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Harriet Martineau's Autobiography . Martineau, Harriet, 1802–1876.
page: 531


WHILE at Liverpool, I was the guest of my old friends, the Misses Yates, for a few days; on one of which days, Miss E. Yates and I went out to dinner, while Miss Yates paid a family visit. On our return, she looked very bright and happy; but it did not strike me that it was from any hidden secret. Mr. Richard V. Yates came to breakfast the next morning; and he was placed next to me,—and next to my best ear. The conversation soon turned on his projected Eastern journey, about which I had before had some talk,—remarkably free in regard to the dangers and disagables,—with Mrs. R.V. Yates, as we afterwards remembered with much amusement. Mr. Yates now renewed that conversation, consulting me about turning back at the first cataract of the Nile, or going on to the second. From “Would you go on to the second?” Mr. Yates changed his question to “Will you go on to the second?” and, after a few moments of perplexity to me, he said “Now, seriously,—will you go with us? Mrs. Yates will do every thing in her power to render the journey agreeable to you; and I will find the piastres.” At first, I felt and said, while deeply gratified, that I could not go; and for hours and days it seemed impracticable. I was engaged to write a new series of “The Playfellow” for Mr. Knight, and had sent him the M.S. of the first (“The Billow and the Rock.”) I had just begun housekeeping, and had left home without any other idea than returning for the winter: and the truth was, I had the strongest possible inclination to return, and indisposition to wander away from the repose and beauty of my home. But the way soon cleared so as to leave me no doubt what I ought to do. My family urged my accepting an opportunity too fine ever to recur; Mr. Knight generously proposed to put my story into his “Weekly Volume,” and page: 532 wait for more “Playfellows,”—sending the money at once, to make my outfit easy; and my neighbours at Ambleside promised to look after my house and servant, and let the house if possible. Tenants were in it for a part of the time, and Jane was well taken care of for the rest; so that nothing could turn out better than the whole scheme. We were joined en route by Mr. J. C. Ewart, the present representative of Liverpool; and he remained with us till we reached Malta on our return. He thence wrote to his sister about our parting,—he to go to Constantinople, and we homewards; saying that our experience was, he feared, a very rare one;—that of a travelling party who had been in the constant and close companionship imposed by Nile and Desert travelling, for eight months, and who, instead of quarrelling and parting, like most such groups, had travelled in harmony, were separating with regret, and should be more glad to meet in future than we were before we set out. It is worth mentioning this, because I heard, a year or so afterwards, that a report was abroad that our party had quarrelled immediately,—in France,—and that I had prosecuted my Eastern journey alone. My book, however, must have demolished that fiction, one would think: but such fictions are tenacious of life. In my preface to that book, I related the kindness of my companions in listening to my journal, and in authorising me to say that they bore testimony to the correctness of my facts, to the best of their judgment, while disclaiming all connexion with the resulting opinions. I have a letter from Mr. Yates, in acknowledgment of his copy of the book, in which he bears the same testimony, with the same reservation, and adds an expression of gratification, on Mrs. Yates’s part and his own, at the manner in which they are spoken of throughout the work. Some idle reports about this matter, injurious to those excellent friends of mine, are probably extinct already: and if not, this statement will extinguish them.

My travelling companions and I met in London in October, after I had secured my outfit there, and run down into Norfolk to see old Norwich again. We had had hopes that Mr. Atkinson could go with us; and the plan had been nearly arranged; but he was prevented at the last, and could accompany us no page: 533 further than Boulogne. We traversed France to Marseilles, resting for two days at Paris, where, strange to say, I had never been before. We were quite late enough at best; but the evil chance which sent us on board the mail‐packet Volcano caused a most vexatious delay. We were detained, at the outset, for the mails. The captain started with a short supply of coal, because it was dear at Marseilles, and soon found that he had been “penny wise and pound foolish.” The engines of the vessel were too weak for her work; and the wind was dead against us. The captain forsook the usual route, and took the northerly one, for I forget what reason; and thus we were out of the way of succour. The vessel swarmed with cockroaches; two ill‐mannered women shared the cabin with Mrs. Yates and me; the captain was so happy flirting with one of them as to seem provokingly complacent under our delays. It was really vexatious to see him and the widow sitting hand‐in‐hand, and giggling on the sofa, while our stomachs turned at the sea‐pie to which we were reduced, and our precious autumn days were slipping away, during which we ought to have been at Cairo, preparing for our ascent of the Nile. It was worse with others on board,—gentlemen on their way to India, whose clothes and money were now sure to have left Malta before they could arrive there. One of these gentlemen was to meet at Malta a sister from Naples, whom he had not seen for twenty years, and who must either be in agony about his fate, or have given up the rendezvous as a failure. This gentleman, whose good manners and cheerfulness in company never failed, told me on deck, when no one was within hearing, that the trial was as much as he could bear. Some passengers were ill,—some angry,—some alarmed; and the occasion was a touch‐stone of temper and manners. All our coal was consumed, except enough for six hours,—that quantity being reserved to carry us into port. Every morning, the captain let us sail about a little, to make believe that we were on our way; but every evening we found ourselves again off Pantellaria, which seemed as much an enchanted island to us as if we had seen Calypso on its cliffs. Now and then, Sicily came provokingly into view, page: 534 and the captain told us he was bound not to touch there or any where till we were in extremity; and we should not be in extremity till he had burned the cabin wainscot and furniture, and the stairs and berths, and there was nothing whatever left to eat. We now had cheese and the materials for plum‐pudding. Every thing else on table began to be too disgusting for even sea‐appetites. A young lieutenant offered us a receipt for a dish which he said we should find palatable enough when we could get nothing better,—broiled boot leather, well seasoned.—As for me, I was an old sailor; and, when the sickness was once over, I kept on deck and did very well. The weather was dreary,—the ship sticky and dirty in every part,—and our prospects singularly obscure; but there was clearly nothing to be done but to wait as good‐humouredly as we could.

