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SURVIVORSHIP. - 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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Painful as blame was to Harriet Martineau, eulogy was more distasteful still. Truth will not, however, allow all omission of the general expression of high estimation which found utterance at her death. Admiration has been called the disease of biographers; but in a case like this, where the disease would be not to admire, it is of happy augury to find a healthful appreciation in the world at large, that she has so signally served. But the first place belongs to the personal friends by whom she was so reverenced and beloved.
Mr. Garrison writes as follows to Mrs. Chapman: —
“. . . . Yes, since you desire it, make any use of my letter to Miss Jane Martineau that you may think proper, though the tribute contained therein to her aunt is all too brief, and wholly inadequate. I have no copy of what I wrote; but if you deem it right and fitting, it will give me pleasure to see it in print, whether in whole or in part, in connection with other testimonies.
“Enclosed is my last letter from Harriet Martineau. You will see by the date that it was written but a comparatively few days before her translation; and was probably, therefore, one of her very latest efforts at writing. How serene and prophetic is the sentence, ‘My departure is evidently near’! How kind and sympathetic the expression of her feelings in view of my own bereavement! This letter is so exceptional in its purport, containing nothing she would object to any one seeing or reading, that I think you may feel entire liberty in the use of it. It reveals her tender, womanly nature to the last; and shows with what calmness she contemplated her speedy dissolution. Nay, what had she to apprehend?”
His letter to Miss Jane Martineau, which Mr. Garrison gives permission to print, is as follows: —
Boston, July 4, 1876.
Dear Miss Martineau, —
On returning home recently from a visit to our great Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia, I found a letter from your estimable aunt, dated May 30, acknowledging the receipt of a little memorial volume from me, pertaining to the death of my dearly beloved wife, and expressing the tenderest sympathy and the kindest personal regard, and concluding as follows: “I can say no more. My departure is evidently near, and I hold the pen with difficulty. Accept the reverent blessing of your old friend, Harriet Martineau.” Gratified as I was to receive that last precious token of her affectionate remembrance, I felt to regret that she should have made the effort to write it, as I had long been aware of her great physical prostration, and, in consequence, neither anticipated nor desired any such acknowledgment, needing no assurance of her heartfelt sympathy in my stricken condition. But though she referred to the time of her own departure as near at hand, she had been so long apparently “hovering on the brink,” and her handwriting was so firm and legible, I did not feel specially apprehensive in regard to her case, but hoped her prophetic impression might prove erroneous. To my grief, if not surprise, just as I was preparing to send her my thanks and best wishes, a telegraphic announcement of her decease appeared in our daily newspapers, but giving no particulars.
As was said of old, “Know ye not that a great man and a prince has this day fallen in Israel?” so it may be asked with equal emphasis in her case, “Know ye not that one of the noblest women of the earth has passed away?” Indeed, the civilized world will need no such interrogation; for the fame of her literary genius, her philosophic grasp of mind, her politico-economical insight, her statesmanlike sagacity, her solid understanding and well-balanced faculties, her world-embracing sympathy with suffering humanity, her fearless advocacy of the right against popular opinion, her comprehensive and varied knowledge, her untrammelled utterance of her honest convictions however deemed or denounced as heretical, has long since “rung from side to side.” Never shall I cease to remember with gratitude and admiration the sublime exemplification of her great character when she was in this country in the year 1835, the most odious and the most perilous period of the antislavery struggle, when any sympathy evinced for it, no matter how distinguished the sympathizer, was sure to be followed by social ostracism and public contempt. She might have plausibly pursued a non-committal policy on the ground that she was a transient visitor from a foreign land, and it was a matter that was so interwoven with the politics and religion of the country, nay, with the very structure of the American Union itself, that it did not become her to meddle therewith; but it was impossible for a soul like hers to resort to any such subterfuge. She met the issue modestly, bravely, uncompromisingly. What it cost her for the time being you well know. But the service she rendered to the antislavery cause was inestimable.
I am under the deepest obligations to her for the steadfast countenance she gave to me in that dark hour, and the unfaltering friendship with which she honoured me to the close of her remarkable life.
Yours in deepest sympathy,
WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON.
This is the Centennial Anniversary of American Independence. Would that our career had been more worthy of us!
LETTER FROM MISS NIGHTINGALE TO MISS JANE S. MARTINEAU.
June 29, 1876.
Dear Miss Martineau, —
The shock of your tidings to me of course was great; but O, I feel how delightful the surprise to her! How much she must know now, how much she must have enjoyed already!
I do not know what your opinions are about this; I know what hers were, and for a long time I have thought how great will be the surprise to her, — a glorious surprise.
She served the Right, that is, God, all her life. How few of those who cry “Lord, Lord,” served the Lord so well and so wisely! — Joy to thee, happy soul! She served the truth and the good, and worshipped them! — now they bear her on to higher and better fields. So above all petty calculations, all paltry wranglings! — now she is gone on her way to infinite purity.
