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You know America there is no heritage or a class of rich or poor. If you are wealthy if you are poor Gross's grow rich and mechanics become governors of states. And happily there is no mo nor reason nor desire that it should be otherwise. They banned our air travelers to America. From the 1820 to the Civil War. Europeans came to America in a steady flow. They traveled through the United States driven by an irresistible curiosity. Later many of them wrote books about their travels. To tell Europe what they had seen a new world of Jacksonian democracy. I'm with a friendly someone highly critical all women take us observers of detail.
And they bend our ear. Written by Perry Miller professor of American look at your at Harvard University. You will meet some of the travelers to America. Who bend our ear with their criticisms their advice their praise or their philosophy. Some you already know Dickens Zachary others are new acquaintances at all times the travellers speak in their own words quoted directly from their writing. They bend our ear is produced and recorded by the Lowell Institute cooperative broadcasting Council under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Today's encounter our third is with Harriet Martineau all off of society in America and retrospective Western travel. Professor Perry Miller is your host and narrator. Here it is August 1836 Miss Harriet Martineau and you
were returning to England through the no fortunate time to escape. You had an unhappy crisis institutions of the country will be ruined before you got home. The levelling spirit is desolating society in the United States are on the verge of a military despotism. The first gentleman who greeted me on my arrival a few minutes after I had landed in September of two years ago in 1834 told me the same thing. You did not believe him and likewise you do not believe me. This was so very like what I've been accustomed to here at home since my childhood that I was not quite so much alarmed as I might have been without such prior experience. But did you not see on your travels signs of despotism. Except the officers and cadets at West Point and some militia on a training day at Saugerties high up in the Hudson. I saw nothing that could be called Military and officers cadets and militia appeared all perfectly innocent of any design to seize upon the Government at Washington. I ventured to ask an explanation from one of the most
honored statesman now living. And what did you say. Daniel Webster told me with a smile that the country had been in a crisis for fifty years past and would be for fifty years to come. This is a fair sample of the tone and temper of the irrepressible indefatigable Harriet Martineau who stayed during the two years of 1834 to 1836 in America. The last years of Jackson's presidency she was a very different woman from Mrs. trollop but totally opposite mine from Captain Hall. She came of a distinguished liberal family of Huguenot extraction who were leaders in the Unitarian movement in British theology and fearless fighters for all progressive reforms in the eyes of a Captain Haller Mrs. trollop. Harriet was a flaming radical to our eyes she may well stand as one of the finest figures in what has come to be called nineteenth century liberalism.
Oh by the way Miss Martineau What did you think of Mrs. Trollope's book on the domestic manners of the Americans in New York and Originally the book selling behind the frankness of professional discourse was instantly striking gave me a new professional idea I want to publish for you all and I would offer as good terms as anybody. I thank you but I have nothing to publish. I'm sure you must have a book written about America. I have not and do not know that I ever shall have a medical need not be at a loss about that. You must of got incident plenty by this time. Then you can tell applies a bit to make a readable book. Harriet Martineau would go no further in explicit criticism of a rival's book than to record this conversation. But there can be no doubt that she was highly determined not to draw upon as she was a cultivated woman but a serious intellectual and she came here to conduct islet scientific investigation.
