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WAITING FOR DEATH. - 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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WAITING FOR DEATH.
“Sunt homines qui cum patientia moriuntur: sunt autem quidam perfecti qui cum patientia vivunt.”
— St. Augustine.
“O, yet a nobler task awaits thy hand.”
All misliking of sudden death was taken away from them who years before had seen its approach at The Knoll in a form so consoling that they said, as did Madame de Motteville in attendance on Anne of Austria, “La mort en elle sembloit belle et agréable.”
And so it did not fail to be during the ten years succeeding her relinquishment of regular daily work, supported as she was, under the severe and various suffering that slowly wears out life, by the “still unfailing sweetness of temper” told of by all who knew her earlier years; by the imperturbable patience, the subdued self-will, and the never-ceasing disinterested devotedness to the highest purposes on the justest principles.
The necessity of the case, however, compelled the relinquishment of the “Daily News.” And to one so accomplished for sage counsel whether best to preserve peace or to uphold war, knowing what so few do know respecting civil and spiritual powers and the limitations of each, the act, however unavoidable, was a difficult one to perform. She had literally and truly sat under the palm-tree for forty years, and all Israel had come up to her for judgment; and when the judgment, ripened by experience, is at its highest perfection, the suspension of the power to wield it is the most deeply felt.
So thought Arago, when he told us of his readiness to die, with a shade of regret as he realized that till now he had never been so competent to live.
With her this feeling was but momentary, and what it was will be better seen from her own letters than in any other way.
LETTER TO MRS. CHAPMAN.
My dearest Friend, —
I have never before, for above two years, — never since Maria’s death, — shrunk from writing to you. I do now, though it is a comfort to myself, for I know how you will feel when you hear that my work in life — my special business — is done and over. You will have been prepared for this by what I said and asked of you about resigning my engagement at “Daily News,” but no forewarning lessens the feeling when the parting moment comes, and the signs and tokens of office and the materials of business have to be cleared away. To me it is not the great pain that my friends suppose. I am too far gone to feel it in that way; but I know what it will be to you, and I have dreaded sending this letter more than any thing. By last Tuesday week it had become impossible to doubt that I must resign all engagements, and free myself from all obligation and temptation to work. On that day, therefore, I wrote fully to the editor, resigning my engagement, and telling him exactly the state of the case about my health, and what my physician said, as an honest man, and what he anticipated: “Why, you know the stormy weather has been against you. It is possible that, with settled weather, you may rally — a little.” I believed that I had fully prepared Mr. Walker by my preceding letter; but it seems not. I am sure his reply will go to your heart, as it has done to all ours. I was always sure he was a man of deep and warm feelings, but he is so undemonstrative that even I had no conception of what he and his staff felt towards me as a comrade; and I am not sure now how much belongs to my leaving “Daily News” and how much to the closing of my career of authorship, — for these men are of an age to have been in a manner “brought up,” as they say, on my earlier works, — yet the strength of their regret and tenderness surprises almost as much as it moves me. The most emotional, penetrating, true, and exquisite letter I have received within the last remarkable week, with many more, all kind and gravely tender, while otherwise as various as possible, is from my sister Rachel. . . . .
It is a great satisfaction to me that the effort fell naturally in the time of my dear niece’s absence. Not only was it her pride and her joy to help me, but she fully believes that I cannot live without working, or at least shall languish for want of it. I am not so sure of this; and I don’t care a straw, except for her and you, whether it is so or not. But as she thinks so, I am glad she is spared all details.
All is being done in her absence, — putting the peculiar paper and envelopes out of sight, — and now I desire nothing except in the languid way which is all I ever feel since I lost Maria, — I mean as to daily life. I care as much for the great and the distant as ever.
The extracts given below are from the letter of the editor of the “Daily News,” told of in the preceding page.
“Daily News” Office, April 26, 1866.
Dear Madam, — . . . .
I was very poorly yesterday, from influenza, when your letter arrived; and it had such an effect upon me that I was at the time quite unable to reply to it. The resolution you announce is one which I cannot discuss, but only bow to, after the grounds on which you put it. I showed your letter to Mr. — and to Mr. —.
There is only one feeling among us, — regret that a connection which has lasted so long under different administrations, and been so pleasant and fruitful, should terminate. But let us be thankful that it ends, as it has flowed on, in peace and mutual regard. I trust that you may have before you a more comfortable future than you apprehend. If there is any thing the office can do for you now, or at any time, pray let us know, and you may always command our services.
With kindest regards,
I am yours ever truly,
And this tender of service from the office was no mere compliment. When the time came for the publication of “The Biographical Sketches,” her excellent friend Mr. Robinson, overwhelmed as he was by office duties, took upon himself gratuitously the whole burden of putting that book through the press. His friendship found ample remuneration in the fact that it was hailed by the public as if in renewal of her early fame. The truth of her method commended it to the whole press of England and America.
I was about to say from my own knowledge what Harriet Martineau had been to the “Daily News,” when I came across the following letter from a man not accustomed to eulogize, on the occasion of her ceasing to write for it any longer.
London, May 3, 1866.
My dear Friend, —
I return you Mr. Walker’s note. Nothing could be better or more satisfactory on such an occasion. They must have all felt not only your intellectual gifts, resources, and reliableness, but your great womanly kindness, as a helpmate at all times, when absent to recruit health, or really suffering from actual illness. You could not nurse them, but took extra labour on yourself to enable them to be nursed, and to give them repose. Nothing could be more admirable than your relationship with the “Daily News” and its different conductors, or more touching than the editor’s expressions on your finding it necessary to withdraw after a joint and harmonious action, enduring for such a length of time. And without doubt, in now retiring, you have done the right thing at the right time, and what was at once most prudent, just, and wise; leaving a lasting lesson to the world that even bishops might take a hint from. You have had a glorious reign of forty-five years, and now have abdicated gracefully, at your own free-will and discretion, actuated by an abiding sense of the highest law of moral action, — duty. You are one of those who have always been supremely wise and right in regard to your own actions; and your present resignation crowns the sequence it will not, I trust, terminate. And now, my dear friend, you are one of us; and I hail you amongst the noble band of lookers-on. The business of a philosopher, said Pythagoras, is to look on. However, it is not so literally, nor do I suppose you will ever be such literally; any how, you will do what is best, and be equal to the occasion, come what may. And as for Death, he is a quiet, kind, gentlemanly fellow, and will pay us all a friendly visit at his own time and leisure, though in truth he is a person we need not much concern ourselves about. At least, so preached the wise Epicurus, who said, “Death does not concern us; for whilst alive it is nothing to us, and when dead we no longer exist.” I am sure your kind and constant friends will highly approve the step you have taken.
H. G. ATKINSON.
There was now a widespread idea that spiritualism as well as mesmerism had been studied by her. The following note upon the subject will explain her position with respect to it: —
H. MARTINEAU TO MARY CARPENTER.
Ambleside, April 17, 1866.
