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afresh inscriptions that had been made illegible by
time and storm. At least this delivered him from
the senseless vanity of originality and personal appro-
priation. We feel sure that if he found that a thought
which he had believed to be new had been expressed
in literature before, he would have been pleased and
not mortified. No reflection of his own could give
him half as much satisfaction as an apt citation from
some one else. He once complained of the writer of
the article on Comte in the Encydopmdia for speaking
with too much deference as to Comte's personality.
'That overweening French vanity and egotism not
only overshadows great gifts, but impoverishes the
character wdiich nourished such a sentiment. It is


not one of the weaknesses Avhich we overlook in great
men, and which are to go for notliing.' Of overween-
ing egotism Pattison himself at any rate had none.
This was partly due to his theory of history, and
partly, too, no doubt, to his inborn discouragement of
spirit. He always professed to be greatly relieved
when an editor assured him that his work was of the
quality that might have been expected from him.
' Having lived to be sixty -three,' he wrote on one of
these occasions, ' without finding out why the public
embrace or reject what is wi'itten for their benefit, I
presume I shall now never make the discovery.' And
this was perfectly sincere.

The first draft of his Life of Milton was found to
exceed the utmost limits of what was possible by
some thirty or forty pages. Without a single move-
ment of importunity or complaint he cut off the
excess, though it amounted to a considerable fraction
of what he had done. ' In any case,' he said, ' it is
all on Milton ; there is no digression on public affairs,
and much which might have gone in with advantage
to the completeness of the story has been entirely
passed over, e.g. history of his posthumous fame,
Bentley's emendations, et cetera.' It almost seemed
as if he had a private satisfaction in a literary mishap
of this kind : it was an unexpected corroboration of
his standing conclusion that this is the most stupid
and perverse of all possible worlds.

'My one scheme,' he wrote to a friend in 1877,
' that of a history of the eighteenth century, having

170 ON pattison's memoirs.

been forestalled by Leslie Stephen, and the collections
of years having been rendei'ed useless, I am entirely
out of gear, and cannot settle to anything.' His
correspondent urged the Eector to consider and re-
consider. It would bo one of the most deplorable
misfortunes in literature if ho were thus to waste the
mature fruit of the study of a lifetime. It was as
unreasonable as if Eaphael or Titian had refused to
paint a Madonna simply because other people had
painted Madonnas before them. Some subjects, no
doubt, were treated once for all ; if Southey had
written his history of the Peninsular war after Napier,
he would have done a silly thing, and his book would
have been damned unread. But what reason was
there why we should not have half a dozen books on
English thought in the eighteenth century 1 Would
not Grote have inflicted a heavy loss upon us if he
had been frightened out of his plan by ThirlwalH
And so forth, and so forth. But all such importunities
were of no avail. ' 1 have pondered over your letter,'
Pattison replied, ' but without being able to arrive at
any resolution of any kind.' Of course one knew
that in effect temperament had already cast the
resolution for him in letters of iron before our eyes.

We are not aware Avhether any considerable work
has been left behind. His first great scheme, as he
tells us here (p. 319), was a history of learning from
the Renaissance. Then he contracted his views to a
history of the French school of Philology, beginning
with Budaeus and the Dolphin classics. Finally, his

ON pattison's memoirs. 171

ambition was narrowed to fragments. The book on
Isaac Casauhon, pul^lished ten years ago, is a definite
and valuable literary product. But the great work
would have been the vindication of Scaliger, for which
he had been getting materials together for thirty
years. Many portions, he says, were already written
out in their definite form, and twelve months would
have completed it. Alas, a man should not go on
trusting until his seventieth year that there is still
plenty of daylight. He contributed five biographies
to the new edition of the Encydopcedia Britannica.
The articles on Bentley, Erasmus, Grotius, More,
and Macaulay are from his pen. They are all terse,
luminous, and finished, and the only complaint that
one can make against them is that our instructor
parts company from us too soon. It is a stroke of
literary humour after Pattison's own heart that
Bentley, the mightiest of English scholars, should fill
no more space in the Encyclopedic pantheon than
Alford, who was hardly even the mightiest of English
deans. But the fault was more probably with the
rector's parsimony of words than with the editor. In
1877 he delivered a lecture, afterwards reprinted in
one of the reviews, on Books and Critics. It is not
without the usual piquancy and the usual cynicism,
but he had nothing particular to say, except to tell
his audience that a small house is no excuse for
absence of books, inasmuch as a set of shelves,
thirteen feet by ten, and six inches deep, will accommo-
date nearly a thousand octavos ; and to hint that a