Let's ask her how much of the country she saw I landed at New York and paid a short visit to Patterson in New Jersey. I stayed with friends at Stockbridge Massachusetts and then traveled through the state of New York to the Falls of Niagara. I traveled down through Meade ville to Pittsburgh then over the Alleghenies to Philadelphia Baltimore and Washington where I enjoyed the hospitality of the president and was like everybody else in society from morning till night. Every day I visited the former President Madison at Montpelier then Richmond Charleston mo bila New Orleans. I went up the Mississippi in the Ohio to Cincinnati and back to New York. By July 18 35. My last journey in 1836 was with a party of friends far into the West was swept round the southern extremity of Lake Michigan to Chicago. Went a long day's journey down into the prairies landed from Lake Erie at Cleveland Ohio and returned to New York from Pittsburgh by the canal route through Pennsylvania. I sailed from New York for England on
the 1st of August 1836. That was a staggering I general for a well brought up and delicate English lady. Thirty two years old she was when she arrived. American conservatives those who still remained out of the old Federalist Party along with those who were in opposition to Jackson were organizing the new Whig party hated to admit that she having seen so much of the nation that even more of right wing and kept in harness was drawn up to speak with authority they invented reasons to cut down the effect of her book. Don't you think that being a woman was a disadvantage. This I do not agree. I am sure I have seen much more of domestic life than could possibly have been exhibited to any gentleman traveling through the country. The nursery the food while the kitchen are all excellent schools in which to learn the models and manners of a people. No people in the world can be more frank confiding. Affectionate almost skillful and liberal in communicating information than I have
ever found the Americans to be. I doubt whether a single fact that I wish to learn or any doctrine that I desired to comprehend was ever kept from me because I was a woman. But Miss Martineau you have in the last few years made you so in England and in America famous women by your two immensely popular books on political economy and taxation. Yeah famous in London as the friend of Sidney Smith. Don't you think it a disadvantage that you have previously been heard of. My friends and I found a personal acquaintance so much pleasanter than any previous knowledge by hearsay that we always forgot that we had heard of each other before. It would be preposterous to suppose that received as I was into intimate confidence any false appearances could be kept up on account of any preconceptions that could have been entertained. When American conservatives could think of no other way to minimize the report she published in 1837 which she and society in America
they resorted to run last divide. Now forgive my mentioning it did I Miss Martineau but you do labor under one incalculable disadvantage. I mean your deafness. This does not endanger the accuracy of my information I believe as far as it goes because I carry a trumpet of remarkable fidelity and instrument moreover which seems to exert some winning power by which I gain more in takes than is given to people who hear general conversation. Probably its job consists in the new feeling which it imparts of ease and privacy in conversing with a deaf person. So Harriet Martineau did a remarkably thorough job of studying the United States of America. She met just about every American of distinction their lives thrusting a trumpet Evora his face and relentlessly asking him or her questions. If she was formidable in her seriousness she was also charming in manner she could delight even the most unreconstructed federalist. She could
even be received in the homes of Southern planters though it was public knowledge that her sympathies were wholeheartedly with Garrison and the abolitionists. Her findings of her society in America is a major work of political science in the century. It need not be ashamed to stand beside the great to talk of democracy in America 1938 she followed it with another book the title of which years retrospect of Western travel. When I finished my late work on society in America I had not the most remote idea of writing anything more on the subject of the new world. I've since been strongly solicited to communicate more of my personal narrative and of the lighter characteristics of men and incidents of travel. There seems no reason why such a picture should not be appended to an inquiry into the theory and practice of their society especially as I believe that I have little to tell which will not strengthen the feelings of respect and kindness with which the people of Great Britain are more and more learning to regard the inhabitants of the Western Republic. We are certainly glad that your friends persuaded you Miss Martineau for the retrospect
though by no means so profound a book as well as the first is a readable record as anything that survives from the period. And it shows that for our large ships of travel bad food the crew don't tell the upset coaches you did enjoy yourself immensely. Now I know for instance the city of Washington under President Jackson was that interesting in Philadelphia I had found perpetual difficulty in remembering that I was in a foreign country at Washington. It was very different. House thought well there was the society singularly compounded from the largest variety of elements foreign ambassadors the American government members of Congress from Clay and Webster down to Davy Crocket Benton from Missouri and cost but with the freshest Irish brogue from Georgia for the young Belles pious wives do to flee attending their husbands and groaning over the frivolities of the place. Grave judges saucy travelers pert newspaper reporters melancholy Indian
chiefs and timid New England ladies trembling on the verge of the vortex. All this was a wholly unlike anything that is to be seen in any other city in the world. For all of these are mixed up together in daily intercourse like the higher circle of a little village and there is nothing else. And in the midst of this menagerie you met the great Daniel Mr. Webster. Leaning back at his ease telling stories cracking jokes shaking the sofa with First off the first of laughter all smoothly discoursing to the perfect felicity of the logical part of one's constitution but illuminating evening now and then. But you also saw Daniel Webster in action in the Senate. You found him a different person when some great national question was involved. Previous to such an exercise he may be seen leaning back in his chair not as usual biting the top of his pin or 12 his thumbs or bursting into sudden and transient laughter that Connel Benton's oratorical absurdities.
