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PHILOSOPHY. - Harriet Martineau, Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, vol. 2 and Memorials of Harriet Martineau 
Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography and Memorials of Harriet Martineau, ed. Maria Weston Chapman (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1877). 2 vols. Vol. 2.
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“Christianity, I conceive, is to be re-established by clear development of its original essential truths. No religion can now prevail which is not plainly seen to minister to our noblest sentiments and powers, and unless Christianity fulfils this condition I cannot wish it success.”
“There is no condition in life, no degree of talent, no form of principle, which affords protection against an accusation [as of Atheism] that levels conditions, confounds characters, renders men’s virtues their sins, and rates them as dangerous in proportion as they have influence, though attained in the noblest manner and used for the best purposes.”
— Walter Scott.
“But the commandment of knowledge is yet higher than the commandment over the will: for it is a commandment over the reason, belief, and understanding of man, which is the highest part of the mind, and giveth law to the will itself. For there is no power on earth which setteth up a throne or chair of state in the spirits and souls of men, and in their cogitations, imaginations, opinions, and beliefs, but knowledge and learning.”
Harriet Martineau, by independent thought, study, and travel having arrived at an ascent whence a wider view of existence became visible to her; and Mr. Atkinson, after long study and induction, having attained, by a new application of an old method, the knowledge for which she was labouring, it followed, after her cure by the means he recommended to the lady whose mesmeric patient she had been, that he became a personal acquaintance, a coadjutor in philosophical pursuits, and ultimately a most valued friend. He was not “a mesmerist,” but a philosophical student of all natural phenomena; and, being a gentleman of independent fortune, was at liberty to devote himself entirely to the examination of facts and the search for truth.
It was he who, Margaret Fuller thought, possessed “a fine instinctive nature:” —
“A man of about thirty; in the fulness of his powers; tall and finely formed, with a head for Leonardo to paint; mild and composed, but thoughtful and sagacious; he does not think, but perceives and acts. He is intimate with artists, having studied architecture himself, as a profession. . . . . Sometimes stationary and acting in the affairs of other men, sometimes wandering about the world and learning, — he seems bound by no tie, and yet looks as if he had relations in every place.”
It ought, however, to be noted, that Mr. Atkinson, though so rapid in thought, was pre-eminently a thinker; possessing that faculty of clear, methodical explanation of the essence, the nature, and the qualities of things, that Plato rates so highly.
The results of research on the part of Harriet Martineau and himself, as given in “The Letters” they conjointly published, were popularly called “views;” but having had warning sufficient that common fame is as deceitful as the human heart, and sometimes as desperately wicked, I determined not to rely upon it; and I frankly asked Mr. Atkinson what were his “views.” Hers I had already learned: and it seemed but fair to ask the question of himself, and thus avoid the mistake of asking one person to make a confession of faith for another. “The Letters” told what views were held in common; but each being independent in mind, it seemed needful and desirable to one deeply interested in the premises to learn what each thought at first hand.
This was Mr. Atkinson’s reply both to my inquiries respecting our dear friend’s now failing health, and touching his philosophical views: —
MR. ATKINSON TO MRS. CHAPMAN.
May 29, 1856.
My dear Mrs. Chapman, —
Thanks for your kind note. I like to see what you say of our dear friend; and she is a dear friend, and I do not know what we shall do without her. It seems almost unnatural that such a fine nature and clear perception should be dying away like a flower, astonishing us with its great beauty for an hour, and then gone for ever.
But to question the ways of nature according to the demands of the human heart is the province of the poet, not the duty of the philosopher. The philosopher must leave the little nook of his own nature, and study and learn obedience to the divine law discovered on a wider view. It is this peeping out from under the cover of self that has given to our friend Harriet Martineau this wide range of view and this superiority, in a corrected sense of the end and order of nature. She is not an investigator, a discoverer in science, but she is, strictly speaking, a philosopher, as a lover of truth in a highly practical sense, for the sake of mankind. She is not an original philosophic genius, but her artistic power and ability to learn is extraordinary: and more extraordinary still is the power of seizing on salient points, and reproducing in a clear form what has been imperfectly stated by others.