We give her joy: it is our loss, not hers. She is gone to our Lord and her Lord. Made ripe for her and our Father’s house: our tears are her joy. She bids us now give thanks for her. She is in another room of our Father’s house.
Think of that Tuesday night when she rose again: — O, who could wish her back?
If you only knew how much I feel for you! but there is much to comfort you. A noble woman. Our Father arranged her life and her death. Is it well with the child? It is well. Thanks for her message. Keep the little paper if you have a mind. I shall like to think of it in your hands.* I was writing, if it ever gets done, upon the Zemindar and Ryot question in India. I had quoted from her. I thought with pleasure of her reading my tribute, which was to have been finished eighteen months ago. It was impossible.
But I do not grudge her to God.
Yours in deepest sympathy and “Aunt Ellen’s” too, if I may.
I have thought of “The Hour and the Man” as the finest historical romance in any language. You would wonder if you knew how often I have read it over and over again, even in the last two years.
The next letter is from Mrs. Andrews — the “Martha” referred to under the preceding head, “Home and Service” — to Miss Jane S. Martineau.
My dear, dear Miss Jane, —
It is with deep feeling I pen these lines to you. . . . . I feel so very glad you were there. This is a sad event; for though the desire of that dear one was to be freed from suffering, yet it is sad for us after all. Such a change! no more voice to speak to us, or to feel that she enters into one’s trouble. All is over. She was a wonderful woman. With all her suffering she never forgot those who loved her and needed sympathy. . . . . I shall hope to see you some day. There is a kind of bond that seems to bind me to those who were dear to Mrs. Martineau, you and Miss Susan particularly. . . . .
Ever gratefully yours,
And again Mrs. Andrews says: —
Many thanks for sending me this sad news. It would be quite wrong to have wished this dear one to remain here in suffering. We cannot but rejoice so far as she is concerned. Still I cannot tell you how full my heart is, and what blank I feel now that one of my dearest and best friends is no more. I cannot say much, — I do feel it very much. Though I was looking by every post for the news, yet when it did come I felt all my spirit fail. I think of all her kind love for me and my family; for it will now soon be twenty-nine years since I first saw her. The gap is not easily filled up. But I feel so comforted and glad that you have been well enough to be there with her to the last. I have thought so much of you, knowing your anxiety, and have been with this dear one in spirit. . . . .
Ever yours most gratefully,
Her maid at the time of her death wrote the annexed note to Miss Susan Martineau, her niece.
Ambleside, July 2, 1876.
My dear Miss Susan, —
I wish I could write as I feel. I do feel that it has been a privilege to be with such a noble woman, and I have been taught many lessons which I trust are not lost; but the first wish and feeling is, that I might have done more for her, after all her kindness and goodness to me. I shall never cease to be thankful that I was here at this time. Her kindness will never be forgotten.
To-day the rooms and the house feel very strange, and I find myself beginning to do things that need not be done. . . . .
I am ever gratefully and respectfully yours,
Marianne’s father writes: —
Dear Madam, —
A short time before the receipt of your kind letter of yesterday I was startled to read of the death of our dear Mrs. Martineau, in our local paper; and now that her sufferings are over, it must be said that one of the best and wisest of women has departed for her never-ending rest.
I am so pleased that my daughter has stayed and been able to give satisfaction to her late mistress and her household. Your kind remarks concerning her I am deeply thankful for, and shall cherish them in my memory as better than gold.
I hope you will be able to bear your great loss without undue injury to your health, and hope you may live as long and useful a life as your dear aunt. . . . .
In conclusion, I have but to offer you the sincere condolence of my wife and myself.
In reply to my request to Lady Strangford that she would give me permission to print a letter of hers, she says: —
. . . . Your letter meets me on my way to Constantinople. I do not in the least remember any thing that I said in the one you allude to, but I wrote from my heart, and if it suits your wishes to publish it, you are welcome to do so.
Yours in great haste,
Lady Strangford and her sister, Miss Beaufort, daughters of Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort, made so well known to us Americans in “The Biographical Sketches,” write thus to Miss Jane Martineau: —
Dear Miss Martineau, —
Only one line — not to intrude upon your great sorrow, but to express my own deep feeling of the loss. Although I did not hope ever to see her again, yet the knowledge that she was there at Ambleside, still with us, in full human sympathy, with the ever-bright feeling and the ever-warm heart, was a reality which took the place of seeing her. But I seem now to have lost the last bit of my childhood in the knowledge that she too is gone. I know you are glad that the weariness and suffering are over, — “peace after battle,” — and we hope, while some of us believe, “night does end in day.” I wish I could have seen her more, but the feeling was a part of myself; and I do not suppose I ever knew the day when I did not wish to resemble her. I am very thankful to have had her; and I do not believe the like of her comes in one, or indeed in many centuries. The world may not historically realize what she has done for it, but her work is not the less for that; and now and then, in future times, historians will be surprised into finding the root of many after-growths in her hand.