But absent thoughtful making notes and seeing nothing that is before his eyes and when he rises his voice is moderate and his manner quiet with the slightest possible mixture of embarrassment. His right hand rests upon his desk and the left hangs by his side. Before his first sentence is finished however his voice has risen to fill the chamber and ring again and he's fallen into his favorite attitude with his left hand under his coat tail in the right in full action. At this moment the eye rests upon him as a Palm one under the true inspiration of seeing the invisible and grasping the impalpable. And then with the vision has passed away the change is astonishing. He sits at his desk writing letters or dreaming so that he does not always discover when the Senate is going to a division some one of his party has not seldom to jog his elbow and tell him that his vote is wanted. So have it right now after being well received in Boston New York
Washington and points south. However Johns to see what civilized in that I could offer to a cultivated European standard. But really Miss Martin I wasn't in the east in Washington or Philadelphia. But you found the America you were seeking. The traveller should go into the West when he desires to see universal freedom of madness. The people of the West have a comfortable self-complacency. Quite different from the arrogance of the South and the timidity of the north. They seem to unite with this. The hospitality which distinguishes the whole country so that they are on the whole a very they're wishing people their self-confidence probably arises from their being remarkably energetic and having testified this by the conquest of a nature which they have missed settlement in the West evinces. They're the freest people I saw in America and accordingly one enjoys among them a delightful exemption from the sorrow and indignation which worldly caution always inspires. I am
flattered. Forgive me Miss Martineau if I must hear break in. But do not find among these westerners many instances of extreme conceit. I do not hesitate to evolve that prevalent as mock modesty and model Collett is all in the present condition of society. That degree of self-confidence which is commonly called conceit grows in favor with me perpetually. But the future is undisclosed. Men should restrict their own powers by such calculations of consequences as implies an equal want of faith in others and in themselves the people of the West have a right to so much self confidence as arises from an ascertainment of what they can actually achieve. I come from a far with some qualities which have force enough to guide them into a new region. They subdue this region to their own purposes and if they do we often forget that the world elsewhere is progressing. If they do suppose themselves as relatively great in present society as they were formally in the wilderness it should be remembered on their behalf that they have
effectually asserted their manhood in the conquest of circumstances. Surely you must agree with Mrs. Strong that the tobacco chewing and tobacco spitting habits of the American democracy are something really offensive. Are you not as deeply scandalized as she was of tobacco and its consequences. I will say nothing but that the practice is it too bad a pass to leave hope that anything that could be said in books would work a cure if the flaws of boarding houses and the decks of steamboats and the carpets of the capital did not sicken Americans it would reform if the warnings of physicians are of no avail. What remains to be said I dismissed the subject. It was entirely characteristic of Harriet Martineau. She simply could not be bothered with minor details. Part of the universal spreading of American males was as offensive to her delicate sensibilities as to those of Mrs. dried up. We might ask her since she visited Cincinnati while Mrs. trollop was still living there what she thought of that new city the queen of the West. How did it impress you Miss
