Front Page Titles (by Subject) WORK. - Harriet Martineau's Autobiography, vol. 2 and Memorials of Harriet Martineau
Return to Title Page for Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, vol. 2 and Memorials of Harriet Martineau
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
WORK. - Harriet Martineau, Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, vol. 2 and Memorials of Harriet Martineau 
Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography and Memorials of Harriet Martineau, ed. Maria Weston Chapman (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1877). 2 vols. Vol. 2.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The work of the years passed in her own home is so various as to be with difficulty classified. There is room but for the merest mention of the building-plans for cottages. The “Harriet Martineau Cottages,” at Ambleside, stand as a monument of the movement she initiated for the creation of comfortable, economical homes and the lowering of rents.
The years of winter lectures, meanwhile, were building up men’s minds. The people highly appreciated them, and could never say enough of the benefit and the pleasure these lectures gave them. They were so carefully prepared, so effectively delivered, and so widely attended by those for whom they were gratuitously given, that they make a subject of conversation and grateful remembrance to this day in the region round about.
Then the Berlin-wool work, which sometimes excited a smile in those who “wondered how the great authoress could bear such a frivolous occupation.” It was not merely for rest and amusement that these groups of flowers and fruit and forest leaves were wrought, though that alone were motive enough; but each of them was a gift of solid pecuniary value to some greater work.
“Result of raffle for Miss Martineau’s needlework, — fifty subscribers at £1 each = £50: amount to be added to the fund for the relief of the distress in the manufacturing districts.” And by a glance at the list it would appear that the names most illustrious in the worlds of rank and philanthropy were rivalling each other for its possession.
Many of these works were executed for the benefit of the anti-slavery cause in the United States. One in particular (“The Four Seasons”) was presented by a subscription of five dollars each from the best-known of the American antislavery associates to a well-known friend of hers, and was thus the means of raising one hundred dollars for the cause. “So many of my thoughts and feelings,” she said, “are wrought into that table-cover, that I dreaded lest it should pass into unknown hands. But now — How much pleasure this has given me! Thank every one of the ‘chivalry’ for me!”
Some fatiguing agricultural labours became a matter of necessity in consequence of her improvements at the Knoll. Having written an account of them to a friend, the letter by some unknown means was published in the “Times,” and brought down upon her an avalanche of letters of inquiries about small farming and cow-keeping; and as many of them were from the heads of public institutions for the improvement of cultivation and the care of the poor, and in the interests of the poorer and suffering classes, she could not refuse to reply. These letters came to her from all the country round; and “Not for me, but for the poorer than I am, I hope, dear lady, to induce you to be at this trouble,” was sure to act upon her like a spell.
The following is a specimen of the sort of reply she gave, and the result of the whole matter, ultimately, was the republication, with additions, of her “Letter on Cow-keeping” and “Our Farm of Two Acres.” “I am not sorry it was published,” she said, “but I had nothing to do with it.”
“Mrs. Martineau’s experience is, that nothing yields so small a return to industry here as the land. As the art of tillage advances, industry has less and less chance against capital and land in masses, while skilled labour commands better wages. In that part of the country where she lives small land-tillage leads directly to poverty in proportion as skilled agriculture answers more and more. To till waste lands some capital is necessary, and the cases are very rare in which subsistence can be obtained at all comparable with that which can be had through wages in almost any occupation; and labourers who can till the soil in any way have a much better chance under employment by the farmer than at their own risk. Such is, in a general way, Mrs. Martineau’s view, and she believes that of most people who observe the rapid advance made in agriculture.”
She was always anxious to correct any mistakes which the success of her own experiments might cause. “For my success,” she said, “is the sum of many elements, including home comfort and accommodation, and the maintenance of two persons — my farm-servant and his wife — whom otherwise I should not employ.”
Under this head of work at The Knoll comes the “History of the Thirty Years’ Peace,” which was projected in 1846 by Mr. Charles Knight, the publisher. Having found it too much for him at that time to undertake, he applied to another, whose method showed that he would spin it out too long. It lay nearly two years in abeyance, and this circumstance was most injurious to its success. But Mr. Knight was pledged to a list of subscribers to whom it must be issued in numbers, and he became very uneasy at the delay. At length it occurred to him to lay the subject before his friend Harriet Martineau, and to entreat her as the greatest possible favour to consider whether or no she would undertake it. She did so, — this was about the time of the Chartist outbreak in 1848, the Tenth of April time, — on condition of being herself responsible for the whole history, after the first book; and, as she says in the preface to the history, “solely responsible.”
The most careless observer can hardly fail to see what difficulties lie in the way of a writer of contemporaneous history. There are a thousand risks in taking time as it flies. It is sometimes a blindfold walk amid hot ploughshares, sometimes like the conducting of as hot a conflict. Whoever undertakes it must charge over the fallen, alive or dead, and as often be accused of misapprehension, both by the vanquished and the victorious. He must expect the blame, most likely the ill offices, of all who stand condemned as their deeds are placed in line. Who among authors is brave enough to risk what may befall while standing under fire to identify the columns amid the battle-smoke, and drawing them up in successive masses or files for public review? So it must needs be for the writer who takes the responsibility “solely,” and yet such a writer was the one the publisher must have; for who will read the flat, unprofitable tale of the moral craven? Then the terror of inaccuracy, and the vague dread of the unknown, which may cause unexpected explosion, to the author’s detriment and pain, are alone enough to stay his undertaking. “But who,” — as Harriet Martineau used to say on so many occasions, — “who could ever stir a finger, if only on condition of being guaranteed against oversights, misinformation, mistakes, ignorance, loss, and danger?” And she courageously undertook the unprecedented task of casting ethics into the stream of contemporaneous time. The work is written throughout with reference to the principles of right, with no yielding of judgment to the plea of political necessity, and is yet most candid in all its statements of these necessities, as no partisan could have been; thus merging the piquancy which is always at the command of the pamphleteer in the judicial integrity which is the grand characteristic of the historian. Hampered as such a work must be by its linear, chronological necessities, it is most remarkable for its interest as a narration under its inevitable disadvantages. The historian of any former age can give effect to his work by front lights and side lights, which the contemporary historian does not possess, the light of its coming time being wholly wanting. These helps to the success of a Thierry with the Norman Conquest, of a Miguet with personal delineations, or of a Motley with the Dutch Republic must of necessity be wanting to a picture of the present times. These grounds of critical judgment seem to have been overlooked by some who considered this history as wanting in success. But all praised its rare exactitude, and its great value as a most lucid and able arrangement of all classes of facts, and numerous editions up to the present time prove the public to be in the right. As far as the field of vision permitted, it dealt with the present as truthfully and dispassionately as if it were the past, — a mode of procedure not at the time to be popularly appreciated, but which makes the work sure of its place in the public heart of the future, and in the treasury of facts and guiding lines for its historians. But all the author’s care in guarding her sole responsibility proved in one instance insufficient to contend with the terrors of the publisher lest his pecuniary interests should suffer. This is the story as I noted it at the time from the author’s conversation, which was not a private one.
