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Principle and Practice The Orphan Family   By: (1802-1876)

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Principle and Practice, the Orphan Family, by Harriet Martineau.

This book was written in the earliest part of the nineteenth century, and its author was only in her twenties when she wrote it. Basically the story illustrates how at that time an ordinary decent family, perhaps with its finances already a bit stretched with the effort of educating several children, would be completely ruined if the wage earner were to die. If there was any income at all it might be reckoned in tens of pounds a year, and the greatest economy would have to be exercised to make this go round. Anyone in the family group who was able to earn a little did their best to do so. For instance one of the girls might be able to draw attractively, and could sell some of her pictures; another might be able to create nice useful items; another might be able to teach the younger children, thus avoiding the expense of sending them to school. It was lucky if there was a wealthy friend or relative who was prepared to pay for the education of one of the boys, to the stage where he could in turn become a wage earner.

Miss Martineau followed this book up with several more on such politico economic themes, and indeed made her name in this way by the time she was thirty.

As so often with Miss Martineau there is a large cast: family members, friends, relations; and unless you spend some time listing them you may well not get the full impact of this book.



Let none sit down to read this little tale, whose interest can only be excited by the relation of uncommon circumstances, of romantic adventures, of poetical perplexities, or of picturesque difficulties. No beauties of this kind will be here found. I propose to give a plain, unaffected narrative of the exertions made by a family of young persons, to render themselves and each other happy and useful in the world. The circumstances in which they are placed are so common, that we see persons similarly situated every day: they meet with no adventures, and their difficulties, and the remedies they procure for them, are of so homely a description, as to exclude every exertion of poetical talent in their illustration, and to promise to excite interest in those readers only, who can sympathise with the earnest desires of well disposed and industrious young persons striving after usefulness, honourable independence, and individual and mutual improvement, amidst real, and not imaginary, discouragements, and substantial, not sentimental, difficulties. I proceed at once to my narrative.

Mr Forsyth was a merchant, who lived in the city of Exeter. He had been a widower for a few years, and had endeavoured to discharge faithfully a parent's duty to five young children, when he too was taken away from those who depended upon him, and whose very existence seemed bound up in his. He was taken from them, and no one knew what would become of these young helpless creatures, who, it was thought, would inherit from their father nothing but his good name, and who possessed nothing but the good principles and industrious habits which his care and affection had imparted to them. They had no near relations, and the friends whom their parents' respectability had gained for them, had families of their own to support, and could offer little but advice and friendly offices: large pecuniary assistance they had it not in their power to impart. One of these friends, who was also Mr Forsyth's executor, took the children into his house till the funeral should be over, and some plans arranged for the future disposal of each of them.

The eldest girl, Jane, was of an age to understand and feel the difficulties which surrounded them. She was sixteen, and from having been her father's friend as well as housekeeper, she had a remarkably matured judgment; she was of a thoughtful, perhaps an anxious, disposition, and the loss of her father, together with the anxiety she felt as being now the head of his helpless family, were almost too much for her... Continue reading book >>

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