In the terrible blank to you I feel the deepest sympathy and compassion.
Yours very truly,
June 29, 1876.
Dear Miss Martineau, —
Till it has actually occurred, we cannot realize the grief or the final separation from the dear friend and companion whose love and whose interest have made life what it is to us; and the utter loneliness of the remaining years makes life seem at first really unbearable.
What a wonderful record of work and energy and talent is that which appears in the long and interesting notice of the “Times” this morning! . . . .
I am expecting my dear brother Francis and his wife, after thirty-nine years in India! I feel sure that he is bringing back the same sweet, loving disposition as of old; and it will be so great a pleasure to renew acquaintance, even though he may have been living in a very different groove of thought and feeling. I suppose we have grown old enough and wise enough to allow liberty and latitude to each other’s opinions. It is only the youthfully enthusiastic or the very narrow minded who imagine the truth to be only in one point or on one line. . . . .
Believe me, with much sympathy,
ROSAMOND E. BEAUFORT.
Miss Nightingale’s letter in reply to my request that she would allow the publication of the one previously given, — which so nobly indicates the way to harmonize in life all difference of belief, — is as follows: —
September 29, 1876.
Dear Madam, —
I was glad when I heard that you were to complete Harriet Martineau’s book. Who could better understand her?
She was born to be a destroyer of slavery, in whatever form, in whatever place, all over the world, wherever she saw or thought she saw it.
The thought actually inspired her: whether in the degraded offspring of former English poor-law, of English serfdom forty years ago, — in any shape; whether in the fruits of any abuse, — social, legislative, or administrative, — or in actual slavery; or be it in Contagious Diseases Acts, or no matter what, she rose to the occasion.
I think, contradictory as it may seem, she had the truest and deepest religious feeling I have ever known. How this comes out, with her finest expression, in “Deerbrook;” in “The Hour and the Man,” which one can scarce refrain from thinking the greatest of historical romances; the central figure so sustained in the highest spirit, from first to last, — for example, Toussaint’s escape from the Spanish camp, and the shower of white amaryllis cast over him by his own negroes as he rides away; all concerning his prison and death (chapters “Almost Free” and “Free”), — that grand conception of the last thoughts of a dying deliverer reaching its highest flight.
Then in her “Eastern Life,” and in many parts of her Illustrations of Political Economy, — for example, the death of a poor drinking-woman, “Mrs. Kay,” — what higher religious feeling (or one should rather say instinct) could there be? To the last her religious feeling, — in the sense of good working out of evil, into a supreme wisdom penetrating and moulding the whole universe; — into the natural subordination of intellect and intellectual purposes and of intellectual self to purposes of good, even were these merely the small purposes of social or domestic life.
All this, which supposes something without ourselves, higher and deeper and better than ourselves and more permanent, that is, eternal, was so strong in her, — so strong that one could scarcely explain her (apparently only) losing sight of that supreme Wisdom and Goodness in her later years.
But through the other strong spring of her life, her abhorrence of any kind of bondage, did she not misinterpret the frequent (undoubted) servitude imposed by so-called religion on so many noble souls as something essential to it, instead of finding the only source of real freedom in a truer religion?
Was it not her chivalry which led her to say what she knew would bring obloquy, because she thought no one else would say it?
But why say this to you, — you who knew her so well!
O, how she must be unfolding now in the presence of that supreme Goodness and Wisdom before which she is not “ashamed,” and who must welcome her as one of his truest servants!
I thought I had not a moment of time when I began to answer your letter, and now I must ask your pardon for this hasty answer to your desire; to which I can only say, that I do not remember what I wrote to Miss Jane Martineau. Whatever it was, I am sure it fell miserably short of the subject.
I have a great dislike to private letters being published; at the same time I must leave it to your judgment; and I would never let my poor little dislikes interfere with any thing you judged likely, though in the least degree, to contribute towards throwing light on the character of our noble friend (or the hour of a great life’s ending), in whose name I am proud to be,
Yours most sincerely,
FROM MISS CONSTANCE MARTINEAU TO HER COUSIN.
Dear Jane, —
I must write once more before you sail, to thank you for your kind note, and wish you good-speed on your voyage.
You ask if any thing particular occurs to me that should be told to Mrs. Chapman about Cousin Harriet’s last days. I think what struck me most in that last visit was her strong sense of duty, and her thoughtfulness for others to the last. It was that which made her persevere in coming down stairs after it had become a painful effort. She thought it would make her room more wholesome for Marianne. And it was from a sense of duty that she exerted herself to rise to have her bed made when we thought she was too weak for it; and she was always so anxious lest we should not have sufficient rest. And she seemed to feel it such a comfort that there would now, after her death, be nothing to stand in the way of Marianne’s marriage.
