Private: A Writer's Resolutions

Harriet Martineau, Autobiography, with Memorials by MariaWeston Chapman, 4th ed. (Boston: Houghton, Osgood and Co., 1879),vol. 2, pp. 166-168. Written in 1829.


For some years past my attention has been more and more directedtowards literary pursuits; and, if I mistake not, my capacityfor their successful prosecution has increased, so that I havenow fair encouragement to devote myself to them more diligentlythan ever. After long and mature deliberation, I have determinedthat my chief subordinate object in life shall henceforth be thecultivation of my intellectual powers, with a view to the instructionof others by my writings. On this determination I pray for theblessing of God.

I wish to hold myself prepared to relinquish this purpose, shouldany decided call of duty interfere; but I pray that no indolenceor caprice in myself, no discouragement or ill-grounded oppositionfrom others, may prevail on me to relinquish a resolution whichI now believe to be rational, and compatible with the highestdesire of a Christian.

I am now just twenty-seven years of age. It is my wish to ascertain(should life and health be spared) how much may be accomplishedby diligent but temperate exertion in pursuit of this object forten years.

I believe myself possessed of no uncommon talents, and of notan atom of genius; but as various circumstances have led me tothink more accurately and read more extensively than some women,I believe that I may so write on subjects of universal concernas to inform some minds and stir up others. My aim is to becomea forcible and elegant writer on religious and moral subjects,so as to be useful to refined as well as unenlightened minds. But, as I see how much remains to be done before this aim canbe attained, I wish to be content with a much lower degree ofusefulness, should the Father of my spirit see fit to set narrowbounds to my exertions. Of posthumous fame I have not the slightestexpectation or desire. To be useful in my day and generationis enough for me. To this I henceforth devote myself, and desireto keep in mind the following rules. (A frequent reference tothem is necessary.)


I. To improve my moral constitution by every means, to cultivatemy moral sense; to keep ever in view the subordination of intellectualto moral objects; by the practice of piety and benevolence, byentertaining the freedom and cheerfulness of spirit which resultsfrom dependence on God, to promote the perfection of the intellectualpowers.

II. To seek the assistance of God in my intellectual exertions,and his blessing on their results

III. To impart full confidence to my family respecting my pursuits,but to be careful not to weary them with too frequent a referenceto myself; and to be as nearly as possible silent on the subjectto all the world besides.

IV. To study diligently, 1. The Scriptures, good commentators,works of religious philosophy and practice,--for moral improvement;2. Mental philosophy,--for intellectual improvement; 3.Natural philosophy and natural history, languages and history,--forimprovement in knowledge; 4. Criticism, belles-lettres, andpoetry,--for improvement in style. Each in turn, and somethingevery day.

V. While I have my intellectual improvement ever in view, todismiss from my thoughts the particular subject on which I havewritten in the morning for the rest of the day, i. e. to be temperatein my attention to an object.

VI. By early rising, and all due economy of time, andespecially by a careful government of the thoughts, to employmy life to better purpose than heretofore.

VII. To exalt, enlarge, and refresh my mind by social intercourse,observation of external nature, of the fine arts, and of the varietiesof human life

VIII. To bear in mind that as my determination is deliberatelyformed and now allowed to be rational, disappointments shouldnot be lightly permitted to relax my exertions. If my objectis conscientiously adopted, mortifications of vanity should provestimulants, rather than discouragements. The same considerationshould induce patience under painful labour, delay,and disappointment, and guard me against heat and precipitation.

IX. To consider my own interests as little as possible, and towrite with a view to the good of others; therefore to entertainno distaste to the humblest literary task which affords a prospectof usefulness

X. Should my exertions ultimately prove fruitless, to preservemy cheerfulness, remembering that God only knows how his workmay be best performed, and that I have no right to expect theprivilege of eminent usefulness, though permitted to seek it. Should success be granted, to take no honour to myself, rememberingthat I possess no original power or intrinsic merit, and thatI can receive and accomplish nothing, except it be given me fromHeaven.

June, 1829

From Gayle Graham Yates, (Ed.)., Harriet Martineau on Women.New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1985, pp. 33-35.


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