Front Page Titles (by Subject) CONSEQUENCES OF FOREIGN LIFE, — WITHOUT. - Harriet Martineau's Autobiography, vol. 2 and Memorials of Harriet Martineau
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CONSEQUENCES OF FOREIGN LIFE, — WITHOUT. - 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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CONSEQUENCES OF FOREIGN LIFE, — WITHOUT.
“But when one is attempting noble things, it is surely noble also to suffer whatever may befall us to suffer.”
Warned by her saying about beginning at the creation and going on to the day of judgment, I am not going to anticipate the final consequences of Harriet Martineau’s American life. The ultimate rehabilitation of a race and the redemption of a continent are events in which these after times are tracing distinctly her influence as one important link in the chain of causes still producing happy effects. I have only to relate the consequences to herself, and show the impression she made on her contemporaries.
It seldom happens that men reap precisely what they expect from any carefully planned course. Harriet Martineau’s American harvest was certainly to her an unexpected one. She had merely hoped to gather seed for English sowing, — to scatter in her own land those principles of justice and mercy to the least favoured classes which ours was thought to have discovered; and she found herself obliged, by her allegiance to all that is just and merciful, to put her hand to the breaking of our stubborn clods, for the implanting of the common principles of mercy and justice to a sixth part of our whole population, composing a class utterly overlooked except in the estimate of property, or in the scramble for office, when planters must be propitiated in proportion to the amount of their human stock.
Such an experience as hers in America, besides being incalculably blessed to our people, was influential on all her after life. In the first place, it could not but greatly modify all the opinions she at first formed, when she took our prominent Americans on trust, for what they seemed to be, as travellers always naturally do.
She said, in the frankness of her admiration of the American celebrities as she first saw them, — men of parts, standing tall upon the institutions placed for them, like pedestals, by their great fathers, — “It is such a substantial comfort to find that the American great men are great men.” But the same experience that deprived her of so comforting a persuasion gave her also to know that (to use the Hebrew Scripture, which is as the mother tongue of the American people) “the Lord did not lack a man to stand before him,” although those whom the land called its great ones were so manifestly unequal to the emergency. With the exception of the Rev. S. J. May, and those she has named in a previous volume, she was in like manner disappointed in the Unitarian ministry. The first year, her journal says of such: “They seem superior men.” “They all seem like fathers and brothers.” “They take such broad ground, not preaching against specific sins, but enunciating great principles!” Not the least of the great benefits of her life among us was to show by its contrast with theirs the unmeaning character of the inanities which these fathers and brothers were in the habit of uttering, with a tender, laborious emphasis which they called “earnestness,” at a moment when an earnest man’s conscience would have flown in his face at such a paltering with manly duty. But the observing world, translating these pulpit manœuvres into the language of the corrupt of old time, — “put me, I pray thee, into one of the priests’ offices, that I may have a piece of bread,” — never failed, while it left their few high-minded brethren to starve, to throw them the morsel they had so richly merited. They compelled Harriet Martineau to recognize in them at last, not the emulators of the mobbed and exiled Priestley, not the peers of the Synod of Ulster, who “loved the light of truth more than the praise of men,” not the Christians of the New Testament stock, whom the truth had made free, but, in the newer testamentary phrase of the South, “the slaves of the church and congregation.” The nobler Unitarians never ceased to feel the direct influences of her spirit of benevolence and activity. A Channing was informed and stirred by it to stay for a short time the enslavement of Texas: — the South mistakenly thought his wealthy townsmen and parishioners — their fellow-gamblers for place and profit — were crowding behind him. A Furness came far in advance of the cowardly ranks of American Unitarianism, into practical fellowship with the American abolitionists; but the vast majority of those she met she was obliged to leave as she found them, and their last state was worse than their first.
Harriet Martineau has been sometimes called dogmatic and opiniated by incompetent acquaintances and opposition politicians, in both countries; but I think it would be difficult to cite an instance where her preconceived opinions, however warmly cherished (as her high ideas of prominent Americans certainly were), did not immediately yield to facts. Pride of opinion she had not: it was clearness of sight and consequent strength of conviction. But till insight and experience came to justify the conclusions of sight, she held them subject to correction, with a readiness to renounce error that I have never seen equalled.
