Front Page Titles (by Subject) CONSEQUENCES,—TO LIFE PASSIVE. - 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.
CONSEQUENCES,—TO LIFE PASSIVE. - 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.
CONSEQUENCES,—TO LIFE PASSIVE.
“A good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose, to a life beyond time.”
Sorrow, suffering, fame, foreign travel, danger, had always, up to the time of her return from America, kept Harriet Martineau’s health below the degree she might otherwise have enjoyed.
Now, added to all these, was the preparation and putting through the press of so many important volumes.
Though she was not then fully aware of the too great exertion, she did afterwards make efforts for rest and refreshment. But a tour among the lakes and a journey with an invalid cousin to Switzerland were so filled up with various work and thoughtful planning for more work, that she returned to London in a state of health that, perforce, put a stop to further exertion until she should have consulted with her brother-in-law, the physician at Newcastle. The result of a month’s visit in his family, and under his care, was to confirm the need of rest and quietness, and she went thence to the lodgings at Tynemouth, which she did not leave till long years afterwards.
It seems on a mere glance at the outward facts a very strange life; — but it is accounted for. There was for her at this period, as ever previously, the heaviest family grief and responsibility, mingled with real family affection and care; a life of thought and industry in the midst of patient suffering; a life of loneliness, yet of much solace from the friendship of many.
These six years of enforced retreat she always called the passive period of her life. And one desirous to follow this passive period in all its suffering and solace, should fill in the preceding Autobiography from such journals and letters as are permitted.
The literary works will be found recorded in the first, but the work that told upon the world will be better shown from the two latter sources.
After the Swiss journey there related, the breaking down of health, the return to Fludyer Street, Westminster, and the visit to Newcastle, the journal begins: —
December 15, 1839. — Strange but pleasant to begin again after five months’ interval. I shall not have much to put down at present, but it may be useful and pleasant hereafter to see how it was with me when thus confined, with a near future wholly dark and uncertain.
For the better understanding of this journal, let it be noted that the “Oberlin,” as Harriet Martineau always called it, is the college founded for the Western States of America, when it was found that “Lane Seminary” would not allow its students to be abolitionists. Eyes of farther reach into futurity than those of any of the presidents of American colleges at that time, saw the pressing need of immediate effort to place education on a better basis; and we sent two of our number to England to raise funds there for the purpose of founding a new institution, which should afford instruction irrespective of colour and of sex. It was to this effort that she gave herself till the object was accomplished; all the while revolving in her mind the practicability of coming to live in America, to share the life of the abolitionists. In her journal at Tynemouth is the following record: —
Am much disposed to live for the great enterprise. I opened it to-day to — —. Must consult. At present it seems much like an inspiration. God grant it, through whatever suffering. . . . .
I wrote the “Dress-Maker” during this and the next month, a little at a time, with slowness and uncertainty. At the time thought it hardly worth the pains, — the doing it so painfully. But when done glad to have undertaken. Great satisfaction in a finished thing. This one much approved. Health much the same. No suffering worth speaking of from being laid by, which my distant friends conclude to be a very hard trial. My future will be provided for somehow, and the present is full of comforts. Bodily suffering not great just now, and kindness of friends most cheering. Out of doors once this month, and do not mean to try again at present. Lord Durham asked me over to Lambton to meet the Duke of Sussex. Could not go, of course. Much enjoyed some talk on politics with Mr. Hawes and Charles Buller, who came over from Lambton. Striking review of Carlyle by Sterling in the London and Westminster. Carlyle writes to me that it is like the Brocken Spectre, — a very large likeness and not very correct.
December 15. — The Mayor, Mr. Carr, called and got interested about the Oberlin.
December 16. — Mr. McAlister spent the evening to hear all about Oberlin and the abolition. I hope a sermon may come out of it.
January 17. — Miss F. came to bring me a contribution of £10, and to tell me of Dr. Winterbottom’s delight at the “Martyr Age.” Madame Goethe is charmed with my America. I rejoice thereat. Letter from Lord Murray about the Oberlin. The article will be reprinted, I trust. Letter from Wicksted. Will do what he can for the Oberlin. Letters from Milnes, Mrs. Reid, and a lump besides. Also letters from Mr. Keep, the American delegate. There was a burst of tearful joy at the Oberlin, when they received the first instalment (£600) of our contributions. Mr. Dawes called, — an Ohio man, good-looking and hearty: says the corporation of London were unanimous, and proposed giving £1,000, first and last, but they were tampered with, he suspects, by the American Minister, Stevenson, and made to believe that helping the Oberlin would be flying in the face of the American government. When Dawes came in I was practising quadrilles for the children’s dance in the evening. It is curious to middle-aged persons to see little boys and girls dancing quadrilles perfectly and gracefully, and out in a country-dance. The gallopade step in a country-dance is a great improvement on the old jigging step. Our frivolity in comparison with the interests of the Oberlin struck me much, yet it is right enough in its way. Merry dance in the evening.
