[Letter of James Martineau to Francis William Newman.]
September 29, 1851
My dear Newman,
Even before I thank you for your gratifying mistake in reference to the "Prospective" article and your acute criticism upon it, let me introduce to your friendly regard a lady with whom your severer studies have not, I dare say, prevented your forming already a delightful acquaintance. I shall put this letter in the hands of Miss Frederika Bremer, now on her return to Sweden after two years' absence in America. If you find half the interest and pleasure in her society and conversation which we have felt, you will thank me for enriching you with a new friend. But her carrying home without correction the impressions in favour of socialistic doctrine which she has received from the writings of Mr. Kingsley, and, ere she sees you, will probably have had confirmed by personal intercourse. I promised to open her way to acquaintance with him on condition that she would balance his influence by seeking also yours. "Alton Locke" has laid powerful hold on her imagination and feelings, and has given greater tenacity to impressions already imparted by certain phalansteries which she visited in the United States. I am afraid of her pen becoming committed to the delusive schemes of these people; and I trust mainly to you to divert her humane sympathies into a better direction. You are so much at home in these subjects, and have such a happy art of illustrating them by concrete instances, fixing a truth or an argument on the memory and fancy, that no one is so likely to afford her true guidance.
I could not say this if there was any great difference between us on the topics discussed in your very interesting Lectures. In fact neither in them nor in Mr. Hutton's Review do I find much to dissent from. On matters purely economical the variance seems to me inconsiderable; but I certainly do agree with the full swing of economical laws. I think it should be held infamous to offer wages touching upon the physical minimum, and to live on the profits of capital productive only on this condition. I should despise myself were I to do so; and I cannot but sympathise fully with the vehement abhorrence felt towards slop-shops. The inability to support a trading concern except on conditions of so low a rate of wages ought, I think, to operate as no less a sufficient reason for abandoning it than the yield by it of a low rate of profits. It may be very true that the labour in these cases is of little worth and the labourer of low character; and what you say of the moral causes of misery among the working classes is most painfully indisputable. But for the exhibition and cure of this very evil, and the introduction of a better moral organisation, it seems to me important to create a sharp line of demarcation separating the respectable self-subsisting workman from the idle profligate; and a rule which should fling these last at once into the mass of pauperism and corruption that cannot be left to itself would be a great gain. In a condition like ours, of crowded civilisation, there will always be a helpless mass of this kind that must be dealt with by the public will. Were it sufficiently disengaged before the view, socialist speculators would limit themselves to schemes for a remedial organisation addressed to it alone. But so long as it is spread as a morbific element through the whole body of workers, they will embrace in their projects the entire system of society, and in exposing the rotten will attack the sound. All this, I am conscious, is very vague. But the unchecked operation of economical laws, in the absence of any religion to guide, console, and ennoble, crushes the mediocre and weak, without reducing their relative numbers. It is useless to reproach them with their follies and incapacities. They will never themselves create the means of amendment or learn what, to others, would be the lessons of experience. They must be cared for; and whatever be the methods adopted, the outlay for the maintenance will be (as the poor-law already is) a concession on the part of Political Economy to the principle of Socialism.