« PreviousContinue »
But light is shining, or there would not even be these colours; and there is hope ningled with the regret with which an impartial spectator looks upon the varying partizans who can see things only in one light—a hope that the idea may come to all, to go out under the broad sky, and behold the harmony of all the rays, and survey the face of the world in that white light. The science of political economy, also, is the expression,
nay, the creation, of this principle of social responsibility; and the idea of it will never die, although the form it may wear be reduced to ashes many times; even as the body of the phanix, ever and anon, is consumed by the progressive fervour of its immortal life, which constantly requires a fresh and finer embodiment. In this science, Miss Martineau has come upon the world as a teacher—not that she pretends to have discovered any new principles, but that she has shown a wonderful power of illustrating the views of a certain class of political economists in a new form, and of placing the science itself on a moral ground.
We do not happen to agree with Miss Martineau in all her principles of political economy. With one of them, we would make open war.
But we cannot be insensible to the wonderful talent she has shown, in her series of illustrations: to the glow of moral life and beauty she has shed over those sad tales, which show the baneful effect of human errors in legislation, and to the strongvoiced and deeply-breathing humanity which pervades them all. If our object were to speak of these beautiful tales, we should have much to say.
Ås works of art, they far surpass the two volumes of essays which are before us. But the latter, also, have several articles on political economy, taken up in a general point of view. In the essay on " Theology, Politics, and Literature," she presents a striking view of the claims of her favourite science, upon the student, by giving a very broad definition to the word politics, which we should ever keep in mind is hersin order to do justice to her,-however little we may be inclined to adopt it as our own. Also, in her essay on the duty of studying political economy, (a review of an Ameri
work upon the subject), she certainly proves that every man, who votes in a community, ought to understand what is to be known of this new science.
Following out Miss Martineau's principle, however, that every man has a right to apply his capital” (in which, surely, his mind and time must be included), “as he pleases,” many individuals will dispute her assertion, that no one has a right to be a member of a community, who does not choose to make himself master of political economy. Michael Angelo would leave society his debtor, even if he should come again, and do only as he did before, when no such science as political
economy was named among men. When riding this hobby, Miss Martineau sometimes forgets her liberality, if not her justice and kind-heartedness. The sneer upon Mr. Sadler, in the essay just spoken of, whatever may be his folly or wisdom, might be retorted upon Miss Martineau, with quite as much logic. There are many that think she “has a degree of influence, to which her qualifications do not entitle her, and which cannot long be maintained :" but there would be as little reasoning as good feeling in saying this, in reply to any of her arguments.
We think Miss Martineau is right in making political economy a branch of moral science. But when it is still more thoroughly felt that the true science is but the application of the golden rule and law of love to the relations of the government and governed, writers will not be condemned, as devoid of understanding,--if, because an exception has been created in an isolated spot of earth, by a series of absurd laws, operating as a bounty on a species of population that goes back to no unsophisticated impulse as its origin,--they yet do not give up, as a first principle, a divine law which is ultimately found in nothing less than the true action of the unselfish and chaste soul. The question of population is too much complicated, at present, with party interests and by party prejudices, to admit of any satisfactory practical solution ; but there are those who feel, that they, who will not let their system be governed by a rule of exception which a vicious state of things may promulgate for a time,--are obeying higher laws of reason than they break.
But to return. It is not merely science and political events, but literature, which wakes with a new life and purpose in this present age. Essays upon society, in every form, and starting from every point of the social system, are teeming from the free presses of England, France, and America. On the one hand, Burke and Mad. de Stael set an example of applying the highest philosophic genius, to viewing, in the light of first principles, the relations and duties of society. On the other ħand, the light form of fiction has become the efficient expression of the same all-pervading movement. On this point we will quote Miss Martineau, herself:-
“If an author of equal genius with Scott were to arise to-morrow, would not meet with an equal reception; not only because novelty is worn off, but because the serious temper of the times requires a new direction of the genius of the age. Under the pressure of difficulty, in the prospect of extensive change, armed with expectation, or filled with determination as the general mind now is, it has not leisure or disposition to receive even its amusements unmixed with what is solid and has a bearing upon its engrossing interests. There may still be the
thoughtless and indolent, to whom mere fiction is necessary, as a pastime; but these are not they who can guarantee an author's influence, or secure his popularity. The bulk of the reading public, whether or not on the scent of utility, cannot be interested without a larger share of philosophy, or a graver purpose in fiction, than formerly; and the writer who would effect most for himself and others in his department, must take his heroes and heroines from a different class than any which has yet been adequately represented."-Vol. I. pp. 53, 54.
And a little farther back, in the same article, she says:
“The grandest manifestations of passion remain to be displayed ; the finest elements of the poetry of human emotion are yet uncombined; the most various dramatic exhibition of events and characters is yet unwrought, for there has yet been no recorder of the poor : at least none who write as mere observers; who describe, but do not dramatize humble life.” — Vol. I. p. 52.
In this new literature of the people, Miss Martineau, herself, takes a high rank. Inspired with the finest affections of a woman, and taking her stand on all in human nature and the counsels of God, which the affections reveal, her clear understanding gives her wide and true views of social relations and duties. This is not only abundantly displayed in her illustrations, from which we now turn aside, because we could not do justice to their merits in a paragraph, but in these volumes, in which Liëse and other dramatic pieces evidently prove that the dramatic form is her peculiar art. In telling a tale of human life, she is hardly rivalled by our highly gifted countrywoman, Miss Sedgwick; whom she supasses, indeed, in the power of painting stern and deep passions, and of drawing from them natural events-also, in masculine finish of expressionalthough she falls below her in gracefulness of thought and a certain natural tenderness, which enable Miss Sedgwick to touch the tears of joy still more frequently than those of sorrow and indignation, and win her readers to virtue with a smile of love.
