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SELF-ESTIMATE, AND OTHER. - 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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SELF-ESTIMATE, AND OTHER.
“This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before.”
— Paulto thePhilippians.
Harriet Martineau wrote as many as fifty biographical sketches of the eminent men and women of her time, which at their death were published in the “Daily News,” the authorship being never divulged. And so, I doubt not, she thought her similar sketch of herself would appear anonymously. But so high was the general estimate of her character and services to the world, that no person living would be willing to assume the responsibility of such an estimate of the illustrious dead; and on printing it in the number of the 29th of June, two days after her death, the editor prefaces it thus: —
AN AUTOBIOGRAPHIC MEMOIR.
“We regret to announce the death of Harriet Martineau. The following memoir, though written in the third person, was from her own pen. The frankness of its self-criticism makes it necessary to guard the reader against confounding her own strict and sometimes disparaging judgment of herself with the impressions made by her upon others.”
Harriet Martineau was born in 1802, in the city of Norwich, where the first of the name settled in 1688. David Martineau, the earliest of whom any record remains, was a French Protestant, who came over on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He married a French lady, whose family emigrated in the same ship, and pursued his profession as a surgeon in Norwich, where a succession of surgeons of the name existed, till the death of the most eminent of them, Philip Meadows Martineau (the uncle of Harriet), in 1828. He was considered the most eminent provincial surgeon of his day. The eldest brother of Harriet — a man of qualifications so high as to promise to sustain the honour of his name and profession in the old city — died before the age of thirty, and only one member of the family now remains in the city where many generations grew up. Harriet was the third daughter, and the sixth of eight children of Thomas Martineau, who was a manufacturer of the Norwich staples, — bombazine and camlet. His acquaintance with Dr. Parr was kept up and signalized by the gift of a black camlet study-gown every year or so, a piece of the right length being woven expressly for the doctor and dyed with due care.
There was nothing remarkable about the childhood and youth of any of Thomas Martineau’s children, unless in the case of Thomas, the eldest son, already referred to. His scholarship was of a high quality, and his mind was altogether of the rare ripeness and richness which comes of the equable cultivation of the intellectual and moral nature. The remarkable feature of the family story, in those days, was the steady self-denial, and clear, inflexible purpose with which the parents gave their children the best education which they could, by all honourable means, command. In those times of war and middleclass adversity, the parents understood their position, and took care that their children should understand it, telling them that there was no chance of wealth for them, and about an equal probability of a competence or of poverty; and that they must, therefore, regard their education as their only secure portion. Harriet came in for her share of this advantage, being well furnished with Latin and French (to which in due time she added Italian and German), and exercised in composition as well as reading in her own language and others. The whole family, trained by parental example, were steady and conscientious workers; but there were no tokens of unusual ability in Harriet during any part of her childhood or youth. Her health was bad, her tone of spirits low, her habit of mind anxious, and her habits of life silent, and as independent as they could be under the old-fashioned family rule of strictness and the strong hand. At her entrance upon womanhood a deafness, unperceived during her childhood and slight in youth, was aggravated by a kind of accident, and became so severe as to compel (for other people’s accommodation as well as her own) the use of a trumpet for the rest of her life. This misfortune, no doubt, strengthened her habits of study, and had much to do with the marking out of her career. What other effects it produced upon her she has shown in her “Letter to the Deaf.”
