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Harriet Martineau's Autobiography . Martineau, Harriet, 1802–1876.
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page: 587


[PAGE 463.]


PUTNEY PARK, Sunday, 27th December, 1840.

DEAR MISS MARTINEAU,—I have often regretted that Lord Grey’s intention had been so strenuously resisted by you, and that he had not remained in power long enough to afford time for you to reconsider your first impulse.

I write now to say that although I have only spoken to one person on the subject, we were both strongly of opinion that it ought to be a gratification to Lord Melbourne to do what Lord Grey would have done; and I only wish to know that, if such a step were taken, it would not be resisted by you.

I do not wish to give you the trouble of writing to me on this subject. Your silence will be quite sufficient; and I trust you know me well enough to confide in the discretion of

Dear Miss Martineau, Yours very faithfully,


TYNEMOUTH, December 29, 1840.

MY DEAR MR. HUTTON,—Our friend has given me your letter. She would not keep back for a day what she knew would be so sure a gratification to me. You would not easily believe the delight your note has afforded me, as a fresh instance of your faithful and generous friendship.

It is a pleasure to me to answer your note: but, if it were not, I should write, on account of the interpretation which my silence would bear. My objections to Literary pensions, conferred otherwise than immediately by Parliament, remain in full force. I owe it to your kindness to state the grounds of my objections to this mode of vision: but I own to you, that (apart from all scruples of pride) my page: 588 feelings against receiving a pension are full as strong as my reason, and would, I believe, induce me to give my present answer, if I had no reasons to offer.

The first of these reasons is that I think money conferred as a reward for public service should be given by the public served,—such service having been altogether irrespective of Government. If such pensions were conferred by the representatives of the people, instead of by the ministers, (whom I cannot look upon as true exponents of the popular desire in this instance) I might perhaps thankfully accept what under present arrangements I must decline.—Again I am certain that I should lose more or less of my freedom of speech, if not of thought. I am aware how generously it is desired that the recipients of pensions should divest themselves of this feeling. But with me this would be impossible. I could never again deny to myself that I was under a personal obligation to the Premier and others; and I need not specify to you what restrictions would follow of course.

Again, I am sure that my personal influence, and that which I exercise through the press would suffer much—not with all, but with many. If I were fully satisfied as to the act being unexceptionable, I should probably disregard any misinterpretation that might be put upon it. But, feeling as I do, I should suffer from any consequent decline of my influence, without having a fight to complain; accompanied as such decline would be by a loss on my own part of self‐respect. I have a strong suspicion that if I accepted a pension, I should never again address the public with freedom and satisfaction.

You will not, I am sure, suspect me of blaming any who take the sort of pension which I feel myself compelled to decline. If they think and feel differently, they are right in acting differently. I speak only for myself.

Let me assure you that I do not feel the need of this assistance. My wants are small, and thus far I have supplied them. I am still able to work. If I lose this power, I have a little in store to meet what will then probably be but a short exigency. If I continue able to work, I hope to remain as free from anxiety about the means of subsistence as I am at present.

I do not say that I, in common with other authors, have not a claim for aid; just cause to complain of my poverty: but the claim is one which cannot be met by royal or ministerial bounty. If literary property had been protected by law as all other property is, I should page: 589 now have been enjoying more than a competence, together with advantages of another kind, which I value far more. In this direction, my dear friend, you may be able to benefit, not me, perhaps,—it may be too late for that, but many authors in a future time, who may be happier in the protection of the laws than literary labourers of this generation. To ministers who will see to the carrying out of laws already passed for our protection, and to Members of Parliament who will urge the passing of others, I promise gratitude as strong as if I owed them a situation of pecuniary ease for life.

I shall feel henceforth that fresh strength has been added to the respect and regard with which I have ever been

Yours most truly,


INDIA BOARD, Wednesday,August 18th, 1841.

DEAR MISS MARTINEAU—Lord Melbourne having heard of your present illness, as well as of the inconvenience to which you are subjected by the mode in which your money is settled, has desired me as a friend of yours to inquire whether you would accept a pension of £150 per annum on the Civil List. It is out of his power to offer you more in the present state of things: but I hope you will not refuse him the opportunity of giving this proof of his respect for your writings and character, inadequate as the amount proposed may be.

If you will accept this offer, have the goodness to write me word to that effect; and let me have the answer by return of post, as Lord Melbourne is desirous of completing the arrangement before he goes out of office.

I cannot tell you how grieved I have been by recent accounts of your sufferings: and how rejoiced I shall be if the offer which I have now the pleasure of communicating to you shall have the effect of contributing in any degree to your comfort.

Believe me, Dear Miss Martineau, Yours very truly,


12, FRONT STREET, TYNEMOUTH, August 19th, 1841.

SIR,—I am requested by my sister, Miss Harriet Martineau, to acknowledge the receipt of your kind communication of yesterday’s page: 590 date. She is too unwell, I regret to have to state, to write tonight, She commissions me therefore to give from her her answer to the most considerate proposal with which she has been honoured by Lord Melbourne. Her answer is that she cannot accept it. She hopes in a few posts to send explanations which will show that her decision arises neither from disrespect nor insensibility to the kindness: least of all from any regard to the amount.

I have the honour to remain, Sir, Yours with much respect,


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,


page: 593 INDIA BOARD, August 26th.

MY DEAR MISS MARTINEAU,—I am very sorry that you have not thought it right to accept the pension which has been offered to you: but I cannot but respect most highly the conscientious feelings which induced you to decline it. And I am most glad to find that you so justly and kindly appreciate Lord Melbourne’s conduct in making the offer. He regrets that it has been unavailing: but let me assure you that he is very sensible of the kind terms in which you expressed yourself about him, and of the high motives by which you have been actuated in your refusal.

I would fain hope from the language of your letter, and from seeing that you have of late been publishing new works, that you do not suffer much, or rather, so much as I had been led to believe. I trust that you are not doomed to the long inaction which you yourself apprehend: and that you may, if not soon, at any rate at some time be restored to your former vigour and enjoyment of life.

... ... ... ... ... ... ...

Yours very truly,


HOWICK, Monday, October 31st, 1842.

MY DEAR MISS MARTINEAU,—I am very sorry that the publication of our correspondence should have caused you a moment’s uneasiness. I did not first see it in the “Chronicle:” and the paper in which I did see it (I think it was the “Times”) did give a letter from — showing that the publication took place without your sanction. This was all that was requisite to satisfy me, for the correspondence itself is most honourable to you, very much so to Lord Melbourne, and even a little so to me. I cannot regret that the world should know it: nor can he.

I should have written to him to give the little explanation necessary to set every thing right with him, had I not been prevented by hearing of his illness. It is, I am sorry to hear from too good authority far more serious than the papers like to represent it: for it was a paralytic stroke, which deprived him for a while of the use of one side: and though he has already partly recovered this, they say he will probably never again be able to take an active part in public life. When I return to town, which will be before the end of the week, I will explain the matter to him, if I hear that he is well enough to entertain the subject.

page: 594

I am much nearer you than you imagined; and did hope to be able to go to see you in my way to London. But I fear that I shall be obliged to hurry back in great haste.

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

I wish you had given me better tidings of your health. I did hear a better account of it: but I fear from what you say that you have no immediate prospect of returning strength.

Believe me, dear Miss Martineau, Very truly yours,



Cambridge: Electrotyped and Printed by Welch, Bigelow, & Co.

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