With many good wishes for your voyage,
Believe me, dear Jane,
Your affectionate cousin,
FROM MRS. SAMUEL BROWN.
Dear Mrs. Chapman, —
I wish (but it would require a readier pen than mine) that I could tell you all that Harriet Martineau was to my husband, and to me and my children since his death. Her loving remembrance of him remained bright and unchanged to the last, and she often told me how much she valued his letters. I need not tell you of our unbroken intercourse during the last twenty years. She was more than a sister to me; — sharing all my cares and anxieties, and encouraging me in all my difficulties. A more generous-hearted friend never lived. You know all this and more.
Accept the assurance of my most loving sympathy and respect.
Ever faithfully yours,
In writing to her niece, her early and beloved friend, Mrs. Ker, whose intimacy forbade free mention of her in the Autobiography, calls back the memory of “her girlish figure, when she used to come to me from Conduit Street and Fludyer Street in those first London days, . . . . and I knew her before she came to London.”
I doubt whether any one then knew her as I did, or could enter into all her tenderness and her susceptible feeling. . . . . I doubt whether she ever went to any one as she did to me, weary and sad and needing to be comforted. . . . .
I doubt whether in her own family they knew how merry she could be; how well she told laughable stories, and how much she liked to hear them.
Mr. Rogers said one day that hers was “the freshest laugh you could hear out of a nursery.” . . . .
I used to admire, always, how she refrained from questioning, eager as she was to learn all that was going on around her. When asked, “Why do you not inquire what was said,” she always replied, “I trust to be told, if it is worth repeating.” . . . . I only remember once her asking what was said, and it was so surprising to me that I inquired why she asked. We were a merry party, my young sisters and myself, sitting round the table after dinner, and her elastic tube flying about rapidly from one to the other. “Why,” said she, “your laugh was so joyous, and Fanny’s face so full of fun without malice, that it was irresistible.”
I regret infinitely that she desired all her letters to be destroyed. I had so large a boxful that it took some time to read and burn them. They would have been worth much to you, as you may guess when I tell you that on reading that most charming of all her publications, “Life in the Sick-Room,” about which there is but one opinion, I said, “O, but I have read it all before! — this is only my burnt letters!” And these were only the letters from Tynemouth. I had abundance of others. . . . . I see her before me in so many aspects, I could go on long.
Yours always affectionately,
ELIZABETH B. KER.
One whom Harriet Martineau had known early in his life and intimately, James Payn, the poet and novelist, wrote so appreciative a notice at her death, that he received grateful acknowledgment from surviving friends. Subjoined is his reply, addressed to her niece.
Dear Miss Martineau, —
. . . . I have known all the famous women of our own time, or about all, and I think that, taking her character all round, your aunt was the greatest among them. The side of her character which I wished to dwell upon as having been overlooked in the notices of her life was her motherliness, and her keen sense of fun. . . . .
The extract she gives in the Autobiography of the description of Ambleside (out of “Chambers’s Journal”) was written by me, — the first article I ever contributed to a periodical. She introduced me to the “Westminster Review” at once, and, I being a poet in those days, gave me “the Ballads of the People” for a subject. Alas, how many, many years that is ago! I have still the letter I received from her on the appearance of “Lost Sir Massingberd,” a criticism that I value beyond whole sheaves of newspaper reviews. . . . .
Believe me to be
Again, he says, —
“No more gentle, kindly, and, if I may say so, ‘motherly’ nature ever existed than that of Harriet Martineau. She delighted in children, and in the friendship of good wives and mothers; one of her chief virtues, indeed, was a simple domesticity, that gave her a wonderful charm with those who prefer true gentlewomen to literary lionesses.”
Her old and long-tried friend, Mrs. Knight, — the widow of that Charles Knight of whom she so often said, “Literature owes him a statue,” — exclaims in a brief expression of sympathy to her niece, Miss Jane Martineau, —
“What a wonderful, noble woman you have had the honour of calling aunt, and I friend!”
Her and my dear friend, Mrs. Henry Turner of Nottingham, says, —
“How truly characteristic is the autobiography in the ‘Daily News,’ — in that confidingness with which she so often addressed the public as a band of friends! . . . . My individual loss is great. Every word of hers appeals to the lifelong interchange of thoughts which have quickened and animated me through past years.
“The Rev. Mr. Armstrong preached a funeral sermon which I heard, and I learn there have been others in Norwich, in Hope Street, and in Birmingham.”