Her first appearance in print was before she was out of her teens, in a religious periodical; the same in which the late Judge Talfourd had made his early attempts not very long before. Not only her contributions to the “Monthly Repository,” but her first books were of a religious character, her cast of mind being more decidedly of the religious order than any other during the whole of her life, whatever might be the basis and scope of her ultimate opinions. Her latest opinions were, in her own view, the most religious, — the most congenial with the emotional as well as the rational department of human nature. In her youth she naturally wrote what she had been brought up to believe, and her first work, “Devotional Exercises,” was thoroughly Unitarian. Of this class, and indeed of all her early writings, the only one worth mention is the little volume “Traditions of Palestine,” which first fixed attention upon her, and made her name known in the reviews. There are some even now who prefer that little volume to all her other writings. Before it was out its writer had formed the conception of the very different kind of work which at once and completely opened her career, her “Illustrations of Political Economy.” Her stimulus in all she wrote, from first to last, was simply the need of utterance. This need she had gratified early; and those who knew her best were always aware that she was not ambitious, though she enjoyed success, and had pride enough to have suffered keenly under failure. When, in 1829, she and her sisters lost their small fortunes by the failure of the house in which their money was placed, Harriet continued to write as she had written before, though under the new liability of having no money to spend upon ventures. Without capital, without any literary connections (except the editor of the “Monthly Repository”), without any visible means of accomplishing her object, she resolved to bring out a series of “Illustrations of Political Economy,” confident that the work was at that time (1831) very much needed by the working-classes, to say nothing of other persons who had influence in the community, agitated as it then was by the Reform struggle. That Reform struggle and the approach of the cholera on its first visit made the booksellers disinclined to publish any thing. Messrs. Baldwin and Cradock had all but consented to the scheme, and had in fact engaged a stitcher for the monthly volumes, when they took fright and drew back. Harriet Martineau’s forthcoming Autobiography will of course tell the story of the struggle she passed through to get her work published in any manner and on any terms. Almost every considerable publisher had refused it; the Diffusion Society had declined it, on the report of their sub-committee against it. It appeared, however, at the beginning of 1832, when its writer was worn out with anxiety and fatigue, and had met with uniform discouragement, except in her own home, where her own confidence that the book would succeed, because it was wanted, commanded the sympathy of her family. In a fortnight after the day of publication her way was open before her for life. The work reached a circulation of about ten thousand in the next few years. The difficulties under which it appeared prevented her being enriched by it; and her own unalterable view of what it could and what it could not effect prevented her expecting too much from it, either in regard to its social operation or its influence on her own fame. The original idea of exhibiting the great natural laws of society by a series of pictures of selected social action was a fortunate one; and her tales initiated a multitude of minds into the conception of what political economy is, and of how it concerns every body living in society. Beyond this, there is no merit of a high order in the work. It did not pretend to offer discoveries, or new applications or elucidations of prior discoveries. It popularized, in a fresh form, some doctrines and many truths long before made public by others. Those were the days of her success in narrative, in fiction. In about ten years from that time she had nearly ceased to write fiction, from simple inability to do it well. On the whole, perhaps, her novel of “Deerbrook” has been the most popular of her works of fiction, though some prefer her history (in the form of a romance) of Toussaint L’Ouverture (“The Hour and the Man”), and others again her story-book for children, written in illness, — “The Playfellow.” But none of her novels or tales have, or ever had, in the eyes of good judges or in her own, any character of permanence. The artistic aim and qualifications were absent; she had no power of dramatic construction; nor the poetic inspiration on the one hand, nor critical cultivation on the other, without which no work of the imagination can be worthy to live. Two or three of her Political Economy Tales, are, perhaps, her best achievement in fiction, — her doctrine furnishing the plot which she was unable to create, and the brevity of space duly restricting the indulgence in detail which injured her longer narratives, and at last warned her to leave off writing them. It was fortunate for her that her own condemnation anticipated that of the public. To the end of her life she was subject to solicitations to write more novels and more tales; but she for the most part remained steady in her refusal. Her three volumes of “Forest and Game Law Tales” and a few stories in “Household Words,” written at the express and earnest request of Mr. Dickens, and with little satisfaction to herself, are her latest efforts in that direction.*
Her popularity was, however, something extraordinary during the appearance of her “Illustrations of Political Economy.” It was presently necessary for her to remove to London, to be within reach of the sources of information rendered indispensable by the success of her scheme and the extension of her influence. She lived in a lodging in Conduit Street for some months, till her mother joined her in London. Their house was in Fludyer Street, Westminster; and there they lived till a serious and long illness compelled Harriet Martineau to leave London, to which she never returned as a resident. On her first taking up her abode there many foolish stories were afloat about the origin of her series, and the aid she received in it from Lord Brougham and others. The facts were that the enterprise was wholly her own, and the execution of it also; and that Lord Brougham in particular knew nothing whatever about her or her work till his secretary sent him the first five numbers half a year after the publication began. His lordship’s first thought was to engage her assistance in illustrating the evils of the old poor-law and the intended provisions of the new; and her four little volumes on the poor-laws appeared during the publication of her larger work. The two years which followed her first great success were the busiest of a busy life. All advocates of all schemes applied to her for co-operation. She was plunged at once into such a social whirl that she dined out every day but Sundays. New material for her work was always accumulating on her hands; and besides the production of one number, and occasionally two, of her little volumes per month, she had an unmanageable amount of correspondence always pressing upon her. It was at that time that she formed the habit which she continued for the rest of her life, — of sitting up late, while going on to rise early. She took, on an average, five hours or five and a half of sleep, going to bed at one in the morning, and being at her breakfast at half past seven, to save the precious morning hours for her most serious business. Such was her practice, with few intervals, to the date of her last illness.
