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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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How many travellers from all lands have visited this dwelling among the Westmoreland mountains, as a shrine! Yet varied and beautiful in its grandeur as the surrounding region is, one was always too much absorbed in listening to the genius of the place to be able to observe the scene without or the surroundings within. For the first, I need only indicate her “Guide” to the land she loved so well, and her papers in “Sartain’s Philadelphia Magazine,” where are to be found incomparably accurate and beautiful pictures of the Lake country. But she has not mentioned “The Knoll,” restrained by that same sentiment that made her refuse to gratify the friends who entreated her to allow her initials to be drilled into the stone above her door: “I think such things savour of vanity.” On entering it, guests were merely aware of being in a dwelling of the utmost convenience and comfort; in a home pervaded with the subtle influence of well-ordered and elegant hospitality. And although one could not then, at first, have told the cause, it is made clear by that passage of her Autobiography which tells of the purchase of the land and the building of the house, why the whole seemed so worthy of her: she had fashioned it after her own likeness. And one desiring to gratify many feels bound of course to note the particulars by which the general effect is produced, as observed in the leisure of an after day. The house is perfectly planned for all her purposes, being roomy and convenient. It is built of the dark gray Westmoreland stone, in the fashion of the houses in Elizabeth’s time, with large bay-windows, gables, and clustering chimneys, and overgrown to the very eaves with ivy, jasmine, the snowberry plant, passion-flowers, and climbing roses, which make a harbourage for the birds. Scores of them fly out of it at sunset, if you do but open the door, returning instantly to their perch among the leaves; so safe and quiet are their lives here. The house is built on a little knoll, — and hence its name, — in the valley of the Rotha, nearest to the village of Ambleside, a mile beyond Lake Windermere.
On approaching from the village, no part of the building can be seen from the road; and you pass in between massive lozenge-built gate-posts by a drive well planted with larches, beeches, holly, and a thicket of hawthorn, laurel, and laurustinus, — incredulous and uncertain where it may be. But following the gravelled sweep, a few steps bring you suddenly upon the terrace before the house, which fronts upon the valley; and thence you look down upon the parterres bright with a thousand flowers between. The greater part of the little domain — “our farm of two acres” — is flanked to right and left by an oak-copse, and enclosed by a cross-pole fence of larch-wood entangled with rose-bushes, — a luxury to see. Almost concealed by the copse, at the foot of the steps to the left, below the terrace, is the farm-servants’ cottage and the cow-house; while the little root-house, farther down, by the lower gate, with its young pine-tree and pollard willow, makes a pretty accident in the sketch.
Standing before the charming woodbine-covered porch, on your left, in the middle distance, lies the village of Ambleside, at the foot of Wansfell. Farther on, beyond the church-spire, in the valley, rise the more distant Furness Fells, and through the near wide-branching oak-tree of a thousand years, which helps to draw the boundary of the property, you catch a gleam of Windermere. Thence the eye climbs the steep, well-wooded end of Loughrigg; and, following the high horizon line in front, notes the charming variety of heath and shrubbery, and green fields and forest-trees, along its side as far as Wordsworth’s house in the Rydal pass, through which in early spring a gush of wintry sunshine comes down towards evening, flooding it with beauty and splendour. All along on Loughrigg side are the sheep and cattle pastures; and it is a pretty sight to see these white and dark moving spots, that seem placed there merely for beauty, while they constitute so important a part of the wealth of the country. On a mild, breezy day there rises a most soothing sound of the wind on its way through the clumps of trees in the valley, mingled with the rushing of the mountain streams. The continual strengthening or fading of the hills as the mists grew denser or were swept away, and all the changes of their colour from dawn to sunset, none but herself could describe.
The low stone-wall around the terrace is marked by a hedge of eglantine; and I know not whether its flowers in summer or its hips in winter make the prettiest effect. The large bay-windows, still more embayed without in ivy, subjected the proprietor to a tax of five guineas a year at the time they were planned. But Harriet Martineau knew she had not laboured in vain for the abolition of the window-tax, and she built in the secure determination that her successors, at least, should enjoy the mountain landscape and the play of clouds, the sunlight and the air, which she had so zealously laboured to make the heritage of every cottager. Her faith was justified. The window-tax was long since commuted for a very moderate house-tax.
On the right of the terrace, a flight of some thirty or forty stone steps takes you easily down to the orchard-slope below, where stands the costly sun-dial, of light gray granite, the gift of her friend, Miss Sturch of London. It is fashioned like a Gothic font, affording seats on its octagonal base; and catches the eye like a gleaming speck from the opposite side of the valley, whence you see The Knoll relieved against Fairfield, and instantly distinguished by its dial from the other dwellings. And surely the apostrophe to intellectual illumination, her own device, inscribed upon the base, — “Light! come visit me!” — has not been made by her in vain.
On the same level is the stone-pine planted by Wordsworth; and before you reach the swarded field, from which you are separated by the iron fence, is a little nook or grotto quarried into the knoll itself, and furnished with comfortable rustic seats, — the gift of her sister; and having taken sanctuary there you may feel safe though all Westmoreland were in pursuit of you, and listen undisturbed to the cawing of the distant rooks.
In view from the terrace of this “well-neighboured house,” as Emerson in those old times called it, curls the smoke of Fox How, the residence of Dr. Arnold’s family; and farther on lived Mr. Quillinan, the son-in-law of Wordsworth. Thus there were strong human interests and a strong local glory around the Rocky Knoll when she made it her own, for Wordsworth and many another well-known name still dwelt there.
