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But her visions were limited as a landscape set in a
rigid frame ; they had not the wings that soar and
poise in the vague unbounded empyrean. And she
was much too sensible to think that these moods were
strong, or constant, or absorbing enough in her case
to furnish material and companionship for a life from
day to day and year to year. Nor again was it for
the sake of undisturbed acquisition of knowledge, nor
cultivation of her finer faculties that she sought a
hermitage. She was not moved by thought of the
famous maxim which Goethe puts into the mouth of
Leonore —

Es bildet ein Talent sicli in iler Stille,
Sich ein Charakter im dem Strom der Welt.

Though an intense egotist, in the good and respect-
able sense of insisting on her own way of doing things,
of settling for herself what it was that she was living
for, and of treading the path with a firm and self-
reliant step, yet Harriet Martineau was as little of an
egotist as ever lived, in the poor and stifling sense of
thinking of the perfecting of her own culture as in
the least degree worthy of ranking among Ends-in


tlicmsclves. She settled in the Lake district, because
she thought that there she would be most favourably
placed for satisfying the various conditions which she
had fixed as necessary to her scheme of life. 'My
own idea of an innocent and happy life,' she says,
'was a house of my own among poor improvable
neighbours, with young servants whom I might train
and attach to myself, with pure air, a garden, leisure,
solitude at command, and freedom to work in peace
and quietness.'

' It is the wisest step in her life,' Wordsworth said,
when he heard that she had bought a piece of land
and built a pretty house upon it ; and then he added
the strangely unpoetic reason — ' because the value of
the property will be doubled in ten years.' Her
poetic neighbour gave her a characteristic piece of
advice in the same prudential vein. He warned her
that she would find visitors a great expense. ' When
you have a visitor,' he said, ' you must do as we did ;
you must say : " If you like to have a cup of tea with
us, you are very welcome ; but if you want any meat,
you must pay for your board.'" Miss Martineau
declined to carry thrift to this ungracious extremity.
She constantly had guests in her house, and, if they
were all like Charlotte Bronte, they enjoyed their
visits in spite of the arbitrary ways of their ener-
getic hostess.

Her manner of life during these years is pleasant
to contemplate ; cheerful, active, thoroughly whole-
some. 'My habit,' she says, 'was to rise at six and


to take a walk, returning to my solitary breakfast at
half -past seven. My household orders were given for
the day, and all aft airs settled out of doors and in by
a quarter or half-past eight, when I went to work,
which I continued without interruption, except from
the post, till three o'clock or later, when alone.
While my friend was with me we dined at two, and
that was of course the limit of my day's work.' De
Tocqueville, if we remember, never saw his guests
until after he had finished his morning's work, of
which he had done six hours by eleven o'clock.
Schopenhauer was still more sensitive to the jar of ex-
ternal interruption on that finely-tuned instrument, the
brain, after a night's repose, for it was as much as his
housekeeper's place was worth to allow either herself
or any one else to appear to the philosopher before
midday. After the early dinner at Ambleside cottage
came little bits of neighbourly business, exercise, and
so forth. ' It is with singular alacrity that in winter
evenings I light the lamp and unroll my wool-work,
and meditate or dream till the arrival of the news-
paper tells me that the tea has stood long enough.
After tea, if there was news from the seat of war, I
called in my maids, who brought down the great atlas
and studied the chances of the campaign with me.
Then there was an hour or two for Montaigne, or
Bacon, or Shakespeare, or Tennyson, or some dear old