Before the publication of her work was completed she had sailed for America. At first her object was simply to travel for the sake of recreation and repose; but, at the suggestion of the late Lord Henley, she turned her face in the direction of the United States, in order to examine some points of social policy and morals, honourable to the Americans and worthy of our emulation, but generally overlooked by European travellers who go to amuse themselves and return to quiz. She hoped to learn some secrets of success in the treatment of criminals, the insane, and other unhappy classes, and in the diffusion of education. She succeeded in her aims in some measure; but the interest of the antislavery question just at that time absorbed every other. She arrived just at the culmination of that reign of terror which she described after her return in the “Westminster Review,” in the narrative entitled “The Martyr Age of the United States,” which was reprinted as a pamphlet, and by which the nature and significance of the antislavery movement in America (where it involved the entire political and personal liberty of every citizen) were first made known in this country. Harriet Martineau, received with unbounded hospitality and unmeasured flatteries, though known to have written an antislavery story in her series, was not converted to the American view, as had been hoped and expected. Under circumstances in which she had no choice but to speak out she condemned slavery and its political consequences as before; and, for some months preceding her return, she was subjected to insult and injury, and was even for some weeks in danger of her life while travelling where the tar-barrel, the cowhide, and the pistol were the regimen prescribed for and applied to abolitionists, and threatened especially in her case. In her books upon America she said little or nothing of her personal share in the critical troubles of the time, because her purpose was, not to interest the public in her adventures, but to exhibit, without passion or prejudice, the actual condition of society in the United States. Its treatment of herself is rather a topic for her Autobiography, and there, no doubt, it will be found.
After an absence of two years she returned to England in August, 1836, and early in the next spring she published “Society in America.” Her own opinion of that work changed much for the worse before her death. It was written while she was in the full flow of sympathy with the theoretical American statesmen of that time, who were all à priori political philosophers to a greater or less degree, like the framers of the Declaration of Independence. Her intercourse with these may be traced in the structure and method of observation of her book, and her companionship with the adorers of Thomas Carlyle in her style. Some constitutional lawyers of the United States have declared that there is no error in her account of the political structure and relations of the Federal and State governments of that country; and the book contains the only account we have of the condition of slavery, and of the country under it, at the time of the rise of the abolition movement. But, on the whole, the book is not a favourable specimen of Harriet Martineau’s writings, either in regard to moral or artistic taste. It is full of affectations and preachments, and it marks the highest point of the metaphysical period of her mind. Little as she valued the second work on America — “Retrospect of Western Travel” — which she wrote at the request of her publishers, to bring into use her lighter observations on scenery and manners, it was more creditable to her mood, and perhaps to her powers, than the more ambitious work. The American abolitionists, then in the early days of their action, reprinted as a pamphlet the parts of these two works which relate to the slave institutions of their country, and sowed it broadcast over the land. The virulence with which the Southern press denounces her to this day, in company with Mrs. Chapman and Mrs. Stowe, seems to show that her representations were not lost on the American public. If they are operating at the end of so many years, there must be truth in them. Though the customary dispensers of hospitality in the United States passed from the extreme of courtesy to that of rudeness to the traveller, she formed valuable friendships in that country which lasted as long as her life. Her connection with the interests of America remained a close one, and its political course was a subject of action to a late period, and of study to the last.