But not only was Harriet Martineau’s house well-neighboured: by the most important principle of decoration it was well-furnished too; for of every thing within it one might affirm that, for the best possible reasons that thing should be there and no other, — almost every picture, object, and piece of furniture uniting elegant convenience and adornment with some family remembrance or token of friendship. The drawing-room was especially enriched by them. There was placed the collection of lighter and contemporary literature, mostly the homage of the authors. The beautiful carpet, of the time I am telling of, was the gift of her friend Jacob Bright, who procured the dimensions and had it placed in her absence, to give her a pleasant surprise. The whole furniture of the room illustrated the points of Harriet Martineau’s character by bringing to the thoughts of beholders the persons, so numerous and so various, who, separately and strangers to each other, had this one experience in common, — that they were each drawn into sympathy by one of the many sides of her powerful nature. At the entrance, on the right, stands the marble-mounted sideboard, sent by her friend H. Crabb Robinson, the eminent English and German student, the philosopher of the Unitarians, the admired and cherished friend of so many distinguished persons of the last century, that he modestly said of himself, “Some men are famous on their own account: I am famous for my friends.” The little silver almanac was a present from her friend Mr. Darwin. The stone jardinière was given by the proprietors of a neighboring slate-quarry, on the occasion of her visit to them described in her little volume of Letters on Ireland. Richmond’s fine crayon-drawing of Harriet Martineau, of nearly life-size, the engraving from which adorns so many dwellings, placed nearly opposite the door of entrance, was a homage from himself. What touching stories ought to be told of so many another useful and ornamental object, all brought together from different nations and kindred and tongues and people; but a few more must suffice as illustrating parts of her own experience. On the sideboard stands her brother Robert’s gift, — the household lamp that lighted her evenings. On a little table is an ebony papeterie, the gift of Florence Nightingale. The gold inkstand on another was the expression of her friend Lord Durham’s grateful appreciation of the restraining power she exercised over a riotous population. The tea-caddy was bought of a poor and suffering neighbour at its full price the day before a sale at which the rest of the furniture was sacrificed. The pretty French clock, on the centre bookcase (which covered one side of the room, filled with works principally of belles-lettres given by the authors of the day), marks the sense her family entertained of her generosity in influencing her mother to omit all mention of Harriet in her will. The Prie-Dieu of Berlin tapestry-work, begun by herself at Tynemouth, was finished and presented to her by her nieces, her brother Robert’s daughters. The statuettes, Aristides and Niobe, were placed there by her sister and her aunt; and the square, Egyptian-modelled oaken pedestals were a part of her furniture at Tynemouth. The engraving of Scheffer’s “Christus Consolator,” which she enjoyed and understood so thoroughly, was the consolation of her sick-room at Tynemouth, through the kind thoughtfulness of Miss Adelaide Kemble.* Between the engraved portraits of her friends, Lord and Lady Durham, hung a pastel of one of the Norwegian Fiords (described in “The Playfellow”), sent her by Lady Byron; and above it, Eastlake’s gift of his “Byron’s Dream.” The full-length engraving of Mrs. Fry was there, presented by Richmond, whose work it is. The engraving after Raphael was a token of regard from Mrs. Carlyle. In her own room hung Miss Stephen’s gift, — a water-colour by herself, — “Woodland.” The other souvenirs in the drawing-room are “Mrs. Calmady’s Children,” from her friend Evans, the artist; Goethe’s “Mignon,” from her friend Mr. Knight. The “Pet Antelopes” is from Mrs. Mackintosh; the portrait of Admiral Beaufort, a present from the Beaufort family. “Corwen Inn,” a charming oil-painting by Baker, was presented by Mr. Vincent Thompson; an engraving of Sir William Napier is from Lord Aberdere, his son-in-law; “Christ and the Tribute-Money,” from Mrs. Jameson; “A Heathery Moor in Yorkshire” is by sister artists, the Misses Gittings; the Prie-Dieu is from her early friend and sister-in-law, Mrs. Robert Martineau. The solid reading-desk is from Mrs. Richard Martineau; the work-box, from her dear and early friend, Mrs. Ker.
The flowers and plants with which the room was always filled were also offerings from far and near.
The large photograph of Colonel Shaw, first white colonel of the first black regiment raised during the civil war in America, was sent to Harriet Martineau by his mother, Mrs. Francis George Shaw of Staten Island, N. Y. It was placed conspicuously; “and it always melts my heart,” she said, “to look at it, and think of that great deed that proved two races worthy of each other, and helped to save your land for both!”
Across the hall, to the left as one enters the house, is the study, two sides of which accommodate the more voluminous and useful of her books; probably the best woman’s library extant, — certainly the best I have ever seen, consisting of between two and three thousand volumes. They are books of art, biograraphy, education, general literature, geography, voyages and travels, history, morals and politics, political economy, theology, and works of reference. This last department was peculiarly well chosen. There were all sorts of annuaries: and first the annual register, of a hundred volumes; American ditto and American Almanac, a present from Judge Story; the various American constitutions of nation and States; reports of the poor-law commissions, annuaries of astronomical observatories, Almanach de Gotha, annual reports of the antislavery societies, Gorton’s Biographical Dictionary, Biographie Universelle in eighty-three volumes, census returns of the British Empire, all the concordances and dictionaries, — Bayle’s, Johnson’s, Lemprière’s, — dictionaries of all the classic and modern European languages. Then there were encyclopædias of agriculture and essays on all subjects; books of jurisprudence and prison discipline; school-inspectors’ and sanitary books, and all possible hand-books; with Hone’s popular works, and all the useful works of reference on Ireland. The Mémoires of the French Institute were a present from Ampère. Then there were the reports of all sorts of commissioners, — on education, mining, criminal law, poor law, idiocy, and pauperism; juvenile books; and catalogues of public libraries. The purchase of these valuable works, necessary for a political writer who would fain make known what the world has been, the better to make it what it ought to be, was a great but satisfactory item of her occasional expenditure. There were all manner of books on woman’s duties and rights. Knight’s weekly volumes which she had planned with the Countess of Elgin, Biographical History of Philosophy. Hardly an eminent name of her time that is not affixed to some presentation copy. A guest deeply interested in education took pains, with her consent, to obtain a catalogue in order to be enabled to aid socialscience efforts in the formation of town libraries.
On the walls hung two views of Lambton Castle, from the Countess of Elgin. In each of the twelve panels of red pine round the bay window was a cartoon of Raphael in wood-engraving, from her friend Mr. Ker. “I’ll tell you how to treat this red pine for doors and wainscoting,” she said to one who was admiring it: “varnish when new, — leave it two years, — then another coat, and you have it as you see.” The colour of the carpet and curtains, the hangings being then in red velvet with a touch of gold, were in harmony with the tint of the woodwork.
Imagine, — between globes and little stands for precious objects, with here and there casts of Clytie and the Huntress Diana, — the bay-window, filled with geraniums, and the library-table with her chaise-longue behind it, and you have a general idea of this room, which seemed less a library than an oratory, consecrated as it was by a devotedness to the world’s welfare so instinctive as to have become unconscious; but visitors were always conscious of it, and stepped softly and spoke low, as if the place were holy.
“Voila ses saints!” said one of them, standing before the chimney, where was placed a bust of Mr. Atkinson and over it the bas-relief of a friend which Harriet Martineau had procured to be executed by Foley. On each side were the engravings of Dr. Follen and Mr. Garrison. Over these was the proof before the letter of the engraving of himself sent her by Mr. Macready.
Here stood the library-table, and I must confess to have shared the general feeling in no ordinary degree as the drawers of this table were opened for me: the records of a lifetime — and such a lifetime! — placed in my hands and at my discretion.
