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Harriet Martineau

  • [I] wish that the land-tax went a little more according to situation than it does. 'Tis really ridiculous, how one has to pay five times as much as another, without any reason that ever I heard tell.

  • These people are a specimen of how people talk, the wide world over ... You see how they argue upon the vast interests of vast bodies from the temporary aspect of their own little affairs.

  • There are always principles to be depended upon in this matter of taxation ... Amidst the inconsistent, the bewildering representations offered, a certain number must be in accordance with true principles ...

  • The last thing it [government] ought to do is to ground its proceedings on the ignorance of the people, — to yield them that which they will hereafter despise the donors for granting them.

  • The highest condition of the religious sentiment is when it has attained repose; when the worshipper not only sees God every where, but sees nothing which is not full of God.

    • Harriet Martineau,
    • preface, Miscellanies, vol. 1 ()
  • Who is not apt, on occasion, to assign a multitude of reasons when one will do? This is a sure sign of weakness in argument.

    • Harriet Martineau,
    • "On the Art of Thinking" (1829), Miscellanies, vol. 1 ()
  • ... happiness consists in the full employment of our faculties in some pursuit ...

    • Harriet Martineau,
    • "On the Art of Thinking" (1829), Miscellanies, vol. 1 ()
  • ... influence which is given on the side of money is usually against truth.

    • Harriet Martineau,
    • "On Moral Independence," Miscellanies, vol. 1 ()
  • We are not responsible for our feelings, as we are for our principles and actions. ... Our care, then, should be to look to our principles, and to avoid all anxiety about our emotions. Their nature can never be wrong where our course of action is right, and for their degree we are not responsible.

    • Harriet Martineau,
    • "On the Agency of Feelings in the Formation of Habits," Miscellanies, vol. 1 ()
  • The habit of dwelling on the past, has a narrowing as well as a debilitating influence. Behind us, there is a small, — an almost insignificant measure of time; before us, there is an eternity. It is the natural tendency of the mind to magnify the one, and to diminish the other ...

    • Harriet Martineau,
    • "Proper Use of the Retrospective Faculty," Miscellanies, vol. 1 ()
  • [On being deaf:] How much less pain there is in calmly estimating the enjoyments from which we must separate ourselves, of bravely saying, for once and for ever, 'Let them go,' than in feeling them waste and dwindle, till their very shadows escape from our grasp!

    • Harriet Martineau,
    • "Letter to the Deaf," Miscellanies, vol. 1 ()
  • [On being deaf:] We must struggle for whatever may be had, without encroaching on the comfort of others.

    • Harriet Martineau,
    • "Letter to the Deaf," Miscellanies, vol. 1 ()
  • [On being deaf:] We can never get beyond the necessity of keeping in full view the worst and the best that can be made of our lot. The worst is, either to sink under the trial, or to be made callous by it. The best is, to be as wise as is possible under a great disability, and as happy as is possible under a great privation.

    • Harriet Martineau,
    • "Letter to the Deaf," Miscellanies, vol. 1 ()
  • In the United States, as elsewhere, there are, and have always been, two parties in politics ... It is remarkable how nearly their positive statements of political doctrine agree, while they differ in almost every possible application of their common principles.

  • Even if their outward fortunes could be absolutely equalized, there would be, from individual constitution alone, an aristocracy and a democracy in every land. The fearful by nature would compose an aristocracy, the hopeful by nature a democracy, were all other causes of divergence done away.

  • It is characteristic of genius to be hopeful and aspiring. It is characteristic of genius to break up the artificial arrangements of conventionalism, and to view mankind in true perspective, in their gradations of inherent rather than of adventitious worth. Genius is therefore essentially democratic, and has always been so ...

  • ... I saw no poor men, except a few intemperate ones. I saw some very poor women; but God and man know that the time has not come for women to make their injuries even heard of.

  • ... the sum and substance of female education in America, as in England, is training women to consider marriage as the sole object in life, and to pretend that they do not think so.

  • ... the last degree of honesty has always been, and is still considered incompatible with statesmanship. To hunger and thirst after righteousness has been naturally, as it were, supposed a disqualification for affairs ...

  • Scarcely anything that I observed in the United States caused me so much sorrow as the contemptuous estimate of the people entertained by those who were bowing the knee to be permitted to serve them.