. . . . What your friend has heard of my belief in spiritualism (so called) is not true. As far as direct personal knowledge goes, I am in a state of blank ignorance of the whole matter. I have never witnessed any of the phenomena, nor conversed with any qualified observer who had. This would be wrong if I could have helped it, but the whole thing has come up (in a popular way) since my illness began. Mr. Home endeavoured, through more than one channel, to get permission to come and show me his wonders; but I have been in no condition for watching and testing such experiments, and declined it altogether. Of course one has some impression or other from what one hears; and mine is this. From what I learned in my experience and observation of mesmerism, I am so far aware of the existence of rarely used and undeveloped powers and capacities in the brain, as to disapprove very strongly the gratuitous supposition, in the spirit-rapping case, of pure imposture on the one hand and of the presence of departed spirits on the other. I see no occasion or justification whatever for either supposition: and I observe this is the view of persons whose judgment is most respected, — persons who have waited till the first excitement had passed off, and they could look into the matter as philosophers should. About the facts of mesmerism, my position is the same that it was twenty years ago, — simply because I hold not an opinion based on any theory (for I never had any theory on it), but knowledge of facts. If Cuvier and other eminent naturalists justly insisted that no group of facts in natural history is better established on observation and experiment than those of mesmerism, it is not possible for any reasonable person who knows the facts to have variable opinions on the case.
In Harriet Martineau’s Tynemouth journal stands a passage which records the strong feeling that moved her to the service of unhappy women, and her conviction that it must be, if possible, a part of her future life. “If not,” she says, “some one else will do it.”
This feeling and purpose never left her from that time forward; and I learned from herself the mingled dread and doubt that wrought together in her mind when consulted by a sanitary commission appointed under King William IV. to consider, with regard to the case to come before it, whether the good of government regulation could overbalance the evil of government sanction.
The death of King William stayed proceedings, and they were not revived under Queen Victoria, except by a mischievous influence on the public mind through the press in 1859. Harriet Martineau felt the coming danger, and met it by correspondence with Florence Nightingale and other influential persons who had like herself been long aware of the growing evil; and in 1859 she met it by a series of powerful leading articles in the “Daily News.” The “Times” took service in opposition; and thus, in 1864, the government was committed to the wrong side.
Her early prevision that some one would arise to do the work that had taken such strong possession of her mind at Tynemouth, was now amply fulfilled in the person of her honoured and beloved friend Mrs. Josephine Butler, with whom she instantly put herself in communication; and they wrought together through all the last suffering period of her life. Her leading articles of 1863 were circulated afresh, and, all the while aiding this cause of social purity and national preservation by various efforts, she went on in its service till 1869. It was during this period that the interest she had taken in the abolition of compulsory church-rates found its reward. She had been one of Mr. Courtauld’s most active fellow-labourers, and had been threatened with distraint; she had circulated arguments and practical directions how to proceed against them; and she had worked as an individual and in conjunction with others; and now, August 11, 1868, she writes, “Accomplished at last!” It had been a severe and protracted struggle, in which the patient and self-sacrificing exertion of those who carried it on exposed them to distraint, prosecution, and imprisonment; till at length Parliament put an end to the unrighteous system throughout the kingdom.
It was during this last period of her life that the condition of the London and Brighton Railroad threatened her with a loss of her principal means of living. This she took very little notice of, merely giving the fact as news to a friend, with this remark: —
“I am surprised that I feel it so little. I shall go into small lodgings and live by letting my Knoll, and am beyond the reach of anxiety in any event, my time being so short.”
The railroad company ultimately retrieved its affairs, and resumed payment so soon that she was not obliged to make any change in her mode of living; and the many friends in both hemispheres who had entreated her to allow them to insure her against inconvenience were met by thanks as warm as if they had been accompanied by acceptance.
Perhaps nothing will so well acquaint one with the current of Harriet Martineau’s days of waiting for death as a letter she addressed at this time to Mrs. Chapman.
“A happy new year to you and yours, my dearest friend. The wish is in time, though you will be some way into the year before you get it. We shall be almost more glad than usual to get past the anniversaries, — i. e. into the new year, — for our minds have been filled full of business and interests (some sad), and a variety of ideas too great for my now weak state. Instead of writing to you yesterday (as I like to do on Wednesdays to make sure), I had to write three other letters, as the day before and also on Sunday. It feels like a holiday to be able to pour out to you to-day in the free way which makes writing a relief. We have a rather heavy secret, — Jenny* and I, — and I am going to tell it to you. I fear it will be all out in a few days; but it will be a secret for you till you know it is all abroad.
“I told you something, but I forget how much, about the Ladies’ Association, founded to obtain the repeal of the Acts (Contagious Diseases Acts) for establishing the French and Belgian system, first in military stations, and then over nine times as large an area, comprehending a large civil population. The members, headed by Mrs. Butler, are working zealously to get up an irresistible demand to Parliament to undo its evil work; and they make great use of my name and Florence Nightingale’s. Mrs. Butler is familiar with the workingmen in town and country; her position as the wife of a working clergyman and head of a great school, and her courage, enthusiasm, and intelligence, give her great power. She has been visiting several of the great manufacturing towns and addressing the workingmen, and, by their eager request, their wives. They are, every man and woman of them, on the right side on this subject, and aware of the enormous importance of the crisis.”*
The work went on, of forming societies, calling meetings, sending out agents, and signing petitions, and its objects were promoted by her in the same fervent spirit that prompted her early energies in and for America. The labour was exhausting, as it threw upon her a weight of private correspondence that she was ill able to sustain. “But how can I refrain,” she said, “when A and B and C (all friends high in place and influence) need to have principles exhibited to them, and doubts removed?”
More than a paragraph or two should be accorded in memorial of one of the noblest among the deeds that illustrate this great life, — in nothing more radiant than in its closing years of labour for the classes whose degradation puts in peril the very existence of nations.
There were, at this time, two Acts of Parliament, — one passed in 1866 and the other in 1869, — most oppressive, insulting, and outrageous in their application to women, while men in the same conditions were wholly exempt from their penalties. A Ladies’ National Association for their repeal was formed, and a protest signed by Harriet Martineau, with Florence Nightingale, Josephine E. Butler, Martha E. Baines, Ursula Bright, Margaret Lucas, Jane Wigham, Elizabeth Pease Nichol, Eliza Wigham, Mary Estlin. But so numerous are the names following that of Harriet Martineau in protest, that it is impossible to do more on such a page as this than to crown with thanks and blessing every one of the great cloud of witnesses.
THE LADIES’ NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE REPEAL OF THE CONTAGIOUS DISEASES ACTS.
There are two Acts of Parliament — one passed in 1866, the other in 1869 — called the Contagious Diseases Acts. These Acts are in force in some of our garrison towns, and in large districts around them. Unlike all other laws for the repression of contagious diseases, to which both men and women are liable, these two apply to women only, men being wholly exempt from their penalties. The law is ostensibly framed for a certain class of women, but in order to reach these, all the women residing within the districts where it is in force are brought under the provisions of the Acts. Any woman can be dragged into court, and required to prove that she is not a common prostitute. The magistrate can condemn her, if a policeman swears only that he “has good cause to believe” her to be one. The accused has to rebut, not positive evidence, but the state of mind of her accuser. When condemned, the sentence is as follows: To have her person outraged by the periodical inspection of a surgeon, through a period of twelve months; or, resisting that, to be imprisoned, with or without hard labour — first for a month, next for three months, — such imprisonment to be continuously renewed through her whole life unless she submit periodically to the brutal requirements of this law. Women arrested under false accusations have been so terrified at the idea of encountering the public trial necessary to prove their innocence, that they have, under the intimidation of the police, signed away their good name and their liberty by making what is called a “voluntary submission” to appear periodically for twelve months for surgical examination. Women who, through dread of imprisonment, have been induced to register themselves as common prostitutes, now pursue their traffic under the sanction of Parliament; and the houses where they congregate, so long as the government surgeons are satisfied with the health of their inmates, enjoy, practically, as complete a protection as a church or a school.
