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Harriet Martineau
by [?]

You 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.

–Life’s Uses

I believe it was Thackeray who once expressed a regret that Harriet Martineau had not shown better judgment in choosing her parents.

She was born into one of those big families where there is not love enough to go ’round. The mother was a robustious woman with a termagant temper; she was what you call “practical.” She arose each morning, like Solomon’s ideal wife, while it was yet dark, and proceeded to set her house in order. She made the children go to bed when they were not sleepy and get up when they were. There was no beauty-sleep in that household, not even forty winks; and did any member prove recreant and require a douse of cold water, not only did he get the douse but he also heard quoted for a year and a day that remark concerning the sluggard, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that traveleth, and thy want as an armed man.”

This big, bustling Amazon was never known to weep but once, and that was when Lord Nelson died. To show any emotion would have been to reveal a weakness, and a caress would have been proof positive of folly. Life was a stern business and this earth-journey a warfare. She cooked, she swept, she scrubbed, she sewed.

And although she withheld every loving word and kept back all demonstration of affection, yet her children were always well cared for: they were well clothed, they had plenty to eat, and a warm place to sleep. And in times of sickness this mother would send all others to rest, and herself would watch by the bedside until the shadows stole away and the sunrise came again. I wonder where you have lived all your life if you have never known a woman like that?

In the morning, as soon as the breakfast things were done and the men folks had gone to the cloth-factory, Mrs. Martineau would marshal her daughters in the sitting-room to sew. And there they sewed for four hours every forenoon for more than four years; and as they sewed some one would often read aloud to them, for Mrs. Martineau believed in education–education gotten on the wing.

Sewing-machines and knitting-machines have done more to emancipate women than all the preachers. Think of the days when every garment worn by men, women and children was made by the never-resting hands of women!

And as the girls in that thrifty Norwich household sewed and listened to the reader, they occasionally spoke in monotone of what was read—all save Harriet: Harriet sewed. And the other girls thought Harriet very dull, and her mother was sure of it, and called her stupid, and sometimes shook her and railed at her, endeavoring to arouse her out of her lethargy.

Harriet has herself left on record somewhat of her feelings in those days. In her child-heart there was a great aching void. Her life was wrong–the lives about her were wrong–she did not know how, and could not then trace the subject far enough to tell why. She was a-hungered, she longed for tenderness, for affection and the close confidence that knows no repulse. She wanted them all to throw down their sewing for just five minutes, and sit in the silence with folded hands. She longed for her mother to hold her on her lap so, that she could pillow her head on her shoulder with her arms about her neck, and have a real good cry. Then all her troubles and pains would be gone.

But the slim little girl never voiced any of these foolish thoughts; she knew better. She choked back her tears and leaning over her sewing tried hard to be “good.”