“When a certain number was to appear, it being actually printed, Mr. Knight came, in a great flurry of spirits. He told me he had just had a letter from a Whig official touching this period, and he felt in consequence great uneasiness and anxiety. But I will give you, I said, the proofs of the truth and correctness of what I have asserted; and I ran over the evidence. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘no doubt of its truth and correctness, — I am satisfied of that, but its publication might ruin me. Government might take from me the printing’ (of the poor-law matter, &c., worth £800 per annum to him); and he went on in a despairing, frightened way to complain of the position in which it might put him. Long after, he told me he had taken the responsibility of ordering that page to be cancelled. I then told him he should never more publish for me. Had he submitted the matter to me, I would have consented to all reasonable change, but he did not. And it was ‘my sole responsibility’ he took, without my knowing it! His frequent changes of mind as to time of publication were very detrimental to the success of the History. In such a mode of publication delay is eminently dangerous. I wrote it in twelve months, and he paid me £1,000, which he thought moderate, for both parts. For the last part, beginning with the century to the Battle of Waterloo, he paid £200. This last payment was made after the ‘Letters on Man’s Nature and Development’ were published. Soon after this, Robert Chambers came to take tea with me, and told me that Mr. Knight, being pressed for money, had sold the whole, and the purchasing house was delighted with the acquisition. But before the season was over Mr. Knight bought back £800 worth of the property.
“Robert Chambers after this entered into a treaty with me, — for he had bought the whole History of Mr. Knight, — to complete it up to the present time, which my illness prevented my doing. But I ought to tell you of Mr. Knight’s most handsomely proposing to me to buy back the first book, that I might have the satisfaction of the beginning as well as the completion of the work.”
She afterwards wrote an entirely new book for the American publishers, who were induced by a sense of its need, and by a manifest demand indicating the same in the public mind, to republish it in Boston, in the heat of the slaveholding rebellion. It was felt by the most observant of those Americans who read it at the time to be a fit medicine for the hour; and the author was entreated by the American publishers to furnish them with a preface of warning against the policies that have ruined nations in old times, and that should be accordingly avoided by the statesmen of to-day. She immediately consented, and not only wrote the preface, but the new part, continuing the work to the Russian war in 1854. That edition is entirely exhausted.
The publishers preface the American edition thus: —
“The reproduction of this work may be regarded as peculiarly opportune at the crisis through which this nation is now passing. Our people are studying anew the great problems which have been agitating England for more than half a century. The questions connected with an extension of the suffrage, the emancipation of the blacks, a paper currency, the removal of restrictions on trade, the increase of taxation and the national debt, have to-day their direct analogies for the consideration of the citizens of the United States. To a certain extent the solution may be found in these volumes. . . . . The personal opinions of the distinguished author are forcibly stated, but the expression of them is characterized by an admirable fairness.”
The same year — 1846 — that the History of the Peace was projected the “Daily News” was started, under the management of Mr. Charles Dickens, Mr. Forster being the chief editor. The arrangements were of a very costly character, and the success of the paper was by no means commensurate to its expenditure. Mr. Dickens retired in a few weeks, and Mr. Forster threw up the editorship; and the proprietors, under the advice of Mr. Dilke, determined to try the experiment of a cheap paper, and to establish a daily paper at a reduced price. But after a trial of two years the cheap paper was abandoned as unsuccessful, as the circulation, at one time 20,000 per day, had fallen off to scarcely a quarter of that amount. Since the first of the year 1849 the paper continued (till the very recent change to a penny) at the ordinary price of daily London newspapers, that of five pence with a stamp. The politics of the paper have since been uniformly liberal, and in favour of free trade. Its devotion to the latter object caused it to be spoken of as the Cobden organ. But it was always independent, and it never followed the peace view nor the proslavery tendencies of that party, and has in those respects been its energetic opponent.
In view of Harriet Martineau’s numerous leading articles, at the rate at times of six per week, her valued friend, Mr. Hunt, said at that period: —
“Our contributors never wrote more than four articles a week at most. It is all that the best of them could fairly do. And political writers commonly deteriorate. The first article is excellent, and we think we have found a treasure. The second is less striking, but we are not surprised that so high a standard cannot in every instance be maintained. At the third we say, ‘Have we not read something like this very lately?’ The next is so manifest a falling off that we desire no more.”
There was no such feeling or failure in the political career of Harriet Martineau. “Do you know,” said Mr. Hunt to one of her family, “that your sister is a great political writer?” He told, too, how these writings moulded public opinion through Parliament. “They are read in the clubs; they precede the debates and modify the ‘Times.’ The ‘Daily News’ leads.” And well it might and must lead; “for these,” said a friend to Mr. Hunt, “are not only newspaper articles, but poems.” And so they were, — the full sweet harmonies to which
The subjects of these articles cover the whole field of national and political action, philanthropic effort, and agricultural statistics. In the department of agriculture no one had done so much, except Sir John Walsham. Irish, Jewish, and American subjects, Indian and educational reform, antislavery, geographical, and historical articles, economical and West Indian interests, reviews and miscellaneous writings, made up her sixteen hundred strong.
It was fortunate for all whom political knowledge and integrity might concern, that, on the death of Mr. Hunt, his successor should have been such a man as William Weir.