Martineau. Cincinnati is a glorious place. Few things can be conceived fine as in the situation of this magnificent city and the beauty by which she is surrounded. She isn't thrown upon a high platform one of the rich bottoms occurring on the Ohio which expand the traveler's notion of what fertility is behind it all hills opening and closing receding advancing here glowing with the richest green pasturage and their crested in ribbon by beaches which seem transplanted from some giant land. Whatever we went among these hills we found them rounding away from us in some new form of beauty and steep grassy slopes with a running stream at the bottom in shadow with precipices bristling with trees in quiet recesses pierced by sunset lights shining in among the beech and stems which spring on encumbered by undergrowth from the rich elastic we had better stop the flow. MARTIN I was right Eric right there. We need have no doubt that she wrote that passage upon
Cincinnati scenery and direct though subtle refutation of Francis drama. Thus we come to the point of her book at least of the formal and serious book of society in America. We have noticed I trust that the first pair of observers in our series is kept in the hall and this is when they resorted to conversation with an American choses their interlocutor an American Democrat preferably a back country room or else an American so simple minded that they could easily demonstrate to him the crushing superiority of British wisdom and called liberation. But Harriet Martineau as we have seen began by addressing her reflections not to some crude backwoodsman or to a spinner of tobacco but to the American conservative the old Federalist the gentleman of culture whom she found speaking in America the language of conservative critics in England very directly and I don't read right woman she is. She puts into the mouth of this American not
an Englishman. All the comments she has prepared herself to refute it was this conservative distrustful American who first told her that the nation was in a state of crisis. Now that we have seen upon what extensive knowledge of the country she eventually could draw we may let her continue the dialogue with this solid righteous and anxious federalist. I feel the influence in the national councils of the charter population of the West men retrograde and civilisation thinly settled in a fruitful country. Wealthy representatives from these regions will be few while they are thinly settled and will be in the minority when in the wrong. When these representatives become numerous from the think settlement of those regions their character will have ceased to become taut alike and formidable. Even supposing that a Tartar like character could co-exist with the calmness of the Mississippi.
One of the most painful apprehensions is that the poor will heavily taxed the richer members of society. The rich being always a small class you know the danger appears much diminished on the consideration that in the country under our notice there are not nor are there likely to be the wide differences in property which exist in old countries. There is no class of hereditary ritual poor if you are wealthy. If you are poor and every man has a fair chance of being rich in the United States the prospect is that each will succeed paupers may obtain what they want and proprietors will keep that which they have. As a matter of convenience it is shorter and easier to obtain property by enterprise and labor in the United States than by pulling down the wealthy in 30 years. My children will be living under a despotism. Why do you not remove Where else could I be better off. That appears to me a truly reasonable question. Asked Harriet Martineau though annoyed by the profuse spitting with tobacco chewing
democracy refused to be put off by such shall we call them surface phenomena. She was only three weeks in the country before she found herself already in a state which she could describe only as the striking effect upon a stranger of witnessing for the first time. The absence of poverty of gross ignorance of ALSO ability of all insulins of manna cannot be exaggerated in description. So she records she was thrown into painful amazement if I may appropriate her words when she first encountered an American who distrusted America. The grand question of the time is whether the people should be encouraged to govern themselves. Whether their wives should save them from themselves. All right Martin I will answer in sharp contradiction to Captain Owen Honors those trollops game ringing clear and distinct the confusion of inconsistency is was he is so great as to defy argument.