December 27. — Mr. Dawes called, and gave charming view of the Oberlin. The mischief-maker in the London corporation has lost his election in consequence, and they hope for a good vote from the reaction. The American Antislavery Society ask to reprint my article as a cheap tract. I am very glad of this. A dweller in Ohio, eleven miles from Oberlin, took in some seventy of the students and boarded them for a year. Another, many miles off, took in thirty. In like manner a farmer drove a cow a long way to present her to them. Some students are sons and brothers of slaveholders, and lose all their resources in going to Oberlin. So much for slavery being charming on the spot. One of the professors was offered $2,000 to preside at the proposed hall for free inquiry in Boston, but, as Dawes says, they might as well have tried to get one of the great Western oaks up by the roots. He went back to toil and poverty. Bad headache. Mr. Dawes, with capital facts and papers. His simplicity is very moving.
December 30. — Set about the Oberlin business after breakfast, when Mr. Dawes came in. He melted us all presently. It gives me great pleasure to recognize the fine American qualities which I used to admire there, — the glorious faith and piety, together with the shrewdness and business-like character of mind, sublime when applied to philanthropic instead of selfish affairs. Wrote some pages for them. — — came in. Thinks the Misses Grimké go a great deal too far in self-denial. So people thought in the days of the early Christians, no doubt. — — came in. Very solemn about the “Times” having taken up its song with Captain Marryatt against me; is earnest with me to answer. Shall not. Wrote a valentine for the boys.
December 31. — Wrote for the Oberlin as long as duty would allow. That subject warms one’s whole heart. Mr. Frederic Hill called to know if I could point out a person fit to be governor of the new prison at Perth. (He is Inspector of Prisons.)
December 31, 1839. — The year is within an hour of its close, — a year of little work, yet of some value, though I doubt having voluntarily improved. I have neglected some of my best means and encouraged my selfishness. An invalid state will not improve me in this. How long will it last? Who of us will depart this next year? There is a strange list at each year’s end. Now for joining heart with the Follens over the sea. They are thinking of me this midnight, I know.
On the next page, headed “Miscellaneous Observations,” I find this description: —
Château de Joux lies in the Jura, on the French side. Toussaint must have approached through the defile, winding round a rocky hill, and disclosing the tiny valley, — the little basin of fertile fields, with the clear stream winding through it, which was the last bit of green earth he ever saw. He must have walked or gone on horseback up the winding path to the fort. Dreary rock, crested by the fort. Grand rock opposite, and four roads meeting beneath. Perpendicular rock on the back side, part of which he might see from his window. Dark firs above, and a snowy summit behind knolls, with firs sprinkled about, and glimpses into two valleys; patches of enclosure; ditto of pasture in a recess, with a few cows and children. Cow-bells; — boys; — singing; — church-bell. A bird or two. A flock of goats. Small running stream beside the road.
Two drawbridges and portcullis. Great well, court-yard, long staircase, on the right; past the wheel, door to the left: damp and dark by vault and passage, and then Toussaint’s room on left hand. Is vaulted, low, with charcoal drawings on the ceiling, about twenty-eight feet long and thirteen wide, window breast-high, deep and grated, with some view of the court-yard and the perpendicular rock opposite. Floor planked, very much decayed, and quite wet. Dripping of water heard all round, and wet clay in the passages, and flakes of ice from the roof and walls lying about. Door by one corner; window opposite; fireplace in middle of left side; and formerly (they say) a stove opposite. Toussaint was found dead, lying by his fire, — they said on some straw alone; but the woman gave another account. Fire burning when he was found. High up, not under ground (but not the less damp for that. Dim light, but no sunshine ever).
Woman’s account seems to me not to be true. She was clearly opposed to other testimony in most of her story; but here it is. She never saw him; but her first husband was in St. Domingo, and died there. She says Toussaint was caught by being banqueted by Le Clerc, on board a ship (at the farther end of two hundred men), which sailed away while he was at table: that his servant remained with him to the last. (The old man in the village says the porter waited on him.) She says the commandant Rubeau, or Rubaut, had orders from government to treat him well, supplied him with books, and had him daily to his house because he saw that “il avait du chagrin”: that Toussaint went, daily; and the last night excused himself as being unwell. It was proposed to have his servant with him, — he refused it, — was left with fire, flambeaux, book, and fauteuil, and was found dead in the morning: that physicians examined him and declared it to be rupture of a blood-vessel in the heart. He had liberty to walk about within the drawbridge, — need be in his room only at night; was small, had “du génie,” spoke negro language as well as French, and had a ceremonious funeral. She showed us where he is buried. It was in the church, but alterations have lately been made.
This story is much what might be expected to be put forth, in the case of a murdered or neglected prisoner. How came he to be in such a vile dungeon? This is irreconcilable with the rest.
Toussaint lived among “the skeletons of the earth,” — the rocks (as Julia says): contrast with the warm and living scenery of the tropics. What time of year did he arrive? How much snow?
Make him speculate on how Napoleon would like to be fixed on a rock.
January 1, 1840. — Read Examiner and tried to write for the Oberlin, but could not write at all. Made a cap, therefore. C— T— came in to wish me good wishes. How charmingly she looked! My grandmother very ill, but likely to be better. Read Rahel (Varnhagen). Unsatisfactory. Went on with the Oberlin appeal. Writing fatigues me much. But what a cause it is! How it warms one as one proceeds! In Wilberforce I meet with a few facts about Toussaint. Curious, when it seems a dead subject, — one left for me to revive. — — to dinner. She became anxious to read about the Oberlin the moment she heard that Lords Brougham and Morpeth were interested in it. — — called. Odd, sometimes, to see thoroughly vulgar people. It enlarges one’s ideas.