We, the undersigned, enter our solemn protest against these Acts —
1. Because, involving as they do, such a momentous change in the legal safeguards hitherto enjoyed by women in common with men, they have been passed, not only without the knowledge of the country, but unknown to Parliament itself; and we hold that neither the representatives of the people nor the press fulfil the duties which are expected of them, when they allow such legislation to take place without the fullest discussion.
2. Because, so far as women are concerned, they remove every guaranty of personal security which the law has established and held sacred, and put their reputation, their freedom, and their persons absolutely in the power of the police.
3. Because the law is bound, in any country professing to give civil liberty to its subjects, to define clearly an offence which it punishes.
4. Because it is unjust to punish the sex who are the victims of a vice, and leave unpunished the sex who are the main cause, both of the vice and its dreaded consequences; and we consider that liability to arrest, forced surgical examination, and, where this is resisted, imprisonment with hard labour, to which these Acts subject women, are punishments of the most degrading kind.
5. Because, by such a system, the path of evil is made more easy to our sons, and to the whole of the youth of England; inasmuch as a moral restraint is withdrawn the moment the State recognizes and provides convenience for the practice of a vice which it thereby declares to be necessary and venial.
6. Because these measures are cruel to the women who come under their action, — violating the feelings of those whose sense of shame is not wholly lost, and further brutalizing even the most abandoned.
7. Because the disease which these Acts seek to remove has never been removed by any such legislation. The advocates of the system have utterly failed to show, by statistics or otherwise, that these regulations have in any case, after several years’ trial, and when applied to one sex only, diminished disease, reclaimed the fallen, or improved the general morality of the country. We have, on the contrary, the strongest evidence to show that in Paris and other Continental cities, where women have long been outraged by this forced inspection, the public health and morals are worse than at home.
8. Because the conditions of this disease, in the first instance, are moral, not physical. The moral evil through which the disease makes its way separates the case entirely from that of the plague or other scourges, which have been placed under police control or sanitary care. We hold that we are bound, before rushing into the experiment of legalizing a revolting vice, to try to deal with the causes of the evil, and we dare to believe that with wiser teaching and more capable legislation those causes would not be beyond control.
(And a great number of others.)
But other things fell to her lot than writing petitions, summoning meetings, and raising funds. She had learned the use of placards, when Joseph Sturge, after his exchange of flatteries with the Czar of Russia, covered the walls of Birmingham with a quotation from her writings in favour of peace, wrested to promote his “peace” at any price, at a crisis when she thought that national honour demanded war; and this gave her the trouble and expense of posting a strong denial below his every affirmation.
To this means the Reform Association had recourse; and this is a copy of their placard, written and first signed by Harriet Martineau: —
TO THE WOMEN OF COLCHESTER.
As Englishwomen loving your country, and proud of it, as many generations of women have been, listen to a word from three of your countrywomen.
The most endearing feature in our English life has been the reality of its homes. Married life is, with us, we have been accustomed to think, more natural and simple than in most other countries, youth and maidenhood at once more free and pure, and womanhood more unrestrained, more honoured and safe beyond comparison, in person and repute.
Are you aware that this eminent honour and security of our sex and our homes are at present exposed to urgent danger, and even undergoing violation? You women of Colchester ought to be aware of this fact, for the violation is going on within your own town. The story is short.
Some fifteen months ago a bill was carried through Parliament, by trick and under a misleading title, and without awakening the suspicions of the country, by which the personal violation of hundreds of thousands of Englishwomen is not only permitted, but rendered inevitable. And it is the aim and purpose of the authors of the law and its policy, to have the act extended over the whole country. It was asked for on account of our soldiers and sailors. It is now sought to be extended to the population of the whole kingdom. It was intended to mitigate the disease occasioned by debauchery; but it has aggravated it. It has not diminished the vice, but encouraged it by a false promise of impunity. It gives a distinct government sanction to profligacy, and is degrading to English society wherever it operates, to the fearful condition of health and morals existing on the continent wherever such legislation has been established long enough to show its effects.
Foremost among the promoters of this fearful system and fatal law is Sir Henry Storks, one of the candidates for the representation of Colchester. He was a candidate at the Newark election, some months since; but the Newark people knew what he had been doing, and they would not hear of him as a representative. He had no chance when the facts were understood, and he withdrew from certain defeat.
Do the people of Colchester know these facts? Let it be your work to take care that your husbands, fathers, and brothers hear of them. Sir Henry Storks’s own words are to be found in the printed evidence offered to the Committee of the Lords on the Acts. At Newark he complained of false accusations and libels; but the following words written by his own hand, in a letter produced in that evidence, are full justification for any efforts you will make to drive him from Colchester: —
“I am of opinion that very little benefit will result from the best-devised means of prevention, until prostitution is recognized as a necessity!”
This is the professed “opinion” of a man who is regarded as a Christian gentleman, who cannot but be aware how fornication is denounced in the Scriptures.
Let his evidence be further studied in regard to the operation of the legal outrage which Sir Henry Storks is endeavouring to introduce wherever the sceptre of our virtuous queen bears sway, and there can be no doubt of his rejection at Colchester by every elector who values, as an Englishman should, the sanctity of his home, the purity of his sons, and the honour and safety of his daughters.
You surely will not sacrifice greater things to less by any indulgence of prudery. The subject is painful, even hateful to every one of us; but that is not our fault, and our country is not to be sacrificed to our feelings as women. We are not fine ladies, but true-hearted Englishwomen; and there are thousands at this hour who have proved that in this cause they can sacrifice whatever is necessary to save our country from the curse of these Acts.
It is your business to lift up your voices within your homes and neighbourhoods, against being ruled by lawmakers like the authors of these Acts; in other words, against Sir Henry Storks as candidate for Colchester.
Sir Henry Storks’s election was defeated.
The same process of election-placards was repeated afterwards, abridged, as follows: —
OLD ENGLAND! PURITY AND FREEDOM!
To the Electors of North Nottinghamshire.
We, as Englishwomen, loving our country and our Old National Constitution, entreat you, the Electors of North Nottinghamshire, in the name of Religion, of Morality, and of our National Freedom, to vote for no man who will not pledge himself to vote for the total and unconditional Repeal of those un-English Laws, that Continental abomination stealthily smuggled into our Statute-Book, called the Contagious Diseases Acts, and to oppose any Future Legislation that involves their Principles.
LYDIA E. BECKER.
Thus the kingdom was made aware of the earnestness of its women in the cause.
In 1871 a correspondent received the following words of rejoicing from Mrs. Martineau: —
“The conspiracy of silence is broken up, and the London papers have burst out. Our main point now is, to secure every variety of judgment inside and outside of the Commission. The ‘Daily News’ came out clearly and strongly on the right side before any other London paper broke the silence. The satisfaction to us all is immense, to see the paper uphold its high character — the very highest — in this hour of crisis. I feel unusually ill in consequence of heart-failure, but I must make you know something of what you shall know more of hereafter. . . . .
“Samuel J. May! — how well I remember the snowy day he came over to Hingham, to open the cause to me.”
Again, in 1871: —
“I must tell you, though so feeble to-day, that our cause is, for this time, safe. The packed Commission, supplied with packed evidence, comes out thirteen to six in our favour! The conversions under every disadvantage are astonishing. Huxley’s delights me. He and two others — Sir Walter James, military, and Admiral Collinson, naval — made speeches on the Commission, declaring that they had verily believed in the good of the C. D. Acts, but they have been compelled to see that they are thoroughly mischievous. We never could have dreamed of such a victory. As victory no matter. But what a prospect is opened for the whole sex in Old England! For the stronger and safer sort of women will be elevated in proportion as the helpless or exposed are protected.”