He had been early trained by classical studies at home, and by the study and use of the European Continental languages abroad; and foreign travel and a University course in Germany had completed his preparation for life. It was currently said of him that he was master of the library of Europe. A man of great natural abilities, a barrister by profession, and a fluent and eloquent speaker, his career was arrested by a deafness which increased with years, and he became a journalist. He brought to the editorship of the “Daily News” long training in other journals, and an extraordinary array of qualifications for the post. Law, history, geographical research, literature, — he was at home in them all; and nothing in his experience had worn away the native vigour of his mind or warped the rectitude of his principles. It was his unalterable determination to hold the “Daily News” in its independent political position, and to make it the guardian of popular rights, needed reforms, and social improvement; and his cosmopolitan tendencies disposing him to believe that the field was the world, he was greatly gratified to find in Harriet Martineau the same purposes and accomplishments as his own. “When I returned from the Continent,” he used to say, “her writings took me between wind and water, and went a long way towards determining the direction and character of my mind for life.” It was probably the same with his colleagues in the office; for it was by having more or less formed the minds of her whole generation, that she was enabled so greatly to influence her times.
When it fell, in regular succession, to Mr. Weir to reorganize the office, he at once recognized the supreme value of her collaboration, and wrote to her as follows: —
My dear Miss Martineau, —
You are no Miss Martineau, but a benevolent, indefatigable fairy, who knows instinctively what is wanted, and how it should be done. There is something supernatural in the patness of many of your articles (that on the queen, for example) to my views and wishes.
Seriously, I do not know how I should have wrestled through this last week without you. As we say north of the Tweed, “I owe you a day in hairst.”
Ever gratefully yours,
What most commended Mr. Weir to Mrs. Martineau (she had now for good reasons taken the style that had been in use in the last century for maiden ladies no less than married ones) was his readiness to encounter the opprobrium that always attends those who intermeddle for good with public affairs. She found him always valiant for the truth.
In another letter, written during a suspension of her articles, he says: —
My dear Mistress Harriet, —
I should have answered your note, but I have been severely indisposed, and at the same time more severely tasked than usual. I have had to go more into public company than usual, and have had to take my daughter to school.
You cannot doubt that your aid will always be acceptable. In political principles we are probably as nearly at one as two distinct existences can be. The only modification I am likely ever to suggest in any communication with which you favour me, would be when the accident of position enables me to know some recent fact that renders a different strategy advisable, or disproves some inference.
I have said before, and say again, your loss has been to me irreparable. I have never before met — I do not hope again to meet — one so earnest to promote progress, so practical in the means by which to arrive at it. My aim in life is to be able to say, when it is closing, “I too have done somewhat, though little, to benefit my kind;” and there are so few who do not regard this as quixotism or hypocrisy, that I shrink even from confessing it.
The “sold to the Ministry” story must be an American echo of what was once said here. I cannot conceive how any person who has read the “Daily News” can imagine such a thing. We are opposed to them on all broad, general principles; we neither spare men nor measures. There is only one way to get rid of such reports, — to live them down.
My great object just now is, to stir up the more or less instructed class to self-exertion; to assert its right to participation in administrative office, and to that end to be more careful in its selection of the men to be sent to Parliament. I believe we are on the eve of a great social revolution, and that cool-headed and earnest men are the only thing that can carry us safely through it. But where are they to be found? . . . .
Ever gratefully yours,
Mrs. Martineau’s objects being identical with those of Mr. Weir, their correspondence was one of mutual consultation as to means and measures. At the moment when the affairs of India became of paramount importance to Great Britain, she felt the necessity to the general public of more information and a wider diffusion of it; and she wrote to inquire of the “Master of the Library of Europe,” whether any book calculated to convey the requisite knowledge was in existence.
Mr. Weir immediately replied: —
Dear Mistress Harriet, —
There is no such book, and it is much wanted.
There are only two people in England who could do it. One would do it admirably, — yourself; the other very indifferently, — myself. When I came to the bottom of your third page, I cried, “That is just what crossed my mind when you first spoke of the ignorance of the public regarding India.” I wish you would try it. I will strain heaven and earth to get in two chapters (so call them) a week.
Much will depend on selecting the starting-point, — not too far back. As for a ballad or an epic, some epoch comparatively recent ought to be selected; and as opportunity offers, the growth of the army, administrative system, judicial system, etc., observed ab initio, so as to render intelligible their actual characters.
Perhaps the present mutiny, — apparently confined as yet to the army, — the relation of the army to the presidency, the relations of the three presidencies to each other, and so forth. I throw these things out hurriedly; for I have no doubt you have already a plan of your own sketched out, and this may help to fill it up.
You must have much matter, and many intelligent friends who will aid. I will give what I can, and search for more.
Would it not be best to commence it from the beginning by “H. M.”? I will write again to-morrow.
I wish you were at work.
Mr. Walker, known as “the friend of the United States,” succeeding at the death of Mr. Weir, it is needless to say that, under such management, the circulation of the “Daily News” continually increased.
It was vastly more influential than the “Times” with the great middle class in England, from the time that Harriet Martineau’s spirit was moving in the wheels; and it is the great middle class that ministers and cabinets watch with most interest for the guidance of their course.
Besides what other authorship she might have on hand, whether light or weighty, Harriet Martineau wrote for this paper above sixteen hundred leading articles, at the rate sometimes, for months in succession, of six in a week, — all so valuable that it was once proposed to her to have twelve volumes of them republished. This idea she did not much favour. “Three volumes would be enough,” she said, “as so many of them are merely temporary.”
Through the kind offices of her friend Mr. Robinson, the managing editor of the “Daily News,” the experiment was tried long after with a volume of her biographical articles. She was too ill to attend to the publication herself, and in the midst of his own engrossing duties he assumed the whole labour of putting this work through the press, — a testimony of devoted friendship for the author.
The volume on British India, of which she felt the public need, published in 1851, is “beautiful exceedingly.” In 1855 appeared her “Guide to the English Lakes,” in another way no less beautiful. In 1859 the book, “England and her Soldiers,” for the promotion of army reform, was written in aid of Florence Nightingale’s objects. In 1861 came the volume entitled “Health, Husbandry, and Handicraft,” and also a volume containing a collection of her contributions to “Once a Week,” the periodical for which she wrote after she felt obliged, by the refusal of “Household Words” to publish any article reflecting credit on the Catholics, to sever her connection with Mr. Dickens. In 1869 the “Biographical Sketches” reappeared, with the same admiration as at first, and the same reserves on the part of those who use some few words in a narrower sense than herself. One of these was the word “heart;” and one of her very latest utterances to a friend who inquired what she meant by saying that Lord Macaulay was not a man of heart, illustrates this difference. “I do not mean,” she said, “that he did not love his family, or that he was not, in a small way, benevolent. But if he had been a man of heart, could he have gone through the world, without taking it in, with all its grand interests, its sufferings, and its destinies? He did not live on the high level of the heart. But he was a most charming littérateur, and as such admired and rewarded.”