But it is not my purpose now to go into the statement of what I think of her intellect and character and the scope of her powers. This is not what you have asked me. You may be sure that I quite assent to your proposition that, had our friend possessed a less pure and elevated nature, she would have been better understood, and more certainly received the praise of the multitude; more especially in relation to that brave exercise of her free nature in expressing opinions which she conscientiously believed for the ultimate good of mankind. That the views promulgated should be mistaken and maligned (as you notice) is of small consequence. It could not, in the nature of things, have been otherwise. All improved and true views, and almost all discoveries, have been at first opposed and maligned; so that Bacon very properly says, “There is no worse augury in intellectual matters than that derived from unanimity,” with the exception of divinity and politics where suffrages are allowed to decide. For nothing pleases the multitude unless it strike the imagination or bind down the understanding with the shackles of vulgar notions. Hence we may well transfer Phocion’s remark from morals to the intellect, “that men should immediately examine what error or fault they have committed when the multitude concurs with and applauds them.” Again, says Bacon, “to speak plainly, no correct judgment can be formed, either of our method or its discoveries, by those anticipations which are now in common use; for it is not to be required of us to submit ourselves to the judgment of the very method we ourselves arraign.” Hence there is nothing for it but to submit to the misinterpretation and disapproval of the old world we are leaving behind us.
I hope it is no presumption to say this. I merely speak after the manner and spirit of Lord Bacon, as one who has endeavoured to carry forward his principles. But as to those who speak or think or write in a harsh and presumptuous spirit of my views, I would remind them that “they who live in glass houses should not throw stones;” for they may be sure they will find it difficult to make good their own ground, either from a moral or an intellectual point of view.
If you ask what I am, I should say, a rationalist; that I take my view from the point of reason. Or I may say I am a naturalist; as opposed to the non-natural or supernaturalists; that man is a reasoning being, and that his progress in power and excellence depends on his acquired knowledge of nature; — of nature in general, but of human nature in particular. I see and feel that logic or reason implies the fixity of principles; and hence we speak of eternal truths, and of universal laws; and until we perceive the absolute necessity of things being just what they are, and the impossibility of their being different in law and principle, we have a sense undeveloped and are neither philosophers nor, strictly speaking, natural beings. “Neither is it possible” (says Bacon) “for any power to loosen or burst the chain of causes, nor is nature to be overcome, except by submission.” Because the power of man over nature, and over his own nature, rests in his knowledge of causes; and the province of the philosopher is to trace all effects to their causes in nature, to their material causes and conditions, in order to the discovery of the laws concerned. And there is no possibility of an exception to causation. Hence the notion of an interfering providence, acting by results and by a free-will, is sheer nonsense; the shallow and dangerous dreaming of unenlightened and unphilosophic minds. But the study of human nature must be pursued as a pure science: for the human mind in general, like the separate senses, is subject to error, the correction of which imperfection cannot arise out of meditation, but must be sought by experiment in deep investigation into causes, and by the analogies of knowledge. We require a new mode of investigation, another range of facts; for the attempt to understand human nature by reasoning and by simple abstract reflection, without a scientific procedure by experiment and observation by which to trace effects to their causes, is absurd. We may as well try to live by the study of the multiplication-table, leaving out all respect of the loaves and fishes.
Bacon finely admonishes: “But if any individual desire, and is anxious not merely to adhere to and make use of present discoveries, but to penetrate still further, and not to overcome his adversaries by disputes, but nature by labour; not, in short, to give elegant and specious opinions, but to know to a certainty and demonstration, let him, as a true son of science, join with us; that when he has left the antechambers of Nature trodden by the multitude, an entrance may at last be discovered to her inner apartments.” But then, granting all this, our good friends or enemies of the old world may say, “What becomes of those sentiments of our nature that have been exercised in religion?” I reply, that those sentiments that have been misdirected by error, and crushed by folly and degrading and hideous notions; which have been little better than a jingle of words, will spring up again unimpeded, — a new growth of beautiful flowers in our path; for our philosophy is —
But in speaking of the philosophical method and of the development of the sentiments, you must consider that I speak of myself alone, and do not answer for our friend’s agreeing with me implicitly. For in using common terms, such as religion or spirit, she thinks I shall be misunderstood.