There, sitting in the seat which illness had obliged her to quit, I begin with the drawer at the right hand. There are three on each side. These are the labels on each great package of papers: —
No. 11 was two cardboards tied together with tape, inscribed “Unpaid Bills.” But there were no papers between them, and, as I learned, there never had been.
Beneath the table was a stack of tin boxes containing years of journals, diaries, jotting note-books, sketch-books, and accounts. “Take away with you every thing you want when you go!” And that dear friend of mine who “was unto her as a daughter,” her niece, Maria Martineau, aided me in the selection.
In every other part of the house tokens of love and reverence and family affection were as abundant. Of the more general “Testimonial,” that the preceding Autobiography tells of, £120 were expended by the subscribers in a tea and dinner service, the principal piece of which was inscribed thus: —
Memorial OF A Testimonial. H.M.
I find allusion in her journal to the first use of it, on the happy day when the Ladies Lambton came to Tynemouth, and “it was a testimonial fête.”
Harriet Martineau’s life in this little paradise was manifold. As mistress of a family and as a domestic economist, one may know some of the particulars by referring to her little book, “Our Farm of Two Acres,” which is so constantly in circulation, and reprinted in America, “in the conviction,” say the publishers, “that the local character of the experiences will not affect their value to American readers.” This agricultural experiment of hers was so successful as to attract a great deal of notice, and influenced some proceedings in the neighbourhood. A heavy package of letters under my hand proves the burden of correspondence that the accidental publication of her letters on cow-keeping in the “Times” occasioned her. Her papers in “Sartain’s Magazine” (Philadelphia) show her passionate enjoyment of the glorious nature by which she was surrounded. It made her strong and happy in her influential political work, to the eventual extent of which more than sixteen hundred leading articles in the “London Daily News” bear witness. The subjects of them are as various as the interests of the world, of which she watched the fluctuations with the same calmness of deep emotion that shone in her eyes while enjoying the cloud-shadows chasing each other across the valley.
We know how she looked in childhood and youth. There was a remarkable change in her appearance in mature age. Every one noticed it. “How handsome she looks!” “One of the handsomest old ladies I have ever seen!” “Does n’t she look like a sovereign princess!” and such like notes of admiration were continually heard; and, indeed, as she sat in thought at her daily hour of rest, with her Berlin embroidery by her side, and her beautiful hands (“hands that the rod of empire might have swayed!”) folded across the newspaper on her knee, her whole presence instinct with high thinking and goodwill, her whole expression so full of restful activity, it would have been difficult to find so impressive yet fascinating a presence. When comes such another! Happily a trace — necessarily a faint one — yet remains in Holl’s excellent engraving of Richmond’s admirable portrait.
One great secret of this new beauty was the joy of mental progress. She had ceased to make her God in human image; and, following the path that stretched before her from childhood, had thought and felt her way to a more satisfactory worship.
Her celebrity had always been a tax in many ways, and the difficult problem was how to bear it aright.
It was about this time that she was so overwhelmed with the ever-increasing amount of correspondence drawn to her by a general sense of boundless sympathy conveyed in all her writings, that she found it impossible to answer its demands.
Her own generation, with its questionings and plans, she still had time for; but the young pressed so thickly around her that it seemed as if they could neither do well nor ill; do good or repent of evil; marry, choose a path in life, or die, without looking to her. Sister of charity and spiritual counsellor as by nature she was, she now found herself under the absolute necessity of letting it be generally known that her whole life would be insufficient to meet this continual call. “They all so evidently think I am of their own age! I must try to show them their mistake, and be to them even as I am. Was n’t there Mrs. Hannah More and Mrs. Edgeworth? I see there were reasons for it: I will be Mrs. Harriet Martineau, which will, besides, obviate mistakes in the delivery of letters, there are so many Misses Martineau!” This arrangement so soon occasioned a sensible relief, that she had reason to congratulate herself on having so easily diminished the inconvenience without wounding the sympathies of the elders: many old friends soon fell in with her wishes, and numbers of them wrote promissory notes, as it were, beginning their letters, “Dear Mistress Harriet;” but the public at large were true to their first love, and, unaware how many were the misses of the same name, would never acknowledge her but as Miss Martineau.
It was at The Knoll, at about this period, that, in the midst of many lighter books, her most laborious works were written. One was the Thirty Years’ Peace, all after the first book; and it was that unexampled thing, a history on moral principles of the time not yet passed away.
Mrs. Martineau entered The Knoll in 1846, on the 7th of April; and it was while preparing to do so, on the 25th of March, that her friend Macready
“Saw a brown-faced looking woman watching for the coach; thought I knew the face; looked out of window; it was Miss Martineau. She came to the inn where we stopped; a few words passed; she told me to get my dinner at the inn, as she had but one room, and then come to her. I got a very bad dinner and set out to her old lodgings, to which the servant had misdirected me; met her on my return in search of me, and walked with her to her newly built or building house, — a most commodious, beautifully situated, and desirable residence in all respects. I could not but look with wonder at the brown hue of health upon her face, and see her firm and almost manly strides as she walked along with me to Fox How, Dr. Arnold’s place, from which the family are at present abroad. We walked on to Rydal Mount, to call on Wordsworth, who was ill in bed, and had had leeches this morning. I left my regards, &c., took a walk along his terraces, and, returning to my inn, soon after rejoined Miss Martineau at Mrs. Davy’s, with whom and Mr. Greg I took tea and passed a very agreeable evening. I had received a pamphlet and long letter from Professor Gregory on the subject of mesmerism, on which we had talked a little at Major Thom’s, on Saturday last; it is a translation of Reichenbach, and, with some curious facts mentioned by Miss Martineau, certainly made me pause in my utter rejection of this hitherto inscrutable and mysterious power, if power it really be.”
Of his next day’s visit to The Knoll: —
“I do enjoy the air, the hills and streams, that are keeping up their gentle noise all around me; the morning was one of the best of early spring’s. I planted two oaks for Harriet Martineau, which, with her small spade, cost me some strain of the back. The more I see of her pretty house the more I am pleased with it; it has not, that I perceive, one point of objection, with an infinite number of recommendable qualities. We walked to the chapel over the Brathay, took a lovely view of Windermere, and walked home, talking hard all the way. I read to her Willie’s account of the shipwreck; it was to me a very pleasant morning.
“I spoke to her of my wish that Nina* should hereafter spend some time with her, which she appeared to concur in very heartily.”