A clear vision of what is fatal to humanity, like a view of the fabled basilisk, is very dangerous to them that obtain it; but it is a sight worth all the risk as a preparation for future service.
Full of mingled hope and anxiety for the country whose interests she had so truly made her own, somewhat worn by all the risks, responsibilities, and fatigues of what she had undergone in this new stage of her progress, distressed by its many revelations and pained by its many partings, and, notwithstanding all, furnished with the humming-bird’s nest for the little Maria, she reached her family in safety before the end of the month of August, 1836.
As the scenes and sayings and doings and personages began to settle into their true perspective in her mind, and while she went over with her home friends the masses of information she had accumulated, separating what stood the two years’ experience from what had fallen, she began to feel herself competent to write the American book she had been so many times questioned about, and so often had doubted whether she should ever feel qualified to give to the world.
“Society in America” is not only by far the best book of travels in that country, in the judgment of the best qualified Americans and Englishmen, but it must needs remain of permanent value as a picture of the United States towards the middle of the nineteenth century. Painted at a moment when the land dared neither to see nor to know itself, and when ordinary travellers — whose knowledge and vision is of course limited by that of their surroundings — walked as blindly with the nation in the road to its destruction as the hosts of Sennacherib against Israel, it is the only existing “portrait of the times” of any sufficient degree of completeness, and must, as such, become more and more valuable with the passage of time. Her own recent valuation of it, in view of its American metaphysical foundation and its essay-like style, does not touch this estimate. Its fairness, its largeness and accuracy, the truth and beauty of its impartial reprehension of all that was bad and its sympathetic admiration of all that was good, are not only universally acknowledged among intellectual Americans at the present time, but they were so at the very period of publication, when moral opposition was at its hottest. Hostile as these critics were, and able as they will be seen, through their madness of the hour, to have been, there is scarcely one of them (except the mouthpieces of Philadelphia fashion and Boston trade and manufactures, collectively called “property and standing”) who did not afterwards, like Balaam rising on Zophim to curse, find himself constrained altogether to bless three times over.
Those old newspapers and reviews, yellow and dusty with years (records of a hot moral battle of which so many of the ranks are dead and so many more buried out of sight and past resurrection by their proslavery course at that time) bring to mind the melting away of the embattled foes of Israel before the invisible powers that stood across their path.
They are all gone, — the Websters, the Everetts, and the Clays; the mayors of cities that presided at such enormous gatherings as that in Faneuil Hall, convoked at the demand of the governors of Southern States by fifteen hundred of the leading gentlemen of Boston, to guarantee slavery against the abolitionists. It was to oblige the South that these outrages and those of the newspapers were perpetrated, which I find in the great folio collection now under my hand.
The following letter gives Harriet Martineau’s state of mind on the reception of her book in England: —
LETTER TO MRS. CHAPMAN.
“When I was just beginning my book some Quaker acquaintances of ours introduced George Thompson to my married elder sister, with the express design of having him and me brought together, in order that he might keep me up to my resolution on the slavery question. My sister very properly refused to introduce any disturbing influence into my mind on an occasion which she knew was considered by me as one of the most solemn of my life. She knew that my testimony would lose half its value if there was the least colour for supposing that I had given it under dictation or stimulus from without. So I have not seen Mr. Thompson. All alone and in the religious quiet of my study it has been written, and in it you have the reflection of my very soul; as for my expectations from it, I am ashamed of them already. I thought the book would ruin me; and this thought was confirmed by the importunity which has been used to prevail upon me to keep back some things which it was supposed I might say. I kept back nothing which it was in my heart to say. The book has been out only ten days, and its success seems to be quite complete. It has received the warmest welcome from those whom I think the most valuable part of our society, and a generous construction from the timid, second-rate people. All seem to trust me, and do me justice even when they most differ from me. My hopes are therefore strong that I have not been working for you in vain. I do not think I should have had one dark hour if I had failed to help you and had ruined myself; but I own that my heart is very light at this conclusion of the greatest affair I was ever engaged in. Not that it is yet concluded here, and I shall be some time yet in hearing from your side of the water. I know that the stings will come when the honey is all had; but whatever happens, dear friend, do not feel one moment’s concern for me. Let us work on, and trust each other for bearing as well as doing. — Thank you for all the interesting things you have sent me. I do not like to delay writing till I have read them, for I think you will consider the good reception of my book good news.”