In Froude’s article* you will find a reference to Appendix O (of “The Letters”), which I wrote purposing to soften any ill impression and prevent misinterpretation. But our friend thinks the terms were misinterpreted by Froude; or, as she expresses herself to-day, in a note in reply to what I told her I should write to you, that “they will be supposing the old bottles to hold the old wine.” “To be sure, if they read you as a whole, paying due attention to every part, they could not make the mistake; but then people are so run away with by sounds and associations!” This is quite true, but we cannot invent new terms for the sentiments; and by dropping such terms as religion, spirituality, and the like, we shall be equally misinterpreted, in another way, and be called dull, cold, unimpassioned atheists, dry reasoning materialists, and indeed be found wanting in the faculties and feelings more or less common to the human race. But with this caution people must be indolent indeed if they misunderstand me. True philosophy, in an emotional sense, may be termed an affection of the mind, obedient to the highest reason; but this can hardly be entertained by those who, as Plutarch says, “retain the foolish and frightful opinions they received in infancy.” And when I speak of the old world, it must be understood that the old world is, in reality, the young world. My opinion is, then, that philosophy rightly felt as well as understood is deeply reverential, and a profoundly pure religion, and the only high and elevating religion; the only religion completely discarding idol-worship and selfish principles; the only religion that distinctly excludes pride, in the humbling sense of our being wholly dependent on causes, which, in their effects, appear as a uniform, perpetual, and universal miracle, in the wondrous working of an incomprehensible something we term power, or fundamental nature, or the nature of nature, as Bacon calls it; or the first cause, more commonly termed (or can be termed) miraculous: — this idea of power, meanwhile, in contradistinction to our sensational experience, recognizing the course of effects; which sensational appearances (effects) again, from their order and beauty, rivet attention and claim a tribute from the feelings. The contemplation, referring to the cause or power, is wonder, or knowledge broken off. The contemplation of the effect is admiration and exquisite enjoyment. But these sentiments with which I am so solemnly impressed are not to be explained in a few lines; may easily, as our friend fears, be mistaken; and are hardly to be comprehended by those under the dreary slavery of old superstitions, where power is personified and evil is personified, just as Beauty, Time, Strength, and Fleetness were personified in the heathen mythology. People still rest among the same or similar delusions, the “spirit” of power being shaded off into three distinctions, opposed by the Devil, who really seems to have had it pretty much his own way; and in the last day is to get the lion’s share of the poor human race, for eternal damnation. Now I really don’t think our view of things, which excludes this fearful demon, and damnation, can be so very offensive. But if I am to be damned here and hereafter for discrediting the Devil, I cannot help it.
Yet if we would seek that spirit of excellence, of wisdom, and of power, that eternal reason or mind in nature, or the inspired word that is spoken from the depths of human nature, it must be, as it were, by an invocation of the enlightened conscience; by an appeal to the untrammelled understanding; by a deep and devoted love of all that is virtuous and most noble; by a reverential love of beauty and excellence in every form; and by a strict fidelity to truth and honour: for truth must be considered what Plato terms it, “the body of God; and light, as his shadow.” The religion of philosophy should pervade our whole being, and prevail throughout our whole life, and under all circumstances: should be seen in the artist devoutly conscientious towards that nature which he so loves; in the statesman’s disinterested labour for the good of mankind; in the merchant’s undeviating honest course; nay, in fact, must be seen in a growth towards true magnanimity, and in the abnegation of self, and in the respectful feeling of every man towards his fellow-man.
The great privilege of the freethinker being in the pursuit of knowledge as of an enterprise, and, freed from error, to learn wisdom in a deeper devotion to truth, and for its own sake as well as for the good of mankind, depend upon it we shall not by any power in reason, or, as it were, jugglery of the intellect, rob human nature of its devotional feeling and hero-worship. We must love, though, alas! that love may be often blind and misplaced. We shall retain self-respect, though we cease to have pride. We shall retain the desire of approbation, though freed from the slavery of vanity. So also of the devotional feelings: they will retain a sphere of action and acquire a more healthy vigour, when no longer perverted and misdirected by the belief in the silly fables of the ancients. Be sure the devotional feelings will not wither away and perish when we awake from the long dream, and have cast down the idols that have so long disgraced the altar, and trampled hell under our feet, and extinguished its “eternal fires,” putting to flight all the lies and blasphemies consequent upon those erroneous opinions established by the blind ignorance of the infant world.