The only productions of this time worth mention-
ing are the History of the Thirty Years' Peace (1849)


and the condensed version of Comte's Positive Philo-
sophy (1853), both of them meritorious and useful
pieces of work, and both of them undertaken, as
nearly all Miss Martineau's work was, not from merely
literary motives, but because she thought that they
woidd be meritorious and useful, and because nothing
more useful came into her head or under her hand
at the moment. The condensation of Comte is easy
and rapid, and it is said by those who have looked
very closely into it to be hardly free from some too
hasty renderings. It must, however, on the whole, be
pronounced a singularly intelligent and able perform-
ance. The pace at which Comte was able to compose
is a standing marvel to all who have pondered the
great and difficult art of composition. It must be
admitted that the author of the English version of
him was in this respect no unworthy match for her
original. Miss Martineau tells us that she despatched
the last three volumes, which number over 1800 pages,
in some five months. She thought the rendering of
thirty pages of Comte a fair morning's work. If we
consider the abstract and difficult nature of the matter,
this must be pronounced something of a feat. We
have not space to describe her method, but any reader
who happens to be interested in the meclianism of
literary productions will find the passage in vol. ii.
p. 391. The History of the Thirty Years' Peace is no
less astonishing an example of rapid industry. From
the first opening of the books to study for the history
to the depositing of the MS. of the first volume at


press, was exactly six months. The second vohmie
took six months to do, with an interval of some
weeks of holiday and other work !

We think all this worth mentioning, because it is
an illustration of Avhat is a highly important maxim ;
namely, that it is a great mistake to expend more
time and labour on a piece of composition than is
enough to make it serve the purpose in hand. The
immeasurable moment and far-reachingness of the
very highest kinds of literature are apt to make men
who play at being students forget there are many
other kinds of literature which are are not in the
least immeasurably far-reaching, but Avhich, for all
that, are extremely useful in their own day and
generation. Those highly fastidious and indolent
people, who sometimes live at Oxford and Cambridge,
with whom, indeed, for the most part, their high
fastidiousness is only a fine name for impotence and
lack of will, forget that the less immortal kinds of
literature are the only kinds within their own reach.
Literature is no doubt a fine art — the finest of the
arts — but it is also a practical art ; and it is deplor-
able to think how much stout, instructive work might
and ought to be done by people who, in dreaming of
ideals in prose or verse beyond their attainment, end,
like the poor Casaubon of fiction, in a little pamphlet
on a particle, or else in mediocre poetry, or else in
nothing. By insisting on rearing nothing short of a
great monument more dural^le than brass, they are
cutting themselves off from building the useful little


mud-hiit, or some of the other modest performances
by which only tliey ai'e capable of serving their age.
It is only one volume in a million that is not meant
to perish, and to perish soon, as flowers, sunbeams,
and all the other brightnesses of the earth are meant
to perish. There are some forms of composition in
which perfection is not only good but indispensable.
But the most are designed for the purpose of a day,
and if they have the degree of elaboration, accuracy,
grasp, and faithfulness that suffice for the given pur-
pose, then we may say that it is enough. There is
literature proper, for which only two or three men
and women in a generation have the true gift. This
cannot be too good. But besides this there is a mass
of honest and needful work to be done with the pen,
to which literary form is only accidental, and in which
consummate literary finish or depth is a sheer work of
supererogation. If Miss Martineau had given twice
as many years as she gave months to the condensation
of Comte, the book would not have been a whit more
useful in any possible respect — indeed, over-elabora-
tion might easily have made it much less so — and the
world would have lost many other excellent, if not
dazzling or stupendous services.

' Her original power,' she wrote of herself in that
manly and outspoken obituary notice to which we
have already referred, ' was nothing more than was
due to earnestness and intellectual clearness within a
certain range. With small imaginative and sugges-
tive 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 popularise, while she could neither
discover nor invent. . . . She could obtain and keep a
firm grasp of her own views, 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.' All this is precisely
true, and her life was of great use ; and that makes
what she says not only true, but an example worth
much weighing by many of those who meddle with