Good news indeed! The book reached George Thompson as he was sealing a letter to America of this same date. The letter lay on the table while he read, and it reached the American friends with this exclamation written round the seal, “Well done, Harriet!”
We had none of us doubted that it would be so. In proportion to the satisfaction of the abolitionists was the discomfiture of her slaveholding friends. A storm of disapprobation came from that quarter quite sufficient to nullify any undue self-esteem which their previous enthusiasm of affection for her might well have excited.
It will be easier to learn how America received this true presentment, from the aforesaid heap of reviews and newspapers, than in any other way; and the colour of Philadelphia fashion may be first learned, by giving precedence to the “American Quarterly Review,” — whig in politics, orthodox in religion, — which reflected the opinions of its patrons in an article of some thirty pages. After asserting that Miss Martineau had declared in the most unequivocal terms that she did not mean to write, while a part of her book was actually ready for the publisher before she left the country, (!) the reviewer goes on thus: —
“No stranger since the days of Lafayette was more cordially entertained, — the more fools we for our easiness of access! — and Miss Martineau adds another to the list of her spiteful predecessors. This work of hers makes us quits, as the children say, and we shall therefore imitate her freedom of remark. The book has a ready sale in these dull times, — duller, perhaps, to booksellers than to any other class. They at least should thank her for this diversion in their favour. She will hear from us more than once; for she cuts right and left, sparing none but abolitionists and negroes.”
After several pages of extremely low abuse of Miss Martineau for being deaf, and for having spoken of the food of the country, the reviewer proceeds to speak of “that unwomanly act of hers, — the delivery of a speech at an abolition meeting.”
“The consequences of this made her put gall in her ink, and raised that unjust, imbecile, and untrue statement when speaking of Mr. Everett’s oration to the ‘handful,’ or small flock, in the field. As she could not by any possibility hear what he said, she must have been indebted to some of Mr. Everett’s malignant political opponents for the subject-matter of the discourse, who must have insinuated that ‘Mr. Everett was an anti-abolitionist and anti-amalgamationist, an anti-Malthusian, and an anti-half-and-half-woman-man.’ It was to this that Mr. Everett owes the honourable notice that this Malthusian lady took of him. The abuse has certainly rendered him more conspicuous, but in a way which Miss Martineau never conjectured nor intended; she would have consigned him to silence and oblivion rather than have added to his popularity. We have not many to look up to in cases of extremity, but when we find such a man as Everett expressing his opinions honestly, even to the discomfiture of a woman, — a circumstance which is more distasteful to an American gentleman than anything which could occur, — we know to whom we can resort if the evil theme of sudden emancipation should ever be gravely discussed.”
It is well to note, for the better comprehension of this, that those “opinions” Mr. Everett expressed in those times to the discomfiture of women were the ones which obliged them to send their children from their houses for safety when threatened with mob-violence; which subjected them to showers of stones in the streets of their own city; which filled those streets with a mob of his friends and supporters when women said slavery was a sin, while he declared from the Senate that he was ready to “buckle on his knapsack” to defend it, and suggested from the governor’s chair, to a community ready to lynch the abolitionists, a resort to indictment at common law as sufficient to convict them, while the Southern gentlemen were demanding special legislation by which to crush them, and the Philadelphia gentlemen pledging him their support for any appointment they could influence, as one trustworthy in his allegiance to Southern interests.
After going on to reproach Miss Martineau with her “robust health and tough nerves,” with “being able to race through the country with the frame of a moss-trooper for toughness of muscles and wiriness of frame, with being able to wade through a stream and sit in her wet clothes without fear of disastrous consequences, and overcoming difficulties which the stoutest male travellers considered almost insurmountable, the reviewer proceeds: —
“We do not object to Miss Martineau’s health. We wish every woman on earth could boast of such hardiness. But we do object to such scamperings over strange lands for the purpose of procuring materials for a book which is to vilify the very people who give her the freedom of the country.”
Then follows much reprobation of Miss Martineau’s “cruelty” and “disrespect.”