172 ON pattison's memoirs.

man making a thousand a year, who spends less than
a pound a week on books, ought to be ashamed of
himself. Tlicrc are some other fugitive pieces
scattered in the periodicals of the day. In 1871 and
1872 he published editions of the Essay on Man and
The Satires and Epistles of Pope. Ten years before
that he had been at last elected to the headship of
his college, but the old enthusiasm for influencing
young minds was dead. We have spoken of the
Rector's timidity and impotence in practical things.
Yet it is fair to remember the persevering courage with
which he pleaded one unpopular cause. As Mr.
Morison said not long ago in these pages, his writings
on university organisation, the most important of
which appeared in 1868, are a noble monument of
patient zeal in the cause for which he cared most.
'Pattison never lost heart, never ceased holding up
his ideal of what a university should be, viz. a metro-
polis of learning in which would be collected and
grouped into their various faculties the best scholars
and savants the country could produce, all working
with generous emulation to increase the merit and
renown of their chairs. If England ever does obtain
such a university, it will be in no small measure to
Pattison that she will owe it.'

Yet when the record is completed, it falls short
of Avhat might have been expected from one with so
many natural endowments, such unrivalled oppor-
tunities, such undoubted sincerity of interest. Patti-
son had none of what so much delighted Carlyle in

ON pattison's memoirs. 173

Ram-Dass, the Hindoo man-god. When asked what
he meant to do for the sins of men, Ram-Dass at
once made answer that he had fire enough in his
belly to burn up all the sins of the world. Of this
abdominal flame Pattison had not a spark. Nor had
he that awful sense which no humanism could extin-
guish in Milton, of service as ' ever in the great Task-
master's eye.' Nor had he, finally, that civil and
secular enthusiasm which made men like Bentliam
and Mill into great workers and benefactors of their
kind. Pattison was of the mind of Fra Paolo in a
letter to Casaubon. ' As long as there are men there
will be fanaticism. The wisest man has warned us
not to expect the world ever to improve so much that
the better part of mankind will be the majority. No
wise man ever undertakes to correct the disorders of
the public estate. He who cannot endure the mad-
ness of the public, but goeth about to think he can
cure it, is himself no less mad than the rest. So sing
to yourself and the muses.' The muses never yet
inspired with their highest tunes, whether in prose or
verse, men of this degree of unfaith.


In 1850 Charlotte Bronte paid a visit to Harriet
Martineau at Ambleside, and she wrote to her friends
various emphatic accounts of her hostess. ' Without
adopting her theories,' Miss Bronte said, ' I yet find
a worth and greatness in herself, and a consistency,
benevolence, perseverance in her practice, such as wins
the sincerest esteem and affection. She is not a per-
son to be judged by her writings alone, but rather
l)y her own deeds and life, than which nothing can
be more exemplary or noble.'

The division which Miss Bronte thus makes be-
tween opinions and character, and again between
literary production and character, is at the root of
any just criticism of the two volumes of autobiography
which have just been given to the public. Of the
third volume. The Memorials, by Mrs. Chapman, it is
impossible to say anything serious. Mrs. Chapman
fought an admirable fight in the dark times of Ameri-
can history for the abolition of slavery, but unhappily
she is without literary gifts ; and this third volume
is one more illustration of the folly of entrusting the
composition of biography to persons who have only