While Hawthorne was in England he saw Mrs. Martineau, and recorded his impression of her in his note-book: —
“. . . . I saw Miss Martineau a few weeks since. She is a large, robust, elderly woman, and plainly dressed; but withal she has so kind, cheerful, and intelligent a face, that she is pleasanter to look at than most beauties. Her hair is of a decided gray, and she does not shrink from calling herself old. She is the most continual talker I ever heard; it is really like the babbling of a brook, and very lively and sensible too; and all the while she talks she moves the bowl of her ear-trumpet from one auditor to another, so that it becomes quite an organ of intelligence and sympathy between her and yourself. The ear-trumpet seems a sensible part of her, like the antennæ of some insects. If you have any little remark to make, you drop it in; and she helps you to make remarks by this delicate little appeal of the trumpet, as she slightly directs it towards you, and if you have nothing to say, the appeal is not strong enough to embarrass you. All her talk was about herself and her affairs; but it did not seem like egotism, because it was so cheerful and free from morbidness. And this woman is said to be atheistical! I will not think so, were it only for her sake. What! only a few weeds to spring out of her mortality, instead of her intellect and sympathies flowering and fruiting for ever!”
Dr. Samuel Brown, the philosopher and friend of such extremely opposed theological opinions, with whom she so often held the high argument that high-minded disputants alone can, wrote as follows at this period: —
“. . . . And my ‘beautiful enemy’ in theory, my noble friend in life (Harriet Martineau), is condemned to death! The physicians pronounce her incurable. She writes us a long letter, a sort of last farewell; but, sooth to say, it is like the abdication of a queen, this dying! Without the faith of a Christian (or even that of a Mahometan in God), and with a philosophical scheme most defective, this great woman seems to me endowed with certain of the most eminent religious virtues, — fortitude, self-possession, resignation, the having no will of her own, and perfect trust in the optimism that is at the centre of things, to say nothing of her many fine moral qualities. And what a life of virtuous industry! ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter thou into the joy of thy (misknown but secret) Lord.’ ”
Perhaps the following letter of a later date, from a visitor at The Knoll, while Harriet Martineau’s life seemed to hang each day in the balance, may serve better than any narrative to show what effect she produced on the minds of her inmates.
The Knoll, Ambleside, 1855.
My dear Friend, —
Here I am at H. M.’s; and I must needs say, that an hour in death may be worth a year of life. Not that she is in articulo mortis as yet, but she may die at any moment, in one of these fainting or sinking fits, which are so distressing to see. Let the pulse stop a second or two longer, and all would be over, — just as the last drop sinks the ship. She is now engaged in writing her life, — her inner life that is, — and the changes her mind has undergone, and the reasons of them. Don’t mention this, for I do not wish to have any thing go out of this house which she has not seen. Not that she would have any objection; she has vexed and perplexed the world, during her fifty years, to the greatest extent, by her unexampled sincerity; but I do not choose to supply matter for possible misrepresentation of any thing I say. I never saw such transparency in all my experience. The French are, as a nation, far beyond the most open English in this respect. But she is like a diamond, — hard and solid, bright and sparkling, and you see through and through it, and the stronger the light the brighter it shines. But then she is like water, too, — soft, yielding, purifying, and gentle or overwhelming, as the case may be. She talks of your friend — —, to give the outside of her life. It needs no great literary ability to do it. Any body would have capacity enough to hold up so precious a stone to the light, and shift it about a little, although no lapidary or jeweller. To know its value would be the great qualification, and that, I think, — — does.
The Knoll, Ambleside, 1855.
. . . . I am still here; and here is death at the door; but Harriet Martineau is the happiest person in her enjoyment of life and her anticipation of its immediate close, that I ever saw. I see what it is to have lived, — not under the exhausted receiver of ladyhood or mere womanhood, — but the life of a human being. Yet her sensibilities, risible or pathetic, are like those of early youth. Her laugh is like that of a child, and in her sleep she seems like one, when not disturbed by the heart-difficulty. It is impossible to describe the beauty of the place here. The larches are not yet in bud, yet it is lovely past expression. I will tell you, as I think of them, the things likely to interest you, but do not mention them to friends less wise than yourself. There are people who should never hear a really interesting thing; for they have not retention enough to keep it to themselves, nor sense enough to transmit it unchanged. I mean, too, the unfriendly, such as A—, who hates Harriet Martineau fiercely on account of moral oppugnancy, or B—, who hates her gently because of theological differences. You would be astonished to know how all England and France are agitated by what I will call the death-bed question. — Her death-bed seems to have set them all on the qui vive. The anonymous letters, that pour in, apropos or mal-apropos of the Harriet Martineau letters are curious indeed. Original verses on pink paper, entitled the “Folly of Atheism;” copies of the New Testament; manuscript collections of texts about immortality, and the like. The letters from “Christian friends” are yet more curious. The kindest of them account for her peace of mind by the supposition that God is especially sustaining her and supporting her, although she does not know it. “In short,” she says, “they can easily account for my being comfortable and happy in mind, by supposing me the special favourite of their God, whom I reject.” She will use the word “religion” in the bad sense. I argue for it, — but no. Then her “views”! I have been travelling in England in the heat of the Crimean war, and I protest to you that her “views” seem much more in the minds of all the people I have met than the siege of Sevastopol. . . . .
I am so struck with her absolute, candid, real love of truth. She seems utterly destitute of prejudice. Then she is so womanly, in the good sense of the word, and in some senses so sensitive. She sometimes suffers much from little things I could not possibly suffer from at all. For instance, a story in the newspapers that she “hoed her own cabbages,” and the story of the old peasant at Ambleside, who said, “I should ha’ liked one like she for my good woman; for she would ha’ ploughed.” This would be called feminine delicacy, I suppose, but it really is human sensitiveness: I could hardly conceive of such things as annoying to such a one as she, till I learned from her that they were distressing to persons that she loved and respected. How weak is the mind of a certain part of England! I could see, by this little incident, how her “views” must strike such persons, — persons who, like one of her neighbours, expressed the sentiment that “people owed it to their friends not to change their opinions.”
In the course of conversation one evening at The Knoll, Mrs. Martineau told us of a letter she had received in 1851 from Mr. E. J. Furnival. He said that in the judgment of William Johnson of King’s College, Cambridge, the development theory and the doctrine of the non-existence of personality like man’s personality, in God, are capitally answered by Tennyson, in his “In Memoriam,” — the first by Strophe CXIX., the second by CXXIII. He did not like “The Letters.” Some one remarked that he did, however, like “Deerbrook,” and told all his friends that he had made thirty men read it. “He wanted to know,” she continued, “whether I knew Austin’s ‘Jurisprudence,’ and his distinction between the laws proper, of the moral world, and the laws improper, of the outward or natural world, — natural laws. He could not brook the accusation against Bacon (as of Moses, in ‘Eastern Life’), he said, of being what he should call a blackguard, — saying false things, when he knew the truth.”