“She sneers at the metaphysics of the Boston women, and speaks disparagingly of their talent; shows her malignant feelings by saying that there exists a whine and a twang in the voices of American women, — and that in the very district where she happened to be on the most cordial and intimate footing with some of its inhabitants. . . . . How she vents her malignant and bitter feelings against all who have shown her hospitalities, and treated her with such marked respect and kindness! . . . . How could any but a heartless and cold-blooded being finish off her anecdote against duelling by saying of the young man of nineteen, whose family decided that he should accept a challenge, ‘that a lesson of low selfishness and moral cowardice was thus impressed upon him by the guardians of his youth, and the society in which he lives has seen the strongest testimony to false principles borne by two of its most respected members’! . . . . We protest against the hateful practice of duelling. It is not to extenuate that offence that we condemn this woman. It is to show how she vents her bitter and malignant feelings toward all who have shown her courtesies and hospitalities. She well knew that the eminent families of any one State are known to the whole Union. Every person in the United States who reads her book will know to whom she alludes; and to have an affair, now consigned to oblivion, ripped up with a harsh hand, for no earthly purpose but to inflict a sting upon the hearts of the parents, is so great an insult to civilized feelings, that all who read will shrink from the hand that penned it. She might deem herself called upon to reprobate duelling, and describe its horrible consequences; but to point out the parties almost by name, and to give such an offensive personal turn to her remarks, deserves the severest reprobation.”
This last paragraph illustrates the condition of American morals at that period. The reserve on the subject of slavery which mingled shame and good faith had compelled at the North on the adoption of the Constitution, and which a continually strengthening claim of self-interest more and more increased, ended in subverting the religious and political principles under which the country had existed previous to the Revolution; and men with the Bible in one hand and the Declaration of Independence in the other sold slaves to raise money to evangelize the Hindoos and to send standards to the Poles. Common-sense was considered madness when it noticed these inconsistencies which had almost reduced the nation to moral idiocy, and yet men had the instinct left to reckon with the difficulty under any name but the right one. The word slavery, through this whole Review article, is almost as carefully avoided as it was in the Constitution of the United States.
An immense effort was at this time being made to settle the case of slavery on general principles. Dr. Channing was triumphantly dragged into this field of ethical distinctions, and the work to be done in the slaveholders’ behalf was to separate the sinner from his act. Because no man can judge another’s heart or accurately proportion his punishment, it was claimed that, though slaveholding was a sin, the slaveholder was not necessarily a sinner. These were the most advanced moralists; for the bulk of the Northern money-making metaphysicians claimed that slavery was only an evil, while the Southern money-making theologians had already received the hint from statesmen to claim it as an unmingled good. The average of opinion stood thus: that though “slavery in the abstract” (as it was the fashion scrupulously to say) ought not to be justified, yet slavery in the actuality ought not to be condemned. It was a national calamity (to be borne as such with resignation), but not an individual sin, to be repented of and forsaken. This is the principle or problem the American Quarterly was dealing with under the name of duelling, being straitened by the times in its vocabulary.
The sight of moral methods that went straight through all these niceties, as through cobwebs, to the work of removing the evil by awakening to the nature of the wrong, always stimulated the Americans to frenzy.
It goes on to say: —
“Does a woman of circumscribed education and recluse habits feel herself competent to teach a whole nation, — a nation that did not think the wisest and the greatest in her land capable of giving them sound instruction? Did we not separate ourselves from them because we felt in advance of them? Did we not show ourselves superior, in physical strength and moral strength? And up to this moment have we not outstripped them in wholesome laws and in many of the arts? Until their demoralizing Malthusian and agrarian principles infected our land, introduced here by these itinerant lepers, were we not prosperous beyond example? Does this poor flimsy tool of a nest of poisonous radicals suppose we are to look upon the impertinences of her pen as a standard by which we are to regulate ourselves? . . . .
“We must pass to other portions of her precious patchwork, — for patchwork it may be called, — as every one will perceive at once that the arrangement of her work into chapters and sections is a mere sham. The theme she has chosen, to be sure, has a beginning, middle, and end; Aristotle himself could not have objected to it on this score. The beginning is agrarianism, abolition, amalgamation, Malthusianism, and radicalism, with a strong dash of egg-and-milk-ism; the middle, ditto, with a still stronger mixture of humbugism; and the end, ditto, with a compound of conceit and maudlinism which surpasses all that has gone before it.”