It may be remarked of her appreciations of character in general, that they suggest this conclusion, — that disinterestedness unfetters the judgment. Let almost any one try the experiment of uttering his exact opinion as if in the palace of truth: it will be found to differ materially from his utterances in other palaces. But it was not so with her.
Her correspondence shows how every originator or promoter of a benevolent plan looked to her for co-operation.
Mr. Rathbone of Liverpool, knowing how busy she always was for the natives of Westmoreland, her proceedings there “sending a sunbeam into his room” (as he writes to her), sent her a plan for the introduction of penny banks among the people; and he tells her at the same time how much he has been struck by her plan for better organization of life for single ladies, and of the economies of life in general, that all the toiling millions may have leisure to be good; and all these thoughts make him sign himself “respectfully and affectionately” hers.
Her very numerous articles in leading periodicals were all written with some strong purpose of service to mankind, and her biographical articles were written on the principles of fidelity and openness, as the only security for a similar result from them. Her method seems to have secured general approval, for almost every newspaper in England hailed them with admiration, and there was actually a renewal of the enthusiasm attendant on her early fame. Her object in writing them was to be true to what she had known and observed of the life she was dealing with. Nothing to extenuate and nothing to overcharge was her way. To copy the portrait her subject had himself painted was her endeavour; and in observing the manners that indicate the mind, she used to say the alert eyes of the partially deaf, so constant in their watchfulness, learn many things unknown to others. Harriet Martineau was for long periods of her life in correspondence with her friend — I believe, too, her distant relative — Mr. Henry Reeve, so well known and highly esteemed as editor of the “Edinburgh Review,” in which many of her most valuable articles from time to time appeared. The “Westminster Review,” the foundation of which she had prophesied in the days of her early fame, was always at her command; and when it fell into financial difficulties, she took a mortgage of it as property, great as was the ultimate risk of ever being indemnified. “But I owe that amount of loss,” she said, “if it be one, to the review that has so often been my organ of communication with the world.”
These review articles and pamphlets were no “paper capital,” no “charming twaddle;” but all of heartfelt value and depth, written because her intellect and experience told her the world needed them, whether in great national interests or in defence of individual rights. A narrative of the rise and progress of every one of them would be a light cast upon her life. Those written in behalf of desert or in deprecation of neglect or wrong were always full of power. As when, for example, she studied so many volumes in order to be qualified to take up the cause of the Rajah Brooke, — that Sir James Brooke who devoted his life and fortune to the service of the natives of the Eastern Archipelago, and was made a prince by them because he had fostered their industry, stimulated their commerce, counselled their foreign policy, protected them from piracy, and ruled them in their own native customs and ideas, using these meanwhile as a basis for reforms, and resisting all efforts of the Dutch, English, French, or Belgians to settle in the country in great bodies, or to make of it a European colony. A man so high-minded and devoted, a man of such practical genius and utter disinterestedness, a born ruler, was sure to be maligned and calumniated. And it was while he was striving under this load of calumny to obtain such recognition by his native country as might best enable him to serve his adopted one, that Harriet Martineau consulted with his counsel, Mr. Templer, studied his case, received himself at her home, and wrote that able article in the “Westminster Review,” which, showing her thorough understanding and strong grasp of the whole matter, made him desire her action as a legislator for the Eastern Archipelago. But her various other duties precluded such an effort.
The rest and peace of home after Eastern life gave opportunity for Western exertion; and remembering the dust flung in her own eyes by slaveholders about the “intermeddling” of the North, and finding the same process constantly in use to blind the eyes of England at large, she threw before the country, in the “Daily News,” a history of the American compromises. There was an immediate demand for it in book form, as there had before been nothing to which the people could refer, and the ignorance of the people was profound. It made a great noise, not only in England, where the work was speedily and loudly applauded, but on the Continent. Four days after its appearance in London the “Milan Official Gazette” was earnest in its recommendations. It had a great circulation, gentlemen in various parts of the kingdom ordering copies by the hundred for distribution.
Mrs. Martineau wrote another much-needed work touching the important theme of the true functions of government. Its title was “The Factory Controversy: a Warning against Meddling Legislation.” She had written it with difficulty, on account of the head and heart attacks, at this time very severe, as a gift to the editor of the “Westminster Review,” then in pecuniary difficulty; for she always felt it a duty to sustain it, as a medium for the free expression of opinion of which she had so frequently found the usefulness. The editor accepted the article, but when he saw the manuscript he started back. He approved of her doctrine, but dreaded the personalities it contained. Its object was to show that Mr. Dickens, in “Household Words,” and Mr. Leonard Horner as factory inspector, were in the wrong in demanding of government what governments have no business to undertake. She did not know, when she determined to take the working of the factory acts as a most complete illustration of the vice of the principle of meddling legislation, that an association of factory occupiers was in existence. But learning it from Mr. Horner’s report, she obtained all the evidence on both sides, and wrote her article.
“My article won’t do,” is the only entry in her skeleton journal on the day that she received back her manuscript from the editor of the “Westminster Review.”
She then placed it at the disposal of the Factory Occupiers’ Association, with a letter of which the following is an extract:—
I, for my part, cannot modify what I have said [of Mr. Dickens, Mr. Horner, and others]. These gentlemen have publicly assumed a ground which in the opinion of sound statesmen cannot be maintained; and I believe my article proves that they have supported their position by inaccurate statements, and in a temper and by language which convey their own condemnation.
In a matter of literary judgment or taste, one may soften one’s tone of criticism and opposition to the gentlest breath of dissent; but in a matter of political morality so vital as this, there must be no compromise and no mistake. Mr. Horner and Mr. Dickens, as inspector and editor, have taken up a ground which they do not pretend to establish on any principle; and they hold it in an objectionable temper and by indefensible means. It seems to me, therefore, necessary to meet them unflinchingly, and expose, with all possible plainness, the mischief they are doing. They cannot complain, with any appearance of reason, of any plainness of speech. I have judged them by their own published statements; and the language of Mr. Horner’s Reports and of Mr. Dickens’s periodical leaves them no ground of remonstrance on the score of courtesy. I like courtesy as well as any body can do; but when vicious legislation and social oppression are upheld by men in high places, the vindication of principle and the exposure of mischief must come before considerations of private feeling. These gentlemen have offered a challenge to society, — and certainly in no spirit or tone of courtesy; and they will not, if they claim to be rational men, object to a fair encounter of their challenge.