Miss Napier, of that family of Paladins whom “The Biographical Sketches” have presented to the world as when they lived, says, —
“My memory wanders over the fifteen years that I have been a resident in this district, and the various incidents of that unbroken chain of kindly intercourse between her and myself, with grateful and tender affection. Whether illness or infirmity prevented our meeting, it made no difference, and I cannot accustom myself to the thought that she is no longer in that well-known room and chair. I miss her from the valley; and I shall long miss the interest of her respected presence and the kindly affectionate messages, or little notes, and the cordial sympathy in the events of my own life, which never failed.
“I think of her long, benevolent life; the noble work done in two hemispheres; the active energy, despite of suffering; the bright intellect; the unwearied patience and consideration for others; the warm and devoted affection inspired in relations, attendants, and friends; — and what must be the blank to you all!”
To Lady Charlotte Clarke, to whom she had expressed her dread of outliving her mental vigour, the news of her death in full use of all her faculties till the last day came with a sense of consolation. She told of the remarkably excellent appreciation of that well-known life by the “Aberdeen Free Press,” and recognized every trait of severe impartiality in the autobiographic memoir (placed in the preceding pages under the head of Self-Estimate). “I see how she enjoyed writing of H. M.’s shortcomings, — imagined only by herself. I shall never forget her, nor all the kindness she showed me from a child.”
It would be in vain to try to note all those who say, “I have lost my best and truest friend;” their name is legion.
But her friend Elizabeth Pease Nichol, devoted like herself to the antislavery cause and to the cause of national purity, cannot but be listened to with grateful love while she speaks to the survivors of the uniting bond of a common sorrow.
She will long be mourned, not merely by those who knew her personally, but by numbers who never saw her face, numbers who knew her only by her writings and the savour of her noble spirit; by those — and they are not a few — who, whilst admiring her rare intellectual gifts, honoured her most for her moral heroism, her worldwide sympathies, her abhorrence of oppression in all its forms, and her fearless sincerity in the expression of opinions and convictions which she knew would detract from and not increase her popularity. But how true to herself! — and to uphold what she believed to be the truth far outweighed in her estimation the applause of the world.
And not least is the loss sustained by the workers in the several questions of the day, those especially bearing on her own sex, to whom the aid of her influence and of her pen, as long as she was able to use it, were so fully given, while her interest and sympathy cheered and encouraged them in their up-hill labours.
But why do I say all this to one who knows it all? Simply because it seems impossible to withhold the thoughts that rise in the contemplation of a character so truly noble.
Though my aim in taking the pen was merely to tell you how truly my sympathy is yours, yet now I feel how great a privilege I esteem yours to have been, to have corresponded with our departed friend in the stirring days of the antislavery struggle. It is long since I saw her, but I have regularly heard of her through a friend of us both, by whose means (in relation to a case of suffering in which H. M. was interested) there was a renewal of our correspondence. How I treasure those letters now!
Excuse me for writing at such length, and believe me always Sincerely yours,
ELIZABETH PEASE NICHOL.
A letter from the Countess of Elgin, her so highly valued friend of thirty years, tells me of their long friendship, — one inherited from her parents, originating in the high mutual respect for character and public services which Lord and Lady Durham and Harriet Martineau entertained for each other, which she continued in unremitting sympathy and affection to their daughter, when Lord and Lady Durham died: “A touching example of the affectionate, true-hearted side of her high mind and character which added so great a charm to the more entirely intellectual view of it.”
Lady Elgin’s last note from her was written in March, 1876, to console her friend after the death of the lamented Lady Augusta Stanley.
To Dean Stanley, too, she was a friend of many years, and he speaks most feelingly of his “faithful and tender remembrance of her kindness to him always increasing in these later days.”
FROM MR. ATKINSON TO MRS. CHAPMAN.
Boulogne, August 11, 1876.
My dear Mrs. Chapman, —
I have copied the last letter I received from our friend, about a month before she died, expressing her sentiments and feelings in respect to death; and, astonishing to say that, notwithstanding the cramp in the hands, the writing never was better, — and better than it had been for a very long time; as though her great desire to express herself clearly had for the time revived her strength; and I think you will like to insert the whole letter, to show under what circumstances it was written, — that is to say, in the certainty that death was close at hand. . . . .
That supreme common-sense of hers was manifest in all she said and all she did.
Proud, I think she was, but not in the least vain; and the pride was rather the consciousness of power, and the unconscious sense, so to speak, of absolute rectitude and truthfulness, and in the love of truth before all things. And her absolute truthfulness we see in the autobiographic article in the “Daily News;” and how modestly she estimated her own abilities and position. The clear, quick apprehension of the nature and merits of a question was her strong point, and she never talked or wrote of what she did not understand, and saw at once how to make a difficult matter intelligible to others. Hence her clearness, with broad daylight over all she wrote, not obscured by the coloured glass of pantheistic mysticism. . . . . Of all one thinks, of all one feels, and of all one has, how little is permanent and important. No doubt a discovery is something, but some one else would have found it out in due course; and the right is generally disputed, and being first is no more merit than being first born. There is only one greatness, — the sense of one’s own littleness; as of Socrates proclaiming his, and Newton the little he had done, with the vast ocean of truth undiscovered before him.