At about this time Mrs. Butler received the following letter from Mrs. Martineau.
LETTER FROM HARRIET MARTINEAU TO MRS. BUTLER.
My dear Friend, —
I am truly grateful to you for taking charge of the chair which I have worked in hope of its bringing in some money — more money than I could offer in any other form — towards obtaining the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. I assure you very earnestly that no one can be more thoroughly aware than I am that this is the very lowest method of assisting the movement. I can only say that I have adopted it simply because, in my state of health, no other is open to me. While you and your brave sisters in the enterprise have been enduring exhausting toils, and facing the gravest risks that can appall the matronage and maidenhood of our country, I have been content to ply my needle when I could do no better, and thankful to witness the achievements of the younger and stronger who will live to rejoice in the retrieval of their dear nation.
It was no dream that I indulged in over my work. Nearly forty years ago I saw and felt the first stir, — saw the first steps taken in the wrong direction to suppress the evils of prostitution. After a long enforced pause the attempt was renewed eight years ago, and with a success which saddened a multitude of hearts besides my own. That triumph of wrong and ignorance has clouded the lives of some of the best men and women of England since 1864; but I have seen, for months past, from my easy-chair, as I looked abroad over your field of action, the foul vapours dispersed before the strong breeze of the popular opinion and will, and the clear light of our ancient domestic virtue spreading from roof to roof among the homes of our land. The few dark years that are past will be remembered as a warning when the Acts that disgraced them are repealed. Once understood, such legislation can never be renewed; and therefore is it reasonable for us to hope all things as we ply our task, whether our labours be as high and arduous as yours, or as humble as mine.
Experience is the great teacher in the conduct of reforms. The first impulse of a mind deeply impressed with their necessity is to seek the most powerful influence for their promotion, whether from politics, pulpit, or press.
But there is a preparatory work to be done, before these, as such, can take the field. The devotedness of individuals must alone bear the burden and heat of the day, and so it was with this cause of national purity. One may cite in proof the “Westminster Review” of 1876.
The editor says that in 1859 an article was prepared on this subject; but considering how strong was the repugnance felt to its general discussion, it was laid aside for ten years, as he was convinced that the time had not come for dealing with the matter to good effect. It was imperative, however, on some one to bring about that time, and therefore it was that Harriet Martineau and others — the noblest women of England — devoted themselves to “break the conspiracy of silence.” So in the nature of things must such work ever be done; and so was it made practicable for the “Westminster Review” and other periodicals to admit admirable articles, like that of the July number of 1876, combating the subtle, all-pervading, ruinous influence of government sanction and copartnery in vice.
Writing to Mrs. Chapman in America, Mrs. Martineau proceeds: —
. . . . Day by day information reaches me which satisfies me that this question of national purity plunges us into the most fearful moral crisis the country was ever in, involving our primary personal liberties, and the very existence, except in name, of the home and the family. It struck me (and I was so cowardly as almost to wish that it had not) that some “letters” in the “Daily News,” explaining the state of the case, and the grounds (eight) of the protest of the women of England against the Acts, would do more to rouse the country to inquire and act, than any amount of agitation by individuals. It was sickening to think of such a work; but who should do it if not an old woman, dying and in seclusion, &c., &c. I felt that I should have no more peace of mind if I did not obey “the inward witness.” So I did it last week, — wrote four letters signed “An Englishwoman,” and sent them to Mr. Walker, who still manages the editing of the “Daily News” till the proprietors decide how to fill the office for which he alone seems fit. He was ill in bed when the packet arrived, and his wife read the letters to him. He says, “At first she was horrified, but she ended by demanding the instant publication of every word of them.” One of the proprietors was dead against the insertion of any part of them; but Mr. Walker writes that he approves them so strongly that he cannot but print them,” but that he doubts being able to support them by any “leader.” Still I shall not be surprised if he manages it when the opposing proprietor has seen the letters themselves. I could not have undertaken in my sick condition to write them; and, though done under impulse, they cost a dreadful effort. Happily I thought of Godiva; and that helped me through. Two have appeared, and I dare say to-morrow will finish them. Then the “Times” and the “Saturday Review” and the “Pall Mall Gazette” and others will open out against them. I do dread having to reply to the lies of opponents; perhaps Mrs. Butler and her colleagues may relieve me of this, when they know it was I; but Mr. Walker says he will not enter into any general controversy while it is possible to avoid it. I know it was a right thing to do, and that it is the fault of the other side, if modesty in others and myself is outraged; yet it turns me chill in the night to think what things I have written and put in print. The — —s are here at Fox How, and I have had a long conversation with him about these Acts. He and — are my two friends in the Ministry. This subject belongs to the department of one of them, but it is uncertain which. Both, I believe, certainly are on the right side. — — instructs me how to proceed in Parliament, and in preparation for it, and I had to write it all to Mrs. Butler yesterday, instead of writing to you. I will say no more now on the subject, of which I am compelled to think too much day and night.
One great interest just now to me is the future of that excellent paper, the “Daily News.” I cannot tell you any thing, because my knowledge is derived from confidential letters; but I may just say that the importance of these great newspapers impresses me more and more. This means chiefly, “Daily News.” The “Times” has declined a good deal, though its influence is still vast. The “Star” is dead and gone; meantime “Daily News” quietly holds its course, enlarging its circulation from day to day, and becoming a really splendid property.
I think you must be much concerned, as we all are, at the correspondence of Mr. Fish, and President Grant’s message as far as regards England. The trouble is, that the conduct of the United States government damages so fatally the character of republican government. I (and others) don’t at all believe that such utterances as Seward’s and Sumner’s and Fish’s and Grant’s are acceptable to the substantial part of the nation; but that their rulers should believe it, and should be ever repeating all this, as if it were the way to gratify the people, is the most unfavourable indication possible of the prospects of democratic government. Your citizens are well able to see and feel the discredit of being courted in such a way. They must see, as the rest of the world does, that the Washington government makes no way. Its members take up the story again and again, repeating the same complaints and reciting the same things as if they had never been answered. This time it really seems as if they must be ashamed of themselves and their country of them; Lord Clarendon’s dates and authorities and clear statement being so unquestionable as they are, from end to end.
My aged cousin, the head of the family, Peter Martineau, died on the 10th. He was eighty-four years old. He was always good to me, and I feel his departure, though I knew we should never meet again.
My dearest friend, farewell for this time and for the old year.
Ever your loving
In another letter to the same friend she expresses her delight at a speech of Mr. Motley which she had received from America: —
“ ‘Motley’s your only wear!’ — at the present juncture. That is, I have seen nothing on your public affairs to compare with this address. It would have been extremely interesting in itself, even if we had not been all eager to hear what he had to say after he had passed the war-season in so peculiar a position. The paper of your newspaper is sadly flimsy! but we hope that with care it will hold together till it has been read by the worthy ones among our neighbours. The —s and the —s are in perfect delight about it.”
Mr. Sumner’s course gave her as much of regret as Mr. Motley’s speech had done of pleasure. In a letter to America she said: —
Ambleside, June 16, 1869.