January 3. — Wrote for the Oberlin. Mr. Dawes called, and all were charmed with him. He listened, deeply affected, to my additions, with moist eyes, as if the story were new to him which I had learned from himself. “You have had great assistance,” was his characteristic way of approving what I have done.
Evening. — Read Wilberforce, and looked over Dr. Crowther’s book. All envious of Sir William Ellis. Says I wrote on Hanwell at their dictation: whereas I had never seen them but once, and they knew nothing about it. Read an account of a case like my own. While every body seems to conclude that I shall get well perfectly in time, I feel far from sure of ever being well again, and that this complaint, mild as it is now, will not be my death. If so, it will probably be a few (very few) years of increasing ailment, ending with my sinking. There is nothing agitating in this thought, — much owing to my insensibility to some immense realities, partly to long experience of great events and change, and partly to habitual confidence that all is ordered well.
January 4. — Finished appeal for the Oberlin. Felt raised and joyful, as this subject always makes me. Quiet day, very happy. Charming letter from my mother, and from Lady Coltman telling me of £20 more for the Oberlin.
Read Mr. Thom’s account of the Oxford theology, drawn from their own writings: good. The irrevocable concessions, — concessions they have made for the sake of their plea of authority, which must fail, so the good will remain when the fallacy is overthrown. I feel a strong sympathy with them. Saving their premises, I go with them. Have been reading Wilberforce: grows twaddling in his old age, through want of cultivation of mind. Very noble, however, — his keeping back Brougham’s pledge about the queen, and silently suffering universal censure.
January 5. — C— T— and I had a sweet, long talk. Some chance through her of good to the class of unhappy women. If I live, this too must be my work. If not, some one else will do it, I doubt not.
January 13. — Mr. Dawes came on business about the Oberlin tract, which completely tired me, and made a bad day of it. Mr. Dawes is gloriously business-like.
The following letter shows that the antislavery problem was not the only one she bore in mind.
TO MRS. HENRY G. CHAPMAN.
Tynemouth, Northumberland,April 24, 1840.
My dear Friend, —
I must send you a word of love, thanks, and blessing. You know, I dare say, that I have been very ill for nearly this year past, and that it is very doubtful when I shall be better, or whether ever. Instead of writing to you, I have been writing for the Oberlin, — doing the little I could, — and not in vain. Messrs. Keep and Dawes hope and believe that the institution is safe. But for our national immoralities, which have brought on, as a part of their retribution, visitations of poverty almost amounting to famine, we should have sent you more ample aid. If, however, the Oberlin is safe, we are humbly thankful. Mr. Dawes has endeared himself to us, and I thank you for introducing him to me. I have not yet seen Mr. Keep, but I hear that he is much beloved. . . . .
Living and dying I shall be in spirit with you and your cause. If I can do any thing, however little, for your work, ask me, and while I have breath in my body, I will work for you. I am now about a book which I hope may do some good if I am permitted to finish it. The barest hope of this would cheer my days if they wanted cheering, — which, however, they do not. You need feel no sorrow for me, my dear friend. How often am I full of joy for you, and yet I am sensible of your trials. They are very great, but they bear their own death-warrant, while the strength you oppose to them is immortal.
My kindest regards to Mr. Chapman. I should like to think that Mr. Garrison remembered me with regard.
Farewell, my dear friend. Many prayers rise for you and yours, from this land as well as your own.
Ever your affectionate
How goes your mind about a community of goods, and yet an inviolate personal freedom? . . . . When you see light, give it me.
July, 1840, Harriet Martineau writes to America thus: —
TO MRS. CHAPMAN.
Dear Friend, —
I have seen Garrison; and among all the pleasures of this meeting I seem to have been brought nearer to you. If I were well, and had health, and if my mother’s life were not so fast bound to mine as it is, I think I could not help coming to live beside you. Great ifs, and many of them. But I dream of a life devoted to you and your cause, and the very dream is cheering. I have not been out of these two rooms for months, and now I begin to doubt whether I shall ever again step across their threshold. I may go on just as I am, for years, and it may end any day; yet I am not worse than when I last wrote.
We had a happy day, we four, when Garrison was here. I am sure he was happy. How gay he is! He left us with a new life in us.
Garrison was quite right, I think, to sit in the gallery at Convention. I conclude you think so. It has done much for the woman question, I am persuaded. You will live to see a great enlargement of our scope, I trust; but, what with the vices of some women and the fears of others, it is hard work for us to assert our liberty. I will, however, till I die, and so will you; and so make it easier for some few to follow us than it was for poor Mary Wollstonecraft to begin.
I must not begin upon Convention subjects. I am so tired; and there would be no end. You know what I should say, no doubt. The information brought out will do good, but the obvious deficiencies of the members in the very principles they came to advocate will surely do more.
Garrison brings you £2 from me, which I have earned by my needle for your society, being fond of fancy-work, and fit only for it, in this my invalid state. I feel in my soul the honour of the appointment of delegate. You know that I could not have discharged its duties, even if the others had been admitted. But there is in me no lack of willingness to serve our cause in any capacity.
Believe me ever your faithful and affectionate
Again she writes to America, to the same friend: —
We are fighting many battles here, — great and important. We are doing away with the punishment of death. Yesterday morning I told a government man that Parliament and people are forwarder than he (who is a commissioner on the question) had any idea of; and last night he got his gradualism assented to in Parliament, by a majority of only one! All the best men, almost, came out against capital punishment altogether.