One afternoon, just before dinner, the fellow‐passenger who pined for his sister, hastily called the captain, who, looking towards the southern horizon, was in earnest for once. A thread of smoke was visible where all had been blank for so many days; and it was astonishing to me that the wise as well as the foolish on board jumped to the conclusion that it was a steamer sent from Malta in search of us. They were right; and in another hour we were in tow of our deliverer. There had been time for only two or three questions before we were on our course. I left the dinner‐table as soon as I could, and went to the bows, to see how her Majesty’s mail‐steamer looked in tow. The officers of the two vessels wanted to converse; but the wind was too high. “Try your trumpet,” was written on a black board in the other vessel. “Have not got one,” was our Lieutenant’s reply; to which the black board soon rejoined, “Why, that lady has got it.” They actually took my special trumpet for that of the ship. When in sight of Malta, we burned our remnant of coal; and at midnight a gun in Valetta barbour told the inhabitants that the Volcano was safe in port. Our party remained on board till the morning; but the brother and sister met that night; and we saw them on the ramparts next day, arm‐in‐arm, looking as happy as could be. I was made uneasy about my own family by hearing that Valetta page: 535 newspapers had gone to England the day before, notifying the non‐arrival of the Volcano, and the general belief that she was gone to the bottom, with the addition that I was on board. My first business was to close and dispatch the journal‐letter which I had amused myself with writing on board. Before it arrived, some of my relatives had been rendered as uneasy as I feared by the inconsiderate paragraph in the Valetta paper.

At Malta I began to feel (rather than see) the first evidences of the rivalry then existing between the English and French at the Egyptian Court. I could not conceive why Captain Glasscock, whose ship was then in the port, made so much of me; but his homage was so exaggerated that I suspected some reason of policy. He came daily, bringing his lady, and all his officers in parties; he loaded me with compliments, and seized every occasion of enforcing certain views of his own, which I was glad to hear in the way of guidance in a new scene; and his most emphatic enforcement of all was in regard to the merits of a certain Englishman who was waiting, he intimated, to worship us on our landing at Alexandria. Captain Glasscock insisted on sending my party in his man‐of‐war’s boat to the Ariel, in which we were to proceed to Egypt. We saw his friend at Alexandria, and received the promised homage, and, really, some agreeable hospitality, but not the impressions of the gentleman’s abilities of which we had been assured. By degrees it became apparent to me that what was wanted was that I should write a book on Egypt, like Mrs. Romer, who had preceded me by a year or two; and that, like Mrs. Romer, I should be flattered into advocating the Egyptian Railway scheme by which the English in Egypt hoped to gain an advantage over the French, and for which the Alexandrian gentleman had already imported the rails. There they lay, absorbing his capital in a very inconvenient manner; and he seized every chance of getting his scheme advocated. With Mrs. Romer he succeeded, but not with me. At Cairo I had the means of knowing that much more was involved in the scheme,—much difficulty with the Bedoueens and others besides the French,—than I had been told at Alexandria. I knew what would be the consequences page: 536 of my treatment of the matter in my book; and I learned them in an amusing way. An acquaintance of mine in London told me, a day or two after publication, that the brother of the Alexandrian gentleman, and part‐owner of the rails, had got a copy of the book already. “And he does not like it,” said I: “he tells you it is damned humbug.” My friend burst into a fit of laughter, shouting out, “Why, that is exactly what he did say.”