She gave us an abstract of her reply; but as I find it in the Athenæum, and as there is in it no confidential communication, I subjoin it (in preference to my own recollections), as it gives so many of her “views” in reply to objections to them.
The Knoll, Ambleside, October 5, 1851.
Dear Mr. —, —
Your packet and I arrived here almost together. I must beg of you to thank Mr. — very heartily for me for the wonderful pleasure he has sent me in this little volume. Like most other people (whom I have met with, at least), I shrank from a whole volume of published griefs; and the more, because I knew Arthur Hallam; and, like every body that has read it, I forego my objection (which I still think natural) during the reading. I began to cut and read last night; and I stopped at last, by a virtuous effort, from the feeling that I ought not to be able to take in so much at once, — that I ought to spread it out, — though, happily, I have the volume to refer to at all times. I cannot honestly say that I had any thing like so much pleasure from “The Princess.” There are bits of wisdom and of beauty, — many; but the impression of the whole is more than odd; — it is very disagreeable, — to my feeling. It does not follow that I am not glad to know it; still less, that I am not as much obliged to you for making me read it as if I had liked it ever so much.
And now I am wondering how Mr. J. and you can see any “answer” in those two poems of Tennyson’s to anything Mr. Atkinson and I have said. Who has ever said that men are only brain? Does any one say that an orange-grove is only carbon, silica, &c.; or the nightingale only a chemical and mechanical compound, — passing over the product or result, — making no mention of the fragrance and the music? If any one did say so, and could establish it, would he not be elevating the chemical and mechanical elements and forces, and not lowering the blossom and the bird? There they are! — beyond his power to disparage. And so “we are what we are, — however we came to be,” as I said in that book. “Science” is very far from pretending to say that men are “magnetic mockeries,” or any sort of mockeries; but the most real of all things that men can have cognizance of, and therefore proper subjects of science. Science goes to show us that there is far more in man than Tennyson or any one else has ever dreamed of; and the one very thing that science most strenuously and constantly insists on is that we do not and cannot know any thing whatever of essence, but only of attributes or qualities, — say phenomena. — As for the other poem, we should scarcely object to any part of it, and eagerly agree with most of it. You know we think it nonsense — a mere jingle of words — to profess to disbelieve in a First Cause. It is an inseparable, an essential part of human thought and feeling to suppose a First Cause. (See our book, pp. 240, 342.) It is only when men presume to say what are the attributes or qualities, — making it out a magnified human being (which Xenophanes so well saw our tendency to do), that we decline to abet such hardihood, and to attach our awe and reverence to an idol. — As for our making Bacon a “blackguard” (your word, you know), the question is one of fact, — always remembering that the avowal of convictions on speculative subjects is not the same virtue in all times. I do not admit the “blackguardism” of Moses, for instance, but rather regard his avowal of so much as he did declare as worthy of reverent admiration. Bacon was awfully faulty in that matter; but, as you well know, far more criminal in others; a thorough “blackguard” as Chancellor, if timid and cunning as a philosopher. But you can satisfy yourself about this, which is better than taking any body’s word for it. Study him well, ascertaining his bearings, and not forgetting to look into the dates of his various writings, and see how the matter is; and don’t blame us for Bacon’s weaknesses, nor yet judge him by the circumstances of your and my station and time. (For that matter, however, do you know no very good people who sanction what they believe to be untrue, for other folks’ good yet more than their own peace and quiet?) As for your question about the grounds of our aspiration after self-sacrifice, &c., our ground is much the same as yours, I should think. If you were asked why you obey the will of God, you would say that it is because your nature impels you so to do; because you feel it to be best; because you long, and yearn, and love so to do. So we, — if asked why we prefer health to sickness, peace to turmoil of mind, benevolence to self-indulgence, — reply simply that we do. Our moral, like our physical faculties, indicate health and happiness as our natural action; and, as we incline to temperance as the rule of health, we naturally aspire to a life of self-sacrifice, or, say rather, of active good-will, because it is inexpressibly desirable in our eyes. This is one ground. But I think it is a higher, and therefore more natural, state (when simply living, and not arguing) not to think about the matter expressly at all, but simply to give way to our love of our neighbour, and act from it, without reviewing any “grounds.” As for the reviewers, they have been more fraudulent (in misquotations and the like) than I had supposed possible; but that is their affair, and not ours. As for their wrath, we must bear in mind that most of them are divines, doctors, or somehow concerned in metaphysics; and that we have attacked the very staple of their thoughts and lives. Thus, great allowance is to be made for them, and they really cannot do us justice. We do not see that any one of them has touched any one point of our book; and they answer one another so effectually as to save us the trouble of doing it. We have brought a great deal of censure on ourselves through the form of our book, — its mere epistolary form, and its stopping short in the middle. Some day we shall probably give out our views in a more complete and orderly way. Meantime we have the pleasure of some hearty sympathy; and, where we are most abused, it is a true satisfaction to sympathize the more with our enemies the less they are able to do so with us. There is nothing but the sheer dishonesty (of which I am sorry to say there is a terrible deal) that afflicts us at all. . . . .
Our field prospers. Every lot is sold; and all were paid for in one day, — to the last shilling. The money is in the bank; and I am thinking how to get up baths and a reading-room with it. The roofs are on the two cottages now nearly finished; and very nice houses they are. I find my ground will admit of two, and I have been asking — — — whether I may not venture on a second. . . . . I have lost (you kindly inquire, you know) some of my potatoes this year, and nearly all my turnips, — from the absence of frost last winter. All else is flourishing, and beautiful beyond description. I come home, with work for two years on my hands, — in full health, — after a capital holiday with my family, and with not a care in the world.
Now I think I have answered all your questions. And what a quantity I have given you to read!
Believe me truly your obliged
O yes, — I have Austin’s “Jurisprudence” on my shelves.
But whatever she did, though in the most simple and private manner, was sure to attract public attention in an inexplicable way, both from her village neighbours, the labourers and mechanics, and her country neighbours, the nobles and gentry. The former sought her as a source of instruction, help, and information, and “the noble lords in the chair” gave her health as such at public entertainments.
Nothing is more interesting to housewives than to know how their contemporaries live; and nothing was more interesting to the great writer on political economy than the details of domestic economy the world over. The world will repay to her the compliment. Below are subjoined the accounts of one year at The Knoll.
Such was The Knoll, Harriet Martineau’s house, and such was its mistress: no less admirable was her household.
