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Harriet Martineau

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Published : 53 Articles
Pen Names : None
Date of Birth : N/A
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Martineau, Harriet I Miss Martineau I , 1802–1876, writer. By her own account, received "an education of a very high order, including sound classical instruction and training" (Autobiography, II, 405). Made her first appearance in print in Monthly Repository, at age nineteen; for some years continued writing for that periodical; wrote for Westm. Rev., People's JournalLeader, Daily News (more than 1600 articles), Edin. Rev., Once a Week, and other British periodicals; for National Anti-Slavery Standard and other American periodicals. Reprinted in book form some of periodical contributions. Her writings included verse, children's books; didactic tales exemplifying principles of political economy, sanitation, etc.; Deerbrook, a novel; books on the U.S., a book on mesmerism, historical works. Translated Comte's Positive Philosophy (condensed version). Obtained international reputation. 




      Martineau's personal association with Dickens was slight, though in that association, as in his correspondence with her, she wrote, he exhibited always a "frank kindness and consideration" that won her "cordial regard." In her Autobiography – written in 1854–55) – she described him as "a virtuous and happy family man" whose generous heart was "kept steady by the best domestic influences." She admired some of Dickens's novels, though with reservation (Autobiography, II, 60-63). Dickens thought her Society in America the best book written on the U.S. (Webb, Harriet Martineau, p. 157).
      Before H.W. made its appearance, Dickens invited Martineau to write for the periodical. She did so only because of its "wide circulation" (Autobiography,II, 25) – [DJO Ed.: Lohrli questions Martineau's account of her motivation for contributing to H.W. as no circulation figures were available when she made the decision]. Her first contributions were in narrative form, so written, she said, "at the express and earnest request of Mr. Dickens," but with "little satisfaction to herself," since she felt that she had then "passed out of that stage of mind in which I could write stories well" (Autobiography,II, 565, 67). Instead of contributing stories, therefore, she proposed that she write for H.W. a series of articles on manufacturing processes; the proposal, she stated, was "eagerly accepted," and the articles were at the time designed, "at the suggestion of the Proprietors [i.e., Dickens and Wills], for ultimate republication" (Autobiography, II, 68; "Preface," Health, Husbandry, and Handicraft).
      Dickens found Martineau's first contribution ["The Sickness and Health of the People of Bleaburn", I, 193–99. May 25, 1850, and the following 3 nos.] "heavy" (to Wills, March 29, 1850), but he liked her article "The Irish Union" [VI, 169–75. Nov. 6, 1852] and was enthusiastic about her "Deaf Playmate's Story" [Christmas 1852, pp. 27–30] (to Burdett-Coutts, Nov. 3, 1852, in Heart of Charles Dickens, ed. Johnson; to Wills, 1852). He instructed Wills (Aug. 19, 1854) to "Look to the punctuation" of one of her contributions. "Woodruffe the Gardener" [I, 518–24. Aug. 24, 1850 and the 2 following nos.] he cut, but so "scientifically" that he thought Martineau would not "exactly know where." From "How to Get Paper" [X, 241–45. Oct. 28, 1854] he deleted what he thought too positively stated an assumption, noting, in that article, Martineau's grim determination on "the enlightenment of mankind" (to Wills, Aug. 21, 1850; Oct. 1.4, 1854). To "Three Graces of Christian Science" [IX, 317–20. May 20, 1854] he added a footnote mentioning his acquaintance with a young deaf, blind, and dumb man discussed at length in the article.
     About 1853 Martineau began to feel "uneasy" about her connection with H.W., her misgivings originating in her "disapproval of the principles, or want of principles" on which the periodical was conducted. Dickens and Wills, she in time became convinced, were "grievously inadequate to their function, philosophically and morally." This inadequacy she found manifest in the attitude toward women expressed in H.W., in the periodical's treatment of factory disputes, and in its anti-Catholic policy. Her conclusion that H.W. not only suppressed the truth about Catholicism, but maligned that religion by publishing dishonourable slanders, led to her "plain-spoken" letter to Wills and to her "secession from the corps of Mr. Dickens's contributors" (Autobiography, II, 91-95). (Martineau's account of the dispute is much confused in dates. Charles Dickens, Jr., in a footnote to an article on Martineau in A.Y.R., April 7, 1877, stated that information in his possession showed her account to be in error in "almost every statement." Her dispute with H.W., he wrote, "arose about a trifle" and involved "a far from formidable difference of opinion.") According to Wills, Martineau was the only contributor who ever deserted the H.W. ranks (to R. H. Patterson, Nov. 3, 1859: A.Y.R. Letter-Book).
     Late in 1855, in her pamphlet The Factory Controversy, Martineau launched a vehement attack on Dickens, as also on his periodical, as the sentimental advocate of "meddling and mischievous" factory legislation. Her quarrel with H.W. centred on a series of articles (by Morley) on accidents in textile mills; she found the articles inaccurate and dishonest. Her quarrel with Dickens, in his joint capacity of editor and novelist, was his putting himself forward as social reformer without a sound knowledge of political philosophy. His doing so demonstrated his "conceit, insolence, and wilful one-sidedness." Like Mrs. Jellyby, he was a "humanity-monger" – though, unlike that lady, not a harmless one. (According to contemporary report, Martineau had served Dickens as the model for Mrs. Jellyby.)