  • ... it is a testament to the strength and purity of the democratic sentiment in the country, that the republic has not been overthrown by its newspapers.

  • It is hard to tell which is worse; the wide diffusion of things that are not true, or the suppression of things that are true.

  • ... the systematic abuse with which the newspapers of one side assail every candidate coming forward on the other, is the cause of many honorable men, who have a regard to their reputation, being deterred from entering public life; and of the people being thus deprived of some better servants than any they have.

  • ... the worship of Opinion is, at this day, the established religion of the United States.

  • It is not quite true that there are no good letters written in America: among my own circle of correspondents there, there are ladies and gentlemen whose letters would stand a comparison with any for frankness, grace, and epistolary beauty of every kind. But I am not aware of any medium between this excellence and the boarding-school insignificance which characterizes the rest.

  • Wherever the appearance of a conventional aristocracy exists in America, it must arise from wealth, as it cannot from birth. An aristocracy of mere wealth is vulgar everywhere. In a republic, it is vulgar in the extreme.

  • Leisure, some degree of it, is necessary to the health of every man's spirit.

  • Public opinion, — a tyrant, sitting in the dark, wrapt up in mystification and vague terrors of obscurity; deriving power no one knows from whom ... — but irresistible in its power to quell thought, to repress action, to silence conviction ...

  • Of tobacco and its consequences, I will say nothing but that the practice is at too bad a pass to leave hope that anything that could be said in books would work a cure. If the floors of boarding-houses, and the decks of steam-boats, and the carpets of the Capitol, do not sicken the Americans into a reform; if the warnings of physicians are of no avail, what remains to be said? I dismiss the nauseous subject.

  • This noble word [women], spirit-stirring as it passes over English ears, is in America banished, and 'ladies' and 'females' substituted: the one to English taste mawkish and vulgar; the other indistinctive and gross.

  • If a test of civilization be sought, none can be so sure as the condition of that half of society over which the other half has power,--from the exercise of the right of the strongest. Tried by this test, the American civilization appears to be of a lower order than might have been expected from other symptoms of its social state. The Americans have, in the treatment of women, fallen below, not only their own democratic principles but the practice of some parts of the Old World. The unconsciousness of both parties as to the injuries suffered by women at the hands of those who hold the power is a sufficient proof of the low degree of civilization in this important particular at which they rest. While women's intellect is confined, her morals crushed, her health ruined, her weaknesses encouraged, and her strength punished, she is told that her lot is cast in the paradise of women: and there is no country in the world where there is so much boasting of the 'chivalrous' treatment she enjoys. ... In short, indulgence is given her as a substitute for justice.

  • Religion is a temper, not a pursuit. It is the moral atmosphere in which human beings are to live and move. Men do not live to breathe: they breathe to live.

  • Any one must see at a glance that if men and women marry those whom they do not love, they must love those whom they do not marry.

  • Marriage ... is still the imperfect institution it must remain while women continue to be ill-educated, passive, and subservient ...

  • I have no sympathy for those who, under any pressure of circumstances, sacrifice their heart's-love for legal prostitution.

  • Laws and customs may be creative of vice; and should be therefore perpetually under process of observation and correction: but laws and customs cannot be creative of virtue: they may encourage and help to preserve it; but they cannot originate it.

  • Readers are plentiful: thinkers are rare.

  • The instruction furnished is not good enough for the youth of such a country ... There is not even any systematic instruction given on political morals: an enormous deficiency in a republic.

  • Some persons plead that there is less occasion for school instruction in the principles of politics, than for an improved teaching of some other things; because children are instructed in politics every day of their lives by what they hear at home, and wherever they go. But they hear all too little of principles. What they hear is argumentation about particular men, and immediate measures. The more sure they are of learning details elsewhere, the more necessary it is that they should here be exercised in those principles by which the details are to be judged and made available as knowledge. They come to school with their heads crammed with prejudices, and their memories with words, which it should be part of the work of school to reduce to truth and clearness, by substituting principles for the one, and annexing ideas to the other.

  • If the national mind of America be judged of by its legislation, it is of a very high order ... If the American nation be judged of by its literature, it may be pronounced to have no mind at all.

  • The sick-room becomes the scene of intense convictions; and among these, none, it seems to me, is more distinct and powerful than that of the permanent nature of good, and the transient nature of evil.