But to return to the essays, which principally make up the volumes before us.
The preface is rather an elaborate disquisition, in which the author labours to show that a growing comprehension of the principle of social responsibility, which she thinks may be traced in these miscellanies, arranged as they are in a chronological order, is a progress of worship. We agree with her that it required herself to point this out, as far as this book is concerned. But whether it be true, or not, that her own literary life exhibits this progress of worth in any striking degree, we thank her for expressing the noble idea. The true worship of God is, indeed, a social action-more and more in conformity with the action of Providence. We like to have this stated in an abstract proposition, as well as set forth in "Liëse;" "Solitude
and Society;" and we would add, “The Early Sowing,” but that, with the last, we have some fault to find. How could she draw such a picture of malignity as Ned, and then make him so quickly good? This instance of a sketch of character, which does not prove itself to be true, is unparalleled in all her works that we have seen. She generally makes her children true to nature, in spite of views of childhood, quite fatal to all that poetry has loved to say of it, quite inconsistent with the manner in which Christianity speaks of it. She intimates, in many places, among the rest in the musing of the poplar grove, that children have no natural attractions to the unseen and infinite; and that, inasmuch as they can have no perception of spiritual good, their very devotions must consist in thanksgiving for the outward only. Another notion of hers, and which may partly expláin Ned's first state, is, that the sufferings of the heart naturally produce harshness and malignity. This idea deforms that otherwise beautiful musing in the hermit's cave, in which she describes to us the various exercises that the bride had gone through. We think it must have been a peculiarly infirm temper, which would have made the “ places” of a beloved parental home“ disgusting," because a home of one's own could not be had at a wish.
The essay on Moral Independence, to which we have before adverted, contains several important ideas. Not only that sympathy with God and sympathy with man must keep in harmony, in order to all being right within us, which she illustrates by showing how sometimes the one and sometimes the other being exaggerated in proportion to its companion, moral evil has resulted, and what moral evil; but she shows in it that we can see and meditate on God to edification in society, as well as in nature. Finally, she shows, in pursuing the subject of the essay, that though moral weakness may result
, in some rare instances, from extreme delicacy and modesty, leading one who thinks differently from all his fellows, to distrust himself, it more frequently results from want of nerve, love of wealth, office-seeking, or all-devouring vanity. And to each of these vices she speaks with eloquent exhortation.
Next to this essay, the most valuable in the book for practical wisdom are two—on the agency of feelings in the formation of habits, and on the agency of habits in the regeneration of feelings. These two essays meet the difficulties of a great many minds which are earnestly bent on self-cultivation and moral discipline. We recommend them especially to young women just entering upon the serious duties of life ; particularly if they are at all discouraged with themselves. The question between principle anā feeling is very practically considered, and satisfactorily settled, in them.
The essays on the proper use of the Retrospective Faculty, and the proper use of the Prospective Faculty, have also much practical value; though we think them not quite equal to the two preceding ones. And the essay on Country Burial Grounds displays much sweet feeling, though it is sensibility mainly excited by a doctrine in which we cannot agree. Every argument for keeping sacred the resting place of beloved dust remains, however, even to those who believe that the beloved spirits are away among the stars, no nore to assume what they laid down at death. The Summer Evening Dialogue between an Englishman and a Pole closes this series of "Moral Essays." It is very beautifully written, and satisfactorily proves to our minds at least the absurdity and inhumanity of the corn laws.
We have spoken of what Miss Martineau is, or rather have given our notion of her merits. Our sympathy and commendation have been so strongly expressed as to prove our friendship; and, therefore, we think we may avail ourselves of the privilege of friendship, so far as to say, what, in our humble opinion, she is not
She is not a poet. It was a pity that she placed the word poetry over the collection of pieces at the end of the first volume, which proves so plainly, even to the ear, that she wants the accomplishment of verse. Even the good sentiments expressed in them can hardly drag the reader over the unmusical stanzas. The Parables that precede these attempts at verse are quite musical prose, however, which she has a gift at writing. But, even in these, there is great deficiency of imagination, in the highest sense of that word. The allegory is verbal, and we may remark, that in all her descriptions of nature, she displays rather the eye of a painter of scenery (a beauty-loving eye, we admit), than the soul of an artist, which, whether on the canvass, or with words, creates or combines anew forms for universal ideas and feelings. In poetical thought, strictly speaking, she is absolutely deficient. Neither is Miss Martineau a philosopher. She has displayed no genius for metaphysics—by which is here meant psychology. This we do not think on account of her having adopted any particular philosophical opinions; for we know that great philosophical genius may be displayed in the setting forth and defence of false philosophy, as it often has been." But we draw our conclusion from the fact that she confounds systems of thought, essentially different, quite unconsciously to herself; and, in her Moral Essays, reasons on premises which she denies in her metaphysical articles. Thus, in one of her essays, she says of the human being after death :
How different must be the entrance, upon another world, of the enlightened from that of the perverted intellect? The one has been taught