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Harriet Martineau's Autobiography . Martineau, Harriet, 1802–1876.
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page: 590
Charles Buller, Esq., M.P., &c., &c. Tynemouth, August 21st, 1841.

DEAR MR. BULLER,—I am far from wishing to trouble Lord Melbourne or you with my views on Literary Pensions; but the great consideration and kindness shown in Lord Melbourne’s remembrance of me at this untoward time require from me something more than the very abrupt reply I was compelled to send by Friday morning’s post.

I should like Lord Melbourne to understand that my decision is no hasty one;—that it rests on no passing feeling or prejudice, but on a real opinion that I should be doing wrong in accepting a pension. My opinion has been held through some changes of persons as the proposed givers,—and through some vicissitudes in the circumstances of myself as the proposed receiver, of such a pension. The first mention of a provision of this kind was made to me in November 1832, when I was informed that I was to have a pension of the amount now specified on the conclusion of my work on the Poor Laws. I should doubtless then have taken it, if it had been actually offered. On reflection I changed my mind: and when I found that Lord Grey had still a wish that the thing should be done, I wrote to Lord Durham, (then in Russia) to request that nothing more’ should be said about it, as I could not conscientiously accept a provision from this source. I have since had occasion to make the same reply to two inquiries from different quarters whether I would agree to such an arrangement for my benefit.

Lord Melbourne will not, I think, wonder at my feeling of repugnance to touch the proceeds (except as salary for public service) of a system of taxation so unjust as I have in print, for long and at large, declared it my opinion that ours is. It matters not how generously page: 591 the gift may be intended, how considerately it may be bestowed,—how specifically it is designed to benefit such a case as mine. These considerations affect, most agreeably, my personal feelings towards those who would aid me; but they cannot reconcile me to live upon money (not salary) levied affectively upon those, among others, whom I have made it my business to befriend, (however humbly)—the working classes. Such services as I may have rendered to them are unconsciously received by them; and I cannot accept reward at any expense to them. If this provision be not designed as recompense, but as aid,—as a pure gift,—I cannot take it, as they who provide the means have no voice in the appropriation of it to me personally. About the principles of taxation, a surprising agreement has grown up on our side of late. Whenever we obtain a just system of taxation, the time may perhaps follow when, among other minor considerations, some plan may be discovered by which the people’s representatives may exercise the power of encouraging and rewarding merit and services working through the press; and then even the most scrupulous, with no better view of their own claims than I have, may be happy to receive, in their time of need, aid from the public purse. Meanwhile I seriously and truly feel that I had rather, if need were, (to put an extreme case) receive aid from the parish, and in the work‐house, where I could clearly read my claim, than in the very agreeable manner proposed, where I can see no excuse for my indulgence.—If it be true that in the case of gifts, we do not nicely measure the grounds of claim,—surely there is an exception in the one case of gifts from the public purse.

Some of my friends would persuade me that my great losses from the defective protection afforded to literary property in this country entitle me to compensation in whatever form I can obtain it. But I see the matter differently. Taking compensation from those who have not injured me, leaving inequitable profits in the hands of those who have, seems to me only making a bad matter worse.

But this pension is offered with another view than this. It is offered in remedy of a case such as the fund is expressly provided to meet. Be it so: but while I know that the members of a government are (as they ought to be) otherwise employed than in looking into the retreats of suffering, to discover for themselves what poverty and sickness it is most just to aid from the public purse,—while I know that such gifts from the hand of the most discriminating and page: 592 the most kind of ministers must be but a set of chances as to their gradations of justice,—I should be for ever mistrusting my own happy chance. On the one hand, I should see public benefactors, before whom I am nothing, pining in privation from which my pension would relieve them: and, on the other, I should be haunted by images of thousands and hundreds of thousands of poor tax‐payers,—toiling men who cannot, with all their toil, keep their children in health of body,—to say nothing of their minds. “Mighty visions about a small matter,” you may perhaps think: but, small or great, the moment I had acted on it, this matter would become no less than all‐important to my peace of mind. Indeed, I would rather, in the present circumstances of the country, put my hand into the fire than into the public purse.

Let me assure you that I do not need this pension as my friends suppose. They know my means well enough, but they overrate my wants. This very sum which you speak of apologetically would quite meet my wants in the way I live here. I have no permanent uneasiness about income. If I should ever be well enough to work again (from which I am now, at last, driven) I trust I shall find, as hitherto, that my head and hands will keep my life. If my enforced illness should continue very long, I hope to keep my expenditure within my actual means.

I beg you to assure Lord Melbourne that my feelings of respectful gratitude to him are exactly the same as if I could have accepted the proposed gift. My refusal arises from causes which are out of any one’s control. Of the comfort I should have derived from this annual income no one can be so sensible as myself; and I consider myself his debtor for what it would have been.

One of my pleasures, this summer, has been the Liskeard election.* How hearty it was!

My friends are too anxious about my “state of suffering.” There is little enough of good prospect about the case; but by excellent medical management, the suffering is reduced to something very inconsiderable. The repose of such retreat is delightful.

* Mr. Charles Buller’s election.

Believe me very truly yours,


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