Some mean by philosophy the being raised above, or the becoming indifferent to, the accidents of life; or the being, as it were, a law unto yourself. Thus we speak of a person bearing a matter philosophically; we never say a person bears a misfortune religiously, because few of the old religions teach fortitude, but chiefly compensation and the low principle of reward and punishment for “poor miserable sinners.” But supposing I call the fortitude of philosophy the religion, and the compensation doctrine a worldly and vain philosophy: — shall I be misunderstood? And when I say that philosophy by knowledge is erecting a strong mansion, while the old religions are but propping up a tottering house that was built on a shifting sand-heap, let it not for an instant be supposed that philosophy ends in the reasoning ourselves out of ancient beliefs; for a clearance from such beliefs is simply opening the way, and making it possible for us to pursue philosophy, somewhat as the musician runs down the keys to make silence ere he begins his song. And let none pride themselves in the goodness of their natures, though there be some that truly seem, by the beauty of this form, to be a law unto themselves; but let even these remember that the best minds are most capable of being improved, and that those who have pronounced on the value of philosophy have been the giants of the world, some of the noblest and the best of mankind. The pride of supposing we can discern good from evil without knowledge was the ignorant pride fabled in the fall of Adam.
Granting, then, the beauty and the value of knowledge, the next question is, what kind of knowledge it is we are chiefly in want of, and how this is to be acquired: and for a reply to this I refer you to my published letters to Harriet Martineau; for the critics on those letters have discussed what they do not like, but have not endeavoured to comprehend that which would lead them to something better than they at present like: and instead of their becoming, by the force of a native and wild reason, sceptical of ancient beliefs, they shall become acquainted with facts which will exhibit the nature of the delusion, and the reason of those follies which have so beset and perverted the human understanding. For by a new range of fact, and by another method alone, is it possible for us to attain a knowledge of human nature, and of those differences, similitudes, and orders which are the elements of a true science; but which attained, we shall then define clearly the meaning of “the flesh warring against the spirit,” and of that inspiration speaking, as it were, out of the depth of our nature; and by the study of abnormal conditions, and by a new view and experimenting, learn the true laws of our being, and thence attain practical rules for our guidance; calmly considering the facts, yet patiently waiting upon further discoveries; earnest and attentive as a little child beginning to learn, and hopeful as a child with the world of knowledge all undiscovered before it, and humble as a child that, feeling its own weakness, seeks knowledge and protection from without, ever from its “mother,” — that is, from truth, — and from knowledge, which has been termed the mind of that nature which is our universal parent. And the man who thinks himself sufficient unto himself is only a little child who in sheer ignorance and folly thinks itself wiser than its parents.
I have been called sceptical, and at the same time credulous; and certainly I am very sceptical of opinions derived from the dark ages, and am somewhat credulous in respect of the value of knowledge and the progress of the race when more enlightened; and if people choose to consider me credulous for relating simply, and without haste or ostentation, what I have witnessed and carefully studied for so many years, for believing, in fact, that which I know to be true, I cannot help it. But as I am not one who lives after the opinions of others, I can very well afford to leave the matters I have advanced to be credited and proved in due course, when men, instead of uttering indolent criticism, choose to investigate. And if I am not orthodox in science any more than in religion, I cannot help it; and I remember what has been said about this: “Orthodoxy is my doxy, and heterodoxy is any body else’s doxy.” I have no doubt but Franklin was thought credulous, in believing that he brought down electricity from the passing cloud to ring the little bell by his side. And, it may be, he was thought sceptical in not afterwards believing thunder to be the voice of God. We must submit to the conditions of men’s minds and the judgment of our times. But the philosopher need no longer waste his time in contending with error and folly, but devote himself entirely to the study of nature, and to the tracing of effects to their natural causes in order to discover their laws of action, in which is hidden power. Formerly men put lance in rest to uphold the virtue of their wives or the beauty of their mistresses; and engaged in what were strangely termed holy wars, in defence of their religion; and philosophers were not wholly free from this contentious spirit; simply because they were not yet free from the errors of the divine and the metaphysician, and brought down upon their knees to the study of nature out of the little world of their own thoughts, as nature ought to be studied and in the only way in which it can