On these grounds I declined to modify my article, preferring to publish it unaltered through some other channel. As the best means of meeting the mischief it denounces, I offer it to your association, to be published as a pamphlet, or in any way which in the judgment of your committee may insure the widest circulation for it. In my present state of health it has been something of an effort to write this article, and if I had consulted my own ease, I should have let the matter alone altogether; but the struggle for the establishment of a good or bad law in this vital case is so important, and the existence of your association seems to me a social fact of such extraordinary significance, that I could not have been easy to let the occasion pass without an effort on my part, for no better reason than its occasioning me fatigue and many painful emotions. . . . .
I suppose and hope you will print this paper just as it stands, in the form of an article intended for a quarterly review. It will insure the reader against lapsing into a supposition that the writer is the agent or advocate of your committee, or in some way or other less independent and impartial than I really am.
Believe me, dear sir, truly yours,
The result was the amendment of the objectionable law; and in communicating to Mrs. Martineau this welcome news, the committee of the Factory Occupiers’ Association informed her that they had repeated evidences of the valuable service she had rendered, especially in quarters where disinterested statements were most needed. When they met for the first time after the passage of the amended bill, they all felt and expressed the obligation under which they lay to her, and it was suggested that this feeling ought to have expression in some substantial form. They considered her probable feelings in the matter, — her known feeling against being paid for doing good; and they appointed three of their number to ask her wishes as to the appropriation or expenditure of one hundred guineas which was placed for that purpose in their hands.
The chairman of the committee continues:—
I am desired by my colleagues, Mr. Turner and Mr. Ashworth, to make this intimation to you, and to assure you of the great satisfaction it gives them personally to be the medium of paying this small tribute to your estimable character and attainments. They further desire me to assure you of the perfectly unanimous request of the committee that you will allow them, through this medium, to place upon permanent record their appreciation of the service you have rendered to the cause of good government; and I can only add on behalf of the sub-committee that they will be exceedingly happy to execute your wishes in the appropriation of the amount in such form as you may most desire.
I am, dear Mrs. Martineau,
Yours most faithfully,
Mrs. Martineau caused the sum to be invested for others.
This work was done in 1855; and in consequence of the way in which it was done, numberless wrongs were presented to her for redress. Among those, she selected such as she could best treat of, from present circumstances and past knowledge. “Corporate Tradition and National Rights,” considered in connection with local dues on shipping, she examined in conjunction with the Liverpool Association for the right Appropriation of Town Dues, in 1857.
One of the pieces of work at The Knoll (after the book on “British Rule,” which followed the mutiny) was the planning of “Suggestions for a Future Government of India.” Persons who knew most about India, able men who had been trained in the theory and practice of Indian government from their youth up, declared they had never seen a work, not written by one of their own number, which gave so clear an impression of every thing essential to a wise solution of the great question then agitating the public mind. Many, indeed, who had spent their lives in India, and thought themselves especially qualified to treat of it, were pronounced, by the really qualified, to be, in comparison with one whom they called “this sagacious and thoughtful writer,” but as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.
“These,” men said, “are the genuine, honest utterances of a clear, sound understanding; an understanding neither obscured nor enfeebled by party prejudice or personal selfishness.” And they wondered how any reasonable being could dissent from the propositions thus laid down in Harriet Martineau’s incisive words:—
“The time has arrived which will soon determine whether we shall lose India very soon, or keep it as a more valuable portion of the British Empire than it has ever been yet. Events have hastened the hour when we must take a new departure in our administration of our great dependency.
“If we take time to collect, and reason from, all procurable knowledge on the subject of India, we may make arrangements for which the whole world will be the better. If we hastily decide that India shall be a crown colony, ruled directly and entirely from England, according to existing British notions and habits of colonial government, we shall lose India speedily, disgracefully, and so disastrously that the event will be one of the most conspicuous calamities in the history of nations. If it is true that this is the alternative before us, every man’s duty is plain, — to exert himself to avert a hasty decision, first, and to procure a wise one afterwards.”
She goes on to deprecate the government of the great Eastern Empire, not for India itself, but for a parliamentary majority; and dreads the total departure, dreamed of by some, from all the principles and rules of action which had up to that time enabled England to maintain her Anglo-Indian government, at the very moment when for the first time the nation is called upon to decide on a method of dealing with that territory without aid from precedent or analogy. She continues:—
“Even if we made no change at all in the apparatus of government, it would be a new departure, because it would be a choice, — a deliberate adoption of a scheme of rule; and to such a choice there is no parallel in our history, nor perhaps in any other. Our great privilege as a nation is, that our British institutions have grown up, naturally and inevitably, from our character and our circumstances together. No man, or body of men, ever invented, or even foresaw, our constitution as we are living under it now. . . . .
“Already the nation prefers the company’s generals to the queen’s; and as other departments of service are laid open to view, the superiority will every where appear on the same side. Important as this is, there is a consideration (before touched upon) which is more vital still: that India has long been, and now is, governed on behalf of the Indians; whereas, from the hour when so-called parliamentary government should be instituted, that aim could never more be steadily maintained and fulfilled. No practical citizen will assert that it could; for the steady maintenance of such an aim can be looked for only from a special association (under whatever name) of men of special and rare knowledge, qualified for their task by a lifetime of such experience as no man can pick up in Parliament, or attain any where in a hurry. When we cease to rule India for the Indians, we lose India; and to vest the service of India in the Horse Guards and our civil departments, is to hand over India and the Indians to parties whose distinctive characteristic it is to regard all public service as a patrimony of their own.”