. . . . I trust you have received the newspapers we have sent, with Forster’s speech, the “Daily News” leader, about the Confederate ships, &c, showing the process of the turning of the tables. The newspapers and the talk of Americans under the change are thoroughly bad in spirit, temper, and manners. They charged the English with gross crimes of deceit and malignity, imputed to them unbounded losses and years of war, roused hatred against them throughout the republic, clamoured for damages, called names, hoped for the future adversity of England, and proposed to wait for vengeance till England should be incapable of defence, &c.; and the most vindictive accuser was extolled with the highest enthusiasm.
As soon as possible the charges were shown to be all false, and the very reverse of truth; and what course do the accusers take? They announce that the English are coming round, that they are recovering their tempers, that there will be no war!
No word of shame or regret, no sign of consciousness that England is the injured party, has yet reached us, though your papers contain notices of the opinions of your eminent legists, and other facts damning to the speech of Sumner and his multitude. The next mail must, I think, bring some notices of Forster’s speech. . . . .
Sumner’s concealment of the fact of the English government having prevented the interference of France is a thing inexplicable to Englishmen.
I have been thinking of showing in a brief statement for some one of your newspapers, how completely the tables are turned; but somebody stronger and more in the world will do it better, I doubt not. The only thing I have done is getting the catalogue of the ships looked up and used, and reviving the fact that our government was obliged to issue orders to our sea-captains, who were perplexed by the declaration of the blockade, — but was there ever a stronger case of false accusation than that which is now in course of exposure!
1. We were proslavery, hating the North.
Answer. Our difficulty in sympathizing was that the North pertinaciously disclaimed antislavery views and intentions.
2. We encouraged the South in public and private, upheld their cause, had no interest in the Union cause, &c.
Answer. The Confederate envoys could obtain no access to our government; and while there were under a score of public meetings on behalf of the South, there were, I think, one hundred and ninety-five on behalf of the North, most of them crowded, and some enormous.
The fact is, the travelling Americans usually care to know only the aristocracy and distinguished persons; and their retribution was, finding the aristocracy highly Confederate, when put to the proof, and being unable to enjoy the hearty and general sympathy that the mass of our people felt and expressed on behalf of the Union.
3. We destroyed American commerce by maliciously letting out the Alabama, and we ought to be made to pay the value of the lost vessels and the diverted commerce.
Answer. There were four notorious privateers ravaging the Northern commerce for a year before the Alabama was built; of those one is known to have destroyed fifty-four merchant-ships.
4. We lent our ports, at home and in the colonies, to the Confederates, because they had none; and we are, therefore, answerable for all the damage done at sea.
Answer. There were four Confederate ports sending out and receiving back privateers, for a year, before any such attempt was made in England, and they were not free of our colonial ports.
5. Our “intent” to ruin the North was shown by the escape of the Alabama and others.
Answer. See the catalogue of vessels, some three escaping to about thirty-seven detained, with infinite care, pains, and trouble.
6. We furnished material aid to the South during the blockade.
Answer. The blockade-runners risked all the penalties of the law which could be provided. And the material aid afforded to the North exceeded tenfold (more likely twenty-fold) that obtained by the South.
7. “Premature proclamation of neutrality,” whereby we “cast our sword into the scale of war,” lengthened out the war by two years, — caused an expenditure which cannot be computed; disheartened the North, cheered the South, &c.
Answer. Our government was a month behind the Washington one in proclaiming; the Supreme Court having declared the blockade a month before the queen proclaimed neutrality. The act was a friendly one, urged on by W. E. Forster, because there were letters of marque known to be in England from the Confederate government; and they were thus rendered ineffectual. If the act had not been done out of friendliness, it must from necessity; from the urgency of our captains as aforesaid.
While this charge and the sum of damages have been shouted out against England from end to end of the United States for weeks past, there was a correspondence lying at Washington which shows that the very same act on the part of the queen of Spain was received with good-will and thanks. What will the American people now do about this clamorous complaint of theirs, and their charge of protracting the war, and their notion that England should pay the cost of the last half of it?
There is another question, — What do they think of the suppression of the fact, known in the United States as well as in Europe, that the English government prevented an alliance between the Confederates and France? The Confederates were first disheartened by the English proclamation of neutrality, and then thrown into despair by our holding back the French emperor from an alliance with them.
As W. E. Forster says, by this England shortened the war, doubtless by many years. Yet Mr. Sumner conceals this essential fact; and all his countrymen, as far as we see, follow his example.
And now, on beginning to find themselves in the wrong, the wrongdoers announce that the English are coming round, — are recovering their tempers!
It looks very idle to write all this to you, who have been just and calm and accurate throughout. But it is not for your sake that I write it; but partly for the chance of its being of some possible use at some time to somebody, and partly for the relief to myself of setting down in some sort of order what has been in my mind lately.
. . . . W. E. Forster writes that Sumner’s speech will turn out a good thing, as bringing out the truth. May it prove so, — but will Americans admit the truth, however plainly shown? — And it is no small matter that mischief has been done to American repute and to English feelings by the recent display of evil passions and shallow mental action, which it will take time to repair.
We are very happy to-day in the domestic direction; my three young women have all had their journey of pleasure and refreshment, and are in full vigour accordingly. Yes, — my niece’s plan goes on; — and we hope that four working governesses and artists will have a happy month of August here. We shall soon have details to tell you, as the time draws near. — Yes, — I can and do read, but I am slow, and get through no great deal.
When Lord Brougham’s memoirs of his life and times appeared, they contained several inaccurate statements about herself, which Mrs. Martineau corrected in the following note to the editor of the “Daily News.”
The Knoll, Ambleside, December 26, 1871.
It has been my practice throughout a long literary life to let pass without notice any misstatement in print of my personal affairs, for the obvious reason that to rectify any such mistakes would involve an apparent acquiescence in whatever was left unanswered.
If now, therefore, I object publicly to some statements of Lord Brougham’s in the third volume (p. 302) of his memoirs of his life and times, it is because I owe the duty to others. There are several inaccuracies in Lord Brougham’s kindly intended representation of my “case” to Lord Grey; but all that I desire to say is that my father did not fail, “in the panic” or otherwise; and that I never had the honour of supporting my mother, for the simple reason that she did not need it.
I am, sir, yours,
It was after this time that, writing to one of her friends in America, she says: —
“I have spent the whole month struggling with an agony that I can conceal but cannot forget for a moment.”
Meanwhile her friend Samuel May wrote of her thus to their friend R. D. Webb.
“What extraordinary, almost incredible industry! What preeminent services to mankind! Most persons in her condition would have died long ago, or shelved themselves in a helpless and useless state. She is a wonder and a monument of what a human being in firm or infirm health is capable.”
At the same time her niece, Miss Jane Martineau, wrote: —
“My aunt is cheerful and bright, but I see she is not so well.”
The remainder of the year seems to have been a period of more severe illness, during which, according to the usual way in such slow decline, she became used to the lower level, and her family and friends hoped she might perhaps be gaining a little in health. It was not an agreeable idea to her. In a postscript to a letter from her niece, Miss Jane Martineau, which tells how cheerful her aunt is, she says: —
“I suffer much less, but it is a disappointment to come back to life when I seemed so nearly to have done with it.”
This waiting for death had every possible solace, her niece’s impaired health being now so far restored that she was able to resume her loving watch, — kinsfolk and friends dividing the sinking years with her, that she might run no risk of being alone at last with death. Her servants were more and more devoted. Distant friends placed themselves at her disposition, if so they might in any way give help and comfort. There seemed so many associations with her name in the world, that every thing reminded men of her. Without troubling her with letters that she lacked strength to answer, they sent her, from wherever they stood, on hearing of her steady descent to the grave, their assurances of affectionate and admiring remembrance.