The oracle had proclaimed Socrates to be the wisest of men, which he could only understand in the fact that all men were ignorant without knowing it, but that he, also being ignorant, knew that he was so.
You wonder to what present purpose this tends: to much, — the greatness of our friend in the low estimate of her abilities and position. It was not modesty nor humility, but power over self, — supreme common-sense. . . . .
Though she apprehended things so clearly, and wrote so clearly on all matters she had given her attention to, and though to observe, acquire, demonstrate, and illustrate was her very special ability, she had plenty of thoughts of her own and a rich storehouse and treasury of matured judgment. To be useful was her great aim. She never referred much to the poets nor indulged much in quotation; not like Basil Montague, who used continually to say, “I will tell you, Atkinson, who has said that best.” . . . . It is a fine thing to be in a fog and see your own shadow cast before you; or in the night, imagining some fear, how easily is a bust supposed a bear! But our friend knew that by truth we are rid of fog and fear. . . . .
Believe me, with the highest estimation,
HENRY G. ATKINSON.
EXTRACTS FROM LETTERS OF MR. ATKINSON.
Dear Mrs. Chapman,—
A lady said the other day at the dinner here, “I always heard that Miss Martineau was insane, and her leaving her skull and brain to some one confirms it.” I replied, “Madam, it was a noble sacrifice of feeling for the cause of science, — which means the good of mankind; and it was an act that few are equal to, and an ordinary person cannot appreciate.” Silence.
(By the way, Democritus was supposed insane for trying to discover the cause of insanity in dead bodies; now every one does it.)
I ought to say that this bequest was her own thought, in consequence of our interest in phrenology, and my discoveries in relation to the functions of the brain by isolating the action of the parts in mesmeric experiments. It was also to see if the brain indicated the fact of her having no sense of taste or smell; as also in regard to her deafness. . . . . I went with Harriet Martineau to consult Mr. Toinbee, the great man for ear-knowledge; and he said, in reference to her deafness, that he would give any thing to be able to examine that ear. “Well,” said Harriet Martineau, “I shall leave my skull and brain to Mr. Atkinson, who will, I am sure, give you the opportunity.”
Mr. Toinbee is long since dead, with the others who would have helped me. Alone, and living at so great a distance, what could I do? Otherwise I should have acted in the case. But all these changes showed the need of a different disposition, and at my request she made it. The example remains. . . . . The size of her head indicated nothing remarkable, if Mr. George Combe’s theory be accepted; for the forehead was neither broad nor high; and this shows how much more tone and quality have to do in the matter than quantity. . . . .
. . . . You will not, I suppose, consider these abnormal conditions [referring to the mesmeric treatment by Mrs. —] as properly a subject of biography; but one of her sayings under mesmeric influence has been singularly fulfilled: “I shall become an apostle of pain.”
And such she has been during those long years of suffering, — significant of unexampled fortitude and endurance.
Mr. Bray, a philosophical writer of some repute, said to me, “Do you think Miss Martineau the foremost woman of her time?” “Yes; decidedly. She has done more to spread useful truth than any other woman ever did, perhaps. She has greatly assisted in the higher education of half a century. She was always a little in advance of the public opinion of the day, and as she wrote clearly, the public would follow her.”
There is a sense in which whoever teaches us any thing may be called our master. If any one in this sense was hers, I should have said it was Malthus. But she was herself a master mind, and sat at the feet of no one.
The European press was unanimous in admiration and regret. “Le Bulletin Continental” and the “Kolnische Zeitung” on the Continent, and in England the “Times” and the “Daily News,” and innumerable others, alike gave full and appreciative accounts of her life and writings.