But in this whole regnant work of suggestion there is perhaps nothing more true than the following: —
“Through whole centuries of irregular changes and frequent perturbations, which Englishmen could control and overrule at home, but which made terrible sport of the interests of our colonies, the government of India has been stable, consistent, as immutable in the eyes of its Indian subjects as a god ruling from a steadfast throne. In so peculiar a case this has been an inestimable blessing. Its corporate character, and successions of various men, have redeemed its rule from the curse of despotisms, — the power of self-will; while its independence of the politics of the day has protected its dominion from the manifold mischiefs of party changes, — mischiefs which we admit to be evils at home, though we prefer them to the evils of any other system. To Hindostan the non-political character of the company has been absolutely a vital matter. Our rule there could not have been maintained if the authorities at the India House had been changed as often as the Ministry, and at the same time with the ins and outs of the President of the Board in Cannon Row. But the benefit has also been great to ourselves at home, though we may only now be beginning to understand the greatness of it. While subject to a constant sense of nightmare under our painful efforts to get the national business done by groups of officials who always and necessarily begin in an incompetent condition, and usually go out of office or change their function as soon as they become equal to their work, so that the conduct of public business is a perpetual irritation to middleclass people who, in their private affairs, are accustomed to efficient performance, it has been a real blessing to have one public body in the midst of us which did work effectively, as far as it undertook to work at all. No doubt, it was often jealous in its temper and restrictive in its policy, and repressive and vexatious towards adventurous men; but whatever it undertook to do was done in an orderly, prompt, liberal manner, and with a continuous force which would have been impossible if it had been implicated with the Ministers of the day. Before we abolish such an institution as this we are bound to take care that the government of India is secured, as carefully as hitherto, from being affected by party changes; but so far from such a precaution being a feature of the Ministerial proposal, the plan actually is to bring India within that very sphere of fluctuations to exclusion from which she owes her existence as a dependency of England. Englishmen may now show that they value a blessing before they lose it.”
The superiority of the officials of the East India Company over any others possible was strongly set forth: —
“On this head the public are provided with a notion and a wish. They see that wherever the officials of the imperial government and those of the company come into comparison, the superiority of the latter is conspicuous and unquestionable. The company’s military officers, or queen’s officers, well practised in Indian warfare under the company’s arrangements, have achieved, wherever tried, successes as brilliant as the failures of the other class have been intolerable. The people of England have less opportunity of knowing how far a similar contrast prevails in the civil service; but it is at least as striking to all who have penetrated into the business offices of the two governments. It is generally understood that nothing, in the way of transaction of business, exists that can compare with the achievements in Leadenhall Street, and in most of the offices in India, which are held duly responsible to the central authority; whereas we are in the habit of hearing a good deal of the opposite weakness, and feeling something of the misfortune of it, in our home administration. The natural inference is that in the highest office, as in both classes of subordinate functions, a nominee of the company would answer better than one appointed by the imperial government. All eyes turn at this moment to Sir John Lawrence as the right man. Whether he be so or not, the general desire should operate as a popular nomination, to check an unpopular one. If it were duly attended to, neither royalty, administration, nor aristocracy would venture to propose any ordinary home-bred Englishman as the ruler of a hundred millions of men, while there are Anglo-Indians in existence who are familiar with the country and the people, and have proved that they can administer the one and rule the other.”
Such truths as these were eagerly studied by all honestly in search of truth; and some of the wisest men in the nation said, “Take this book of suggestions to heart, earnestly and ineffaceably.”
It was written because the writer believed that Lord Palmerston, then in power, would follow up with rash precipitancy the wellnigh fatal apathy and procrastination of the past, and it would be doing the nation a service to rouse it to active and profound consideration and caution in so unprecedented a case. She had been earnestly entreated to write this book, and she consented, “because the leisure, quiet, and impartial position of the sick-room seem to render the request reasonable.”
“Endowed Schools in Ireland” was demanded by a parliamentary need, and was reprinted from the “Daily News” in 1859; and as “Life in the Sick-Room” at Tynemouth was a blessing to individuals in numberless sick-rooms, so these four works — a blessing to nations and cities in their corporate capacity — might properly be lettered, in contradistinction, “Life in a Sick-Room;” for it is doubtful if there could be another of such a character.
These grave political labours were occasionally enlivened by narratives of previous experiences, which she had written out at the time of their occurrence, under the following title: —
TWO TRUE STORIES ABOUT CLAIRVOYANCE.
Early in 1849 I stayed a few days at Mr. S. Dukinfield Darbishire’s, at Manchester. One night, after a party, Mrs. Darbishire told me that she had to go, the next morning, to Bolton, and she hoped I would go with her. She had a question to ask of the girl Emma, whose strange powers as a somnambule had just become known through an accident. Mrs. D.’s question related to some missing property (not, I think, her own, but a friend’s). Emma’s information had recently led to the discovery of some mislaid bank-notes, and the saving of the character of a clerk; and this induced Mrs. D.’s experiment. I shall say nothing about that business, however, but shall relate only incidents within my own experience and observation. At first I refused to go, being unwilling to countenance the practice of exposing invalids (as somnambules very commonly are) to be mesmerized for money, and urged beyond the natural exercise of the faculty, whatever it be. At bedtime, however, Mrs. D. said, “I think, if you consider that your going will make no difference to the girl, that it will be merely two ladies being in the room instead of one, you will see that you may as well use the opportunity.” I was very willing, of course; and I went.
It was a bitter cold winter’s morning; and when we left the station at Bolton Mrs. D. said she hoped we might meet brother Charles presently, and not have to wait long in the street. She had sent him a request to meet her at Mr. Haddock’s (where Emma lived), but it had now occurred to her that we had better meet him in the street, that she might caution him against mentioning either of our names in Mr. Haddock’s house. We did meet him, a few yards beyond Mr. Haddock’s shop; he was introduced to me, and we agreed to mention no name during the interview. Mr. Charles Darbishire (I believe a bachelor) lived eight miles from Bolton, and I think he and I had met once before; but we were quite strangers to each other. Of me and my ways he knew nothing but that I lived at Ambleside, and that I had been much interested in the facts of mesmerism. For his part, what he knew of Emma was the recovery of the banknotes, by her information, he being one of the witnesses of the transaction.
We entered the shop, — an apothecary’s shop. Emma was the maid-of-all-work to Mr. Haddock. As we were not expected, we had to wait in the shop while the fire was lighted in the sitting-room, and while, doubtless, Emma dressed. I will say nothing of Mrs. Darbishire’s business, but merely remark that she and I were the only persons present, after Mr. C. Darbishire went away, except that Mr. Haddock went out and came in, two or three times, as business called him. He had nothing to do with Emma while she was under my hands.