the wholly irrelevant claim of intimate friendship, or
kinship, or sympathy in public causes. The qualifi-
cation for a biographer is not in the least that he is a
virtuous person, or a second cousin, or a dear friend, or
a trusty colleague ; but that he knows how to write a
book, has tact, style, taste, considerateness, sense of
proportion, and a good eye for the beginnings and
ends of things. The third volume, then, tells us little
about the person to whom they relate. The two
volumes of autobiography tell all that we can seek to
know, and the reader who judges them in an equit-
able spirit will be ready to allow that, when all is
said that can be said of her hardness, arbitrariness,
and insularity, Harriet Martineau is still a singular
and worthy figure among the conspicuous personages
of a generation that has now almost vanished. Some
will wonder how it was that her literary perform-
ances acquired so little of permanent value. Others
will be pained by the distinct repudiation of all theo-
logy, avowed by her with a simple and courageous
directness that can scarcely be counted other than
honourable to her. But everybody will admit, as
Charlotte Bronte did, that though her books are not
of the first nor of the second rank, and though her
anti-theological opinions are to many so repugnant,
yet behind books and opinions was a remarkable per-
sonality, a sure eye for social realities, a moral courage
that never flinched ; a strong judgment within its
limits ; a vigorous self-reliance both in opinion and
act, yet did not prevent a habit of the most


neutral self-judgment ; the commonplace virtues of
industry and energy devoted to aims too elevated,
and too large and generous, to be commonplace ; a
splendid sincerity, a magnificent love of truth. And
that all these fine qualities, which would mostly be
described as manly, should exist not in a man but a
woman, and in a woman who discharged admirably
such feminine duties as fell to her, fills up the measure
of our interest in such a character.

Harriet Martineau was born at Norwich in 1802,
and she died, as we all remember, in the course of
the summer of 1876. Few people have lived so long
as three-quarters of a century, and imdergone so
little substantial change of character, amid some very
important changes of opinion. Her family was Uni-
tarian, and family life was in her case marked by
some of that stiffness, that severity, that chilly rigour,
Avith which Unitarians are sometimes taxed by reli-
gionists of a more ecstatic doctrine. Her childhood
was very unhappy ; the household seems to have been
unamiable, and she was treated with none of that
tenderness and sympathy for which firm and defiant
natures are apt to yearn as strongly as others that
get the credit of greater sensibility. With that sin-
gular impulse to suicide which is frequent among
children, though rarer with girls than boys, she went
one day into the kitchen for the carving-knife, that
she might cut her throat ; luckily the servants were
at dinner, and the child retreated. Deafness, which


178 iiAnuncr martineau.

proved incurable, began to afllict her before she was
sixteen. A severe, harsh, and mournful kind (»f
religiosity seized her, and this ' abominable spiritual
rigidity,' as she calls it, confirmed all the gloomy pre-
dispositions of her mind. She learned a good deal,
mastering Latin, French, and Italian in good time;
and reading much in her own tongue, including con-
stant attention to the Bible, with all sorts of comment-
aries and explanations, such as those of us who were
brought up in a certain spiritual atmosphere have
only too good reasons never to forget. This expan-
sion of intellectual interest, however, did not make
her less silent, less low in her spirits, less full of vague
and anxious presentiment. The reader is glad when
these ungracious years of youth are at an end, and the
demands of active life stirred Harriet Martineau's
energies into vigorous work.

In 1822 her father died, and seven years later his
widow and his daughters lost at a single blow nearly all
that they had in the world. Before this event, which
really proved to be a blessing in the disguise of a
catastrophe, Harriet Martineau had written a number
of slight pieces. They had been printed, and received
a certain amount of recognition. They were of a re-
ligious cast, as was natural in one with whom religious
literature, and religious life and observance, had hither-
to taken in the whole sphere of her continual experi-
ence. Traditions of Palestine and Devotional Exercises
are titles that tell their own tale, and we may be sure
that their authoress was still at the antipodean point


of the positive philosophy in which she ended her
speculative journey. She still clung undoubtingly to
what she had been brought up to believe when she
won three prizes for essays intended to present Uni-
tarianism to the notice of Jews, of Catholics, and of
Mahometans. Her success in these and similar efforts
turned her mind more decidedly towards literature as
a profession.

