Illustrations of Political Economy


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MARTINEAU, Harriet. Illustrations of Political Economy. Boston: Leonard C. Bowles, 1832-34. Seventeen volumes. 12mo, original cloth, original paper spine labels.

First and early American editions, published the same years as the English editions, of 17 volumes from Martineau's "immensely successful" series of novels illustrating social and political ideals, espousing the ideas of Adam Smith and Malthus, among others, in exceptional condition.

Martineau's childhood was anything but positive. "The family were Unitarians but not of the liberal variety; Harriet's childhood was wretched from over-discipline and Puritanical suppression, and she even tried once to kill herself to reach that heaven which seemed her only chance of happiness… The mother, though as severe as the father, was intellectual, and insisted on her daughters being educated as well as her sons… In 1831 the Monthly Depository offered three prizes for essays on converting Roman Catholics, Jews, and Mohammedans to Unitarianism. Miss Martineau won all three. With the prize money she visited her brother James in Dublin, where she conceived the idea of fictitious stories to illustrate principles of political economy. At the end of the year she set out for London to find a publisher. Turned down everywhere, she accepted at last a very poor offer from Charles Fox's brother, and her "Political Economy Series" began publication by subscription. It was an enormous and immediate success. Miss Martineau became a social lioness, courted by the great and solicited for stories and articles by editors and statesmen… her days of poverty and failure were over… [of her stories] army officers wept over them, Queen Victoria adored them, and the rich and great, who could never make her like or approve of them, flocked to her doors" (Kunitz & Haycraft, 419-21). "Between 1832 and 1834 she published a series of stories, Illustrations of Political Economy, revealing both her passion for social reform and the influence of Bentham and J.S. Mill. The stories were immensely successful… and she became a literary celebrity, including among her friends Malthus, Sydney Smith, and Milnes, as well as politicians who consulted her on economic and social matters" (Drabble, 624). Martineau was one of a number of contemporary female writers "who were interested in social reform used fiction for moral and uplifting purposes… besides writing copiously on public affairs, travel, history, Positivism, and economics," she "resorted to fiction in her Illustrations of Political Economy (1831) and Illustrations of Taxation (1834). Frankly didactic, these tales were immediately popular and very influential" (Baugh, Literary History of England, 1370).

Among those she championed were Adam Smith and, more particularly, Thomas Malthus. "Malthus had his literary defenders as well, the most notable of whom was the popular writer Harriet Martineau. If Cobbett's Surplus Population comes from a literary world alien to us, a play about population policies, so too do Martin's popularizing tracts about economics, demography, and public policy, the Illustrations of Political Economy. The Illustrations are twenty-four short stories where common people discourse of economics, and all, as Martineau put it in her Autobiography, 'to exemplify Malthus's doctrine.' In the present day, it is hard not to share the contemporary critic Edward Bulwer-Lytton's incredulity at narratives such as that in Martineau's 'Weal and Woe in Garveloch,' where 'half starved fishermen take the most astonishing views on the theory of population.' And yet Martineau's tracts did remarkably well in their own age, their monthly installments being estimated to sell at least ten thousand copies" (Mayhew, Malthus: the Life and Times of an Untimely Prophet, 130-31). Almost never found complete, this set includes Volumes 1 through 4 and 6 through 18 (which is misidentified on the title page as 17); without Volume 5 and the final 7 volumes. Volumes 1, 2, and 13 through 18 are of the "Stereotyped" edition. First published in London in 1832-34, the same years as these American editions. See Sadleir 1641, Wolff 4610. Kresge C.3227. Contemporary owner signatures.

Volume XI without blank free endpapers. Interiors generally quite clean, fragile original bindings with some wear and soiling, toning to cloth; and three volumes with expert repairs.

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