Well, my dear friend, live long as we may, there is no prospect of a want of work for us. We have a scope and a call such as few women have. What can there be in the world’s gift to tempt either men or women aside from such a destiny?
My kind regards to Mr. Chapman. He is always sure of my love and sympathy.
Ever your affectionate
In a letter to Mr. Empson, dated December, 1840, friendly and familiar, and which he had no idea would ever reach her eyes, Lord Jeffrey writes thus of “The Hour and the Man”: —
“I have read Harriet’s first volume, and give in my adhesion to her Black Prince with all my heart and soul. The book is really not only beautiful and touching, but noble; and I do not recollect when I have been more charmed, whether by very sweet and eloquent writing and glowing description, or by elevated as well as tender sentiments. I do not at all believe that the worthy people (or any of them) ever spoke or acted as she has so gracefully represented them, and must confess that in all the striking scenes I entirely forgot their complexion, and drove the notion of it from me as often as it occurred. But this does not at all diminish, but rather increases the merit of her creations. Toussaint himself, I suppose, really was an extraordinary person; though I cannot believe that he actually was such a combination of Scipio and Cato and Fénelon and Washington as she seems to have made him out. Is the Henri Christophe of her story the royal correspondent of Wilberforce in 1818? His letters, though amiable, are twaddly enough. The book, however, is calculated to make its readers better, and does great honour to the heart as well as the talent and fancy of the author. I would go a long way to kiss the hem of her garment, or the hand that delineated this glowing and lofty representation of purity and noble virtue. And she must not only be rescued from all debasing anxieties about her subsistence, but placed in a station of affluence and honour; though I believe she truly cares for none of these things. It is sad to think that she suffers so much, and may even be verging to dissolution.”
Miss Edgeworth also sent a fervent and enthusiastic assurance of her admiration of “The Hour and the Man.” The title of the book was chosen as the one best calculated to conceal the hero’s colour, as this complexional prejudice was running high in the United States, and she hoped the work might tell in favour of her cause there. It was republished there immediately, and has since been republished at different intervals, in different forms; and our most admired and impressive orator, Wendell Phillips, seizing the subject for lecturing-tours on behalf of the cause, bore it through the whole land, deep into the prejudiced hearts of the people.
The next year Harriet Martineau addressed, from her sickroom at Tynemouth, the subjoined letter to her friend Elizabeth Pease of Darlington,* on the occasion of what were at that time called by careless observers “the divisions among the abolitionists”: —
Tynemouth, Northumberland, February 27, 1841.
My dear Friend, —
I have read the statements in “Right and Wrong among the Abolitionists of the United States,” with respect to the differences between the two antislavery societies in America, with a strong and painful interest. I wish I could adequately express my sense of the duty of every one interested in the cause of the negro, — of human freedom at large, — to read and deeply meditate this piece of history. I am not more firmly persuaded of any thing, than that those who, on the present occasion, listen to one side only, or refuse to hear either, are doing the deepest injury in their power to the antislavery cause, and sowing the seeds of a bitter future repentance.
I am aware how distasteful are the details of a strife. I know but too well, from my own experience, how natural it is to turn away, with a faint and sickening heart, from the exposure of the enmities of those whose first friendship sprang up in the field of benevolent labours. I fully understand the feelings of offended delicacy which would close the ears and seal the lips of those who have been fellow-workers with both the parties now alienated. Among all these causes of recoil, I see how it is but too probable that the antislavery parties on the other side of the Atlantic may be left by many of their British brethren to “settle their own affairs,” to “fight their own battles.” But if I had a voice which would penetrate wherever I wished, I would ask in the depths of every heart that feels for the slave whether it should be so; whether such indifference and recoil may not be as criminal in us as dissension in them; whether in declining to do justice to the true friends of the slave (on whichever side they may appear to be), we may not be guilty of treachery as fatal as compromising with his enemies.
Those who devote themselves to the redemption of an oppressed class or race do, by their act of self-devotion, pledge themselves to the discharge of the lowest and most irksome offices of protection, as much as to that of the most cordial and animating. We are bound, not only to fight against foes whom we never saw, and upon whom our sympathies never rested; not only to work for millions of poor creatures, so grateful for our care that they are ready to kiss the hem of our garments, — this kind of service, however lavish it may require us to be of our labour, our time, our money, is easy enough in comparison with one which is equally binding upon us; — it is also our duty to withdraw our sympathy and countenance from our fellow-labourers (however great their former merits and our love), when they compromise the cause. It is our duty to expose their guilt when, by their act of compromise, they oppress and betray those brethren whose nobleness is a rebuke to themselves. This painful duty may every friend of the negro in this country now find himself called upon to discharge, if he gives due attention to the state of antislavery affairs in America. If he does not give this attention, it would be better for him that he never named the negro and his cause; for it is surely better to stand aloof from a philanthropic enterprise than to mix up injustice with it.