Her friend Lord Houghton when at Norwich, delivering an inaugural address at the Social Science Congress, closed thus: —
“I know no provincial city adorned with so many names illustrious in literature, the professions, and public life. Those of Taylor, Martineau, Austin, Alderson, Opie, come first to my recollection, and there are many more behind. And there is this additional peculiarity of distinction, that these are, for the most part, not the designation of individuals, but of families numbering each men and women conspicuous in various walks of life. For one of them I will ask you to permit me to pass from the expression of public esteem to that of private friendship for one who, from a sick-bed of twenty years, still looks out at the world of action with a mind interested in all that affects the well-being of humanity, — Harriet Martineau.”
In consequence of having learned through Mrs. Grote’s book of her friend’s failing condition, Mr. Gladstone hastened to inquire of others whether it were possible that she were subjected to any anxiety on account of restricted means. He was aware that she had once declined the offer of a civil-list pension, “so amply justified,” he said, “by her literary distinctions,” and if a renewal of it, after so long an interval, would be acceptable or appropriate, it was decided to make it. Her reply was as follows: —
The Right Honourable W. E. Gladstone.
June 8, 1873.
I have just received through my brother and sister your letter expressive of concern and sympathy, which are deeply moving to me. This kindness from you goes far towards compensating me for the shock with which I saw that Mrs. Grote had published expressions on personal matters which I am shocked to have written, however privately.
But this evidence of your goodness is sufficient in itself. The work of my busy years has supplied the needs and desires of a quiet old age. On the former occasions of my declining a pension I was poor, and it was a case of scruple (possibly cowardice). Now I have a competence, and there would be no excuse for my touching the public money.
You will need no assurance that I am as grateful for your considerate offer as if it had relieved me of a wearing anxiety.
Believe me, with much respect and gratitude,
MR. GLADSTONE TO MRS. H. MARTINEAU.
Whitehall, 10 Downing Street, June 9, 1873.
Dear Madam, —
I have received your note of yesterday. It deprives me of a pleasure I had hoped to enjoy, but it enhances the respect and regard felt for your character by all who have had any acquaintance with it.
I am glad that you have construed so kindly and favourably the spirit of my inquiry.
With every good wish, I remain,
Your very faithful and obedient
W. E. GLADSTONE.
In writing to her friend in America of this offer and of her having declined it, she says, —
My dear Friend, —
I have to tell you a bit of a story; and now, please let me impress you with what is really of serious consequence to me, in more ways than one, — that it must no where and no how get into print in my lifetime. It was a great mischief that it did on a similar occasion thirty years ago. That it should happen again would be an irreparable misfortune. I am afraid it is difficult in the United States to talk freely about any matter without danger of its getting into the newspapers. But it is no secret; before the week is out it will be talked of all over the kingdom; yet nobody will give it to a newspaper without authority.
I need only say a few words, and leave the letters to speak for themselves. If you have Mr. Grote’s “Life,” you will have seen a letter of mine to Mrs. Grote, on his death. She ought not to have printed the last part of it without leave. . . . . Those closing lines moved Mr. Gladstone’s sympathy, and he has asked in the most delicate way whether he could remove any pressure of anxiety. . . . . But there was no agitation about the matter.* Mr. Gladstone’s share (the queen’s understood) gives me nothing but pleasure, and there was no perplexity. The former reasons for declining a pension remain; and there are two additional ones, viz. that I now have a sufficient income for my needs, and that the queen and her premier would be, though they perhaps do not know it, exposed to insult for showing friendliness to an infidel like me. I could not think of exposing the queen to such anonymous abuse as has come to me, if I were under any amount of temptation. But there is no temptation whatever.
I am yours ever,
Copy of Mr. Gladstone’s note in reply to an inquiry: —
Hawarden, August 19, 1876.
In reply to your considerate letter, I give my full consent to the publication of the correspondence, as far as I am a party to it, and I am glad to think of the honour it will do to the person principally concerned.
Your most faithful
W. E. GLADSTONE.
To a friend sending her a present from America she writes: —
“What a gift is this year’s volume of ‘Harper,’ setting New York and its affairs so wonderfully before us! It would do you good to know, if I could tell you, the enjoyment your great and glorious Nast is giving in this valley. I sent the numbers to Fox How when W. E. Forster was there, and they are borrowed again for the Stanleys and Lady Richardson. The favourite, the one supremely extolled, is that of the Romish crocodiles and the children. The Dean was delighted with it. Of course I told them of Nast’s patriotic strength against temptation. . . . .
“It seems as if all could die but me. I do long for rest more and more as the downward change goes on.”
It was in 1872 that she and five hundred others petitioned Parliament against Mr. Straight’s bill proposing the extension of flogging, for the reasons assigned below: —
Mr. P. A. Taylor presented a petition, signed by Miss Harriet Martineau and five hundred other women, against Mr. Straight’s bill proposing the extension of the punishment of flogging to certain cases of brutal attacks upon women and children. The petitioners, while thankfully welcoming this evidence that the attention of the Legislature was being directed to the flagrant insufficiency of the punishment inflicted for such offences, utterly repudiated the proposed infliction of torture by the “Cat” as a protection to their sex, regarding it as certain to increase the brutal, cruel, and revengeful spirit from which such crimes invariably spring. The petitioners, therefore, prayed the House not to pass the bill, and to abolish entirely the infliction of torture by the “cat.” — Daily News, May 29, 1872.
Great numbers of letters were continually addressed to Mrs. Martineau, telling her of the cheer and stimulus she had given in various ways to the rising generation, and to the men and women of middle age. Let one suffice, from the Hon. Secretary of the Social Purity Association to Mrs. Harriet Martineau.
Dear Madam, —
I wish I could express my thankfulness, which will be shared by every member of our association, for your support and the sympathy which you so generously spare us in your own suffering. It is possible that we shall print a few letters, to make known the ideas and the spirit underlying the movement. I am highly honoured by your opinion that my arguments (though I have not the right to call them my own) are worthy of a wider hearing.
Since you so kindly wish to circulate my letter, may I request you to send it to your nephew, Mr. Frank Martineau, in Birmingham, to whom I am asked by Mrs. Butler and Mr. W. Shaen to send our papers? In all my future efforts I shall feel that your recognition gives me new faith and power.
Believe me, dear madam,
GEORGE C. WARR.
Mrs. Harriet Martineau.
During these years of painful, difficult decline, she aided by word and deed, by pen and purse, the associated effort made in Edinburgh to secure complete medical education for women, after the persecution to which the lady students had been subjected there.
The following letter explains itself.
Ambleside, November 18.
I venture to trouble you with a post-office order for £2 — payable from me to yourself — as my small contribution to the fund needed by the general committee for securing a complete medical education for women in Edinburgh. The question is so important, and the lady students have manifested so fine a spirit and temper under their harassing trials, that a large proportion of their countrymen will, I trust, feel the obligation of sustaining them during their conflict with jealousies and prejudices which will scarcely be credited by a future generation. Permit me to offer you my thanks for the service you render to a good cause by managing the financial concerns of the movement, and believe me, sir, with much respect,
W. S. Reid, Esq.,Hon. Treasurer.
On the 8th of October, 1873, in reply to an inquiry about her health and another for the name of one of the professors of University College, London, she says: —
“No doubt our blessed intercourse of so many years is now drawing to a close. . . . . But to answer your question. Croome Robertson is the name of the man who holds the chair of Philosophy in University College, and he confers honour on all who had any share in the making of him.”