     Dickens's first reaction to "Miss Martineau's vomit of conceit" (thus in MS Huntington Library; outpouring of conceit in Nonesuch Letters) was to give it no notice in H.W., "if only for the mortification" that the ignoring of the pamphlet would cause her. "I do suppose," he wrote, "that there never was such a wrong-headed woman born – such a vain one – or such a Humbug." Morley, however, had written a reply to the attack, and Dickens, after carefully going over it, decided on its publication (to Wills, Jan. 3, Jan. 6, 1856). "Our Wicked Mis-statements" appeared Jan. 19, 1856. It was a temperate, well-written article, replying to Martineau's accusations, pointing out her errors of fact and the speciousness of some of her arguments.
      Morley's article referred to the "many good works" that Martineau had written and the "many good deeds" that she had done. Earlier H.W. articles also contained references to her writings and her reputation. Dickens, in "Pet Prisoners," supported his contention that prisoners' piously mouthed repentances were manifestly insincere by quoting Martineau's observations on Philadelphia prisoners. Wills, in "A Little Place in Norfolk," quoted Martineau as an authority on the proper management of small farms j and Home, in "The Steam Plough," on the importance of land cultivation in improving social conditions. In "A Witch in the Nursery," Horne referred to Martineau as among English authors who had written "excellent stories" for children; and, in "Traits and Stories of the Huguenots," Elizabeth GaskelI mentioned her as among the Huguenot descendants who "bear honoured names among us." In A.Y.R, April 7, 1877, appeared an appreciative review of Martineau's Autobiography – "this record of a famous woman's life." It was written by her friend James Payn.
      Of Martineau's H.W. contributions, "The Sickness and Health of the People of Bleaburn" is established as her writing by mention in her Autobiography. (Crabb Robinson, reading the "very wise and valuable" tale a few months after its publication, decided on the basis of its subject that it was "evidently by H. Martineau" [On Books and Their Writers, II, 704].) Of the items attributed to Martineau, nine are mentioned by title in the Autobiography (11, 31, 33, 69–70); others are there referred to as papers on "the treatment of Blindness, Deafness, Idiotcy, &c." (II, 91.).
      These papers on "Personal Infirmities," stated Martineau, "were the last I sent to 'Household Words' except two or three which fillled up previous schemes." The paper on blindness appeared June 17, 1854. Four papers after that date are assigned to Martineau in the Office Book: "Freedom, or Slavery?" [IX, 537–42. July 22, 1854], "Cheshire Cheese," [X, 52–56. Sept. 2, 1854] "How to Get Paper," [X, 241–45. Oct. 28, 1854] and "The Rampshire Militia." [X, 505–11. Jan. 13, 1855] Concerning the first three there is no question of authorship: "Freedom, or Slavery?" dealt with slavery in the U.S., one of Martineau's major interests; "Cheshire Cheese" (re-printed) and "How to Get Paper" (referred to by title in the Autobiography) "filled up previous schemes." But "The Rampshire Militia" is a questionable ascription: the item is, first of all, written in narrative, rather than expository form; it has, next, a definite link with two of Payn's H.W. contributions.
      In contrast with the didactic heaviness of Martineau's stories of confirmed authorship, "The Rampshire Militia" is lively writing. It recounts, in a series of letters, the formation and training of a volunteer military unit of country "bumpkins," who at the end of their several periods of drill acquire soldierly bearing and efficiency. Ned Barry, a farm labourer, is one of the Rampshire militiamen selected "for the regulars" from the hundreds who volunteer for that service in the autumn of 1853; six months later he embarks for the East from "Rampling Harbour." What is to become of "the Rampshire as a regiment" Ned does not know; perhaps there "may be drafts from it, from time to time, for the line"; or perhaps some of the men will be sent to garrison duty abroad to relieve the regulars. "Some think that if the war lasts long, the Rampshire may even see fighting."
      The "Rampshire" military unit appears in two of Payn's H.W. papers: "Back from the Crimea." March 3, 1855, and "Embarkation," May 12, 1855. "Embarkation" describes the embarking of "R.R.R." – the Royal Rampshire Regiment – on H.M.S. Obstinate; the regiment – the first that "volunteered in England for foreign service" – is made up of labourers and artisans who had not intended to enter the army, but had enlisted merely to pass "six weeks' holiday in playing at soldiers"; it is "a regiment of very young men (for the flower of the corps volunteered long since from the Royal Rampshire into the line)." "Back from the Crimea" mentions the Royal Rampshire militiamen assembled at the dockyard to help bear sick and wounded Crimean soldiers from the transport; it mentions the Royal Rampshire officers as writing letters for the soldiers in the hospital.
      It is unlikely that two contributors should each have devised a "Rampshire" military unit. "The Rampshire Militia" seems to be by Payn.
      Six of Martineau's H.W. contributions (one, only in part) were reprinted in Harper's, one of them acknowledged to H.W., and one – "The Deaf Playmate's Story" – credited to Dickens. "The Wonders of Nails and Screws" was included in the Putnam volume of selections from H.W.: Home and Social Philosophy, 2nd ser. 
                                                                                               D.N.B.

Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1971

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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