Miss Martineau was never tired of trying to be
useful in directing and improving opinion. She did
not disdain the poor neighbours at her gates. She
got them to establish a Building Society, she set
them an example of thrifty and profitable manage-
ment by her little farm of tAvo acres, and she gave
them interesting and cheerful courses of lectures in
the winter evenings. All this time her eye was
vigilant for the great affairs of the world. In 1852
she began to write leading articles for the Daily News,
and in this department her industry and her aptitude
were such that at times she wrote as many as six
leading articles in a week. When she died, it was
computed that she had written sixteen hundred.
They are now all dead enough, as they were meant to
die, but they made an impression that is still alive in
its consequences upon some of the most important
social, political, and economical matters of five-and-


twenty important years. In what was by far tlic
greatest of all tlie issues of those years, the Civil War
in the United States, Harriet Martineau's influence
was of the most inestimable value in keeping public
opinion right against the strong tide of ignorant
Southern sympathies in this country. If she may
seem to some to have been less right in her views of
the Crimean War, we must admit that the issues were
very complex, and that complete assurance on that
struggle is not easy to everybody even at this distance
of time.

To this period belong the Biographic Sketches
Avhich she contributed to a London newspaper. They
have since been collected in a single volume, now in
its fourth edition. They are masterpieces in the style
of the vignette. Their conciseness, their clearness in
fact, their definiteness in judgment, and above all,
the rightly graduated impression of the writer's own
personality in the background, make them perfect in
their kind. There is no fretting away of the portrait
in over-multiplicity of lines and strokes. Here more
than anywhere else Miss Martineau shows the true
quality of the writer, the true mark of literature,
the sense of proportion, the modulated sentence, the
compact and suggestive phrase. There is a happy
precision, a pithy brevity, a condensed argumenta-
tiveness. And this literary skill is made more telling
by the writer's own evident interest and sincerity
about the real lives and characters of the various
conspicuous people with whom she deals. It may be


said that she has no subtle insight into the complexities
of human nature, and that her philosophy of character
is rather too little analytical, too downright, too con-
tent with averages of motive, and too external. This
is so in a general way, but it does not spoil the charm
of these sketches, because the personages concerned,
though all of them conspicuous, were for the most
part commonplace in motive, though more than
commonplace in strength of faculty. Subtle analysis
is wholly unreasonable in the case of Miss Martineau
herself, and she would probably have been unable to
use that difficult instrument in criticising characters
less downright and objective than her own.

The moment of the Crimean War marked an
alarming event in her own life. The doctors warned
her that she had a heart disease which would end her
days suddenly and soon. Miss Martineau at once set
her affairs in order, and sat down to write her Auto-
biography. She had the manuscript put into type,
and the sheets finally printed off, just as we now
possess them. But the hour was not yet. The
doctors had exaggerated the peril, and the strong
woman lived for twenty years after she had been
given up. She used up the stuff of her life to the
very end, and left no dreary remnant nor morbid
waste of days. She was like herself to the last —
English, practical, positive. Yet she had thoughts
and visions which were more than this. We like
to think of this faithful woman and veteran
worker in good causes, in the stroll which she always



took on her terrace before retiring to rest for the
night : —

' On my terrace there were two worlds extended
bright before me, even when the midnight darkness
hid from my bodily eyes all but the outlines of the
solemn mountains that surround our valley on three
sides, and the clear opening to the lake on the south.
In the one of those worlds I saw now the magnificent
coast of Massachusetts in autumn, or the flowery
swamps of Louisiana, or the forests of Georgia in
spring, or the Illinois prairie in summer; or the blue
Nile, or the brown Sinai, or the gorgeous Petra, or
the view of Damascus from the Salahiey ; or the
Grand Canal under a Venetian sunset, or the Black
Forest in twilight, or Malta in the glare of noon, or
the broad desert stretching away under the stars, or
the Eed Sea tossing its superb shells on shore in the
pale dawn. That is one world, all comprehended
within my terrace wall, and coming up into the light
at my call. The other and finer scenery is of that
world, only beginning to be explored, of Science. . . .
It is truly an exquisite pleasure to dream, after the toil
of study, on the sublime abstractions of mathematics ;
the transcendent scenery unrolled by astronomy ; the
mysterious, invisible forces dimly hinted to us by
physics ; the new conception of the constitution of
matter originated by chemistry ; and then, the inesti-
mable glimpses opened to us, in regard to the nature
and destiny of man, by the researches into vegetable
and animal organisation, which are at length perceived


to be the right path of inquiry into the highest sub-
jects of thought. . , . Wondrous beyond the compre-
hension of any one mind is the mass of glorious facts
and the series of mighty conceptions laid open ; but
the shadow of the surrounding darkness rests upon
it all. The unknown always engrosses the greater
part of the field of vision, and the awe of infinity
sanctifies both the study and the dream.'