The greater was my reluctance to go this journey under my new and happy domestic circumstances, the stronger is the evidence of my estimate of its advantages. I should not have gone but for the entire conviction that it would prove an inestimable privilege. Yet, I had little idea what the privilege would turn out to be, nor how the convictions and the action of the remnant of my life would be shaped and determined by what I saw and thought during those all‐important months that I spent in the East. I need say nothing here of the charms of the scenery, and the atmosphere, and the novelty, and the associations with hallowed regions of the earth. The book I wrote on my return gives a freshest impression of all that enjoyment than any thing I could write now: but there were effects produced on my own character of mind which it would have been impertinent to offer there, even if the lapse of years had not been necessary to make them clear to myself. I never before had better opportunity for quiet meditation. My travelling companions, and especially the one with whom I was the most inseparably associated, Mrs. Yates, had that invaluable travelling qualification,—the tact to leave me perfectly free. We were silent when we chose, without fear of being supposed unmannerly; and I could not have believed beforehand that so incessant and prolonged a companionship could have entailed so little restraint. My deafness which would, in the opposite case, have imposed a most disabling fatigue, was thus rather an advantage. While we had abundance of cheerful conversation at meals and in the evenings, and whenever we were disposed for it, there were many hours of every day when I was virtually as much alone as I could have been in my own house; and, of the many page: 537 benefits and kindnesses that I received from my companions, none excited my lasting gratitude more than this. During the ten weeks that we were on the Nile, I could sit on deck and think for hours of every morning; and while we were in the desert, or traversing the varied scenery of Palestine, or winding about in the passes of the Lebanon, I rode alone,—in advance or in the rear of the caravan, or of our own group, without a word spoken, when it was once understood that it was troublesome and difficult to me to listen from the ridge of my camel, or even from my horse. I cannot attempt to give an idea what I learned during those quiet seasons. All the historical hints I had gained from my school days onward now rose up amidst a wholly new light. It is impossible for even erudite home‐stayers to conceive what is gained by seeing for one’s self the scenes of history, after any considerable preparation of philosophical thought. When, after my return, the Chevalier Bunsen told me that he would not go to Egypt, if he had the leisure, because he already knew every thing that could be learned about it, I could not but feel that this was a matter which could be judged of nowhere but on the spot; and that no use of the eyes and mind of Lepsius could avail him so well as the employment of his own. Step by step as we proceeded, evidence arose of the true character of the faiths which ruled the world; and my observations issued in a view of their genealogy and its results which I certainly did not carry out with me, or invent by the way side. It was not till we had long left the Nile, and were leaving the desert, that the plan of my book occurred to me. The book itself had been determined on from the time when I found the influx of impressions growing painful, for want of expression; and various were the forms which I imagined for what I had to say; but none of them satisfied me till that in which it afterwards appeared struck me, and instantly approved itself to me. It happened amidst the dreariest part of the desert, between Petra and Hebron,—not far from the boundary of Judea. I was ill, and in pain that day, from the face‐ache which troubled me in the dryest weather, amidst the hottest part of the desert; and one of our party rode beside me, to amuse page: 538 me with conversation. I told him that I had just been inspired with the main idea of my book about the East. “That is,” said he, “you think it the best scheme till you prefer another.” “No,” I replied; “there can be but one perfect one; and this completely answers to my view. My book will illustrate the genealogy, as it appears to me, of the old faiths,—the Egyptian, the Hebrew, the Christian and the Mohammedan.” After my life‐long study of the Hebrew and Christian, our travels in Palestine brought a rich accession of material for thought; and the Syrian part of the journey was the more profitable for what had gone before. The result of the whole, when reconsidered in the quiet of my study, was that I obtained clearness as to the historical nature and moral value of all theology whatever, and attained that view of it which has been set forth in some of my subsequent works. It was evident to me, in a way which it could never have been if I had not wandered amidst the old monuments and scenes of the various faiths, that a passage through these latter faiths is as natural to men, and was as necessary in those former periods of human progress, as fetishism is to the infant nations and individuals, without the notion being more true in the one case than in the other. Every child, and every childish tribe of people, transfers its own consciousness, by a supposition so necessary as to be an instinct, to all external objects, so as to conclude them all to be alive like itself; and passes through this stage of belief to a more reasonable view: and, in like manner, more advanced nations and individuals suppose a whole pantheon of Gods first,—and then a trinity, and then a single deity;—all the divine beings being exaggerated men, regarding the universe from the human point of view, and under the influences of human notions and affections. In proportion as this stage is passed through, the conceptions of deity and divine government become abstract and indefinite, till the indistinguishable line is reached which is supposed, and not seen, to separate the highest order of Christian philosopher from the philosophical atheist. A future point of my narrative will be the proper one for disclosing how I reached the other point of view for which I was now exchanging the theological and page: 539 metaphysical. What I have said will indicate the view under which I set about relating what I had seen and thought in the birthplaces of the old family of faiths.

I have said thus much, partly to show how I came by the views which I have been absurdly supposed to derive, in some necromantic way, from Mr. Atkinson. The fact is, our intercourse on these subjects had as yet hardly amounted to any thing. It may be dated, I think, from a letter which I wrote him in November 1847, and his reply. I had returned from the East in June 1847, after an absence of eight months: I had then paid the visits which had been intercepted by my eastern travel, and had returned home early in October. After settling myself, and considering the plan and materials of my book, I consulted Mr. Atkinson as to whether honesty required that I should avow the total extent of my dissent from the world’s theologies. I thought not, as my subject was the mutual relation of those theologies, and not their relation to science and philosophy. I had no desire to conceal, as my subsequent writings have shown, my total relinquishment of theology; but it did not seem to me that this book was the natural or proper ground for that kind of discussion. The birthplaces of the four faiths had been my study; and the four faiths were my specific subject; and it seemed to me that it would spoil the book to intrude any other. Thus it was settled; and the consideration of the point led to my writing the following letter to Mr. Atkinson. I give it here that it may be seen how my passage from theology to a more effectual philosophy was, in its early stages, entirely independent of Mr. Atkinson’s influence. It is true, these letters exhibit a very early stage of conviction,—before I had attained firmness and clearness, and while a large leaven of the old anxiety and obscurity remained. I was, as Mr. Atkinson said, out of the old ways; and he was about to show me the shortest way round the corner.