be understood and rightly interpreted; and to the study of human nature in particular as a pure science. And if philosophy was such a glorious pursuit, as understood and practised by those noble minds in olden times (before the forced paralysis of the understanding by theology and its professors) by those first natural rulers of the race who shone out like stars in the night and early dawn of the world’s history, what may not philosophy become when wholly purified of a debasing and obstructive theology, with all the follies and dissolving-views and phantasmagoria of metaphysics (as metaphysics has been as yet considered); and when all truth shall be felt to be divine, and philosophy to be divinity itself, that is, to be the science of divine things, — a science exhibiting the nature and laws of man’s constitution, and the sure and only means of attaining to a higher state of existence, each according to his talent and inherent capacity: and if all do not become equally great, at least the rule for all will be the highest; and from the moral and intellectual assent to this there will be no exception among cultivated and sane minds. Only think what glorious old Socrates would be, were he now one among us, — learning his misleading error about the clairvoyance of the oracles, which he could not then suppose was any thing else but the word of a god, nor think that voice within was his own nature prompting him. How could he then judge but after the popular belief, and conclude it to be an attendant demon? For the great difficulty in the progress of mind and the science of the mind is, that the error and impediment preventing clear seeing can only be cleared away by the very light which is obscured by the error. Hence the course of the mind’s progress, until fairly cleared of all superstition, could not but be devious and slow, — falling upon truth step by step and from age to age, as it were by accident.
O, it will be a strange sight to watch the last spasms of dying superstition, — the superstition of the scientific! And the High Church will go ahead of the freethinkers, as the tories often go ahead of the “liberals” in politics. We have Cardinal Wiseman in his lectures now taking phrenology under his protection, preaching the all-importance of philosophy; but it won’t do. New wine may not be put into old bottles; and it is vain to expect any great progress in the science by the superinducing or ingrafting new matters upon the old. An instauration must be made from the very foundation, if we do not wish to revolve in a circle; but theologians will be driven to desperate efforts to reconcile new truth with their ancient belief; and they will pretend to be the very first to welcome the very matters they have been so violently opposing. Yes — we may well smile to observe the shifts that are made to appear consistent and to consider how it must all end, just by letting the responsibility slip away, — leaving the priest of dogma and of form and ceremonies, a reformed man, — the deep-feeling and devoted priest of all holy and virtuous natures; in a word, a true philosopher, sagacious and full of wisdom, — that empress of knowledge. He will have left the shifting sand-heap for the solid rock; belief for knowledge; and in a position demonstrably true, as founded on the clear logical condition of the mind, and in the pursuit of truth, finding universal evidence of that logical position; and, as the end of all, displaying the true and natural bent, meaning, and realization of all man’s fondest hopes and highest aspirations.
It is now time to stop and apologize for the bad writing. If I have not rightly understood your question, pray ask me any thing further you may wish me to explain.
I fear this our dear friend is something worse, but you will have an account from herself by the post which brings you this.
Believe me, with great regard, very sincerely yours,
HENRY G. ATKINSON.
P. S. I should like to draw your attention to Appendix O, in “The Letters.”
The following letter from Mr. Atkinson finds its best place here, though twenty years intervene. Not in vain is the appeal to Time, —
Boulogne-sur-Mer,August 23, 1876.
Dear Mrs. Chapman, —
The enclosed document will show you that Professor Tyndall’s views, as given in his famous Belfast Address, as president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, are precisely what was condemned in “The Letters” twenty-five years before.
Again, the one method, as applicable to all questions, physical and metaphysical, exemplified in “The Letters,” is now set forth by Dr. Maudsley, in his opening chapter on Method, in his great work on Man; and by Mr. George Henry Lewes, in his “Problems of Life and Mind;”* whilst the deep truth of unconscious cerebration or atomatic mind, as fundamental to the conscious accompaniments, has since been explained by Sir William Hamilton and Dr. Carpenter, as discoveries of their own, though clearly referred to in “The Letters.”
Then, again, all the wonders of mesmerism are being discussed in all the many newly founded psychological societies; whilst the late Mr. Jackson, in his opening address as President of the Glasgow Psychological Society, referred to my discovery of phreno-mesmerism as a matter of the deepest importance to psychology and the investigation of man’s nature; and even Professor Huxley has at length expressed his interest in mesmerism, which he says he heard so much of in his youth.
