CTS logo
Hockliffe logo
Fables and Fairy Tales Stories Before 1850 Stories After 1850 Periodicals and Annuals Religious Books, Bibles, Hymns, etc Books of Instruction Nursery Rhymes and Alphabets
Movable and Toy Books; Myths and Heroes Poetry, Verse and Rhymes; Games Games and Pastimes Natural Science Geography and Travel History and Biography Mathematics
Previous Next

Stories Before 1850. 0171: Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy No.XI and No.XIII

Author: Martineau, Harriet
Title: Illustrations of Political Economy No.XI: For Each and All a Tale by Harriet Martineau [and in the same binding] No.XIII: French Wines and Politics a Tale by Harriet Martineau
Cat. Number: 0171
Date: 1833
1st Edition:
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: Charles Fox
Price: Unknown
Pages: 2 vols., 132 and 145pp.
Size: 14 x 9 cm

Images of all pages of this book

Page 003 of item 0171

Introductory essay

Harriet Martineau (1802-76) was descended from Huguenot stock, but grew up in a Unitarian family in Norwich. There she would have known Anna Laetitia Barbauld and Lucy Aikin, amongst other writers for children. She became an increasingly zealous Unitarian in her early adulthood, and her first publications, discussion of practical theology, appeared in the Unitarian organ, the Monthly Repository. Her first literary earnings came in 1827 from Houlston's of Wellington, Shropshire (Mary Martha Sherwood's publisher), for whom she produced a series of stories on religious and economical themes. Martineau did write very successfully for children. Her 'Playfellow' series - comprised of four titles, The Settlers at Home, The Peasant and the Prince, Feats on the Fjord, and The Crofton Boys - had appeared quarterly in 1841. But her Illustrations of Political Economy, of which the Hockliffe Collection possesses this one volume, was directed at a broader audience, adults and children alike.

After initially failing to find a publisher willing to take on the project, Martineau finally saw the publication of the first Illustrations of Political Economy in 1832. She was forced to accept very unfavourable terms, but the work turned out to be a huge and immediate success. Within ten days the entire first edition of 1500 had been sold. Martineau published a new number every month for the next three years. The success of the venture has generally been ascribed to the simplicity and ease of her style, and to the pertinency of what she was writing to a nation gripped by reform fever. The first volumes were published as the crisis over the Great Reform Act was playing itself out. The views of political economy which Martineau sought to propagate in her work were increasingly dominating political discourse in the 1830s. This, it seems, made her work seem very relevant.

The aim of the project was to illustrate a particular aspect of political economy with a narrative. It was a plan adapted from Mrs. Marcet's Conversations on Political Economy (1816), which had in fact been aimed primarily at children (see 0943-0945 for other children's books by Marcet). The principles Martineau sought to explain to her readers derived from Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, John Stewart Mill, David Ricardo and other established writers whose ideas, she felt, had up to that point been too inaccessible to the general reader. Her general themes included such lessons that the amount of wealth in the nation was not finite, and therefore that enterprise to create wealth was always to be encouraged, that the Poor Law as it stood was ineffective and debilitating, that industrial development was wholly to be welcome, and that strikes by workers were to be wholly reprehended, but only because they were counter-productive.

In one of Martineau's most famous tales, Weal and Woe in Garvelock, she concentrated on a fundamental part of her political economy - the population question. It was necessary to limit the size of the population, she asserted (as Malthus had done before her), because the diffusion of the nation's wealth to too many people would result in too small a share for each individual to live comfortably. However, her proposed remedies fell short of Malthus' increasingly widespread ideas, and certainly there was no mention of birth-control. Her tale simply advocated later marriages and increased prudence. She merely hinted that the foolish indulgence of love and lust would lead to impoverishment. Probably the timidity of Martineau's response to the population question was caused by her concerns about the propriety of a young, unmarried woman writing about such a 'delicate' subject. She was right to be worried. The Quarterly Review opined that 'It is quite impossible not to be shocked, nay disgusted, with many of the unfeminine and mischievous doctrines on the principles of social welfare, or which these tales were made the vehicle.' It teased the Martineau with taunts that she knew too much about Malthus' arithmetical and geometrical ratios, and not enough about the facts of life (Pichanick 1980: 64-65). Yet Martineau was also criticised by her fellow Malthusians for not putting the case across in strong enough terms. Francis Place, for instance, wrote to her that 'chastity and delayed marriages are as much opposed as any two things can be', and that 'The consequences of delayed marriages are dissolute practices' (Pichanick 1980: 64-65). Such mild, palliative checks as late marriage would never work, in other words, and something more radical was needed if poverty was to be avoided. However, the 'Summary of Principles illustrated in this volume' at the end of the book is uncompromisingly Malthusian and Utilitarian and is clear in its message, so much so in fact that one doubts whether children would have been permitted to read the book.

The two tales in the Hockliffe Collection are fairly standard examples of Martineau's Illustrations of Political Economy. Perhaps the most interesting feature of them is the treatment of the first French Revolution to be found in 'French Wines and Politics', written just after the 1830 Revolution in Paris. The Revolution of 1789 and beyond is deplored throughout the text, most obviously because it goes against the principles of political economy which Martineau was explaining and recommending.

For more on the Illustrations of Political Economy see Logan 1996.

Pichanick, Valerie Kossew, Harriet Martineau. The Woman and Her Work, 1802-76, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1980

Pichanick, Valerie Kossew, Harriet Martineau. The Woman and Her Work, 1802-76, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1980

Logan, Deborah A., 'Harriet Martineau', pp.211-24 in Dictionary of Literary Biography, 159: 'British Short Fiction Writers, 1800-1860', ed. John R. Greenfield, Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc., 1996