After a great deal of personality about her English friend Lord Durham, not only as a “deep, double-dyed radical,” but “to let her know about his temper, — his morose temper, — not so morose as exciting and uncomplying, nay, not so morose, exciting, and uncomplying as harsh and passionate,” and her American friend Dr. Follen, as “eating the bread of this people for seven years,” and yet not having disabused the “poor insolent foolish woman;” the Quarterly proceeds to call her many names on account of her visiting the prisons. “Conceit and impertinence,” “nauseous exposure,” “finding satisfaction in coming in contact with the most foul and detestable of criminals,” are its gentlest words. It goes on thus: —
“We do not believe that another woman could be found, who, out of mere curiosity, — which any man was as capable of exercising if she wanted information, — would choose to come in contact with such ruffians. If prisons were conducted as they used to be in the days of Howard or Mrs. Fry, a woman might be found who would step out of the sphere of her sex and administer relief to that ‘great amount of suffering’ which economists always talk about. But that a woman out of mere Malthusian curiosity should pollute her person and her trumpet by the breathings of the depraved of humanity, and merely for the purpose of asking a foolish question to which she might be sure of getting a lying answer, is one of the most outrageous insults her sex has ever received.”
To her suggestions about the care of the physical, moral, and mental health of the prisoners by instruction and sympathy the Review remarks: —
“It is in vain that we check our indignation at the revelations of such a crude and mischievous mind. It is in vain to say it is but idle dreaming and should pass unnoticed. We cannot do it; we must speak, and in the strongest terms that propriety will admit. We must warn our readers to consider this woman’s advice as mischievous and pernicious in the highest degree.”
She is reproached also with having given “their first lessons of rebellion to wholesome restraint to many a female servant and underling,” and with having stimulated young men who deprecated the tyranny of a moneyed mob by approbation when they “proposed to show a cold front to the insolent and powerful rich men of the country.” This is an allusion to Charles Sumner and others of his young contemporaries, — friends and admirers of Harriet Martineau.
“If there were really such a young man, we should say he would be very much ashamed of such whining cant when he comes to have a few dollars in his pocket. Poor young men, with a slender stock of sense, are very apt to hate the rich; but if it so chance that they ever get rich themselves, they are the first to assist in quieting such busybodies as Thompson and Martineau. It was by a hard struggle, pledging our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honour, that we succeeded in binding the States to the close union which now exists, and the pledge remains in full force still; we are not about to sit quietly down and see a few turbulent, needy foreigners, — bad subjects at home and impertinent visitors abroad, — and a few of the discontented feeble-minded of our country, sow the seeds of disunion, without giving them a rough shake or two to bring them to their senses. But we should never have done, if we were to touch at every point on which this Malthusian butterfly, — no, dragon-fly, has alighted.”
This allusion to “rough shakes,” in order to account for past mobocratic violence, was a threat of it for the future.
How such an article as this could obtain publication awakens fresh astonishment after the passing away of the first amazement at the fact that such an article could have been written.
These are not things that a man would utter who had any thing else to say. They reveal the impeccability of Harriet Martineau’s work in its general scope and bearing and execution. They can only be accounted for by stating how near Philadelphia was to the slave States in space, and how identical in spirit. And this was a grave American review of forty years ago, which in its normal state, the year before, had expressed itself on the appearance of her two volumes of Miscellanies as follows: —
“A comprehension of the principle of social responsibility is the great and rare merit of Miss Martineau’s writings, reappearing everywhere in them, and always bringing with it an eloquence of humanity which rejoices the heart. It is this which gives the glowing spirit to the essays on Sir Walter Scott, at the commencement of the first volume. This also gives their beauty to the Sabbath Musings, which in their expression of this principle and feeling stand quite alone and peculiar among devotional papers.
“In no place in these volumes, however, does she do herself more justice than in the noble essay on Moral Independence.
“That the principle of social responsibility is struggling for expression in political events is evident from the revolutions in Europe and America; the reform of the English Parliament; the struggles of Ireland for equality with England; of the Greeks for independence of the Sultan; of the Poles for freedom from Russian tyranny. . . . .