TO MRS. CHAPMAN.
January 25, 1876.
My dearest Friend, —
I am bent on writing to you this time; and the doubt and difficulty so rouse my self-will, that I suppose I shall indulge that same self-will which has been such a helper to me in life. I did not dare to utter it, to express it in any way when I was a child, it so happening that our mother also was strong on that point, — of self-will; but in my silent way I did scores of things of which I should not have been capable, perhaps, under any other impulse or by any other strength. The very latest and perhaps the very smallest of such enterprises is that now under my hand, — the writing of this letter. You divine what this means before I explain it, — for when do you fail to apprehend by sympathy what lies in my thought? — and in spite of myself my mind is occupied in ways which make writing almost impossible. Dearest friend, I feel and am very ill. I will leave it to J— to tell you necessary particulars; and I believe, fully, that you may confide in her sense and judgment as to how I really am. There can be no doubt of my having become more rapidly worse within a fortnight. . . . . You will understand the gravity of the case without another word, so I will leave it. I wonder whether I am stupid or narrow-minded about a thing which I do not understand; I trust not, because I believe you and I are of the same mind. I cannot see or feel what people mean by their imperative desire to live, or in death, by their “horror of annihilation,” their pity for Mr. Atkinson and me in the absence of the “Christian hope.” Mr. Atkinson says “we have not the fear,” and, judging by what we hear of that, we may well be content. For my part, I don’t wish for more life, nor does he, I believe. Moreover, I doubt whether I know any body that does. I know there are many who do not. Often, now, when so ill as to “realize” vividly what dying is like, I am unaware of any movement of a wish to live longer, — either little or much longer. I am glad not to have the choice at this moment; but if I had, I fully believe I should go to my grave at once, for other people’s sake more than for my own, but still with every inclination on my own part.
What would dear Lady Augusta say, if she knew what I am writing to you? She is now only just living, if alive. Her last hours are honoured and praised as few can be, for she has rare strength and sweetness with which to inspire her mourning husband. She animates him for his work, and talks it over with him (his Eastern Church Lectures), and gets him to read them to her; and this, while she is in a condition of great suffering, from restlessness and helplessness. It is very beautiful, and an immense comfort even already, when one is haunted by the thought of Arthur’s widowed life. . . . .
How good of Mr. Robinson to send me this gift! But the first thing that strikes him when he enjoys any thing, is how he can admit somebody else to it.
Only one thing more, for I have not sight or strength for further writing to-day. I am glad you have found a good and learned biographical dictionary. When I was young, Gorton’s was the established one; then the “Biographie,” up to a generation ago. Now it is the “Biographie” from the “Penny Cyclopædia,” expanded, corrected, and completed by Professor George Lord (South Carolinian). It is in six volumes, and very valuable. But you seem to be suited. What a legacy you are giving to your grandchildren! — a possession for life. Did I tell you we think your “Pierpont’s-head” sonnet quite beautiful? We feel it so.
But I must knit diligently. The baby has come (to a friend of my niece Harriet) before the blanket for the bassinet is ready.
My dearest friend, my best love to you!
Though so long unable to leave her two rooms, she was confined to one but a single fortnight; and rose and dressed, though with much effort, till within a few days of her death. She kept her household books, and gave directions for the conduct of her household, to the last; and they who were then with her tell me that she preserved through her latest hours the infantine playfulness that was so attractive in her earlier time.
The young friends about her, amid all their veneration, were ever encouraged by her kindness to the freest communication, and never found her fail to be interested in their little jeux d’esprit, or their graver undertakings; and her beloved niece, Miss Jane Martineau, tells me how cheering it was during this long tension of heart undergone for her sake, that she was always ready to be cheered by their efforts to bring before her dying eyes the little sights of domestic life she had so much loved. Every thing gratified and pleased her, from the woollen-lined basket of ducklings brought to her bedside with a comic quatrain in their bills, to the preface she undertook and accomplished, with so much difficulty on the Easter Sunday before her death, for her valued young friend and companion, Miss Goodwin, — to an English translation from the German of Dr. Pauli’s “Life of Simon de Montfort.” This was her last effort. She wrote nothing afterwards but letters to her friends and letters of introduction to her American friends for Messrs. Wilson and Gledstone, the delegates of the European Federation for Social Purity and Political Moral Reform.
All this while the newspapers of this period from time to time chronicled Mrs. Martineau’s departing life; and none with truer feeling than the (London) “Leader.”
“There is, we believe, not a soul in this country that would not be pierced with regret at hearing that the condition of Harriet Martineau is such as to leave no hope that her life can last much longer. . . . . The end may come at any moment. There is no indelicacy in mentioning the fact thus plainly, because no one is more conscious of it than herself; and of the number that will be concerned there is not one that will learn it with such equanimity. She has, we understand, busied herself unostentatiously about several final engagements; has exhibited the most thoughtful consideration for even the slight inconveniences that others might suffer; and awaits the event with calmness. The number who regard her with personal attachment is the larger since her writing has appealed to every class in the country. As the historian of England during the lifetime of most of us, she has addressed all England; as a political writer, she has had influence with influential classes; and children love her as a second Maria Edgeworth, with a genius of a larger and a more generous kind. She has taught her readers the beautiful science of bearing infirmity and suffering without losing dignity or regard for the peace of others; and the necessary result is, that the solicitude on her account partakes, throughout numerous classes, the feeling of personal affection.”
TO MRS. CHAPMAN.
Ambleside, May 17, 1876.
My dearest Friend, —
I must try to keep up our correspondence to the latest moment, however painful the aspect of my letter may be to your eyes. J— tells me that our last letter will have prepared you for whatever we must tell you now of my condition. I hope she is right, and that it will not overtake you with a surprise if I find myself unable to pour out as I have always hitherto done. Dearest friend, I am very ill. I leave it to J— to show you how nearly certain it is that the end of my long illness is at hand. The difficulty and distress to me are the state of the head. I will only add that the condition grows daily worse, so that I am scarcely able to converse or to read, and the cramp in the hands makes writing difficult or impossible; so I must try to be content with the few lines I can send, till the few days become none. We believe that time to be near; and we shall not attempt to deceive you about it. My brain feels under the constant sense of being not myself, and the introduction of this new fear into my daily life makes each day sufficiently trying to justify the longing for death which grows upon me more and more. I feel sure of your sympathy about this. You enter into my longing for rest, I am certain; and when you hear, some day soon, that I have sunk into my long sleep, you will feel it as the removal of a care, and as a relief on my account.
On my side I have suffered much anxiety on your account; and if you can tell me that you are no longer suffering physically under the peculiar feebleness that attends bronchial mischief, you will make me happier than any thing else could make me. Farewell for to-day, dearest friend! While I live I am your grateful and loving
LAST LETTER OF MRS. MARTINEAU TO MR. ATKINSON.
Ambleside, May 19, 1876.
