so long at Lord Londonderry’s; and which was pronounced by brother painters “an atrocity.”
[† ]Queen Adelaide.
[* ]The poor-law tale.