“Sunday evening, Nov. 7th, 1847.

“MY DEAR FRIEND,—I seem to have much to say; but I waited to hear from you, because, when people’s letters once cross, as ours did last time, they generally continue to do so. How I pity you for your yellow fog! Here it is grey mist, hanging or driving about page: 540 the mountain ridges. In the early morning I love to see it rising from the lake. I always go out before it is quite light; and in the fine mornings I go up the hill behind the church,—the Kirkstone road,—where I reach a great height, and see from half way along Windermere to Rydal. When the little shred of moon that is left, and the morning star, hang over Wansfell, among the amber clouds of the approaching sunrise, it is delicious. On the positively rainy mornings, my walk is to Pelter Bridge and back. Sometimes it is round the south end of the valley. These early walks (I sit down to breakfast at half‐past seven) are good, among other things, in preparing me in mind for my work. It is very serious work. I feel it so, more and more. The more I read (and I am reading a good deal) and the more I am struck with the diversity of men’s views, and the weakness, in some point or other, of all, in the midst of great learning, the more presumptuous it appears in me to speak at all. And yet, how are we to learn, if those who have travelled to the birthplaces of the old world do not tell what they think, in consequence of what they have seen? I have felt a good deal depressed,—or rather, say oppressed,—today about this. Tomorrow morning I begin upon my (necessary) sketch of the history of Egypt; and in preparation, I have been today reading again Heeren and Warburton. While I value and admire their accumulation of facts, I cannot but dissent from their inferences; that is, some of the most important of them. For instance, Warburton declares that rulers have ever strenuously taught the people the doctrines of a future life, and reward and punishment, without believing them; admits that some of the Egyptian priests believed in the Unity of God, and that Moses knew their opinions; and then argues that it is a proof that Moses’ legation was divine that he did not teach a future life, but a protracted temporal reward and punishment, extending to future generations. The existence, on the temple walls, of representations of judgment scenes, from the earliest times, and the presumption that the Egyptian priests believed in One (national) god,—Moses being in their confidence,—are inestimable facts to me; but my inference from the silence of Moses about a future life is that he was too honest to teach what he did not know to be true. But no more of this.

“The depressing feeling is from the conflict of opinions among people far wiser than myself about points which I do not believe at all; points which they believe, but in different ways. I am pretty confident that I am right in seeing the progression of ideas through thousands of years,—a progression advanced by every new form of page: 541 faith (of the four great forms)—every one of these faiths being beset by the same corruptions. But I do not know of any one who has regarded the matter thus: and it is an awful thing to stand alone in;—for a half‐learned person at least. But I cannot decline speaking about it. We cannot understand the old Egyptians and Arabians through any other channel of study. I must speak as diffidently as I truly feel, and as simply as possible. One thing (which I am to work out tomorrow) I cannot be wrong in;—in claiming for the old heathens the same rule we claim to be judged by. If we refuse to have our faith judged by our state of society, we must not conclude on theirs by their state of society. If we estimate our moral ideas by the minds of our best thinkers, we must estimate theirs by their philosophers, and not by the commonalty. Insisting on this, I think I can show that we have no right to despise either their faith or their best men. I must try, in short, to show that Men’s faculties exist complete, and pretty much alike, in all ages; and that the diversity of the objects on which they are exercised is of far less consequence than the exercise itself.—Do you not feel strangely alone in your views of the highest subjects? I do. I really know of no one but you to whom I can speak freely about mine. To a great degree, I always did feel this. I used to long to be a catholic, though I deeply suspected that no reliance on authority would give me peace of mind. Now, all such longings are out of the question; for I feel that I never could believe on any ground of reasoning what I once took for granted in prejudice. But I do feel sadly lonely, for this reason,—that I could not, if I tried, communicate to any one the feeling that I have that the theological belief of almost every body in the civilized world is baseless. The very statement between you and me looks startling in its presumption. And if I could, I dare not, till I have more assurance than I have now that my faith is enough for my own self‐ government and support. I know, as well as I ever knew any thing, that for support I really need nothing else than a steady desire to learn the truth and abide by it; and, for self‐government, that it is enough to revere my own best nature and capabilities: but it will require a long process of proof before I can be sure that these convictions will avail me, under daily pressure, instead of those by which I have lived all my life. At my age, when the season of moral resolution, and of permanent fervour from the reception of new ideas is pretty well over, one’s goodness must be, I fear, more the result of habit than of new inspiration.—And yet there is hope that some youthfulness is left in me, too. I trust so from my interest in the page: 542 subjects I am now writing about: and I have lately fairly broken the only two bad habits that ever had much power over me ... ...

“I quite enjoy your letter. I am always pleased to have your thoughts on your present subjects of study,—as I show by sending you mine. I agree emphatically with you about philosophers inventing methods instead of learning from nature how to teach.

“My house is so pretty, now it is finished! I hope Emerson is coming. Would you like to come and meet him or not? I don’t know whether he interests you. ... ... ... ... .”

Mr. Atkinson’s reply was delightful to me at the time; and it is so now, in remembrance of that time,—the beginning of my free communication to him of my views and studies. It is no fair specimen of his letters when I rose to a more equal reciprocity of intercourse, and when the comfort and satisfaction which I derived from standing firm on a higher standpoint than I had at this time reached rendered unnecessary the kind of encouragement which I derived from the following letter.