In the interval between her return from America and her leaving London — somewhat less than three years — she wrote “How to Observe Morals and Manners,” a volume of a series published by Mr. Knight, of which Sir Henry Delabêche’s “How to Observe Geology” was the opening volume; a few of the volumes of the “Guide to Service,” issued also by Mr. Knight; and her novel “Deerbrook.” The “Guides to Service” were originated by the Poor-law Commissioners, with the object chiefly of training the ideas of children, especially in the workhouse schools, for the occupation of their lives. Harriet Martineau agreed to write the model number, provided she might take the “Maid-of-all-Work” for her subject; which she did, with the amusing result that at various turns of her life afterwards she was met by the popular belief that she had herself been a maid-of-all-work; a mistake which she regarded with some complacency whenever she encountered it. The other volumes of the Series written by her are the “Dressmaker” (in which she had some technical assistance from a professional person), the “Housemaid,” and the “Lady’s Maid.”
On the publication of “Deerbrook,” in April, 1839, she went abroad with a party of friends, partly to escort an invalid cousin, and partly for rest and refreshment to herself. She was not aware of the extent of her own illness; and she was brought home on a couch from Venice in June, in a state of health so hopeless that she left London and settled herself at Tynemouth, on the Northumberland coast, within reach of family care and tendance. There she remained, a prisoner to the couch, till the close of 1844. During her illness she wrote her second novel (“The Hour and the Man”), the four volumes of children’s tales called “The Playfellow,” and “Life in the Sick-Room;” originating also, in concert with the present Countess of Elgin and Mr. Knight, the series since so well known as “The Weekly Volume.” Of her recovery the public heard at the time much more than she desired and approved. At the instigation of several of her friends, and especially of her medical attendant, she made trial of mesmerism, for the purpose of obtaining some release from the use of opiates. To her own surprise and that of others, the treatment procured her a release from the disease itself, from which several eminent medical men had declared recovery to be impossible. In five months she was perfectly well. Meantime, doctors and strangers in various parts of the kingdom had rushed into print, without her countenance or her knowledge; and the amount of misrepresentation and mischief soon became so great as to compel her to tell the story as it really happened. The commotion was just what might have been anticipated from the usual reception of new truths in science and the medical art. That she recovered when she ought to have died was an unpardonable offence. According to the doctors who saw her enter society again from the beginning of 1845, she was in a state of infatuation, and, being as ill as ever in reality, would sink down in six months. When, instead of so sinking down, she rode on a camel to Mount Sinai and Petra, and on horseback to Damascus, they said she had never been ill. To the charge that it had been “all imagination,” her reply was that, in that case, it was the doctor’s imagination and not hers that was involved; for they had told her, and not she them, what and how serious her illness was. To the friends who blamed her for publishing her experience before the world was ripe for it, her reply was, first, that she had no option; and next, that it is hard to see how the world is to get ripened if experimenters in new departments of natural philosophy conceal their experience. The immediate consequence of the whole business — the extension of the practice of mesmerism as a curative agent, and especially the restoration of several cases like her own — abundantly compensated Harriet Martineau for an amount of insult and ridicule which would have been a somewhat unreasonable penalty on any sin or folly which she could have committed. As a penalty on simply getting well when she was expected to die, the infliction was a curious sign of the times.
Being free to choose her place of abode, on her recovery, her friends universally supposed she would return to London and its literary advantages and enjoyments. But literature, though a precious luxury, was not, and never had been, the daily bread of her life. She felt that she could not be happy, or in the best way useful, if the declining years of her life were spent in lodgings in the morning and drawing-rooms in the evening. A quiet home of her own, and some few dependent on her for their domestic welfare, she believed to be essential to every true woman’s peace of mind; and she chose her plan of life accordingly. Meaning to live in the country, she chose the most beautiful, and settled at the Lakes. She bought a field near Ambleside, opposite Fox How, and about a mile from Rydal Mount. She built a house, and tried her hand successfully on the smallest of farms, — a farm of two acres. She set on foot some remedial schemes applicable to local mischiefs; and by degrees found herself pledged to a practice of delivering a series of lectures every winter to the mechanics of the little town and their families. She and they were so well acquainted, that there was nothing odd in this in their view, and no strangers were admitted, nor even the gentry of the place, for want of room. Her subjects were Sanitary Principles and Practice, the History of England, the History of North America, and the Scenes of her Eastern Travel. In her Ambleside home she lived for ten years of health and of happiness, which, as she was wont to say, was worth all the rest of her life.