All interests there were harmonized and welded into one; for she could not help treating her servants as if they were her children, and their deferential duty was truly filial. They generally came to her young and lived with her long; and friends visiting her at intervals never failed to notice, from time to time, their improvement in manners, general appearance, and intelligence. There were who made light of her knowledge of the “higher classes,” because in one of the “Illustrations” a certain Lady F. is described as treating her servants with affection. But she always thought it a libel on every class to assume that they have not all one human heart, and she wrote this tale as an example, and painted this portrait as a vindication of the higher class from the aspersion of being without exception indifferent to the humbler. Yet she recommended to all the dress and expenditure suited to their means and condition. We have already seen that she understood so thoroughly the theory of domestic service, that persons who saw her name for the first time on the little title-page of “The Maid of All Work” supposed she must herself be a servant. Looking over these little guides to domestic details in after years, how many have been reminded of the words of Scripture: “Whoso is greatest among you let him be your servant.” Neither the education nor the household training of her servants was neglected, and their devotedness was the natural fruit of her loving care.
I was authorized by the writers to print the subjoined correspondence, seeing I so much desired it, as more illustrative than any statement of mine: —
MRS. MARTHA ANDREWS TO MISS MARTINEAU.
My dear Miss Martineau, —
I write a line to say that I hope dear Mrs. Martineau is better this week. I have thought much of her to-day as I was looking over a memorandum I have of our first meeting. I think it will not be uninteresting to her, just as I put it down at the time.
“September 24, 1847. — I met with the kindest reception from Miss Martineau, who was now become my mistress.
“We travelled together to Birmingham, and I shall never forget the delight I felt in her company; and the day was glorious. I enjoyed the journey exceedingly, the country was so beautiful; and we passed so many country churches, and here and there a hill in the distance. We were met at the station by Miss M.’s brother. We stayed a fortnight at Edgbaston, and I was so happy!”
I hope I am not intruding by referring to the past, but I had indeed forgotten it till to-day, when I dropped upon it, and I just copy it down, as I then wrote it, after getting to Ambleside.
With kind love and duty to Mrs. Martineau, I beg you to accept the same from
Your humble and affectionate servant,
It was to this servant, whom she always mentioned as “my dear Martha,” that her mistress wrote the following letter while in near prospect of death.
Ambleside, March 31.
Dear Martha, —
I have been anxious for some time to send you a line under my own hand, and now I do it, partly to thank you for your very interesting and gratifying letter to me, and partly to ask your acceptance of a little gift from me which I hope to send by the next post (as I cannot put in the packet on a Sunday). It is a brooch containing a bit of my hair. We cut off my long hair lately, and I knew you would like to have a piece, so I had it set in a brooch; and I send it now, not at all knowing how long I may be able to hold converse with you in any way.
You are fully aware of my state, I believe, — that I may live for even many months; but that it is more probable that I shall go off suddenly in one of the sinking fits which occur every few days. . . . . But we all think the sudden and easier ending the more probable. One does not think of having any personal wishes in matters so serious and solemn; but when I consider my dear nieces (Maria especially as head nurse), and the sacrifices they are making for me, and the anxiety to so many friends of my being in so precarious a state, and, I may add, my own former experience of long illness, I certainly feel that the end, whenever it comes, will be a welcome release.
I have no great suffering, though of course I never feel well, and often very ill, — with the strange ailments which attend a disordered circulation and an irregular action of the heart. But there is nothing which prevents our being as cheerful a little household as you could easily find. We have no concealments, and we do not wish any thing in our lot to be otherwise than as it is. We employ ourselves, and enjoy the beauty of the valley; and one friend or relation comes after another. Sister Higginson came first; then Mr. Atkinson for a month; then my brother Robert, who left us to-day; and next, my sister, his wife, will come in Susan’s place. My sister Rachel I saw in London. Elizabeth and Caroline are as kind and good as can be, and so is your brother.* I have taken care that my good servants shall be protected and assisted after my death, as I have told him. I am so happy to think, dear Martha, that you look back on your abode here as a not unprofitable time, — morally. It is a great pleasure to believe that, at that important period of your life, you were able to derive benefit from your position, and I thank you for giving me the pleasure of telling me so. Of my affection for you, you need no fresh assurance. If this should be the last time of my writing to you, accept from me, with confidence, the assurance of the love of
Your affectionate friend,
My kind regards and wishes to your good husband.
TO MRS. MARTINEAU.
My dear Madam, —
It is with a great deal of feeling that I attempt these few lines, as it possibly may be the last time. Still I think that if you are able to be calm and cheerful in the near prospect of death, surely I ought not to be unhappy or selfish; and I wish again to express my thanks to you for the many lessons I have learnt from you. I only wish I was able to carry them out more efficiently. All the instruction I received from you comes fresh into my mind. One great principle was love and forbearance with others, not to be so rash in judging others, — suspicious, &c., which I remember I was, very strongly, when I first came to live with you. Then the lessons on calmness and patience under trouble, — the desire for honesty in every sense of the word. These things I have endeavoured to work upon, and now I try to use the same influence on the minds of those under my power. But your influence, of course, was greater than I can expect to have, because I felt that strong love for you which not many servants have or can have, because they and their employers are differently situated. I have often thought of the great dangers we were exposed to, had it not been for your love and kindness to us.
Then to act conscientiously to our own hurt. I earnestly wish this noble principle was more taught. What a different state of society there would be!
I hope you will forgive my troubling you. Please to accept my warmest love. I hope you may yet be spared for some time to the world and those that love you. I can say with truth that the kind attentions I have received have not increased my pride or my ambition. I feel thankful and humble. This lesson also I have learnt from you.
With many thanks for all the past, I remain, my dear madam,
The guests at The Knoll were often impressed by the devotedness they witnessed of both mistress and maids. One of these, a visitor from America, who had, as the friend of the mistress, received much attention from the maid, wrote to her afterwards, with a gift distinctively American, — a gold eagle.
Twenty years of such service justifies such a reply. The handwriting is that of a person of cultivation; and guests were always prompt to say, in view of this devotedness,
May 15, 1873.
Dear Madam, —
I really do not feel equal to express my gratitude for your beautiful letter. The contents surprised me very much. Please accept hearty thanks for your handsome present, and for what you so touchingly allude to in my long service at The Knoll. I hope to spend it in “remembrance of you.”
