Littell's Living Age/Volume 134/Issue 1729/Miss Mary Carpenter
|← Green Pastures and Piccadilly - Part XXIII.||Littell's Living Age
Volume 134, Issue 1729 : Miss Mary Carpenter
|Notes on the Geographical Distribution of Animals→|
|See Mary Carpenter on Wikipedia|
And as it happens with all true enthusiasts, so it was with Miss Carpenter, - her sympathies were not bounded by her own world. She was essentially a missionary as well as a reformer; indeed, it is a sure sign of the inadequacy of any kind of enthusiasm to the work required of it, when it is contented to be restricted to one limited sphere. Miss Carpenter's four journeys to India, after she had already reached the age when rest is pleasant, attest how keenly she desired to see the educational advantages for which she had labored so hard in England extended to those aliens in blood, language, and religion for whose protection and civilization the British government is responsible. Of course she did not achieve as much in India as she did at home. The field was one less known to her, and certainly one into which she carried impressions and prepossessions that must have to some extent limited her usefulness. But even there the impressions she produced and the gratitude she inspired remain remarkable testimonies to the pure disinterestedness of her purpose, and the energy of self-sacrifice with which she worked for its attainment. Native princes vied with each other in endeavoring to persuade her to extend her labors in aid of female education and the improvement of the prisons to their dominions, and the heartfelt and often costly expressions of their gratitude for what she effected, prove that in their belief, at all events, she had made some real impression on the dense mass of native prejudice and indifference.
A correspondent of the Times, who evidently knew Miss Carpenter well, declares that "none who knew her in public life could he aware how much she possessed of the artistic and poetic temperament, how keen was her enjoyment of nature, and how strongly she was interested in the general progress of scientific thought; and only those who shared her closest intimacy could know the depth of her religious fervor." That will, in all probability, cause some surprise to those who, with all their genuine admiration and sympathy for her zeal, must sometimes have been wearied with the earnest monotony of her social teachings, for Miss Carpenter, like almost all reformers who have effected much, knew the justice of Carlyle's remark, that the only oratorical figure that is worth anything for purposes of persuasion is the great figure of repetition. In season and out of season, Miss Carpenter was always ready with her pleas for the unfortunate victims of the world's negligence and folly, till too many regarded her merely as a sort of embodiment of philanthropic purpose and a living organ of reformatory counsels. This is the penalty which disinterested zeal almost necessarily pays for that intensity of belief, that uniformity of strain, by which alone, in so fluent and unimpressible a moral atmosphere as ours, great results can be accomplished; and yet it is generally, if not always true, as it certainly was in Miss Carpenter's case, that behind this apparently one-idead purpose, there is a depth of sentiment which renders the interior of such minds utterly different from that imagined by the outside world, - a world seldom very skilful in interpreting the signs of what is deepest, and not unfrequently glad to avenge itself for a certain sense of moral inferiority by imputing in flexibility of purpose to deficiency of resource. Miss Carpenter had, of course,. a full measure of that self-confidence without which a woman in her position could hardly, by any possibility, have achieved what she did, and which was assuredly perfectly justified by those achievements. Men, and perhaps still more women, who are penetrated with this high sense of the work they have to do, and their own competence to do it, are but too apt to be looked upon by their fellow-creatures as personified institutions, i.e., as merging their individuality of feeling in the abstract objects which they propose to themselves. And as far as regards the effect produced on the greater number of their acquaintances, of course it must be so. We remember men by the specific things they say or do in our presence; and if by far the larger number of those specific things are of the kind which have for us only a secondary interest - or at least something less than the personal interest attaching to far more trifling subjects in which our own interest happens to be greater, - of course we invest the person who says and does them in the comparatively sober dress of our own pallid sympathies. But though it necessarily happens that philanthropists take less interest in the personal incidents of life than they take in the moral objects of their own higher aims, while most men take a great deal more interest in these personal incidents, it is utterly untrue that behind those higher aims there need be any less - often, indeed, there is a very much deeper - world of personal sentiment than ordinary men and women carry about with them. The world's impressions of these things are always purely relative. And because they see so little evidence of the contagion of interests which affect ordinary people most deeply, and so much of what touches them with only a languid feeling of approval, they suppose that their own most passionate feelings are wanting in those whose lives are stamped with a very different class of aims. But this is generally false. In those in whom the philanthropic aim is uppermost, the love of poetry, the delight in nature, the appreciation of art, is often quite deep enough to beautify and dignify with a certain glow of color and grace of expression, the aspects of an ordinary domestic life; though what we should have seen, had the more beneficent aim been wanting, disappears under the shadow of that aim when it is present. So it was evidently with Miss Carpenter. The concentration of her purposes, and the tenacity of her just practical self-confidence, concealed from the eye of the world a depth of sentiment in other regions of life which, if it had been as visible as her great social aims, would have given her perhaps a greater charm, though at the cost of a considerable amount of effective work. It is well for the world to realize that, after all, what it sees of its noblest workers is often very inferior in quality, though not in result, to that which is hidden from its eyes. Perhaps, indeed, it may not unfrequently be the greatest sacrifice which the philanthropist undergoes, that while he is seen and estimated by the, world at large as a mere organizer of good deeds, the deepest interior life which he himself lives, and which he most values, is mulcted of its most precious moments and its rarest pleasures, in order to supply that monotonous strain of energetic work from which the world reaps so great a gain. Even the crowds who on Tuesday followed the remains of Mary Carpenter to her grave, and who loved and honored her for her long life of unselfish work and unwearied sympathy, probably never knew how much she must have sacrificed in order to be what she was. The great doers have at least this advantage over those whose chief fascination for their fellow-men consists solely in what they are, - that in this world at least, and in many departments of life, they refrain from being all that they otherwise might have been, for the sake of those for whom they could not in that case have achieved all they have achieved. In short, they give up an inward life of their own to redeem the inward life of others; and surely they will yet receive again with usury more than all they have so given up.