It would be a pity if difference of opinion upon
subjects of profound difficulty, remoteness, and mani-
fold perplexity, were to prevent any one from recog-
nisinsr in such words and such moods as these what
was, in spite of some infirmities, a character of many
large thoughts and much generous purpose. And
with this feeling we may part from her.


It is perhaps a little hard to undertake to write about
the personality of a thinker whose ideas one does not
share, and whose reading of the events and tendencies
of our time was in most respects directly opposite to
one's own. But literature is neutral ground. Character
is more than opinion. Here we may forget the loud
cries and sounding strokes, the watchwords and the
tactics of the tented field, and fraternise with the
adversary of the eve and the morrow in friendly
curiosity and liberal recognition. It fell to the present
writer at one time to have one or two bouts of public
controversy with Mr. Greg. In these dialectics Mr.
Greg was never vehement and never pressed, but he
was inclined to be — or, at least, was felt by an
opponent to be — dry, mordant, and almost harsh.
These disagreeable prepossessions were instantly
dissipated, as so often happens, by personal acquaint-
ance. He had not only the courtesy of the good type
of the man of the world, but an air of moral suavity,
when one came near enough to him, that was infinitely
attractive and engaging. He was urbane, essentially
modest, and readily interested in ideas and subjects

214 \V. n. GREG: A SKETUir.

other tliiiu liis own. Tlicre was in his manner and
address something of what the French call licmt.
When the chances of residence made me his neighbour,
an evening in his drawing-room, or half an hour's talk
in casual meetings in afternoon walks on Wimbledon
Common, was always a particularly agreeable incident.
Some men and women have the quality of atmosphere.
The egotism of the natural man is surrounded by an
elastic medium. Mr. Greg was one of these person-
alities with an atmosphere elastic, stimulating, elevat-
ing, and yet composing. We do wrong to narrow
our interests to those only of our contemporaries who
figure with great lustre and Mat in the world. Some
of the quiet characters away from the centre of great
affairs are as well worth our attention as those who
in high-heeled cothurnus stalk across the foreground.
Mr. Greg, it is not necessary to say, has a serious
reputation in the literature of our time. In politics
he was one of the best literary representatives of the
fastidious or pedantocratic school of government. In
economics he spoke the last word, and fell, sword in
hand, in the last trench, of the party of capitalist
supremacy and industrial tutelage. In the group of
profound speculative questions that have come up for
popular discussion since the great yawning rents and
fissures liave been made in the hypotheses of theology
by the hypotheses of science, he set a deep mark on
many minds. ' We are in the sick foggy dawn of a
new era,' says one distinguished writer of our day,
' and no one saw more clearly than W. E. Greg what

W. R. GREG : A SKETCH. 215

the day that would follow was likely to be.' To this
I must humbly venture to demur; for there is no
true vision of the fortunes of human society without
Hope, and without Faith in the beneficent powers and
processes of the Unseen Time. That and no other is
the mood in which our sight is most likely to pierce
the obscuring mists from which the new era begins to
emerge. AVhen we have said so much as this, it
remains as true as before that Mr. Greg's faculty of
disinterested speculation, his feeling for the problems
of life, and his distinction of character, all make it
worth while to put something about him on record,
and to attempt to describe him as he was, apart from
the opaque influences of passing controversy and of
discussions that are rapidly losing their point.