The “London Leader” and the “Aberdeen Journal” were eminently just and true. The “Shield,” an organ of the association in behalf of national purity, publishes the following article:—
“By far the greater number of the women who commenced the public agitation of our question at that time acted less from deliberately reasoned conviction of national peril than from a sudden impulse of outraged womanly dignity, or of Christian mercy; and by far the greater number of the men who then rallied round them were roused to support them by a similar impulse of outraged justice, or by a chivalrous sympathy with the brave women who thus sprang to the van in defence of their helpless and suffering sisters. Very few of them in any way realized the tremendous issues involved in the question, Shall the state sanction and protect prostitution? — or dreamed that in agitating, as they then believed, simply for the repeal of a cruel and indecent law, they were bringing to a crisis the whole question of the enslavement of the weak to the lust of the strong. Mrs. Martineau, however, appears to have fully realized the gravity of the situation from the very beginning. The few friends who had the privilege of seeing her at that time, and the larger circle with whom she corresponded, well know how intensely she felt the importance of the crisis, and with what eager eloquence she tried to awaken all her friends to a sense of the danger. She startled them by saying that in the whole history of our country no such moral and social crisis, nor any thing approaching to it, had been gone through. She foresaw that victory in the end was certain, but that in the meantime the battle would be fierce. She did not wish that repeal should come quietly, through the action of the government, for she regarded moral and political grounds as the only sure basis. So the growth of popular interest in the question — the gradual awakening of the national conscience — gave her keen pleasure. She foresaw that when the question was understood repeal would be demanded by the healthy moral instincts of the people. But in the meantime anxiety about what she used to call the gravest crisis which ever befell the moral life of England preyed upon her. The horrors of the subject aggravated the miseries of her illness. The writing and thinking and feeling were often too much for her.
“With all this painful effect of the agitation on her, it is pleasant to be able to mention one circumstance which was a source of unmixed gratification to her. We allude to her friendship with Mrs. Butler. Her admiration of ‘The Constitution Violated’ was unbounded; she regarded its appearance as an important event, not merely in our agitation, but of the century. The two illustrious ladies met face to face only for a short time, but it was long enough to invest the friendship, which had been begun by correspondence, with the tender charm of personal affection.
“Her interest in the cause never flagged. Her nephew informs us that the last periodicals that Harriet Martineau continued reading regularly were the ‘Nation’ (America), the ‘National Education League Paper,’ and — we are proud to add — the ‘Shield’; and even after her power of fully keeping up with the literature of the subject ceased, she was always deeply interested in hearing in conversation the progress of our movement. We may mention, as a touching illustration of this interest, that her last finished piece of wool-work (her great relaxation) was the top of an ottoman, which is being made up, and is promised to Mrs. Butler for sale, the proceeds to go to the service of our cause.
“Mrs. Butler writes to us from abroad, saying:—
“ ‘I wish I were at home, to send you some extracts from Harriet Martineau’s wonderfully powerful and beautiful letters to me on our question. Surely I might quote them now! I have only one with me, — the last, — full of vigour and hope about our cause, and of sympathy with the men and women who are working in it. After many shrewd remarks showing her characteristic scorn of some of the miserable arguments used to support the evil system, she suddenly breaks off with these touching words, — the last she wrote to me, — “But it is getting dark, and I am tired, so farewell, beloved friend. Yours to the end, Harriet Martineau.” ’
“To the end! Faithful to the end to the cause of liberty, justice, and purity, faithful to the end to the cause of the white slaves of Europe as she had been faithful to the cause of the black slaves of America, so died Harriet Martineau, full of hope about our cause and of sympathy with the men and women who are working in it. A noble life followed by a noble death!”
“The Saturday Review,” in a good obituary notice, names the “views” of Mr. Atkinson and herself as “what is now called Agnosticism”; which is, being interpreted, the truth wherever one finds it.
The American press was truly appreciative.
The Boston “Daily Advertiser” gave a column to “this illustrious woman.”
The “Nation” says:—
“One looks in vain, indeed, for a parallel to this remarkable woman as a moulder of public opinion through the press and through printed works.”
In the Harpers’ publications are many memorials.
“One of the most remarkable women that this [England] or any country has produced. . . . . She did things that have never been done by a single mind. Whatever she touched she may be said to have more or less adorned. Devotional books, poetry, fiction, travels, metaphysics, juvenile tales, philosophy, history, have all in turn occupied her mind; and she thrice refused a pension.”
From the “Christian Union,” July 5, 1876:—
“In Harriet Martineau, whose death occurred on Tuesday night, the world loses one of the most conspicuous intellects of the time. It is unnecessary to say that she was pre-eminent in her own sex, for she had but few peers intellectually in the world around. The list of her literary works is a long one, extending over almost the whole of her long life. Her first work, “Devotional Exercises for Young Persons,” was published in 1823, and until 1866, or thereabouts, she was a frequent contributor to the current literature of the day. . . . . Miss Martineau’s religious life has been identified with the Unitarian denomination. Many of her hymns have, however, found their way into the Orthodox collections, and her religious writings are full of thought, although to our thinking her conclusions were in many respects unsound. That she will be remembered as one of the most vigourous thinkers of her generation there is not the slightest doubt.”
One is surprised to find the following in the “Spiritual Magazine” of the month: —
There was a similar tribute in the “Secular Chronicle,” and thus did all, even parties most opposed, concur in praise.