I feel sure it will be a comfort to you to know that our prospects are getting brighter. I need scarcely add it has been a most trying time since Miss Jane M. left us. Her illness has been a terrible sorrow to my mistress, but I am happy to say she now begins to take comfort and courage again. The last three months there is much more ease and quiet. I had the pleasure of going over to Leamington to see Miss Jane the week before last, and found she was really getting on, and she assured me she felt conscious of returning strength, and the great object of her life is to come back to us. She longs to be by her aunt’s side again: there is such a strong union of affection between them, that I trust they will be united again.
My mistress is in real delight about the steady improvement, and is quite content to wait. Of course we do our very best for her, and she often tells me we are very kind to her, and there is hardly any thing she does not praise in those around her.
I sometimes feel I should ill deserve many blessings if I indulged in any regret, and daily I preserve a tranquillity which I earnestly hope may not be construed into indifference. I regard my mistress with as much reverence as I do affection, and look upon it as a bright privilege to do all I can for her in my humble way; indeed, it is a pleasure to me!
I often wish you could see her, she is such a handsome old lady. The cap you sent her makes her look almost divine. I’m quite sure she is much better since taking the phosphate you sent. We go on so regularly and comfortably! but at the same time there is little strength to struggle with difficulties.
With renewed thanks for your kindness, and wishing you health and happiness,
I remain, gratefully and respectfully,
It was not her fame only, but also her delight in the exercise of hospitality, that drew around her so many guests. She was most anxious to receive the friends of her American life. The Hutchinson family — the sweet singers of our American Israel — sung to her upon her own lawn at The Knoll the songs of her other beloved land. Either to Tynemouth or The Knoll came almost all the early abolitionists. To her came Sumner in his youth, and received from her an introduction to her numerous London friends; and so many others came that it were in vain to try to name them all. “She is so — well, fascinating!” they all said; “there is no other word for her.”
There are some inconveniences, however, attending a great fame, a reputation for hospitality, and a general benevolence. As, for example, when her maid saw carriages descending, the occupants standing up with their heads stretched forward in search of The Knoll, she could not help being impressed with an idea that they must needs be admitted. “Caroline is so softhearted!” said her mistress to an old friend, an inmate for the time being; “visitors tell her they cannot go away without seeing me, when I am too much engaged or too ill perhaps to receive them.” “But what can I do, ma’am?” interrupts Caroline. “What can I do when they tell me they worship you, ma’am! and that they were brought up upon your works! — they have come from ever so far and from every where to see you!” And Caroline could seldom help fairly yielding up the castle.
Mrs. Parkinson, the old woman who lived in the cottage near the gate, used to say, “If I had a penny for every time they stop the coachman to ask where Miss Martineau lives, I should be a rich woman.”
Hither it was that statesmen came across the country for an interchange of thought with her; here it was that she wrote the Autobiography; and some few of them, who were trusted and valued friends, were privileged to read it. One of these was the Earl of Carlisle, who read it with the feelings he thus expresses, for “such an infidel” as herself: —
London, December 12, 1855.
My dear Miss Martineau, —
It is difficult to read your account of yourself with a serenity like your own. I most earnestly trust that the decline may be gentle and painless.
I should wish you to be entirely guided by your own judgment and inclination in inserting or omitting any thing about myself, only be assured I could never have the baseness or the blindness to shrink from such companionship.
I should have much liked to see you again, and to visit you in your gabled and terraced abode, but this must not be for the present, at least, as I am just setting out again for my island.
May that spirit of love and justice to which I believe you have always wished to be faithful be evermore with you.
Yours very sincerely,
Notwithstanding her suffering condition during the twenty years preceding her death, and the amount of literary and other work she did, I suppose no one ever welcomed so many visitors of all classes, from the highest to the lowest. The heart-failure under which she laboured made it sometimes impossible to admit those she most wished to see; and to one of them she expressed her regret as she felt it, strongly: —
“I would willingly die for the pleasure of seeing you; but if it should kill me, it would make you unhappy for life.”
Charlotte Brontë, for whom Mrs. Martineau cherished a deep affection, was previous to this time a guest at The Knoll. She gives her sister Emily an account of that visit, — the second event in their earlier acquaintance. She says: —
“I am at Miss Martineau’s for a week. Her house is very pleasant both within and without; arranged at all points with admirable neatness and comfort. Her visitors enjoy the most perfect liberty; what she claims for herself she allows them. I rise at my own hour, breakfast alone. . . . . I pass the morning in the drawing-room, she in her study. At two o’clock we meet, talk and walk till five, — her dinner-hour, — spend the evening together, when she converses fluently and abundantly, and with the most complete frankness. I go to my own room soon after ten, and she sits up writing letters. She appears exhaustless in strength and spirits, and indefatigable in the faculty of labour: she is a great and good woman; of course not without peculiarities, but I have seen none as yet that annoy me. She is both hard and warm hearted, abrupt and affectionate. I believe she is not at all conscious of her own absolutism. When I tell her of it, she denies the charge warmly; then I laugh at her. I believe she almost rules Ambleside. Some of the gentry dislike her, but the lower orders have a great regard for her. . . . . I have truly enjoyed my visit here. . . . . Miss Martineau I relish inexpressibly. . . . .
“She is certainly a woman of wonderful endowments, both intellectual and physical; and though I share few of her opinions, and regard her as fallible on certain points of judgment, I must still award her my sincerest esteem. The manner in which she combines the highest mental culture with the nicest discharge of feminine duties filled me with admiration; while her affectionate kindness earned my gratitude. . . . . I think her good and noble qualities far outweigh her defects. It is my habit to consider the individual apart from his (or her) reputation; practice independent of theory; natural disposition isolated from acquired opinion. Harriet Martineau’s person, practice, and character inspire me with the truest affection and respect.”
After another visit at The Knoll she writes thus: —
“Of my kind hostess herself I cannot speak in terms too high. Without being able to share all her opinions, — philosophical, political, or religious, — without adopting her theories, I yet find a worth and greatness in herself, and a consistency and benevolence and perseverance in her practice, such as win the sincerest esteem and affection. She is not a person to be judged by her writings alone, but rather by her own deeds and life, than which nothing can be more exemplary or nobler. She seems to me to be the benefactress of Ambleside, yet takes no sort of credit to herself for her active and indefatigable philanthropy. The government of her household is admirably administered; all she does is well done, from the writing of a history down to the quietest feminine occupation. No sort of carelessness or neglect is allowed under her rule, and yet she is not over-strict, or too rigidly exacting; her servants and her poor neighbours love as well as respect her.
“I need not, however, fall into the error of talking too much about her, merely because my mind is just now deeply impressed with what I have seen of her intellectual power and moral worth.”
There Charlotte Brontë saw Mr. Atkinson, who had been described to her as a combination of the Greek sage of antiquity with the modern European man of science.