The first movers in the antislavery cause in America, those who have stood firm through the fierce persecutions of many years, who have maintained their broad platform of catholic principles, who have guarded their original Constitution from innovation and circumscription, — Garrison, and his corps of devout, devoted, and catholic fellow-labourers, with the Bible in their heart of hearts and its spirit in all their ways, — are now in a condition in which they need our support. They have been oppressed, betrayed, pillaged, and slandered. Not they, but their foes, are the innovators, the bigots, the unscrupulous proselyters, the preachers of a new doctrine, modified to propitiate the proslavery spirit of the country in which they live. No one will call my words too strong, my accusations exaggerated, who will read the evidence relating to the transfer of the “Emancipator” (for one instance), or, casting an eye upon the statement of accounts of the American Antislavery Society, will perceive who voted into their own pockets the money by which the “Emancipator” might have been sustained, under whose commission the assailants of the Old Organization crossed the Atlantic and at whose expense they travelled throughout our country, sowing calumnies against Garrison and his faithful companions through the length and breadth of our land. When the friends of the slave here are told of treachery, pillage, and slander, will they hazard being a party to the guilt, for want of inquiry, even though the London Antislavery Committee, and their organ, the “Reporter,” at present appear to stand in that predicament? If they would avoid such a liability, let them read and consider the statement by which the case is placed fully before them.
No one is more ready than I to make allowance for lapse in the friends of the negro in America. I have seen too much of the suffering (not conceivable here) consequent upon a profession of antislavery principles, to wonder that there are but few who can endure, from year to year, the infliction from without, the probing of the soul within, which visits the apostles of freedom in a land which maintains slavery on its soil. From my heart I pity those who, having gone into the enterprise, find that they have not strength for it, and that they are drawn by their weakness into acts of injustice towards such as are stronger than themselves; for those who are not with the thoroughgoing are necessarily against them. We must regard with even respectful compassion the first misgivings, before they have become lapse. But what then must we feel, — what ought we to do — for those who have strength, for those who can suffer to the end, for those who are, after the pelting of a ten years’ pitiless storm, as firm, as resolved, as full of vital warmth as ever, as prepared still to abide the tempest, till the deluge of universal conviction shall sweep away the iniquity of slavery from the earth? Shall we refuse to hear the tale of their injuries, of their justification, because others have refused, or because the story is painful? May we dare to call ourselves workers in the antislavery cause while thus deserting the chief of its apostles now living in the world?
All believe that the truth will finally prevail; and you and I, dear friend, have a firm faith that therefore the Old Organization, with Garrison at its head, will prevail, at length, over the base enmity of the seceders. But we ought not to be satisfied with their prevailing at length, till we see whether they cannot be enabled to stand their ground now. Not a moment is to be lost. Not for a moment should their noble hearts be left uncheered; not for a moment should the slaveholder be permitted to fan his embers of hope; not for a moment should the American slave be compelled to tremble at the adversity of his earliest and stanchest friends, if we can, by any effort, obtain a hearing for the cause. Let us urge and rouse all who are about us, — not to receive our mere assertions, — not to take our convictions upon trust, — but to read, search out, and weigh the evidence, and judge for themselves.
This is all that is needed; for I believe there is not a friend of the slave, in any part of the world, who, knowing the facts, would not make haste to offer his right hand to Garrison and his company, and his voice and purse to their cause.
I am yours very truly,
In a brief review of the year at the end of this volume of journal is the following: —
Two things occurred at the beginning of December which cheered me greatly. Lady Byron, being pleased with my refusal of a pension, placed £100 at my disposal for the relief of cases of desert and distress. It was done in the most delicate way, and the plenitude of my charity-purse will long be a comfort to me.
R. Monckton Milnes, the poet, I had felt to be on cordial terms with me, though a Puseyite and a Tory M. P. I had no idea, however, of what he could do for me. He heard of me through mutual friends, sent me his “one tract more,” and a beautiful letter, and those most truthful lines, ‘Christian Endurance,’ ” which have since supported me much and often. They will bear pondering, and well have I pondered them. It was a good deed of a young man to sit down to speak to the soul of one like me.
September 24. — Sir C. Clarke came. I could not but admire the frankness with which he told me that my illness is incurable; and I can never again feel health, if his judgment be true.
It is strange that this did not move me in the least, and does not now. I have long disbelieved that I should ever be in health again, and I have no wish that it were otherwise. How my mother will grieve! I never spoke to her of the hope of relief, but others have. That was too low a hope for me, though I am far from saying that I may not some time sink for want of it. At present I fear only the intellectual and moral consequences of a life of confinement. If they cannot be obviated, I must meekly bear them too.
Mr. Macready visited her about this time, and thus records in his journal the impression she left upon his mind: —
“March 28, 1841. — Intended to post to South Shields and cross the ferry to Tynemouth, but stopped and turned the postboy, and made him go to Newcastle, from thence to take the railway. Was half an hour before the train started; lunched; wrote a note for Miss Martineau. Went by railway to North Shields. Walked to Tynemouth, and inquiring at the post-office Miss Martineau’s address, called on her, sending up my note; she was very glad to see me. We talked over many things and persons. She is a heroine, or, to speak more truly, her fine sense and her lofty principles, with the sincerest religion, give her a fortitude that is noble to the best height of heroism.”