The day seemed darkened to the village of Ambleside the morning after her death. To the two delicate sisters, the Misses Backhouse, with beautiful singing voices, who used to come to The Knoll to see “Caroline” and “Marianne” on Sundays and New Year’s days, and go home cheered in their lonely life; to the four widows who made a part of the Christmas party she gave for her domestics every year; to Saul, the coachman, whom she so rejoiced to see taking the pledge and giving up drink, and who, although he knew she could not hear, used, for the gratification of his own reverential feelings, to go to her terrace to wish her a happy New Year to the sound of his violin; to Mrs. Saul, his wife, who was with her in attendance as nurse to the last, — both full of memories of her helpfulness to them in the bringing up and placing of their family in life; to Messrs. Stalker, Bell, Mason, Leighton, Newton, Hawkrigg, — all dwelling with affectionate respect on the pleasure they had as young men in helping to build and furnish her house; to the inhabitants of her cottages, one of whom never forgot to send the rare pansies he cultivated, because “she and Miss Jane loved those flowers;” and to Miss Nicholson and Mrs. Freeman, who retired from the post-office five years ago, but still kept up their attachment to her to the last day, with deepest sympathy and many an offer of thoughtful kindness, — to these and to all the region round a light seemed to have gone out of this life. And to all the surrounding neighbourhood that similarity of taste and education and the wish to do good had drawn into her society, — to them life seemed to have less to offer now that she was gone.
During that last night that she lay at The Knoll before being removed for her funeral at Birmingham, her coffin was heaped with flowers by unknown hands, even as she had filled the place with multiplied blessings.
At her funeral the Rev. Charles Clarke read the lessons and prayers contained in the service-book which is commonly used by English Presbyterians, and between the lessons and prayers, addressing the mourners and friends of the departed who were present, he said: —
“We are every one members one of another. No one can tell how great is our dependence upon, how much we receive from, and — when the influence is for our good, and is expressive of the Divine will — how much we are benefited by one another. During twenty years and more it has been known to most of us that there was a servant of God and of righteousness, whom we knew, dwelling in the neighbourhood of the Cumberland Lakes, whose health was much impaired, and who might at any moment be called from the things seen, which are temporal, to the things not seen, which are eternal. We knew that, having to suffer, and to be in a state of weakness, of waiting, and of uncertainty, and looking straight at the wonder, the mystery of death, she bore herself with sweetness, was resigned and cheerful; and that all the while, to the utmost measure of the strength which was given her, she worked, and, as had been her habit in the days of her health, filled every available moment with the signs of her love of her fellow-beings, and of her concern with whatsoever might ameliorate their lot, and give higher meanings and worth to their existence. What was thus known of her manner of life would have inexpressible value, and be treasured by those nearest her, as making the family yet more rich in the memories and things for which it is every where always lawful to strive. But there were many of her fellow-beings who, if they had any, had only a slight personal acquaintance with her, and who yet were helped by what they heard or knew of her nobleness, her fidelity to conscience, her truth, and her courage. For these things clear the air, and seem to take the mist from men’s eyes, and open a way before them. To many the days bring perplexity, occasions for self-distrust and shame; to resist evil is, they know, not easy; to meet the claims of duty is not easy; and there is perhaps no resource for these weaker ones which is so uplifting and so real as the conduct, in their own day and time, of one who strives to be, and is, through long seasons of trial, obedient, responsive, and faithful, to what to her is highest and best. We are now, at the call of God’s providence, to approach the grave which is to receive her remains; and what can we say? What do we know? There has been no unveiling. We can speak, not of our actual knowledge, but only of our trusts. The grave is at the end of much; it is, we believe, at the beginning of more. ‘Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.’ At this time of trial we rely on the instincts of our nature, on what our hearts do assure us; and further, we rely on the teachers whom God has commissioned to give us words of comfort, and high warrant for our trust. And our hope is in God. He is not unrighteous. He will not forget the toils and sorrows of his children. And seeing that great matters pertaining to the future are not and cannot be made plain to the capacities which we now have, what is most to be desired is that we be found, by God’s help, doing the things which are right, for we may be certain that the life more abundant — the life eternal — must be the issue and flower of the life which we now live.”
Very many of her own and of other lands, who wished that the name of this greatest Englishwoman might give an added glory to
checked the half-formed expression of their wish, just as they forbear to plant flowers where she is buried; as knowing that for herself her feelings would have shunned such obsequies.
She lies with her kindred, and only the north-wind sheds rose-leaves upon her grave.
“But from whomsoever Persephone accepteth atonement made for an ancient woe, their souls unto the light she sendeth back. And from those souls spring noble kings, and men swift and strong, and in wisdom very great; and through the after-time such souls are called holy heroes among men.”
Cambridge: Electrotyped and Printed by Welch, Bigelow, & Co.
[* ]The paper here alluded to Miss Nightingale had sent to Harriet Martineau, with an expression of reverential feeling. “She ought not to have said that,” was the instinctive utterance on receiving it.