“But,” she says, “he serenely denies us our hope in immortality, and quietly blots from man’s future, heaven and the life to come. That is why a savour of bitterness seasoned my feeling towards him.”
No wonder that, with such a predisposition, she should herself have been disturbed and distressed by the publication of “The Letters.”
They had talked of Comte, on whose lectures Mrs. Martineau was then engaged; she had admired the laborious devotedness which could compel into an English existence a work so utterly opposite in character to the impressive fictions that occupied her own mind, but she was too strongly bound to the past to be willing to cast a thought beyond its vague shadows on futurity. She accepted, as it was natural for a clergyman’s daughter to do, the clerical declarations that philosophy was atheism; and so she told her friend. Harriet Martineau’s affection was in no way impaired by this. She thanks her friend warmly for the frankness of the letter, saying, —
“It charmed me, and I thank you for it. Only one remark. I have no objection to words, when, as you do, people understand things; but I am not an atheist according to the settled meaning of the term. An atheist is ‘one who rests in second causes,’ who supposes things that he knows to be made or occasioned by other things that he knows. This seems to me complete nonsense; and this Bacon condemns as the stupidity of atheism. I cannot conceive the absence of a First Cause; but then I contend that it is not a person, i. e. that it is to the last degree improbable, and that there is no evidence of its being so. Now, though the superficial, ignorant, and prejudiced will not see this distinction, you will; and it will be clear to you what scope is left for awe and reverence under my faith.”
This extract is from a very long letter, full of news and pleasant thoughts, ending thus: —
“My lecture was upon Wickliffe; — was in raptures with it. Now I must go to my proofs, my dear. How I like to think that I have you, be you any where from atheist to Latter-day Saint; I don’t care, as long as you love me, without regard to the results of the understanding.”
More correspondence there was, and it was not on this ground that Charlotte Brontë felt for a time repelled from her friend. She had earnestly adjured Harriet Martineau to give her a full and frank opinion of her novel, “Vilette;” and, however affectionately and thoughtfully given, it was only the more painful to the receiver, seeing that it confirmed the current and more roughly expressed opinion of the world. Greater experience than Miss Brontë possessed would come to her, doubtless Harriet Martineau thought, in season to correct the fault in question.
It is painful to remember that Charlotte Brontë did not live to profit by the just criticism she had so ardently evoked. More knowledge of some kinds would in all probability have shown her its justice. But death prevented the two friends from again meeting.
The affectionate fear of the younger that the publication of “The Letters” might deprive H. Martineau of valued friends proved entirely unfounded.
Perhaps the best way of correcting certain mistakes that are noticeable in periodicals, even to this day, is to insert this letter from Harriet Martineau to the editor of “Men of the Time.”
Ambleside, March 22, 1856.
Mr. Murray is always glad to receive information of mistakes in his hand-books; and I presume you wish to be made aware of all such serious errors in your “Men of the Time” as may discredit a work upon so excellent a plan. The mistakes of fact in the notice of myself are so numerous, and I must say so inexcusable, considering the means of information that exist in print, that you ought to be informed of them on authority, in order to their rectification. If allowed to remain, such mistakes discredit the whole work, as is the case already with my family and friends, who ask how they can trust any part of the book, when any one memoir is so unnecessarily full of errors.
1. My forefathers were not manufacturers, but surgeons. It was that profession which descended from generation to generation.
2. There was no silk manufacturer in Norwich till after my father’s death, and the removal of the family from the city. My father (the first manufacturer of the family) was a bombazine and camlet manufacturer.
3. This is the most important mistake of all, because it deprives my parents of honour due to them. My education was not of the “limited character” imputed. On the contrary, my parents gave their children, girls as well as boys, an education of a very high order, including sound classical instruction and training. What the family have done is sufficient evidence that their education was not of “a limited character.”
4. It was in 1834 that I went to America.
5. “Deerbrook” has been more popular than almost any of my works, and has gained a higher reputation than any other. It has gone through two large editions (a rare thing for a novel) and I have disposed of it for a third.
6. Lord Grey never offered me a pension. The one which was at first proposed was not £150, but £300.
7. It was at the end of 1842, and not 1853, that my medical man declared me incurably ill.
8. Rev. James Martineau was not of the party to the East, or ever in the East at all. The names of the party are given in my “Eastern Life.”
9. Mr. Atkinson is not a “Mesmerist,” but a philosophical student, and a gentleman of independent fortune. The standing of the “Letters on Man’s Nature and Development” is, in point of fact, as different as possible from that groundlessly asserted in the memoir.
10. My version of Comte does not close the list of my labours.
11. One of the best received and most important of my books is not mentioned, — “Household Education.”
12. Nobody has witnessed “flashes of wit” from me. The giving me credit for wit shows that the writer is wholly unacquainted with me. . . . .
Now, what will you do? Of course, you will not allow proved errors to continue to circulate uncontradicted. Will you cancel these notices, or print this letter, or what will you do?
You are probably aware that I am mortally ill. I have written and got printed an Autobiography, which will be published immediately after my death. But this does not affect the case, as your notice will then be withdrawn. It is the interval between this time and that, that you have to provide for: and I hope to hear, before I decide on a public contradiction, what course you propose to take.
It is hardly necessary to add that the editor of “Men of the Time” was much obliged by the corrections, and profited by them immediately.
When I consented to Harriet Martineau’s desire that I should make such additions as I judged proper to her Autobiography, I entreated her to allow me the publication of such letters as I might select from her correspondence with myself. The following is her reply, with this preliminary note: —
“For publication if you wish it.”
Ambleside, June 11, 1855.
My dear Friend, —
You desire my permission to publish, after my death, certain letters of mine to yourself. Mr. Atkinson desires permission to give you some of my letters to him for publication. I give you my sanction with entire willingness, and I hope you will employ it as freely as you like in regard to these two sets of letters.
Such use of them is perfectly consistent with the principle on which I have forbidden, in my will, the unauthorized publication of my private correspondence. That interdict is grounded on the objection that all freedom and security in epistolary correspondence are destroyed by the liability that unreserved communication may hereafter become public. No such danger is incurred when writer and receiver agree to make known what they have said to each other. There would be no fireside confidence if téte-à-tête conversation were liable to get abroad, through some third person thinking what he had overheard might be useful. But if the two talkers agree to say elsewhere what they have said to each other, there can be no possible objection to their doing so.
You have, therefore, my full permission to make any use you please of any thing I have written to you; and Mr. Atkinson has the same, as I am going to tell him.
[* ]Mrs. Sartoris.
[* ]His daughter.
[* ]Mrs. Martineau’s farm-servant.