“18, Upper Gloucester Place, November 13, 1847.

“MY DEAR FRIEND,—Your letter has interested me extremely.—Most certainly we must judge the tree by its fruit, and the doctrine by its influence; calculating, of course, the whole circumstances and material in which that doctrine has to operate: and it would appear that all opinions with regard to a God and a future life had much the same fruits and sustaining influence, though producing results in proportion to the grossness and immorality of the times. But we must consider each view as a stage in the progress of knowledge and reason, and so, perhaps, essential to the circumstances of the times in which it existed. I would strongly urge a full consideration of this view; that Man cannot interfere with truth or nature; but that himself and his opinions are evolved in due course,—not in a perceptible direct line, but necessarily so, as regards the whole; so that in a wide view of the question, whatever is, is right, in its general and ultimate bearing, and ever must be so. That legislators have ever given forth certain views from motives of policy, and not from conviction of their truth, seems to me a most unwarrantable assertion, and certainly not agreeing with facts of the present times which we are able to recognise; though doubtless it was and is often so. You will do a great and good thing if you can trace the origin and progress of opinion in Eqypt. I had designed to do this in a general and page: 543 philosophical sense in the Introduction to my contemplated work, and to wage war, tooth and nail, as they say, against the assumptions of natural theology. Philosophers, with hardly an exception, cling to the idea of a God creator: Bacon at the head of them, saying that he would rather believe in all things most gross and absurd, than that creation was without a mind. How unphilosophical—I had almost said contemptible!* I recognised a godhead long after I rejected a revelation; but I can now perceive no tittle of evidence, in the mind or out of the mind, so to speak,—for such a belief, but that all evidence, reason and analogy are against it; and that the origin of the idea is traceable to the errors (and necessary errors) of the mind striving in ignorance.

“I delight in the tone of mind in which you enter on the inquiry with regard to Egypt’s Faith. That noble feeling—faith, how sadly is it cramped and misapplied,—though never to be considered sad in its position in the chain of progress, any more than pain or death is sad, as essential to the progress of life, and the fulfilment of the law. It is well that men feel loneliness in advancing in truth, for it holds them back to instruct and bring others forward, and gives them a mission to perform, to save their fellows from that to which they cannot return. For knowledge, to the truthful and earnest, is a mistress to whom you are wedded for life: and in confidence and constancy must you seek your self‐respect and happiness, whatever may be the peril and disaffection of the world. ‘I place a sword in the world,’ said Christ, ‘and set brother against brother.’—‘But blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.’ I see no pleasure in martyrdom: but I feel it necessary to die if it must be, in maintaining what I believe—earnestly, and in reason and faith believe,—to be true: to sacrifice friendship and every other thing to maintain this predominating impulse and want. You feel, nevertheless, a sense of loneliness now; and so do I; and have done more than I do now. But this is passing away, and one friend in truth is a host against the world assembled. The time may come when you, and perhaps I, may be pointed at and despised by thousands. Pshaw! what matter? I have more fear of an east wind or a November fog, than of all the hubbub they can make. But we may reasonably hope that it will not be so. There are too many believing as we believe on vital questions, and many more who are indifferent; and others may be convinced. Yet, still, the sense of loneliness will accompany you more

* See in explanation of this, “Letters on the Law of Man’s Nature and Development,” pp. 180, 182, 183.

page: 544 or less through much of your social intercourse; and friends may grow cold, and you may be misrepresented and misunderstood. But out of this sense of loneliness shall grow your strength, as the oak, standing alone, grows and strengthens with the storm; whilst the ivy, clinging for protection to the old temple wall, has no power of self‐support. Be sure that you will find sufficient, if you hold to the truth, and are true to yourself. How well does the great philosopher speak of the pleasure of standing fortified in truth watching the wandering up and down of other minds, and in pity and charity bending over their weakness! Strong in the faith and knowledge of good intentions, we must endeavour to fix the good, true, and noble impulses, and obliterate the evil ones. Thus we shall be strong in resignation and gratitude, enjoying all things that we may; indifferent as to the end, seeing that it is of no more consequence that we should live again, than that the pebble‐stones should rise and become living beings. The difficulty is not in the condition of self‐reliance, but in the want of sympathy under the pressure of adverse opinion, the mass of our prejudices which still encumber the brains action, and the soil where better thoughts and habits should have been early sown. Lesser minds will hereafter float easily and merrily down the stream where you find impediments; but the necessity of self‐support will give you strength, and pleasures which they shall not feel; and so the balance and opportunity are more even than would at first appear. A noble path lies before you, and stern necessity bids you accept unmoved what was ‘designed ’—for you from all time,—that link of being in which you exist and act. Not alone are we, but bound in the eternal laws of the whole. Let us unindividualize ourselves;—merge our personality in the infinite;—raise the ideal in our mind;—see each as but a part of that ideal;—and we lose the sense of imperfection—the sense of individual opinions and character, and rise into a new life of god‐like conceptions—active, practical, and earnest; but above the accidents of life: not altogether separate from, but superior to them; enjoying all the harmonious action of mind and body; loving with all our heart and in spirit, all that is good and noble and most beautiful;—casting out and destroying every wrong action of the mind, as we would the pains and ills of the body:—warming with affection and interest for every human being; untouched except by pity for their ill thoughts of us:—such are aspirations which may live in the breast which has rejected its Man‐God, and lost all faith in consciousness revived in the same shape and being from the grave. At least we lose the fear, (if we have not the page: 545 hope,) and the curse of a cruel uncertainty, and are left free to enjoy the present in seeking our best and highest happiness and exaltation. The highest minds will still impress the world with the sense of what is right; and the religion of morals and philosophy will advance, until theology is in the grave, and man will be free to think, and, morally expanded, will be more free to act than perhaps has yet entered into many brains to conceive; because men, in their fears and ignorance, look into the darkness and not into the light, and cannot measure beyond their knowledge. But this is too much of a preachment,—so I say stop!