And our friend lived to know all this. And what a true prophet was her sympathizing friend Professor Gregory! And all this, I think, ought to be referred to in your own Memoir, as most certainly our friend would have been sure to do, and desired that you should do.
Yours very truly,
H. G. ATKINSON.
This was Professor Gregory of Edinburgh (long since dead), who wrote to Harriet Martineau as follows, on the publication of “The Letters:” —
“Although you and I may not live to see it, yet you may feel satisfied that, whether all your conclusions be subsequently established or not, no work has ever yet borne your name fit to be compared with ‘The Letters’ in its ultimate effect for good on the human race. We require to be roused from the lethargy of our priest-ridden mental slumber; and a more effectual rousing than that given by ‘The Letters’ it is not easy to imagine.”
In his letters to me Mr. Atkinson frequently expresses much indifference to any fame accruing from this priority of discovery:—
“What we do not discover somebody else will; and when progress is made the main point is secured.”
It was during this period that Harriet Martineau became interested in the philosophy of Auguste Comte, the great genius to whom so many have been indebted who have not, like her, acknowledged their obligations. She has told how she became associated with his “Philosophie Positive,” the great work of his devoted, uncompromising, severe life of poverty and toil.
His hopes of ultimate success in thinking out his system and presenting it to the world were at the highest, and his worldly fortunes, broken and blighted by the treatment to which the theological cast of Charles X.’s reign must needs subject one whose vocation it was to prove that the reign of theology was over, were at the lowest, when Harriet Martineau became acquainted with his name and works.
In consequence of the interest she expressed to me in his career, I inquired among my gay entourage in Paris who and what was Comte. “A poor worthless lecturer to about five hundred of the raggedest vagabonds in France,” was the frequent reply. The flower of the École Polytechnique, whose professor he had been till removed for his opinions, did not, however, agree in this judgment, and they taxed themselves at that crisis for his pecuniary support. Every where in English-speaking lands his philosophy was labouring under popular misunderstanding, though so clear to students and the scientific world, whether accepted or rejected.
The misunderstanding among those who only knew it by name was in part owing to the different shades of meaning attached to the word “positive,” which in popular English we make the equivalent of “dogmatical” or “unreasonably peremptory;” while in French it would be defined as what can be rigorously demonstrated from and sustained by facts. M. Comte used the term with regard to philosophy because it was the one that described the method hitherto used in the investigation of the special sciences which his system includes. When the persecution that makes even wise men mad had told upon a delicate frame, he was, in consequence of a brain fever, placed for many months of the year 1826 - 7, in a maison de santé; but he completely recovered his health, and went on with his deep and high thinking till he had produced the works which have not only immortalized his own name, but have opened the way for other men to positions which they adorn in the world of thought. This is not the place to say more of him than belongs to the point where the circle of his thought touched that of Harriet Martineau. She was drawn to the study of his works by the philosophical integrity which refused the slightest concession of his principles to the tyranny of his times, though under pressure from loss of place and means. “What is a great life?” is a question to which she must needs reply, with Alfred de Vigny, “A thought of youth realized in mature age.” And when any man on earth was seen struggling in adverse circumstances to realize the thoughts he deemed sacred, he was sure to be followed by Harriet Martineau’s help and blessing.
She has told how it came about that she was led to introduce M. Comte to the English-speaking world, but she has not told how he was impressed by the way in which she had interpreted his grand original work, the “Philosophie Positive.” But one learns from his own letters how highly he estimated the uprightness, the exactitude, and the sagacity shown in the long and difficult labour of translating and condensing a work which she considered as one of the chief honours of the age.
He is “grateful for the noble Preface,” in which she says that one reason for her undertaking the work is, “that most or all of the English writers who have added substantially to our knowledge for many years past are under obligations to this work, which they would have thankfully acknowledged but for fear of offending the prejudices of the society in which they live;” and therefore, “though his fame is safe, it does not seem to me right to assist in delaying the recognition of it till the author of so noble a service is beyond the reach of our gratitude and honour: and it is, besides, demoralizing to ourselves to accept and use such a boon as he has given us in a silence which is, in fact, ingratitude. His honours we cannot share: they are his own, and incommunicable. His trials we may share, and by sharing, lighten; and he has the strongest claim upon us for sympathy and fellowship in any popular disrepute which, in this case, as in all cases of signal social service, attends upon a first movement.”