“We do not happen to agree with Miss Martineau in all her principles of political economy: on one of them we would make open war. But we cannot be insensible to the wonderful talent she has shown in her series of Illustrations; to the glow of moral life and beauty she has shed over those sad tales which show the baneful effect of human errors in legislation; and to the strong-voiced and deeply breathing humanity which pervades them all.”
Glancing over the surpassing beauty of the Illustrations as works of art, and confirming Miss Martineau’s idea of the importance of political economy as a branch of moral science, the Review goes on to the importance of literature in awakening new life and purpose in the present age; and quotes Miss Martineau’s thought in the “Scott papers”: —
“ ‘The grandest manifestations of passion remain to be displayed; the finest elements of the poetry of human emotion are yet uncombined; the most various dramatic exhibition of events and characters is yet unwrought, for there has yet been no recorder of the poor.’
“In this new literature of the people Miss Martineau takes a high rank. Inspired with the finest affections of a woman, and taking her stand on all in human nature and the counsels of God which her affections reveal, her clear understanding gives her wide and true views of social relations and duties.”
Two of the essays — one on the agency of feelings in the formation of habits and one on the agency of habits in the regeneration of feelings — are particularly commended as the most valuable in the book for practical wisdom, and the Review commends them especially to young women, because the question between principle and feeling is very practically considered and satisfactorily settled in them.
Then follow the reviewer’s remarks on Miss Martineau as a metaphysician, or psychologist, or philosopher, expressing entire dissent with great comparative courtesy, and pointing out imperfections in the best temper and spirit.
“Thus much for the logic of a materialist who has the feelings of a Christian in her heart and that faith in immortality which she may not let go, even for her system: for she is a true and humane woman.
“We cannot leave these volumes without a tribute of respect to several articles that can come neither under the head of philosophical nor moral essays. We allude to the very interesting letter upon the Hanwell Lunatic Asylum, — the letter to the deaf, which inspires a profound veneration for the writer; to the article on Salem Witchcraft; to much of the articles on prison discipline, ‘Nature and Providence to communities,’ and ‘Romanism and Episcopacy,’ — practical subjects which call out her good sense and truly moral character.
“But we would repeat it, in the department of fiction alone is Miss Martineau great: we would willingly write as much again as we have done in setting forth the claims of her ‘Illustrations’ as works of art.
“It is this conviction of ours that has made us say what we have of her want of philosophic genius [meaning, as is clear from the context, metaphysical]; perhaps we have been vain enough to feel that, should her eye ever fall on these pages, an idea might be deposited in her mind (to use her own phraseology), that she had better devote herself exclusively to that department of writing in which she is unquestionably a genius, and realize the idea of a new class of novels, rivalling Scott’s in beauty and interest, and grounded on a more universal condition of humanity than the feudal system. As she herself says: —
“ ‘Why not now take the magnificent subject, the birth of political principle, whose advent has been heralded so long? What can afford finer moral scenery than the transition state in which society now is? Where are nobler heroes to be found than those who sustain society in the struggle, and what catastrophe so grand as the downfall of bad institutions and the issues of a process of renovation?’ ”
And the article winds up with the whole animated passage respecting the part which the same human passions swaying the same human hearts, and the same virtues working to higher ends, will have to play in the new order of things, in which love will be more than ever before lovely, and heroism more heroic.
Thus it was through all the showy front ranks of American literature, politics, and religion. Slavery had brought them to that degree of moral degradation that their normal condition was hypocrisy, when Harriet Martineau’s sincerity and reality compelled the casting away of the moral disguises, the ancestral habits of expression, so untrue to the lives of the existing generation.
The “North American Review” answered to the Quarterly’s abusive article in spirit, though it was far from being so amusing; for it wanted to see what the rest of the world would say, and the New England world was not in sufficient harmony with the Quarterly to warrant the same expenditure of epithets. In the “North American Review” the excess of caution forbade not only the mention of slavery, but of abolition too.