  • Everything but truth becomes loathed in a sick-room ... Let the nurse avow that the medicine is nauseous. Let the physician declare that the treatment will be painful. Let sister, or brother, or friend, tell me that I must never look to be well. When the time approaches that I am to die, let me be told that I am to die, and when.

  • As new discoveries are causing all-penetrating physical lights so to abound as that, as has been said, we shall soon not know where in the world to get any darkness, so our new facilities for every sort of communication work to reduce privacy much within its former limits.

  • ... if I believed that the choice lay between a sacrifice of the completest order of biography and that of the inviolability of private epistolary correspondence, I could not hesitate for a moment. I would keep the old and precious privacy,--the inestimable right of every one who has a friend and can write to him, — I would keep our written confidence from being made biographical material, as anxiously as I would keep our spoken conversation from being noted down for the good of society.

  • ... it matters infinitely less what we do than what we are.

  • ... it is the worst humiliation and grievance of the suffering, that they cause suffering.

  • Authorship has never been with me a matter of choice. I have not done it for amusement, or for money, or for fame, or for any reason but because I could not help it.

  • While feeling far less injured by toil than my friends took for granted I must be, I yet was always aware of the strong probability that my life would end as the lives of hard literary workers usually end, — in paralysis, with months or years of imbecility.

  • I have suffered, like other writers, from indolence, irresolution, distaste to my work, absence of 'inspiration,' and all that: but I have also found that sitting down, however reluctantly, with the pen in my hand, I have never worked for one quarter of an hour without finding myself in full train ...

  • When once experience taught me that I could work when I chose, and within a quarter of an hour of my determining to do so, I was relieved, in a great measure, from those embarrassments and depressions which I see afflicting many an author who waits for a mood instead of summoning it, and is the sport, instead of the master, of his own impressions and ideas.

  • The crowning evil which arises from the system of 'lionism' is, that it cuts off the retreat of literary persons into the great body of human beings. They are marked out as a class, and can no longer take refuge from their toils and their publicity in ordinary life. ... the author has to do with those two things precisely which are common to the whole race, — with living and thinking. He is devoted to no exclusive department of science; and the art which he practices, — the writing what he thinks, — is quite a subordinate part of his business. The very first necessity of his vocation is to live as others live, in order to see and feel, and to sympathize in human thought. In proportion as this sympathy is impaired, will his views be partial, his understanding, both of men and books, be imperfect, and his power be weakened accordingly.

  • All people interested in their work are liable to overrate their vocation. There may be makers of dolls' eyes who wonder how society would go on without them.

  • A Queen, or a Prime Minister's secretary may be shot at in London, as we know; and probably there is no person eminent in literature or otherwise who has not been the object of some infirm brain or another. But in America the evil is sadly common.

  • I wrote because I could not help it. There was something that I wanted to say, and I said it: that was all. The fame and the money and the usefulness might or might not follow. It was not by my endeavor if they did.

  • I loved, as I still love, the most monotonous life possible ...

  • ... there have been few things in my life which have had a more genial effect on my mind than the possession of a piece of land.

  • I romanced internally about early death till it was too late to die early ...

  • There is no death to those who perfectly love, — only disappearance, which in time may be borne.

    • Harriet Martineau,
    • 1840, in Elisabeth Sanders Arbuckle, Harriet Martineau's Letters to Fanny Wedgwood ()
  • She is excellent at heart, and as full of energy as of kindness; but I fear she wears herself out, — chiefly with talking. She cannot now moderate the habit; but I really fear she will shorten her days by it. On this account, it is well that she lives alone.

    • Harriet Martineau,
    • letter to Anna Jameson (1841), in Valerie Sanders, ed., Harriet Martineau: Selected Letters ()
  • The Penny Post will do more for the circulation of ideas, for the fostering of domestic affections, for the humanizing of the mass generally, than any other single measure that our national wit can devise.

    • Harriet Martineau
  • We do not believe in immortality because we can prove it, but we try to prove it because we cannot help believing it.

    • Harriet Martineau
  • You had better live your best and act your best and think your best today; for today is the sure preparation for tomorrow and all the other tomorrows that follow.

    • Harriet Martineau
  • Men who pass most comfortably through the world are those who possess good digestions and hard hearts.

    • Harriet Martineau

Harriet Martineau, English writer, social critic, political economist

(1802 - 1876)