A stronger reason for her undertaking was, that M. Comte’s work in its original form does no justice to its importance, even in France, much less in England; and she gave in two volumes what filled six volumes in the original lectures, with redundancies and repetitions. He thanks her for these judicious omissions, especially those which the advance of astronomical science made imperative. He sees that her work makes the “Philosophie Positive” known in a degree that he could never in his lifetime have hoped. And when it became a question of popularizing his principles in France, he gave the preference to her work over his own; and long years after his death, M. Avezac-Lavigne, one of his friends, wrote to her for permission to translate her work into French. The letter is here subjoined.
LETTER FROM M. AVEZAC-LAVIGNE TO H. MARTINEAU.
Bordeaux, le 23 Mai, 1871.
Vous n’ignorez pas, sans doute, que M. Comte a placé, parmi les livres devant former la bibliothèque d’un positiviste, votre traduction de son système de philosophie, à l’exclusion des six volumes qu’il avait composés. Cette substitution d’un livre en langue étrangère à son livre français a dû être amenée par des motifs puissants bien honorables pour vous. Mais, quoique parfaitement justifiée, la préférence de M. Comte ne pouvait pas avoir le résultat qu’il s’en était promis; car, en réalité, votre traduction, malgré son eminente valeur, ne devait trouver en France qu’un nombre très restreint de lecteurs, et les personnes qui désiraient connaître la philosophie positive continuaient à avoir recours aux six volumes de M. Comte. Or, la longueur de cet ouvrage, son prix élevé, et sa rareté, avant l’édition qu’en a donnée Germer Baillière, étaient des obstacles à son expansion; en sorte que, ni votre excellente traduction, ni l’ouvrage français ne devaient populariser la philosophie positive. En presence de cette difficulté, je formai le projet de traduire vos deux volumes, et c’est la première livraison de mon travail que j’aurai l’honneur de vous soumettre prochainement, afin que, si ce specimen vous agrée vous vouliez bien m’autoriser à publier le reste.
Mademoiselle, si j’ai pris la liberté de livrer à l’impression le premier fascicule, de 100 pages environ, sans vous en donner avis, c’est que j’ai pensé qu’il vous paraîtrait nécessaire de pouvoir apprécier, du moins d’après quelques pages, mon humble travail, dont, soit dit en passant, je n’espère retirer ni honneur ni profits. Dans la malheureuse phase que traverse la France, les esprits sont naturellement détournés des études abstraites, et cependant j’ai la conviction que si le livre de M. Comte avait été plus répandu, beaucoup de malheurs auraient ete épargnés à mon pauvre pays. C’est le motif que m’a fait perséverer dans l’entreprise que j’avais commencée avant la guerre, malgré les graves préoccupations qui m’agitaient, et j’espère que cette consideration contribuera a vous faire accueillir favorablement la demande que j’ai l’honneur de vous adresser.
Je suis avec respect, Mademoiselle, votre très humble et dévoué serviteur,
With a refreshing unconsciousness of her own superiority in scientific comprehension and expression, Mrs. Martineau caused this reply to be made: —
Your letter was forwarded to Mrs. H. Martineau by Messrs. Trubner & Co., which she begs me to acknowledge with her kind regards. I trust you will accept her reply through me, as she is unable to carry on all her correspondence with her own hand, and I am anxious to save her what fatigue of writing I can. My aunt begs me to say that she feels much interest in the subject of your letter, and hopes that you may be able to carry out the project you propose. On account of a long and suffering illness, from heart complaint, she has for many years lived a most secluded and quiet life. She has long given up public writing, and now with increasing weakness and old age she is obliged to withdraw from business of all kinds. I am therefore sorry to tell you that it is quite out of the question for her to grant your request, or to enter into the details of your work.
My aunt begs me to say that she did not insert any thing new in her version of M. Comte’s Lectures. This being the case, she asks whether it would not be a more simple plan for you also, instead of translating her two volumes into French, merely to compress the original? It appears to her to be the most effectual, as well as the easiest method to present the substance of M. Comte’s own words instead of through a double translation.
With best wishes believe me