“I should like, indeed, very much to see Emerson if it could be, you may be sure. I think you have a very high opinion of him. I fear I have filled up my letter with nothing, when I have so much in my thoughts to say that has engaged my attention.

“Well, well,—all in time. I am glad to hear Mr. — — is talking over such important questions with you. I hope you will find him free and wise. Pray remember me to them, will you? and to that cheerful, dear woman, Mrs. —. You have not told me what is to be the motto of your dial. Never mind but you should differ from the world; and, with that wise doubt of self which you express, you need not fear; for that will lead you to dwell on evidence, and on the cause of your opponent’s errors, and how you should be satisfied if your convictions be indeed the truth.

“Adieu, &c., &c.,


“P.S.—A friend just writes to me that he cannot understand the consciousness of doing wrong, if we have no free will, and are not accountable. This is at the root of the errors of philosophers, who take a particular state of feeling for the simple and essential condition of an innate sense. They argue a God from a similar error. Conscience arises from a sense of right, with the desire that the right should be done. But what is felt to be right depends much on the state of opinion and society. The sense of sinning is a mere condition and habit of thinking, arising from a belief in free will—a deifying of the mind.

“Much of the manner that has been thought pride in me, has arisen from a sense of loneliness and non‐sympathy with the opinions of others, and that they would dislike my opinions if they fully knew them. But I am passing over this barrier, in losing the care and thought of sympathy, in a livelier interest and care for the happiness page: 546 of all, and in the thought of the ultimate glory and triumph of all truth—when the wrong shall prove right, and the right shall become wrong.”

My reply will close, for the present, the subject of my anti‐theological views, at the beginning of my intimate correspondence with Mr. Atkinson,

“Ambleside November 21, 1847.