She was a vulgar girl, anything but handsome, and extremely ignorant. It does not matter to my story; but it is the fact, that she could not read. What I saw disposed me to try what I could make of her when Mrs. D.’s business was done. I mesmerized her, and soon saw she was fast. She exclaimed at once that “the lady had warmed her.”
After a good deal of very striking disclosure on her part, it suddenly struck me that I might try her power of seeing about places and persons. So I took a handful — a large handful — of letters from my pocket, Mrs. D. asking me what I was doing. I told her she would soon see: and so she did; and so did Mr. C. D., who returned in the middle of my experiment.
I was aware that the girl could not read: but to make all sure, I chose a letter which was not in an envelope, and was altogether blank outside. There was not a scratch of ink on it, and it was close folded. I asked Emma who that letter was from. She clapped it on her head, close folded, and said a gentleman wrote it who was then walking up and down his parlour, with a silk handkerchief in his hand. Her account of his appearance, ways, and habit of mind was as accurate as possible.
“Who is it?” asked Mrs. D. “Who is she talking about?”
“I will tell you all about it by and by,” I said; “surely not now.”
Emma described the room; but I need not, unless I mention one particular. It was a London dining-room, one of hundreds which any one might venture on describing. One article, however, Emma mentioned as “a long-down picture,” hanging in fact where she said it did. The gentleman was Mr. Atkinson, in his own dining-room; and the “long-down picture” was a part plan, part bird’s-eye view of Rome, two or three times longer than it was broad.
“Now,” said I, “go into the next room, and tell me what you see there.”
“The next room?” said she. “There is a room, but I can’t get into it; there is no door.” And, moving in a troubled way, “How can I get into it when there is no door?”
“I suppose somebody gets into it to clean it,” said I.
“O, yes; they go in by the hall.”
“Well! do you go in by the hall.”
“Yes, I can do that. Ah! this is a smaller room. There are some cut stones stuck up, — one, two, three.”
“Cut stones!” said Mrs. Darbishire; and I begged her to wait.
“And there are some book-shelves, — not many books: there are boxes. Some are gray, some are green; and they have large white marks upon them, — letters, I think. They are in rows, a lot of them, one on top of another between the shelves.”
“Yes, some; only one shelf of them.”
“Any thing else?”
She writhed in her chair, and shuddered, and spoke unwillingly and hesitatingly.
“Ye—s; there are some things on the top shelf. I don’t like them,” shuddering much.
“Tell me about them.”
“Well, there are six on ’em; and one is very well; but the others—” And she shuddered.
“Well, there is one below in the shop, — one of the sort.”
This was true: I had seen it when we entered.
Mrs. D. could wait no longer. “What is she talking about?” she exclaimed. “She talks of ‘things’ and ‘things’; — what things are they?”
I said to Emma, “You talk of ‘things.’ What sort of things are they?”
“Well, I can’t tell you what they are.”
“Are they apples and oranges, or what?”
“O no, no! nothing of that sort, I should say,” — and she shuddered out her words, and spoke doubtfully, — “they are a sort of heads. But one goes this way,” — putting up her hands, and describing a wide arch from side to side of her head, — “and one goes that way,” describing a great arch from the nape of her neck to the root of her nose. This was enough; and I relieved her from her painful state of disgust by turning to other objects.
This may end my first story; for I could have nothing more remarkable to tell. As soon as we were out of the house I explained it all to my companions.
The second room was the place of deposit of some curious property of Mr. Atkinson’s deceased father, as well as some odd things of his own. The old Lord Elgin gave Mr. Atkinson, Sr., some of the most fragmentary of the Elgin marbles; and these “cut stones” were on pedestals in various parts of the room.
Mr. Atkinson, Sr., was an architect of eminence, and the plans, &c., of the mansions and grounds of many noblemen and gentlemen were kept by him, as deeds are by lawyers, in tin boxes, — in this case gray and green, with the names of the owners and estates painted outside in large white letters, — the boxes being shelved as described.
Above them was a shelf of books; and above them, on the top shelf, six “things” which, as it happened, I had forgotten, till the girl’s horrors brought them back to mind.
They were six casts of heads, — one, as she said nothing remarkable, or “very well.” The other five were casts of the heads of a family of idiots in Norfolk, hideous beyond expression; and two of them enormous, as Emma described, — one in length, the other in breadth.
Of course I told Mr. C. Darbishire that I should be ready to bear witness to the reality of Emma’s powers, at that date, — so far at least as (what is called) “thought-reading” is concerned, — in case of her meeting with the too common treatment, — the insult and imputation of imposture which are the weapons of the prejudiced, the ignorant, and people who are too indolent to ascertain facts for themselves. I implored him, however, to do all he could to prevent the girl being over-worked or over-urged; and thus to save her from the danger of filling up her failing power by material from the imagination, and at last resorting to tricks, deceiving herself and others, rather than give up.
After I got home it struck me that it might be well to ascertain Emma’s faculty in regard to myself; to try in some way, which should be indisputable if it succeeded, her power of clairvoyance in the case of a person with whom mesmeric relations had been established. I therefore wrote to Mr. Charles Darbishire, who was frequently seeing her, to explain my notion. I told no person whatever of my writing to him; and he, living alone, told no person whatever of my letter. Between us we managed so that communication with Emma — if anybody had known of the project — was impossible in point of time. There was no telegraph within reach from hence at that time, if there had been any body able to use it. I wrote on a Thursday, saying that for a week from the hour when he would receive my letter he had my leave to learn from Emma what I was doing at any time between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.
The immediate method was put into my head by Mr. C. D. having said, once before, that he was tempted to put a note of mine on her head, to see what she would say; but that he considered that it would be hardly right to do this without my leave. He had therefore never referred at all to me and my visit, and did not know how far the girl was conscious of it. Mr. C. D. received my letter the next morning — Friday — at his home, eight miles from Bolton. Very considerately remembering that it must be somewhat genant to me to be under possible inspection all day, and seeing the advantage of wasting no time, he determined to send me his report by the same day’s post. In the afternoon he made his call at Mr. Haddock’s, found Emma quite ill with a bad cold, and expected nothing from her while so “stuffed” and stupid and headachy; but, as mesmerizing would do her good, he tried what she could do, giving no hint of any particular reason. He was so satisfied that she was confused, and talking at random, that he presently broke off; and much surprised he was to find her accounts of things all right.