Mr. Greg was born at Manchester in 1809. The
family stock was Irish by residence and settlement,
though Scotch in origin. The family name was half
jocosely and half seriously believed to be the middle
syllable of the famous clan of Macgregor. William
Rathboue Greg's grandfather was a man of good
position in the neighbourhood of Belfast, who sent
two of his sons to push their fortunes in England.
The younger of the two was adopted by an uncle, who
carried on the business of a merchant at Manchester.
He had no children of his own. The boy was sent
to Harrow, where Dr. Samuel Parr was then an
assistant master. When the post of head master
became vacant. Parr, though only five-and-twenty,
entered into a very vehement contest for the prize.


He failed, and in a fit of spleen set up an establish-
ment of his own at Stanniore. Many persons, as De
Quincey tells us, of station and influence both lent
him money and gave him a sort of countenance
equally useful to his interests by placing their sons
under his care. Among those who accompanied him
from Harrow was Samuel Greg. The lad was meant
by his uncle to be a clergyman, but this project ho
stoutly resisted. Instead of reading for orders he
travelled abroad, acquired foreign languages, and
found out something about the commercial affairs of
the continent of Europe. His uncle died in 1783,
and the nephew took up the business. It was the
date of the American Peace. Samuel Greg was
carried forward on the tide of prosperity that poured
over the country after that great event, and in a
moderate time he laid the foundation of a large and
solid fortune. The mighty industrial revolution that
was begun by the inventions of Arkwright was now
in its first stage. Arkwright's earliest patent had
been taken out a few years before, and his factory in
Derbyshire had by this time proved a practical
success. Instead of sharing the brutish animosity of
the manufacturers of Lancashire to the new processes
that were destined to turn their county into a mine
of gold, Greg discerned their immense importance.
The vast prospects of manufacturing industry grew
upon his imagination. He looked about him in search
of water-power in the neighbourhood of Manchester,
and at length found what he wanted a dozen miles


away at Wilmslow, over the Cheshire border. Here
the stream of the Bollen cuts through a flat and
uninteresting table-land, and forms a pretty valley of
its own, as it winds between banks of red sandstone.
When the mill was built, and a house close to it,
Quarry Bank became the home of the family, and it
was here that W. R Greg passed his childhood, youth,
and early manhood.

His mother was fifth in descent from Philip Henry,
one of the two thousand uncompromising divines who
were driven out from their benefices on that Black
Bartholomew's Day of 1662, which is still commemor-
ated by the severer Nonconformists of the old school.
His son was the better known Mathew Henry, whose
famous commentary on the Bible has for more than a
century and a half been the favourite manual of
devotional reading in half the pious households all
over England and the United States. Something of
the Puritan element was thus brought into the family.
In Ireland the Gregs belonged to the Presbyterians
of the New Light, and their doctrine allowed of a
considerable relaxation in the rigours of older ortho-
doxy. Many, again, of the Puritans of the North of
England had favoured the teachings of Priestley.
The result of these two streams of influence was that
the Gregs of Manchester joined the Unitarians. In
this body W. R. Greg was brought up. His mother
was a woman of strongly marked character. She was
cultivated, and had some literary capacity of her own ;
she cared eagerly for the things of the mind, both for


herself and her children ; and in spite of ill health and
abundant cares, she persisted in strenuous effort after
a high intellectual and moral standard. A little book
of Maxims compiled by her still remains; and she
found time to write a couple of volumes of Practical
Suggestions toivards alleviating the Sufferings of the Sick.
One volume is little more than a selection of religious
extracts, not likely to be more apt or useful to the
sick than to the whole. The other is a discreet and
homely little manual of nursing, distinguished from
the common run of such books by its delicate con-
sideration and wise counsel for the peculiar mental
susceptibilities of the invalid. The collection of
Maxims and Observations was designed to be 'an
useful gift to her children, gleaned from her own
reading and reflection.' Though not intended for
publication, they found their way into a few congenial
circles, and one at least of those who were educated
at Dr. Carpenter's school at Bristol can remember
these maxims being read aloud to the boys, and the
impression that their wisdom and morality made upon
his youthful mind. The literary value of the com-
pilation is modest enough. Along with some of the

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Online LibraryJohn MorleyCritical miscellanies (Volume 3) → online text (page 14 of 25)