At various times since 1832 she had been sounded about accepting a pension on the Civil List; and she had repeatedly replied by objecting to receive one. Her objections remained in full force when Lord Melbourne made an express offer to her of a pension of £150, to be increased as circumstances permitted, as his last act before going out of power in 1841. Lord Melbourne was aware that she had invested her spare earnings in a deferred annuity, and that while hopelessly ill she was very poor. Her objections, however, bore no relation to this class of considerations. Her letter to Lord Melbourne found its way into the newspapers without her knowledge, and it speaks for itself. Not the less for this was she misunderstood. Nothing was further from her thoughts than passing condemnation on the literary pensioners of the time. They must judge for themselves, and their position was different. It was a matter of feeling with her quite as much as of principle; and she would have thankfully received any acknowledgment of past labours which might have been decreed, otherwise than through a method of favouritism. She felt that, once under pecuniary obligation to the sovereign and the minister, she could never again feel perfectly free on political questions, though Lord Melbourne generously deprecated any such conclusion. As it happened, she did very well without the money, and she wrote the “History of the Thirty Years’ Peace,” which she could hardly have done while in receipt of a pension.
This, the bulkiest of her works and the most laborious, was undertaken at the request of Mr. Charles Knight, who had himself written the first few chapters, then deputed the work to another, and presently found it at a stand. Harriet Martineau had no idea whatever whether she could write history; but, on Mr. Knight’s pressing his request, she went to work in August, 1848, and completed the work (after an interval of a few weeks) in the autumn of 1849. The introductory volume was written in 1850, also at Mr. Knight’s solicitation. Without taking the chronicle form this history could not, from the nature of the case, be cast in the ultimate form of perfected history. All that can be done with contemporary history is to collect and methodize the greatest amount of reliable facts and distinct impressions, to amass sound material for the veritable historian of a future day, — so consolidating, assimilating, and vivifying the structure as to do for the future writer precisely that which the lapse of time and the oblivion which creeps over all transactions must prevent his doing for himself. This auxiliary usefulness is the aim of Harriet Martineau’s history; and she was probably not mistaken in hoping for that much result from her labour. It rendered her a personal service which she had not anticipated. There was an impression abroad of her being a sort of demagogue or dangerous Radical, though it is hard to say which of her writings could have originated such an impression. The history dispelled it thoroughly; and if it proved that she belonged to no party, it showed that it was not because she transcended the extremes of all.
The work which she published on her return from her Eastern travels, which she enjoyed as the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Richard V. Yates, of Liverpool, had shown that she was no longer a Unitarian nor a believer in revelation at all. “Eastern Life, Present and Past,” exhibits the history and generation of the four great faiths — the Egyptian, the Jewish, the Christian, and the Mohammedan — as they appear when their birthplaces are visited in succession. She had passed from the Nile to Sinai; and thence to Jerusalem, Damascus, and Lebanon. The work in which she gave out her views on her return ranks, on the whole, as the best of her writings; and her reputation assumed a new, a graver, and a broader character after its appearance. It was followed in 1851 by a volume which, though not for the most part written by her, was of her procuring and devising. She took the reponsibility of the “Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development,” which were for the greater part written by her friend, Mr. Atkinson, in reply to the short letters of her own which occupy a small proportion of the book. This book brought upon its writers, as was inevitable, the imputation of atheism from the multitude who cannot distinguish between the popular and the philosophical sense of the word, — between the disbelief in the popular theology which has caused a long series of religious men to be called atheists, and the disbelief in a First Cause, — a disbelief which is expressly disclaimed in the book. A full account of Harriet Martineau’s faith and philosophy will of course be found in her forthcoming Autobiography, where it is more in place than here. As to the consequences of such an expression of them, they were somewhat different from what might have been expected. The reception of the volume disclosed some curious social facts, revealing to its authors an altogether unexpected proportion between the receivers and repudiators of dogmatic theology in this country. What is called “the entire periodical press” condemned the book, without, however, in any one case meeting its argument or recognizing its main subject; and yet was it excellently received and widely sympathized with. Every body supposed that its authors would be ruined, excluded from society, stopped in their work, and so forth. But the actual result was that this open avowal of heretical opinion made all the relations of life sounder than they had ever been. As Harriet Martineau declared, it dissolved all false relations and confirmed all true ones. At no time of her life was she more occupied, more prosperous, so cheered by sympathy, or so thoroughly happy, as during the interval between the publication of that book and the close of her labours.