As I have said, he knew nothing more about my position here than that I lived at Ambleside. My house was just built; and whether I lived in lodgings, or how or where, he was entirely ignorant. Such was the fact; though it would have made no difference in the essential points of the story if he had known my house as well as his own.
He put on Emma’s head a folded paper, — blank except a few words which told nothing and were not signed, and were written merely to establish the necessary relation. I had also breathed on the paper, for the same reason. Outside it was blank; and it was never unfolded. As soon as she put it on her head she said she could see “the lady that warmed her.” The lady was sitting at a round table before the fire, and opposite the fire was a large window, and there was on another side another window, that opened down to the ground. The sofa, chairs, and window-curtains were light-coloured, &c., &c., — all correct. The only remarkable points of the description were two: the sideboard having a white marble top; and the bookcase, which she called “a right-up” bookcase. It was a straight, tall, narrow bookcase, made to fit in between two windows in our house in London, and looking exceedingly ugly in any other position.
“The lady” was fumbling in her work-box at the table, — turning things over. All this seemed so commonplace, and yet so unlikely (according to Mr. C. D’s. notions) that the business stopped here; and he wrote an account of it after he got home, intending to call (unexpectedly) pretty early the next day, to see if the girl was in better condition. He would carry his letter in his pocket, and finish and post it in Bolton, whatever was the result.
The girl was right in every particular. The time was near five of a February afternoon. I had come into the drawing-room from my work in the study, and was sitting in the dusk before dinner. I had sent my maid out to buy a piece of canvas for a new enterprise of woolwork; and I was looking out my needles and other needful things, ready to begin.
This was Friday afternoon, my proposal having been posted on the Thursday evening. On Saturday Mr. C. Darbishire paid his visit some hours earlier, — from half past eleven to just one. He found Emma not much better, and had no expectations whatever from the interview.
“The lady that warmed her” was in another room to-day; a long room, with a large bay-window at one end and the fireplace at the other. The furniture was black horse-hair, all but the sofa, which was light-coloured. (All true.) But the girl’s interest was about the books. Such a quantity of books she had never seen before; what were they for? She began talking to “the lady,” asking why she had so many books, and whether she could ever read the half of them. At last she came to what “the lady” was doing. She had a cloth in her hand, and she was wiping and doing among some of the books. This upset the girl’s credit with Mr. C. D., to whom it seemed more likely to be a servant-girl’s dream than my occupation.
“Now she has got a book,” Emma declared, — “a big, square, brown book, and she is going to read it on the sofa. Now she is reading it.”
Presently she declared this “tiresome.” She should not “wait long” if the lady did not leave off; and what a tune this reading had gone on! At last she exclaimed, “Well, I shall not wait any longer, if you won’t leave off.” Then, with a laugh, “Ah! but you ‘d better leave off. Tou are not thinking about your book. You have got some dust on your hands, and you are thinking you will go up stairs and wash them! Well, go! You’d better go!” Presently, “Ah! now she’s really going.”
She described my going up stairs, and my standing before the glass, “smoothing her hair,” said Emma; “and there is a lady coming in. No, she has gone out again softly. I don’t know that she is a lady exactly; but she is a nice-looking young person. And the lady never found out she came in.”
Here they stopped, Mr. C. D. as hopeless as the day before, it seemed all so improbable, and the girl was really so oppressed with her cold! He left her at 1 p. m., went to a counting-house to finish his letter, posted it himself, and went home to dinner. I received the letter the next morning, — Sunday, just after breakfast
The facts were these. I had arranged my books the day before (Friday), and being tired, had left one shelf untouched. At eleven on Saturday, and on to about half past, I had a duster in my hand, and was dusting and placing the books. Having finished, I took up one of them, — a volume of Mémoires of the French Institute, sent me just before by M. Ampère, for the sake of a paper on the Memnon at Thebes (apropos to something in my “Eastern Life,” lately published). The volume was rather large, square, and with a yellowish-brown back. I read for a considerable time; but at length observed that my hands were dirty, — wanted to finish the paper, — hesitated, but presently went up to my room and washed my hands.
So far I could testify. When I had finished the letter I rang for my maid. I asked her, “Do you remember whether at any time yesterday you came into my bedroom while I was there?”
After considering a moment, she answered, surprised, “Why, yes, ma’am, I did. I was going to fill the water-jugs; and when I went in you were before the glass; so I went out softly, thinking you did not see me.”
“What time was that?”
After considering again, she said, “It must have been about a quarter to one; for I had just finished up stairs before I brought in your lunch at one.”
This is my second story. Many have heard it; and no one, as far as I know, has ever treated it with levity or incivility. There is nothing new or exceptional in the facts. Every one who has paid any adequate attention to the subject is aware that such instances of clairvoyance are very common; but it does not often happen that allegations of fraud or fancy are so completely excluded as in this case. There may be people who, rather than believe facts that they have stiffened their minds against, would charge Mr. C. Darbishire and me with having fabricated the whole narrative; but, short of this, there seems to be no escape from an admission that there are facts in human nature which require a good deal of humble and candid study before we can honestly claim to know the extent and character of human powers.
Prince Albert might well wonder, as he said he did, what men of science and physicians in England could mean by neglecting such a department of study as this. And nobody ought to be surprised when, as a natural consequence of such neglect, such a hell-feast as the witch-hanging in Salem takes place, or a madness takes possession of a multitude of (professedly) educated people in the nineteenth century about a supposed commerce with the spirits of the dead. When due observation is directed upon such phenomena as those of mesmerism, mankind will take a great new step onwards; and meantime the candid have the advantage over the ignorant and scoffing, that they are in possession of a very interesting and important knowledge of which the others deprive themselves, not knowing what they lose.
Among the more voluminous works of the ten years succeeding her entrance at The Knoll appeared her little book, “Household Education,” — the oracle of so many homes; and the papers afterwards collated by the suggestion of the proprietors, under the title of “Health, Husbandry, and Handicraft,” which she calls “the results of a long experience and observation of the homely realities of life.”
It was at the early part of this period of what seemed impending dissolution that Matthew Arnold, the poet and the student of public educational institutions, wrote the following lines after passing an evening with Harriet Martineau and Charlotte Brontë: —