Miss Martineau is at some pains to assure us on
several occasions that it was the need of utterance
now and always that drove her to write, and that
money, although welcome when it came, was never
her motive. This perhaps a little savours of affecta-
tion. Nobody would dream of suspecting Miss
Martineau of writing anything that she did not believe
to be true or useful merely for the sake of money.
But there is plenty of evidence that the prospect of
payment stirred her to true and useful work, as it
does many other authors by profession, and as it does
the followers of all professions whatever. She puts
the case fairly enough in another place (i. 422) : —
' Every author is in a manner an adventurer ; and no
one was ever more decidedly so than myself ; but the
difference between one kind of adventurer and another
is, I believe, simply this — that the one has something
to say which presses for utterance, and is uttered at
length without a view to future fortunes ; while the
other has a sort of general inclination towards litera-
ture, without any specific need of utterance, and a
very definite desire for the honours and rewards of


the literary career.' Even in the latter case, how-
ever, honest journeyman's work enough is done in
literature by men and women who seek nothing
higher than a reputable source of income. Miss
Martineau did, no doubt, seek objects far higher and
more generous than income, but she lived on the in-
come which literature brought to her ; and there seems
a certain failure of her usually admirable common sense
in making any ado about so simple a matter. When
doctors and counsel refuse their guineas, and the
parson declines a stipend, it will be quite soon enough
for the author to be especially anxious to show that
he has a right to regard money much as the rest of
the human race regard it.

Miss Martineau underwent the harsh ordeal which
awaits most literary aspirants. She had a scheme in
her head for a long series of short tales to illustrate
some of the propositions of political economy. She
trudged about London day after day, through mud
and fog, with weary limbs and anxious heart, as many
an author has done before and since. The times were
bad ; cholera was abroad ; people were full of appre-
hension and concern about the Reform Bill ; and the
publishers looked coldly on a doubtful venture. Miss
Martineau talks none of the conventional nonsense
about the cruelty and stupidity of publishers. What
she says is this : ' I have always been anxious to extend
to young or struggling authors the sort of aid which
would have been so precious to me in that winter of
1829-1830, and I know that, in above twenty years, I


have never succeeded but once.' One of the most
distinguished editors in London, who had charge of a
periodical for many years, told us what comes to the
same thing, namely, that in no single case during all
these years did a volunteer contributor of real quality,
or with any promise of eminence, present himself or
herself. So many hundreds think themselves called
so few are chosen. In Miss Martineau's case, how-
ever, the trade made a mistake. When at length she
found some one to go halves with her in the enter-
prise, on terms extremely disadvantageous to herself,
the first of her tales was published (1832), and
instantly had a prodigious success. The sale ran up
to more than ten thousand of each monthly volume.
In that singular autobiographical sketch of herself
which Miss Martineau prepared for a London paper,
to be printed as her obituary notice, she pronounced
a judgment upon this work which more disinterested,
though not more impartial, critics will confirm. Her
own unalterable view, she says, of what the work
could and could not effect, 'prevented her from ex-
pecting too much from it, either in regard to its social
operations 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 multi-
tude of minds into the conception of what political
economy is, and how it concerns everybody living in
society. Beyond this there is no merit of a high
order in the work. It popularised in a fresh form


some doctrines and many trutlis long before made
public by others.' James Mill, one of the acutest
economists of the day, and one of the most vigorous
and original characters of that or any other day, had
foretold failure ; but when the time came, he very
handsomely admitted that his prophecy had been
rash. In after years, when Miss Martineau had
acquired from Comte a conception of the growth and
movement of societies as a whole, with their economic
conditions controlled and constantly modified by a
multitude of other conditions of various kinds, she
rated the science of her earlier days very low. Even
in those days, however, she says : ' I believe I should
not have been greatly surprised or displeased to have
perceived, even then, that the pretended science is no
science at all, strictly speaking ; and that so many of
its parts must undergo essential change, that it may
be a question whether future generations will owe
much more to it than the benefit (inestimable, to be
sure) of establishing the grand truth that social affairs
proceed according to general laws, no less than natural
phenomena of every kind ' (Autob. ii. 245).