The patronage among equals was implied. The assumption as to who were the whys and the conclusion that all the rest must be foolish. This one sentence seemed to be the most extraordinary combination that could proceed from the lips of a Republican. Wait these are early days. The experiment will fail yet the experiment of the particular constitution of the United States may fail. But the great principle which whether successfully or not it strives to embody the capacity of mankind for self-government is as Mr. Madison has said as to happen. It has been let me interrupt Mr. Martin is that what James Madison said to you is that something more. He said the United States has been useful in improving things before held impossible. What is impossible. If a revolution were to take place tomorrow in the United States it remains an historical fact that for half a century a people has been self governed until it can be proved that the self government is the cause of instability. No revolution or
series of revolutions can tarnish the luster any more than they can impair the soundness of the principle that mankind are capable of self-government. For you along with Mr. Madison going to the United States have indeed been useful in proving these two things before held impossible. The finding the true theory of government by reasoning from the principles of human nature as well as from the experience of governments and the capacity of mankind for self-government. So then you are my Captain and Mrs. Trollope's opposed the apprehensions of our conservatives justified. Now where do you liberal as you call yourself get the strength of your convictions. The Americans of the revolution looked round them upon the republics of the world tested them by the principles of human nature found them Republican in nothing but name and produced something more democratic than any other. When the views of the apprehensive federal party are closely looked into they appear to be inconsistent with one or more
primary principles of the Constitution which I have stated the majority are right. Any fears of the majority are inconsistent with this maxim and were always felt by me to be so from the time I entered the country till I left it. Harriet Martineau you can argue with your Federalist friend forever and your dead in person and in print dunderhead him and his fellows. But you know don't you all that you are holding back. The big thing you want to say about America. Why do you not speak that out. I regard the American people as a great embryo poet now moody. Now wild. But bringing out results of absolute good sense restless and wayward in action but with deep peace it is hot exulting that he has called the true aspect of things past and at the depths the future of the which lies before him wherein to create something so magnificent as the world has ghastly begun to dream
of. But what about us. We Federalist sort Americans and we believe in the dream of America but we also are certain that only by preserving an aristocracy in this America will the dream be realized. Miss Martineau do we stand the extent of the influence of the conventional aristocracy in the United States as significant of the state of the republic so far as they have thought an accurate measure of the anti-Republican spirit which exists in such an out of stock or say must remain otherwise too insignificant to be dangerous. Miss Martineau could we know continue charmingly for hours. But alas we must confine you. You were thinking of course of old fashioned European aristocracy. Such an aristocracy was this country would never produce. Suppose we let you finish with your fundamental conviction about America. Roses grow rich and mechanics become governors of steaks
and happily there is no law and no reason or desire that it should be otherwise. And shall we always be content with this democratic prospect. This little cloud will always overhang a republic like a perpetual vapor which hovers above Niagara thrown up by the force and regularity of the movement below. Some observers may be sorry that the heaven is never to be quite clear. But none will dread that little cloud that little cloud. It would be about as reasonable to fear that the white vapor should drown the cataract from whence it is used as that the conventional atoms stocker say of America should swamp the Republic. Drive us to America. They bend our ear. You have been listening to how it Martineau's impressions of the United States as adopted from her two books society in America and retrospective Western travel
by Perry Miller professor of American literature or Harvard University. The cast included Sylvia short as Howitt Martin. And Fritz Weaver as the Federalist. Professor Mello as the narrator original theme music by Raymond Wilding. While. This has been the third broadcast in they bend our ear the stories told by the host of travelers to America during the period from the 1820s to the 1850s in subsequent broadcasts you will meet more such travelers. At all times they speak in their own words over directly from their writing. Next week an account by a German. Visitor came to St.. Francis Joseph rund. They bent our ear is produced and directed by Alison Reed lay for the Lowell Institute co-operative broadcasting Council. Production supervisor Lawrence Prescott. This series has been recorded in the studios of station
WGBH Af-Am. And produced under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the ne B network.
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They bent our ear
Harriet Martineau
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program focuses on Harriet Martineau's writings about her travels to the United States.
Series Description
Dramatic readings of 14 travelers who came to the United States in 1820-1850 and wrote of what they saw.
Broadcast Date
Martineau, Harriet, 1802-1876--Travel--United States.
Media type
Host: Van Dusen, Henry P. (Henry Pitney), 1897-1975
Producer: Lowell Institute
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
Writer: Miller, Perry, 1905-1963
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 56-6-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:37
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Chicago: “They bent our ear; Harriet Martineau,” 1963-12-27, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 23, 2023,
MLA: “They bent our ear; Harriet Martineau.” 1963-12-27. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 23, 2023. <>.
APA: They bent our ear; Harriet Martineau. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from