“I…KNOW A GOOD DEAL ABOUT THE NEGROES…AND MY OBSERVATION SATISFIES ME THAT, LIKE OTHER MEN, THE NEGROES ARE AS THEY ARE TREATED.
[SOUTHERN PLANTERS] ARE AMAZED AT THE POLITICAL CAPACITY AND THE MORAL GREATNESS EVINCED BY PEOPLE WHOM THEY HAVE BEEN ACCUSTOMED TO CONSIDER LESS THAN HUMAN.”
MARTINEAU, HARRIET. (1802-1876). English essayist, novelist, journalist, and economic and historical writer who was prominent among English intellectuals of the 19th Century; one of the first female writers to support herself by her own talent; considered the first female sociologist; observed a link between slavery and the oppression of women’s rights; considered one of the first feminists. Remarkable Autograph Letter Signed, “H. Martineau”. Eight full pages, small octavo. Ambleside, January 5, 1866. Very fine condition. Accompanied by original envelope addressed to “Joseph Ewart Esquire.” [Joseph Christopher Ewart (1799–1868). British Liberal and Whig politician.] Martineau writes:
“Dear Mr. Ewart, I was well pleased to hear from you after our long silence and to know what you are thinking on some subjects of present interest. Yes, indeed, I was very sorry about the loss of your election; and, if I could take any interest in Liverpool (apart from my connexions [sic] there) I should have been very much ashamed. But, from what I know of it, it is just the place to be represented by tories only; and your ten years in parliament were an honour the place hardly deserved. It is the most immense [?] example I know of insolence and conceit, a place where the bad practice prevails of making ideas a fashion, or making certain notions, book, philosophies and enterprises ‘the rage’ for a season, and taking up others the next. A place is far from real enlightenment and progress which can do that as Liverpool does. Its conduct about the American War will be an immortal disgrace. So, except for the immediate vexation, I am not sorry that you do not stand as its representative. I was aware too that you had no strong personal inclination to be in parliament, and must sacrifice a great deal to be there. So I suppose you will hardly wish to undertake the necessary fatigues and sacrifices to go there for any other place. The coming time may fairly be left to younger men; though it would be pleasant to be there, and give a vote, when the new Reform Bill passes… My nearest and most intimate friend in that House is W.E. Forster, and he, as you know, is as hearty for Reform as I or anybody, and his joining the Ministry now satisfies me that he is very confident of the Government being in earnest, and intending to bring forward a good and sufficient Bill. It is a strong satisfaction that he has entered the Colonial office just now, at a time so critical. He is a man of eminent moderation and a never-sleeping sense of justice; and, while he will keep Mr. Cardwell up to the mark, he is the last name likely to be carried away by fanaticism, or to be blinded by any prejudice to the extreme importance of the Jamaica case. I, too, know a good deal about the negroes, both in the West Indies and in America; and my observation satisfies me that, like other men, the negroes are as they are treated. I have for 30 years told the Southern planters that they knew their own negroes less than other people did; and now they own that this was true.
They are amazed at the political capacity and the moral greatness evinced by people whom they have been accustomed to consider less than human. The S. Carolina Negroes’ Manifesto, and the Virginia one, have done immense good; and I find, right and left, surprise, relief, and satisfaction among the planters at finding their negroes, not only good friends, but more profitable labourers than ever before. So they have been in the West Indies, wherever they were punctually paid reasonable wages, and left unoppressed. Gov. Eyre is, on his own showing, quite an unfit man for the position; and it was a great fault ever putting him there. I believe you will see (and he is beginning to find it out) that there was no insurrectionary plot, no disloyalty, and no excuse whatever for the slaughter without trial of hundreds or thousands of harmless and unresisting people….I read, with great disgust, that book of his sister’s (the ‘Mary Eyre’ who wrote to the Times) in which she exposes to the public the family poverty, and extols their patron, Lord. Brougham, who however is abundantly angry now with her brother. ‘A Lady’s Walks in the South of France’ is the book, a begging book, in fact, in the worst possible taste, and full of egotism, conceit, grumbling and preachment, so that it made me ashamed that an Englishwoman should write such a book. When I saw in her Times letter her disclosure of his sending £50 home as a family charity (as if that would do him any good with the public!) I said ‘this must be the same Miss Eyre who laid open the family poverty in her book’; and I find it is. And his tone is as low as hers, in his addresses and dispatches, conceited, violent, and unreasonable. I have all possible faith in Sir H. Storks, the admirable helper and support of my dear Florence Nightingale, in the Crimean days, and since, to capital in the Ionian Islands! Shocking as the case is in Jamaica, it will end in a great good, the establishment of good government there, under authorities, who know and will remember that the negroes are men, and a remarkably governable sort of men, when treated with common fairness.
I have often wondered what has become of your ward, the nephew at Eton. If living, he must be 30 by this time. I hope you never had occasion to show that you were not ‘the cruel uncle’ that Mrs. Yates and I used to joke you about being, when you gravely showed us why you could not have him stay with you. [A line of text crossed out here.] I can’t learn much of Mrs. Yates now. She was once coming to stay with me, but her business matters prevented it, and then I became quite unable. I am considerably worse within a few months, and especially, within the last few weeks, and I really hope and believe I have the last of my New Year’s days. I wrote my last (for the ‘Edinburgh Review’) some months since. I mean the last literary work. I still write leaders for ‘Daily News’, but I believe that I can’t long keep up even light work like journalism. I shall try, till the construction business is decided, as to principle, for the matter is so little understood in England that anybody who does understand it ought to exhibit the case, and guide others to a right view. I have been ashamed of the ignorance of our upper classes, all through the American War. Now that it is too late for our credit, they are beginning to learn. Mr. Shepherd, my doctor, told me, some months since, that you were going to write to me. I dare say he told you how I really am or was then. Believe me very truly yours, H. Martineau”.
Just a simply remarkable letter, that gives fascinating insight into the observations by Martineau on reconstruction era races relations in the US, and how poorly race relations were handled in the British processions of Jamaica and West Indies. Outstanding content and importance, and worthy of inclusion in the finest of collections.