“MY DEAR FRIEND,—It was very kind of you to write that last letter to me. I agree in, and like, almost every word of it: but I was especially pleased to see your distinct recognition of the good of the old superstitions in their day. As a necessarian, you are of course bound to recognize this: but the way in which you point it out pleases me, because it is the great idea I have before me in my book. I have found the good of those old superstitions in my day. How it might have been with me (how much better) if I had had parents of your way of thinking, there is no saying. As it was, I was very religious (far beyond the knowledge and intentions of my parents) till I was quite grown up. I don’t know what I should have done without my faith; for I was an unhealthy and most unhappy child, and had no other resource. Yet it used to strike me often, and most painfully that, whatever relief and comfort my religion gave to my feelings, it did not help me much against my faults. Certainly, my belief in a future life never was either check or stimulus to me in the matter of self‐government. Five‐and‐twenty years ago I became a thoroughly grounded necessarian. I have never wavered for an hour on that point since; and nothing ever gave me so much comfort. Of course this paved the way for the cessation of prayer, I left off praying however, less from seeing the absurdity, (though I did see it) of petitioning about things already ordained, than from a keen sense of the impiety of prayer. First, I could not pray for daily bread, or for any outward good, because I really did not wish to ask for them,—not knowing whether they would be good for me or not. So, for some years, I prayed only for good states of mind for myself and others. Of course, the feeling grew on me that true piety required resignation about spiritual matters as much as others. So I left off express prayer: and without remorse. As for Christ’s example and need of prayer,—I felt that he did not mean what we mean by prayer; and I think so still. I think he wold condemn our prayers as much as he did those of the Pharisees of his time: and that with him prayer was contem‐ page: 547 plation contemplation and aspiration chiefly.—Next, I saw very painfully, (I mean with the pain of disgust) how much lower a thing it is to lead even the loftiest life from a regard to the will or mind of any other being, than from a natural working out of our own powers. I felt this first as to resignation under suffering, and soon after as to moral action. Now, I do know something of this matter of resignation. I know it to the very bottom. I have been a very great sufferer,—subject to keen miseries almost all my life till quite lately; and never, I am pretty confident, did any one acquiesce in God’s will with a more permanent enthusiasm than I did;—because this suited the bent of my nature. But I became ashamed of this;—ashamed of that kind of support when I felt I had a much higher ground of patience in myself. (Only think how shocked the orthodox would be at this, and how they would talk of the depravity of our nature, and of my awful presumption! I saw a sort of scared smile on Mrs. —’s face the other day, when, in talking about education, I said we had yet to see what could be done by a direct appeal to our noble human nature. She, liberal as she is, thinks we have such active bad tendencies, such interior corruption, that we can do nothing without—not effort, or toil, but—Help. Yet she, and Mrs. — too, devours my Household Education papers, as if she had never met with any thing true before on that subject. She says I most certainly have been a mother in a pre‐existent state: and yet if she knew that these papers were founded on ‘infidel’ and phrenological principles, she would mourn over me with deep grief.)—Well but,—you see now, how long a preparation I have had; and how gradual, for my present freedom.—As to what my present views are, when clearly brought to the point of expression, they are just these. I feel a most reverential sense of something wholly beyond our apprehension. Here we are, in the universe! this is all we know: and while we feel ourselves in this isolated position, with obscurity before and behind, we must feel that there is something above and beyond us. If that something were God, (as people mean by that word, and I am confident it is not) he would consider those of us the noblest who must have evidence in order to belief;—who can wait to learn, rather than rush into supposition. As for the whole series of Faiths, my present studies Would have been enough, if I had not been prepared before, to convince me that all the forms of the higher religions contain, (in their best aspect) the same great and noble ideas, which arise naturally out of our own minds, and grow with the growth of the general mind; but that there is really no evidence whatever of any page: 548 sort of revelation, at any point in the history. The idea of a future life, too, I take to be a necessary one, (I mean necessary for support) in its proper place, but likely to die out when men better understand their nature and the summum bonum which it incloses. At the same time, so ignorant as I am of what is possible in nature, I do not deny the possibility of a life after death: and if I believed the desire for it to be as universal as I once thought it, I should look upon so universal a tendency as some presumption in fayour of a continuous life. But I doubt the desire and belief being so general as they are said to be: and then, the evidence in fayour of it is nothing;—except some unaccountable mesmeric stories.—is for your correspondent’s very young question, about why we should do right,—how such remarks show that we neglect our own nature while running after the supposed pleasure of another! I am sure I never felt more desirous of the right than I do now, or more discomposed when it flashes across me that I have done wrong. But I need not write about this to you, of all people.—What a long confession of faith I have written you! Yes, it is faith, is it not?—and not infidelity, as ninety‐nine hundredths of the world would call it.—As for the loneliness I spoke of, I don’t generally mind it: and there is abundant ground of sympathy between me and my best friends, as long as occasion does not require that I should give names to my opinions. I have not yet had any struggle with my natural openness or indiscretion. I never could conceal any opinion I hold, and I am sure I never would: and I know therefore that I am at the mercy (in regard to reputation and some of my friendships) of accident, which may at any hour render an avowal necessary. But I do not fear this. I have run so many inferior risks, and suffered so little in peace by divers avowals and heresies, that I am not likely to tremble now. What does give me a qualm sometimes, is thinking what such friends as — and as — will suffer, whenever they come to know that I think their “Christian hope” baseless. They are widows, and they live by their expectation of a future life.* I seriously believe that — would go mad or die, if this hope was shaken in her: and my opinions are more to her than any others since her husband’s death. But I say to myself as you would say,—that these matters must take care of themselves. If the truth comes to me, I must believe it.—Yes, I should not wonder if there is a prodigious clamour

* I need not have feared. The one was offended and the other grieved; but neither understood me. The one behaved ill and the other well; and both presently settled down into their habitual conceptions.

page: 549 against me, some day, as you say;—perhaps after this book comes out. But I don’t think I should care for that, about a matter of opinion. I should (or might) about a matter of conduct; for I am sadly weak in my love of approbation: but about a matter of opinion, I can’t and don’t believe what I once did; and there’s an end. It is a thing which settles itself;—for there is no going back to discarded beliefs. It is a great comfort to me to have you to speak to, and to look to for sympathy. It is a delightful indulgence and refreshment: but if you were to die, or to be engrossed by other interests and occupations, so as to diverge from me, I think I could do without sympathy, in a matter so certain as my inability to believe as I once did.—But enough and too much. There will surely never be occasion to write you such a letter again. But I have written, not so much about my mind, as about a mind, which you, as a philosopher, may like to see into, as well as to sympathise with as a friend ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... I walk every morning, never stopping for weather. I shall have the young moon now for ten days. Emerson is engaged (lecturing) deep at present, but hopes to come by and by. He is free, if any man is. So I hope you can come when he does.—The motto of the dial is, “Come, light! Visit me!” Old Wordsworth likes this much.

“O! your letter was very pleasant to me. We rarely agree as completely as I do in that.

“Good night!—it is late. Ever yours truly,


Mr. Emerson did come. He spent a few days in February with me; and, unfavourable as the season was for seeing the district,—the fells and meadows being in their dunnest haycolour instead of green,—he saw in rides with a neighbour and myself some of the most striking features in the nearer scenery. I remember bringing him, one early morning, the first green spray of the wild currant, from a warm nook. We met soon after in London, where Mr. Atkinson made acquaintance with him. It was a great pleasure to me to have for my guest one of the most honoured of my American hosts, and to find him as full as ever of the sincerity and serenity which had inspired me with so cordial a reverence twelve years before.