Besides some small works, such as “Guides to the Lakes,” it remained for her to bring out two of more general importance, — her volume on “Household Education,” which is more popular than almost any of her works, and her condensation of Comte’s “Positive Philosophy.” The story of the intention and achievement of that work is told in its prefaces. Begun in 1852, it occupied the greater part of the year 1853, and appeared in November of that year. It was her last considerable work; and there is no other, perhaps, which so well manifests the real character of her ability and proper direction of her influence, — as far as each went. Her original power was nothing more than was due to earnestness and intellectual clearness within a certain range. With small imaginative and suggestive powers, and therefore nothing approaching to genius, she could see clearly what she did see, and give a clear expression to what she had to say. In short, she could popularize, while she could neither discover nor invent. She could sympathize in other people’s views, and was too facile in doing so; and she could obtain and keep a firm grasp of her own, and, moreover, she could make them understood. The function of her life was to do this, and, in as far as it was done diligently and honestly, her life was of use, however far its achievements may have fallen short of expectations less moderate than her own. Her duties and her business were sufficient for the peace and the desires of her mind. She saw the human race, as she believed, advancing under the law of progress; she enjoyed her share of the experience, and had no ambition for a larger endowment, or reluctance or anxiety about leaving the enjoyment of such as she had.
From the early part of 1852 she had contributed largely to the “Daily News,” and her “Letters from Ireland” in the summer of that year were written for this paper. As her other works left her hands the connection with the paper became closer, and it was never interrupted except for a few months at the beginning of her last illness, when all her strength was needed for her Autobiography. When she had finished that task she had the work printed, and the engravings prepared for it under her own supervision, partly to avoid delay in its appearance (because any good that it could do would be best done immediately after her death), but chiefly to spare her executors all responsibility about publishing whatever may be found in the Memoir. Her last illness was a time of quiet enjoyment to her, soothed as it was by family and social love, and care, and sympathy, and, except for one heart-grief, — the loss in 1864 of her niece Maria, who was to her as a daughter, — free from anxiety of every kind, and amused by the constant interest of regarding life and its affairs from the verge of the horizon of existence. Her disease was deterioration and enlargement of the heart, the fatal character of which was discovered in January, 1855. She declined throughout that and subsequent years, and died —
— And died in the summer sunset of her home amid the Westmoreland mountains, on the 27th of June, 1876, after twenty-one more diligent, devoted, suffering, joyful years, — attended by the family friends she most loved, and in possession of all her mental powers up to the last expiring day; aged seventy-four years.
If, instead of dying so slowly, she had died as she could have wished and thought to have done, without delay, what a treasure of wise counsels, what a radiance of noble deeds, what a spirit of love and of power, what brave victorious battle to the latest hour for all things good and true, had been lost to posterity! What an example of more than resignation, of that ready, glad acceptance of a lingering and painful death which made the sight a blessing to every witness, had been lost to the surviving generation!
During all the last one-and-twenty years death was the idea most familiar and most welcome. It was spoken of and provided for with an easy freedom that I never saw approached in any other home, yet she never expressed a wish respecting a place of burial. But a few days before her death, when asked if she would be laid in the burial-place of her family, she assented; and she lies with her kindred, in the old cemetery at Birmingham.
The grave bears this record: —
widow of the late
Mr THOMAS MARTINEAU
Born October 8th 1771
Died August 26th 1848
also her grand-daughter
Daughter of ROBERT and JANE MARTINEAU
Born August 27th 1827
Died February 29th 1864
Born at Norwich August 19th 1798
Died at Edgbaston June 17th 1870
Born June 6th 1793
Died March 20th 1874
THOMAS and ELIZABETH MARTINEAU
Born at Norwich June 12th 1802
Died at Ambleside June 27th 1876
[* ]After the above was in the drawer of the “Daily News” office, she wrote some historical fiction for “Once a Week” against her own judgment, and only to gratify Mr. Evans and Mr. Lucas, the proprietor and editor of “Once a Week.”