Harriet Martineau was not of the class of writers,
most of them terribly unprofitable, who merely say
literary things about social organisation, its institu-
tions, and their improvement. Her feeling about
society was less literary than scientific : it was not
sentimental, but the business-like quality of a good
administrator. She was moved less by pity or by
any sense of the pathos and the hardness of the


VP'orld, than by a sensible and energetic interest in good
government and in the rational and convenient order-
ina; of thincrs. Her tales to illustrate the truths of
political economy are what might be expected from a
writer of this character. They are far from being
wanting — many of them — in the genuine interest of
good story-telling. They are rapid, definite, and with-
out a trace of either slovenliness or fatigue. We
are amazed as we think of the speed and prompt
regularity with which they were produced ; and the
fertile ingenuity with which the pill of political
economy is wrapped up in the confectionery of a tale,
may stand as a marvel of true cleverness and inventive
dexterity. Of course, of imagination or invention in
a high sense there is not a trace. Such a quality was
not in the gifts of the writer, nor could it in any case
have worked within such limitations as those set by
the matter and the object of the series.

Literary success was followed in the usual order
by social temptation. Miss Martineau removed from
Norwich to London, and she had good reasons for
making the change. Her work dealt with matters of
a political kind, and she coixld only secure a real know-
ledge of what was best worth saying by intercourse
with those who had a better point of view for a survey
of the social state of England than could be found in
a provincial town like Norwich. So far as evening
parties went, Miss Martineau soon perceived how little
' essential difference there is between the extreme case
of a cathedral city and that of literary London, or


any other place, where dissipation takes the turn of
book-talk instead of dancing or masquerading.' She
went out to dinner every night except Sundays, and
saw all the most interesting people of the London of
five-and-forty years ago. While she was free from
presumptuousness in her judgments, she was just as
free from a foolish willingness to take the reputations
of her hour on trust. Her attitude was friendly and
sensible, but it was at the same time critical and in-
dependent; and that is what every frank, upright,
and sterling character naturally becomes in face of
an unfamiliar society. Harriet Martineau was too
keen-sighted, too aware of the folly and incompetent
pretension of half the world, too consciously self-respect-
ing and proud, to take society and its ways with any
diffidence or ingenuous simplicity. On the importance
of the small litUrateur who unreasonably thinks him-
self a great one, on the airs and graces of the gushing
blue-stockings who were in vogue in that day, on the
detestable vulgarity of literary lionising, she had no
mercy. She recounts with caustic relish the story
about a certain pedantical lady, of whom Tierney had
said that there was not another head in England that
could encounter hers on the subject of Cause and
Effect. The story was that when in a country house
one fine day she took her seat in a window, saying in a
business-like manner (to David Ricardo) : ' Come now,
let us have a little discussion about Space.' We re-
member a story about a certain Mademoiselle de
Launay, afterwards well known to the Paris of the


eigliteentli century, being introduced at Versailles
hy a silly great lady who had an infatuation for her.
'This,' the great lady kept saying, 'is the young
person whom I have told you about, who is so wonder-
fully intelligent, who knows so much. Come, Madem-
oiselle, pray talk. Now, Madame, you will see how
she talks. Well, first of all, now talk a little about
religion ; then you can tell us about something else.'

We cannot wonder that Miss Martineau did not go
a second time to the house where Space might be the
unprovoked theme of a casual chat. Pretension in
every shape she hated most heartily. Her judgments
in most cases were thoroughly just — at this period of
her life at any rate — and sometimes even unexpectedly
kindly ; and the reason is that she looked at society
through the medium of a strong and penetrating kind
of common sense, which is more often the gift of
clever women than of clever men. If she is masculine,
she is, like Mrs. Colonel Poyntz, in one of Bulwer's

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Online LibraryJohn MorleyCritical miscellanies (Volume 3) → online text (page 12 of 25)