It was in the columns of the “Daily Advertiser,” hight “respectable,” that Boston answered to Philadelphia. There was the same inability to discriminate between a great public scandal before the world, — legitimate matter of publicity, — and private scandal of no importance to any one; and therefore while the temperance societies, the temperance advocates, and all the temperance physicians, including the most eminent in the country, were making strenuous efforts to stay an acknowledged national vice, which was creeping in among women even of the first classes, Miss Martineau was taken to task by both these publications, as if she had betrayed private confidence, for saying that she had witnessed examples of excess known to all the world about them. She was seeking for the cause, in order to find the cure, in such openings of various careers suited to women’s capacities and education as should furnish them with a truer stimulus than the hours of pernicious excitement which varied the dulness of their lives. She had fathomed the cause: American women were then educated, and had been for half a century, beyond the sphere of action permitted them; and while some of them were strenuously labouring for the temperance cause as a safeguard from the danger of such a life, others were yielding to its temptations. Society in America was then as distinctly though less violently divided on this question as on the question of slavery itself. All that Miss Martineau had said (and there was not the slightest personality in it) was matter of public notoriety. But the men of the wealthiest classes were, notwithstanding, opposers of the temperance cause, — less as bon vivans than as distillers and wholesale importers of wines and brandies, the mere advertisement of which was a revenue to the newspapers. Miss Martineau, meanwhile, was looking deeper than the temperance societies had then done into the necessity in human nature for occupations interesting to the mind and to the heart, if healthy action and development of the powers are to be secured, and intemperance banished from society.
One cry of indignation rose from all the Whig political organs at Miss Martineau’s disappointment in Mr. Everett as an orator. But it always was shared, during his whole career, by all who were awake to the condition of the country, while hearing him speak on any but the purely classical and literary subjects which he so much loved and adorned. On these his speech was as the voice of a far-off Grecian past; but it never roused to march against the invading Philip of the day, nor was it like the low, soul-cleaving lyric harmony to which
There was no time in his political life when Mr. Everett did not necessarily seem like a mountebank, as he stood to talk of freedom and the great forefathers before a people whose liberties he had betrayed.
In excuse for the impeachment of her exactness as an observer by the editors who took exceptions at what she said about “the little flock of his auditors in a green field at Bloody Brook,” it should be remembered that none of them knew any thing about the size of the monster meetings in England, where her reform-song was sung, on which her ideas of a great crowd were formed.
To allay the pain of these remembrances, needful to the understanding of Harriet Martineau’s character and the impression it made, let the American patriot call to mind how nobly Mr. Everett acknowledged that his propitiatory course towards the South had been a mistaken one when the impending war with the South aroused him to the fact; and how many persecuting Sauls of this period became the self-sacrificing Pauls of a later one.
Harriet Martineau had been scoffed at by some of the baser sort in England. England rebuked and silenced them, and profited by her instructions, and covered her with renown. The press of the United States was wellnigh unanimous in taunting England with her goodness and greatness, which it called by every abusive name, and took the occasion to brand her personally with every ill epithet which she least deserved. She was a “hard,” “cold,” “pitiless,” “Amazonian,” “masculine,” “incendiary,” “radical” “amalgamationist,” and it went back to the defunct abuse of the “Illustrations,” combining the whole for daily use; and insinuating threats of mob-vengeance on future visitors from England, unless they avoided any disapproval of “our institutions,” meaning slavery. Future travellers were thus furnished with a ridiculous vade mecum, which they laughed at, but obeyed during the succeeding half-century.
But the American press was not quite unanimous. It would be doing injustice to the editors of that time in the towns of Plymouth, Lowell, Salem, Lynn, and Haverhill in Massachusetts, and Keene in New Hampshire, besides the antislavery journals, not to remember that they paid sensible and able tributes to Harriet Martineau as having “rightly divided the word of truth.” Her admiration and affection for their country, her appreciation of its sublime and beautiful scenery, her sense of the excellence of its institutions and the amiable and energetic character of its inhabitants, her perception of its advance before the Old World in all but arts, her appreciation of the grandeur of its struggle with wrong, the fervency of her trust in its ultimate success, her fidelity to right, and her love of human beings irrespective of any thing but their deserts, unmindful of any reproach it might subject her to of being the friend of little aristocracies or the friend of criminals or slaves, — all made in the New England towns a profound impression. Her mission to America had begun.