Writing in 1842 to console her friend under severe bereavement, she says: —
“I know that you will endure, — you are experienced in death. What would it be to you in this hour, that he had gained wealth, and lived in the praises of the vulgar part of society? What comfort is there not now, in the truth that he has sacrificed his wealth and his repose, and put his reputation to hazard, from love to the helpless! We are of one mind, dear friend, about these things. You do not perplex yourself with repining at the loss of your dearest friends, and I am satisfied to be confined to two rooms for a long time or a short, — and there the matter ends. We can smile an understanding to each other, and proceed to our business. When you hear me inquired for, just state the main truth, that I am not likely to die yet, but can never recover if the physicians are right. I am so unfit now for authorship, that I close with the fourth volume of the ‘Playfellow.’ I thank you for what you tell me of the first volume, — The Settlers at Home. It rejoices me always to hear of children being moved by any thing I write. You hear of the awful position of our public affairs. How are our starving multitudes to be fed?”
Writing again a letter of consolation for the loss of Henry Grafton Chapman, who sent his love to her from his death-bed, she says, —
“How kind, how beautiful in him it was to leave me those words.”
Dr. Channing too, who died at the same date, spoke of her frequently to his family with much affectionate admiration during the time previous to his death.
These lines, sent to her on learning her hopeless condition, are by Lord Houghton.
These are the lines that Dr. Channing so much admired, and after reading which he bade her be glad that she was the inciter of such holy thoughts and generous sympathies. His letters were a solace during her long exile from active life, and their friendship was constant to his latest hour. Their opinions on the doctrine of necessity and other philosophical subjects were unlike. “I am less and less troubled,” he said, “about theories which I disapprove when adopted by the good and true,” and his affection for her was undiminished by opinions which he could not abide. “You can hold them,” he said, “and hold your moral judgment and sensibilities too. You are unharmed by what would be death to me.” Of “Toussaint” he said, “I thank you for ‘The Hour and the Man.’ You have given a magnificent picture, and I know not where the heroic character is more grandly conceived.”
The annexed letter to Mrs. Chapman, dated March 29, 1842, gives the mind of Harriet Martineau on the American political leaders of that time.
“One way or another I learn all the important features of your enterprise, and keep up with the history of your country. Just now, the best lovers of your country here are covered with shame. Webster’s instructions to Everett about the Creole have arrived, and the ludicrousness of the transaction is as remarkable as the shamefulness. . . . .
“For many years your writers and ours have exhibited Webster as your cheval de bataille, and have thrust him forward as the great American, so that his disgrace covers your whole country in English eyes. I am glad now that I bore my testimony against him in print so long ago. Those who believe in me and my book will want to see whether there is not yet something better than Webster on your continent. I hope he will be stung to the quick by the papers on his instructions. The Spectator, such a sinner generally against us abolitionists, is capital on that head. But I should wish him a more solemn retribution and a more corrective one, than wounded vanity for the tremendous sin of treason against reason; of laying aside such logical faculties as he has, to put false cases, out of the insincerity of his heart. . . . .
“I feel it much to gain time before our inevitable revolution comes. If it could only be put off to another generation, our educational plans expanding, our aristocratic institutions relaxing meanwhile, there might be an immense diminution of the guilt and misery which must more or less attend such a bouleversement as must take place.”
Tynemouth,March 30. — The majestic unchanged posture of the faithful is impressive and cheering, but what an uprooting of the poison-tree there must be which is ramifying under the walls of the Supreme Court, and exhaling its venom into the eyes and brains of the Judiciary!
On the 15th of September, 1843, stands this entry in her journal: —
“A new imperative idea occurred to me, — Essays from a Sick-Room.”
Of this book her friend Henry Crabb Robinson said, that no praise could be too strong for the integrity of the work, as of some earlier ones; that a very few lines or phrases inserted, with a reserved sense of her own, a very trifling amount of concession, would have gained her the praises and the custom of “the religious world,” so that she would have been comforted and made much of, and have made her £ 30,000, like Hannah More. This grated upon her temper, and she almost felt as if she had been praised for honour in not reading an open letter if left alone with it, or with a purse of gold without stealing. She “shuddered at the idea of the religious world laying its paws upon me.”
“The new and imperative idea” came to her on the 15th. The entry in the journal on the 19th is, “Wrote first of the essays on ‘Becoming Inured.’ ”
So it was ever in her life. Thought and action were simultaneous, and the sound followed the flash to the beholders.
“Life in a Sick-Room” was republished in America, and called a blessing to humanity in all English-speaking lands; and it was said that all who read it found their thoughts and their hearts visiting her sick-room with grateful love. Great numbers of persons prefer it to any of her works. Philosophers are less impressed by it.
Again the poet, and by this time the friend, sends consolation.
But at length endurance reached its bounds; and after her recovery she writes thus: —
TO MRS. HENRY G. CHAPMAN.
Birmingham, March 15, 1845.