The mention of “Household Education” in the letter just quoted reminds me of some work that I was busy about when page: 550 invited to go to the East. “The People’s Journal” was then in the hands of Mr. Saunders, who has since shown more of his quality than he had scope for in that periodical, but who engaged my respect by the spirit in which he carried on his enterprise. He was a perfect stranger to me before; but we soon became friends on the ground of that enterprise of his; and I wrote a good deal for him;—a set of papers called “Surveys from the Mountain,” and many on desultory subjects: I forget when it was that he suggested the subject of “Household Education” to me, as one which required different treatment from any that it had hitherto met with: but it was certainly after my return from the East, and after his discontinuance of the “People’s Journal,” that I planned the volume,—the first chapters of which had been written at his request. When I was entirely independent of him, and had nothing to consider but the best use to make of my opportunity, I resolved to write the book for the Secularist order of parents. It had been conveyed to me, before this time, that there was a great want of juvenile literature for the Secularists, who could obtain few story‐books for their children which were not stuffed with what was in their eyes pernicious superstition. People of all beliefs can see the hardship of this; and I was forcibly struck by it. If the age of fiction‐writing had not been over with me, so that I felt that I could not write good stories, I should have responded to the appeal by writing more children’s tales. The next best thing that I could do was to write for the Secularists a familiar book on “Household Education.” Two surprises awaited me, on the appearance of that volume:—the bulk of the Secularist body, and the cordial reception of the book by Christian parents. After the publication of the “Atkinson Letters,” I had reason to know how very different was the state of opinion in England from an thing that I had supposed when I had felt lonely in my views. I then found that I was, as far as I can discover, actually on the bide of the majority of sensible and thoughtful persons; and that the Christians, who are apt to look on a seceder as, in some sort, a fallen person, are in fact in a minority, under that mode of reckoning, The reception of my book, when its qualities page: 551 came to be understood, prepared me for the welcome discovery of the actual condition of the Secularists, and their daily extending prospects; while it proved that there are a good many Christian parents who can accept suggestion and aid from one who will not pronounce their Shibboleth; and that they can enter into moral sympathy with one who finds aspiration to be wholly unconnected with notions of inherent human corruption, free will, and the immortality of the soul. The book was published in 1848; and it must be published again; for it has been for some time out of print.

The winter of 1847‐8 passed delightfully in the preparation of my book. I doubt whether there is any higher pleasure, in which intellectual and moral enjoyment are commingled, than in writing a book from the heart;—a book of one’s own conception and wrought out all alone: and I doubt whether any author could feel more satisfaction, (in proportion to individual capacity for pleasure, of course) in the production of a book than I did in regard to “Eastern Life.” I wrote on in entire security about its publication; for I had made an agreement with Mr. Murray in the autumn. His father had wished to publish for me, and had made more than one overture; and I wished to try whether there was advantage, in point of circulation, in being published by Murray. After the failure of the “Game Law Tales,” I considered myself fully authorised to do the best I could for my next work; and especially for one so considerable as “Eastern Life.” I had every desire that Mr. Murray should know precisely what he was undertaking; and I explained to him, in the presence of a witness, as distinctly as possible, and even with reiteration, what the plan and agreement of the book were designed to be. He seemed so entirely satisfied, and offered his terms afterwards with so much good will, that I never dreamed of difficulty, and sent him the M.S. of the two first volumes when finished. After a note of acknowledgment and compliment, the M.S. was immediately returned, with a curt note which afforded no explanation. Mr. Murray could not publish the book; and that was all. The story goes that Mr. Murray was alarmed by being told,—what he then gave forth as his page: 552 plea for breach of contract,—that the book was a “conspiracy against Moses.” Without crediting this joke in full, we may suppose that his clerical clients interfered to compel him to resign the publication; and I understood, on good authority, long after, when the success of the book was secure, that he heartily regretted the mischance. I wrote by the same day’s post to Mr. Moxon, to tell him the facts of the case, and to offer him the publication, which he accepted by return of post,—on the usual terms; viz., that Mr. Moxon should take the risk, and give me two‐thirds of the profits. The first year’s proceeds made my house and its contents my own. I declined all interest in the second edition, desiring that my share of the proceeds should go to the cheapening of the book. I had got all I wanted from it, in the way of money, and I had an earnest desire that it should circulate widely among the less opulent class who were most likely to sympathise with its contents. I do not know why I should not relate an incident, in connexion with this matter, which it gratifies me to recall. One day in the desert, when some hostile Arabs waylaid our party, my camel‐leader trotted me away, against my will, from the spectacle of the fight which was to ensue. The same thing happened to Mr. and Mrs. Yates; and we three found ourselves near a clump of acacias where we were to await the event of the feud, and the rest of our caravan. We alighted, and sat down in the scanty shade. Mr. Yates served that this encounter would be a picturesque incident for my book: and this led us to talk of whether there should be a book or not. I told Mr. Yates that this was a good opportunity for mentioning my chief scruple about writing the book at all. I knew he and Mrs. Yates would not sympathise in it; but yet it was best to utter it frankly. I scrupled about making money by a journey which was his gift. The surprise expressed in his countenance was really amusing. “O, dear!” said he: “I am sure Mrs. Yates and I shall be very happy indeed if you should be able so soon to make your house completely your own. It will be, indeed, another pleasant consequence of this journey, that we had not thought of.” It gave me hearty satisfaction, after this, to write to them that, through this book, their kind wish was fulfilled.