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Harriet Martineau
by [?]

“She is so stupid that she never listens to what one reads to her,” said her mother one day.

One of that family still lives. I saw him not long ago and talked with him face to face concerning some of the things here written–Doctor James Martineau, ninety-two years old.

The others are all dead now–all are gone. In the cemetery at Norwich is a plain, slate slab, “To the Memory of Elizabeth Martineau, Mother of Harriet Martineau.” * * * And so she sleeps, remembered for what? As the mother of a stupid little girl who tried hard to be good, but didn’t succeed very well, and who did not listen when they read aloud.

* * * * *

It seems sometimes that there is no such thing as a New Year–it is only the old year come back. These folks about us–have they not lived before? Surely they are the same creatures that have peopled earth in the days agone; they are busy about the same things, they chase after the same trifles, they commit the same mistakes, and blunder as men have always blundered.

Only last week, a teacher in one of the primary schools of Chicago reported to her principal that a certain little boy in her room was so hopelessly dull and perverse that she despaired of teaching him anything. The child would sit with open mouth and look at her as she would talk to the class, and five minutes afterward he could not or would not repeat three words of what had been said. She had scolded him, made him stand on the floor, kept him in after school, and even whipped him–but all in vain. The principal looked into the case, scratched his head, stroked his whiskers, coughed, and decided that the public-school funds should not be wasted in trying to “teach imbeciles,” and so reported to the parents. He advised them to send the boy to a Home for the Feeble-Minded, sending the message by an older brother. So the parents took the child to the Home and asked that he be admitted. The Matron took the little boy on her lap, talked to him, read to him, showed him pictures and said to the astonished parents, “This child has fully as much intelligence as any of your other children, perhaps more–but he is deaf!”

Harriet Martineau from her twelfth year was very deaf, and she was also devoid of the senses of taste and smell.

“Oh, these are terrible tribulations to befall a mortal!” we exclaim with uplifted hands. But on sober second thought I am not sure that I know what is a tribulation and what a blessing. I’m not positive that I would know a blessing should I see it coming up the street. For as I write it comes to me that the Great Big Black Things that have loomed against the horizon of my life, threatening to devour me, simply loomed and nothing more. They harmed me not. The things that have really made me miss my train have always been sweet, soft, pretty, pleasant things of which I was not in the, least afraid.

Mother Nature is kind, and if she deprives us of one thing she gives us another, and happiness seems to be meted out to each and all in equal portions. Harriet’s afflictions caused her to turn her mind to other things than those which filled the hearts of girls of her own age. Society chatter held nothing for her, she could not hear it if she would; and she ate the food that agreed with her, not that which was merely pleasant to the taste. She began to live in a world of thought and ideas. The silence meant much.

“The first requisite is that man should be a good animal.” I used to think that Herbert Spencer in voicing this aphorism struck twelve. But I am no longer enthusiastic about the remark. The senses of most dumb animals are far better developed than those of man. Hounds can trace footsteps over flat rocks, even though a shower has fallen in the interval; cats can see in the dark; rabbits hear sounds that men never hear; horses detect an impurity in water that a chemical analysis does not reveal, and homing pigeons would gain nothing by carrying a compass. And so I feel safe in saying that if any man were so good and perfect an animal that he had the hound’s sense of smell, the cat’s eyesight, the rabbit’s sense of hearing, the horse’s sense of taste, and the homing pigeon’s “locality,” he would not be one whit better prepared to appreciate Kipling’s “Dipsy Chanty,” and not a hair’s breadth nearer a point where he could write a poem equal to it.