My dear Friend,—
Once again I write to you from the midst of life, — from a house full of busy, gay young people, where there is no check upon occupations, talk, or mirth for my sake. It feels very strange, but very delightful. I am glad you have had some personal knowledge of mesmeric effects. I like that those whom I love should know something of the wonderful influence whereby I have been restored, and by which my present duties are marked out. My case has made a great sensation; and similar cases are being told, and the knowers are comparing notes, and consulting how best to concentrate and use the powers put into our hands by our knowledge. And the sick and their doctors write to me, — a multitude of them; and my business is thus put under my hand very clearly. In addition to this, I have now to write a tale, — a little book for our great League Bazaar, — being too well and busy to do the fancy-work I had intended to send. It is all I can do “to keep my stockings mended.” [An allusion to the popular proslavery charges to American women: “Go spin, you jade, go spin!” and “Better be mending your stockings!”] To finish about myself, I am, as far as all kinds of evidence can show, perfectly well. I now doubt whether I was ever well before. I have a very unusual degree of strength, shown not only in my daily long walks, but in my going through daily business, and much odious persecution from the doctors, with entire ease and composure. It is, however, a clear duty to take care that this good state is confirmed, before entering on the hurry and fatigue of my old life in London; and I have agreed to a charming plan suggested by some friends at the Lakes, that I shall settle among them for some months, and lead an open-air and holiday life (as far as mine can be) for the whole summer and autumn. The Arnolds, Wordsworths, Gregs, and Fletchers will be my neighbours and companions. From the first of June my address will be, “Ambleside, Westmoreland.” Till then, “Robert Martineau, Esq., Birmingham.” To whom shall I give this direction about the “Standard”?* I value it highly, and I should like still to have it come as hitherto. It was a delightful surprise to me last week to see what had been done about my table-cover. No such destination had ever occurred to me, but I will now own I did feel a little sorry on sending it off, as the thought that that which held inwrought so many of my deepest ideas and feelings would probably go into the hands of some entire stranger, who would be wholly unconscious of the real value of the work to a friend. I say this just to indicate to you what must have been my gratification when I saw what had been done. How amusing it is, in face of such facts, to remember the contemptuous charge of ordinary folk against you, that you are “people of one idea!” You seem to have a good many feelings, at all events.
I do long to see what is to happen next among you. While your well-wishers here are mournful, and think your condition low and your prospects dark beyond repair (I mean those of your country), I cannot help recurring to my old ground of hope and cheer for you, — that your people (never beginning to do their best till they are at their worst) do rise up in moral might when the danger is pressing, and discharge their duty better than any other people when once they set about it. I cannot conceive that the North will succumb to the South in such times as all men see you are now entering upon. I have such faith in your countrymen as to expect from them that they will surrender their false pride, and give up their idolatry of the existing form of the Union, — now become a malignant and obscene idol, — in order to apprehend and do homage to the true spirit of which it was once the representative. If you (in or out of the “Standard”) can justify this hope by your testimony, it will make me very happy. I have, myself, no doubt that the whole matter is in the hands of the North. Without calling the South a bully or a coward, or other hard names, I suppose it is an indisputable fact, that the South is actually powerless, if the North do but think so, and act accordingly. Its not acting accordingly is the impediment I find on every hand, when I try to make your case understood here as well as my small knowledge permits. Another difficulty that I meet with is from your (the abolitionists) being, as a matter of course, mixed up with our Antislavery Society here, which is now disgraced almost to the lowest point; your true alliance is with our League, as you all know through George Thompson. And there is now the most absurd and shocking virtual alliance between the antislavery folk and the West India interest. I protest, with all my might, against your being classed with your namesakes here, showing the while how different your work is, even if they were in the way of their duty. But argument and explanation do little with people who do not know your country. The only effectual evidence will be your enforcing a clear demand for a renovated and purified Act of Union. But I am always vexed with myself when I write in this way to you, my ignorance may so easily make it all a waste of your precious time; yet, even so, you may like to see where those who love your cause want enlightening. We are doing well in our public affairs, — morally better, I think, than ever before within my memory. The prosperity is pleasant, but the awakened spirit of society is good. The sugar question is all wrong, but must erelong be better treated. In other matters, fiscal and moral, I do think we are pretty rapidly improving. The Anti-Corn-Law League is, I do think, a noble body, with a glorious function.
And now, my dear friend, for this time farewell. I bless you for all your acts of love towards me. I need not tell you that my heart is with you.
This brother, whose address she gives in the foregoing letter, is he whom Harriet Martineau always spoke of as “my good brother.” He died in 1870, leaving a name so much respected in Birmingham as to need no eulogy, whether as chief magistrate or as a public benefactor.
Besides the immense amount of writing done at Tynemouth, during those years of pain which she called her passive period, she used to fill in the chinks of time with fancy-work. She made pretty baskets of braid and wire-ribbon, which sold for a sum sufficient to found a library for the Barracks. She sent them also to the National Antislavery Bazaar in Boston, United States. But a really remarkable piece of work, both for its great beauty and the amount of time bestowed upon it, was a table-cover, “the four seasons,” of Berlin wool wrought into fruits and flowers, which was bought by subscription by her antislavery friends, and presented to Mrs. Follen. Thus it was the means of raising one hundred dollars for the cause, and gave those friends the occasion for expressing what they felt of affectionate gratitude for all her works and her labours and her patience.
This residence at Tynemouth during her long severe illness she always called her “passive period,” — but with small show of reason, seeing that head, heart, and hands were so full of activity. Much has been told of what she did, but more must remain untold. For example, in her journal this note frequently occurs: “Wrote Grainger paper,” “Grainger came,” “Wonderful man.” From after writings of hers it appears that his great public works in Newcastle bear witness to him. He had Harriet Martineau’s best help in carrying on his enterprises.
With the money placed at her disposition by Lady Byron she caused a drain to be laid the length of Tynemouth Street, and ordered a well to be dug in the garden of her lodgings, that served the whole row of houses and “kept the maids from bad company.”
It was after many years of suffering from illness that Harriet Martineau’s mind was exercised a second time by the proposal of a pension. It was then a period of public distress, and her means of livelihood were failing with her power to write. She however preferred to share their privations with the people to being supported by ministerial patronage.