Dear Friend, —
My niece J— and also my sister have been observing that you ought to be hearing from us, and have offered to write to you. You will see at once what this means; and it is quite true that I have become so much worse lately that we ought to guard against your being surprised, some day soon, by news of my life being closed. I feel uncertain about how long I may live in my present state. I can only follow the judgment of unprejudiced observers; and I see that my household believe the end to be not far off. I will not trouble you with disagreeable details. It is enough to say that I am in no respect better, while all the ailments are on the increase. The imperfect heart-action immediately affects the brain, causing the suffering which is worse than all other evils together, — the horrid sensation of not being quite myself. This strange, dreamy non-recognition of myself comes on every evening, and all else is a trifle in comparison. But there is a good deal more. Cramps in the hands prevent writing, and most other employment, except at intervals. Indications of dropsy have lately appeared: and after this, I need not again tell you that I see how fully my household believe that the end is not far off. Meantime I have no cares or troubles beyond the bodily uneasiness, (which, however, I don’t deny to be an evil). I cannot think of any future as at all probable, except the “annihilation” from which some people recoil with so much horror. I find myself here in the universe, — I know not how, whence, or why. I see every thing in the universe go out and disappear, and I see no reason for supposing that it is not an actual and entire death. And for my part, I have no objection to such an extinction. I well remember the passion with which W. E. Forster said to me, “I had rather be damned than annihilated.” If he once felt five minutes’ damnation, he would be thankful for extinction in preference. The truth is, I care little about it any way. Now that the event draws near, and that I see how fully my household expect my death pretty soon, the universe opens so widely before my view, and I see the old notions of death and scenes to follow to be so merely human, — so impossible to be true, when one glances through the range of science, — that I see nothing to be done but to wait, without fear or hope or ignorant prejudice, for the expiration of life. I have no wish for further experience, nor have I any fear of it. Under the weariness of illness I long to be asleep; but I have not set my mind on any state. I wonder if all this represents your notions at all. I should think it does, while yet we are fully aware how mere a glimpse we have of the universe and the life it contains.
Above all I wish to escape from the narrowness of taking a mere human view of things, from the absurdity of making God after man’s own image, &c.
But I will leave this, begging your pardon for what may be so unworthy to be dwelt on. However, you may like to know how the case looks to a friend under the clear knowledge of death being so near at hand. My hands are cramped, and I must stop. My sister is here for the whole of May, and she and J— are most happy together. Many affectionate relations and friends are willing to come if needed (the Browns among others), — if I live beyond July. You were not among the Boulogne theological petitioners, I suppose. I don’t know whether you can use — — there? I was very thankful for your last, though I have said nothing about its contents. If I began that, I should not know how to stop.
So good by for to-day, dear friend!
P. S. I am in a state of amazement at a discovery just made; I have read (after half a lifetime) Scott’s “Bride of Lammermoor,” and am utterly disappointed in it. The change in my taste is beyond accounting for, — almost beyond belief.
HARRIET MARTINEAU TO WM. LLOYD GARRISON.
Ambleside, May 30, 1876.
My dear Friend,—
When you kindly sent me the memorial card, announcing your precious wife’s departure and burial, I asked our dear Mrs. Chapman to thank you on my behalf; and her latest letter brings me your response. With it comes the Memoir, — the picture of her beautiful life and death. I wish I could convey to you any idea of the emotion excited in my household by the reading of this narrative; but I have strength for no more than a bare acknowledgment of your valued gift, and assurance of sympathy under the pain of your bereavement. What a woman she was! I am thankful to have been in Boston at the crisis which proved that she was worthy of the honour of being your wife.
I can say no more. My departure is near, and I hold the pen with difficulty.
Accept the sympathy and reverent blessing of your old friend,
Wm. Lloyd Garrison.
LAST LETTER OF MRS. MARTINEAU TO MRS. CHAPMAN.
Ambleside, June 14, 1876.
We have heartily enjoyed your couple of letters, and I enjoy your map of the family property, and am thankful that it has come in time for me to represent you, to my mind’s eye, in your home locality. It is pleasant that those letters arrived on my birthday, June 12, when I was 74.
This is all the better for this birthday being certainly my last.
Yes, my best friend! our long and loving friendship has, as to intercourse, reached its term, as we both knew it must. J— engages to give you all needful details, — to spare me; so I will say no more about health matters than that, after a constantly accelerated weakness since we wrote to you last, the sinking has become so shocking a sensation as to leave me, at least, no doubt that I am dying. But I believe no one questions the fact. Dearest friend, you will not let this distress you?
You are too disinterested not to feel for me the relief of the certainty of rest, after the weary passage of the actual days. You ask about Macaulay, and you will doubtless see the “Life.” Well! his diary and letters describe my sensations as if the symptoms were a report of my case prepared by a professional man.
I find I must be self-sufficing, for the sake of all, — yourself, J—, myself, — all whom my life nearly concerns. I must not open up any springs of feeling. Answering your questions as to Macaulay, — only this; Trevelyan has done his work as well as an adoring nephew, no more high-souled or deep-hearted than his idol, could be reasonably expected to do it. Macaulay was a kindly natured man, generous about not only money but much else, and of a less vulgar ambition than many supposed; but he was not lofty in views, or therefore in aims; and his whole conduct in the matter of his slander of William Penn will besmirch his fame forever. W. E. Forster exposed it, giving absolute proof of the falsehood of the charge. This was done in a pamphlet, which was followed by others, from other hands. Macaulay gave no sort of answer, took no sort of notice; and, in the face of all warning even from deputations, reprinted the calumny unaltered in his second and third editions! So it was — — who raged against me about his “heart”! I knew somebody did, but not who it was. Lady Charlotte Clark writes to me in enthusiasm about the beautiful “Life of Ticknor,” begging me to read it.
You see I cannot write: I will leave this open for the chance of something better to-morrow. O my friend, I must not sink our hearts by words of farewell to-day. To be unconsciously apart is an easy matter, quite different from living and yearning apart. I believe in the first, that is, in not living at all; and I am glad if so it is to be.
Thursday, June 15.
I am glad that I wrote the foregoing while I could. To-day I could not; but you shall hear from one of us, from The Knoll, at the usual time. No duty more clear and urgent than reporting to you your loving friend’s condition. Till our next greeting, then, farewell! I will attempt no more, for you know how entirely I am, as for half a lifetime,
“The last finished work,” says her niece, “was a cot blanket, knitted for a neighbour’s baby, born on the 23d of January. The baby was brought to call on a fine sunny day, March 17, 1876, and was carried into the drawing-room to be seen in her beautiful cloak and hood. To the cape was pinned an envelope containing a bent sixpence, an egg, and a pinch of salt, which had been received at the previous call; the custom of the village is for the baby to have a present of these on its first entrance of a house, as a greeting and token it shall never want. She admired the little sleepy face and tiny hand. She had sent a beautiful note to the mother (which will always be treasured) which called forth a touching and excellent reply.”
“Miss S. Greg called on Sunday, June 4 (sister to W. R. Greg), hardly expecting to see her, but most anxious to make inquiries, told an anecdote which she thought would be of interest, said she was staying at the inn just opposite to Mr. King’s (the doctor’s) house, and from her high window could get a good view of the nursery. She remarked, ‘If I were going to stay a week longer, I must have had an introduction to that charming, fascinating baby.’ Mrs. Martineau told Mr. K., who took the message home to his wife: and in this way her desire to make all she saw happy never failed. Her powers of graphic description she retained to the last. Mr. King, who was present when she gave an account of the little swing bridge in India, in connection with Lord Elgin, and the picture in Lord Mayo’s Life (one of the last books she touched), said, ‘It made me hot all over!’ This was about a fortnight before her death.”
On Tuesday, the 6th of June, came Mr. W. E. Forster, her friend of so many years; and, except the household friends, he was the last who saw her in life.
[* ]Her niece, Miss Jane Martinean.
[* ]Mrs. Butler afterward said, “When I mentioned Harriet Martineau as sympathizing with them, a bright gleam passed over their faces, from town to town as I went.”
[* ]Her health was then so frail that precaution was needed in the examination of correspondence.