Her decision was appreciated by the people, and they held a public meeting in London, Colonel Perronet Thompson in the chair, by which it was resolved unanimously, —
1. That this meeting fully appreciates the moral and political honesty which led Miss Martineau to refuse the pension offered by the late Whig administration; though they think there has rarely occurred an instance in which the royal bounty would have been so well bestowed.
2. That it is the opinion of this meeting that the answer of Miss Martineau involves a great principle, since if the people were fully represented, the act of the executive would be the act of the people.
3. That this meeting holds Miss Martineau to have pre-eminently deserved well of her country, and that it respectfully and cordially recommends and urges upon the public at large meetings like the present, to show to her, in an unequivocal form, public appreciation of her conduct and character.
4. That a copy of the foregoing resolution be transmitted by the chairman to Miss Martineau.
The thanks of the meeting were then given to the chairman for his conduct in the chair, and to the proprietors of the hall for the gratuitous use thereof, for the purposes of the meeting.
P. PERRONET THOMPSON, Chairman.
I received a long time since from Mrs. Henry Turner of Nottingham, a friend and relative of Harriet Martineau, a letter containing an interesting narrative of the circumstances attending her restoration to health; but as it does not differ from her own in a preceding volume, except in incidentally giving the names of many witnesses, I need not here repeat it.
Now came her removal from Tynemouth to the neighbourhood of Windermere, where she first saw Mr. Atkinson, a gentleman who devoted his fortune and life to philosophical pursuits and studies, and who afterwards became her coadjutor in the publication of the philosophical work called, for brevity’s sake, “The Letters.”
When she afterwards made an inquiry about him of Dr. Samuel Brown, a deep student of philosophy, whose name is always associated with his “Atomic Theory,” his reply was as follows: —
“I think him the noblest man I have known. If his attainments in positive knowledge and his culture in the art of expression were equal to the nobleness and magnitude of his proper genius, he would be the foremost man of the age. His acquirements are not small, — his gift of speech is excellent and even admirable of its kind. But a soul of such capacity and fineness should know as much as Humboldt and Comte, and be able to write itself out with as much strength and delicacy as Carlyle and Tennyson. But I ask wondrous things of him.”
This unexpected acquaintance between Miss Martineau and Mr. Atkinson became a firm and lasting friendship. Being so much younger than herself, — brother at once and son in years and in reverential and sincere devotedness, he received and gave furtherance in their scientific studies; and was induced by her to give the world the benefit of those studies in the work they published in concert, — the “Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development.”
Harriet Martineau’s works during this “passive period” were, “Deerbrook,” “The Hour and the Man,” “Settlers at Home,” “Peasant and Prince,” “Feats on the Fiord,” “Crofton Boys,” “Guide to Service,” “The Dressmaker,” “The Maid of all Work,” “The Housemaid,” “Life in the Sick-Room,” “Letters on Mesmerism,” or sixteen volumes by English publication estimate.
This was what Dr. Walter Channing presented to the American faculty in a medical publication, in warning against pampered idleness, as a bedridden case.
The opinions of the readers of “Deerbrook” have been as various as possible; one thinking it a proof of the inferiority to themselves to which great writers sometimes sink, and another declaring it to be “one of the eight great novels of the world,” while the reading world delights in it up to the present time.
As one good deed or thought helps another, so her home deeds were strengthened by her foreign aspirations. Witness the following letter to an American friend at this time.
EXTRACT FROM A LETTER FROM HARRIET MARTINEAU.
Our greatest achievement, of late, has been the obtaining of the penny postage. I question whether there be now time left for the working of beneficent measures to save us from violent revolution; but if there be, none will work better than this. It will do more for the circulation of ideas, for the fostering of domestic affections, for the humanizing of the mass generally, than any other single measure that our national wit can devise. Have you read the evidence before the Bankers’ and Merchants’ Committee? Did you see, for one instance, the proof that the morals of a regiment depend mainly on the readiness of the commanding officer in franking the soldiers’ family letters? We are all putting up our letter-boxes on our hall doors with great glee, anticipating the hearing from brothers and sisters, — a line or two almost every day. The slips in the doors are to save the postmen’s time, — the great point being how many letters may be delivered within a given time, the postage being paid in the price of the envelopes or paper. So all who wish well to the plan are having slips in their doors. It is proved that poor people do write, or get letters written, wherever a franking privilege exists. When January comes round, do give your sympathy to all the poor pastors’ and tradesmen’s and artisans’ families, who can at last write to one another as if they were all M. Ps. The stimulus to trade, too, will be prodigious. Rowland Hill is very quiet in the midst of his triumph; but he must be very happy. He has never been known to lose his temper, or be in any way at fault, since he first revealed his scheme.
In consequence of words like these from her in a letter to himself, Mr. Hill, the prime mover and conductor of this great achievement, replied thus: “An expression of approbation from you more than repays me for whatever I have done.”
It was just after the publication of “The Hour and the Man” that Garrison wrote thus of Harriet Martineau in remembrance of all her great devotedness: —
[* ]Daughter of Joseph Pease of Darlington, and afterwards the wife of Dr. Nichol, the astronomer.
[* ]The organ of the American Antislavery Society, at that time and after edited by Sydney Howard Gay, Edmund Quincy, and James Russell Lowell.