Philanthropic and Moral.
Philanthropic and Moral,
Abolition of Slavery in America.
Published by T. E. Chapman.
Baker, Crane & Day.
Philanthropic and Moral Essays. By Elizabeth Margaret Chandler.
Effects of Slavery.
And it must be ever thus!—it is in the very nature of slavery to cast a benumbing influence, like that of the torpedo, over its unhappy victims—degrading every nobler faculty, and freezing up the very life-springs of intellectual excellence. Men say, truly, that the slave is a degraded being, debased—ay, almost beneath the level of humanity. What matters it then, that he should be scorned, and despised, and trampled upon? A slave! that vilest thing in creation—who shall extend the hand of benevolence to wipe the cold dews of suffering from his forehead, or stoop to whisper in his ear the words of hope and consolation?—A shade of sadness may cloud the brow of the master, when his faithful dog sinks to death at his feet—but will he shed one tear over the grave of the wretch, who has lived from youth to age, toiling, toiling on, through summer’s heat, and winter’s cold, in one unvarying round of labour for his service? —And why should he?—It was the scourge of the task-master, not the ready impulse of grateful affection, that urged him on in his daily routine of toil—and though his lip might sometimes murmur the words of ready obedience, the tyrant well knew that the low deep curses of deadly hatred were flung back in secret return for oft-repeated blows and menaces.
What wonder is it that the slave should be the veriest outcast on the face of God’s beautiful creation? But who has made him thus? Was it the omnipotent Jehovah!—the God of love, 7 8 A4v 8 of justice, and of mercy?—No! the answer must come in the deep voice of thunder, and in the still small whisper of the midnight couch—no!—it was man—his brother—created by the same hand, and in the same image—that hath become his oppressor, and wrought him this foul wrong. Yoked with the brute, and fetter’d to the soil, with the iron hand of tyranny pressing him to the earth—and the thick veil of intellectual darkness drawn forever around him—how could he be otherwise than as he is? But, give liberty to the captive—fling aside his fetters—and bid him stand proudly erect in all the majesty of a freeman—and his soul—his mind—his whole character will soon remodel itself to the dignity of his outward form—he will be again a man, the image and noblest work of his Creator! Would to Heaven the hour of his emancipation had already arrived! That it is approaching by slowly progressive footsteps, there can be no doubt. The system of slavery must not, will not, forever cast its dark stigma on the fair pages of our country’s annals. Already the voice of justice and of mercy has gone forth. Man has arisen in his compassionate strength, to aid the cause of the oppressed—and the gentler sympathies of woman’s soul have been awakened from their long slumber. She has remembered that many of her cherished luxuries have been wet with the tears of wretchedness, and that the zephyr which flutters around her tasteful garb, comes heavily laden with the sighs of the oppressed. Oh! will she not then cast from her whatever is to others the source of a sore evil—and bathe her lip, and array her form, only in those things which are untainted by the hot breath of human agony? Much may be effected by woman—important consequences have, in all ages of the world, been produced by her influence—and when was she ever a loiterer in the cause of justice and humanity?
The great effort of female education should be, to qualify woman to discharge her duties, not to exalt her till she despises them; to make it her ambition to merit and display the character of the most amiable and intelligent of her sex, rather than aspire to emulate the conduct and capacity of men. In our 9 A5r 9 country, where, under the mild light of Christianity, free institutions guaranty freedom of thought, of expression, of action, the full and free development of mind may be expected; and here, if in any country on earth, women may hope to take their true, their most dignified stations, as the helpers, the companions, of educated and independent men. And while our citizens are endeavouring so to improve their inestimable privileges, that the men of future ages may be better and happier for their labours, have women no share in the important task? Their influence on the manners is readily and willingly conceded by every one; might not their influence on the mind be made quite as irresistible, and far more beneficial, and that, too, without violating in the least, the propriety which, to make their examples valuable, should ever mark their conduct? The business of instruction is one of vast interest, because fraught with such important consequences to Americans. It is necessary that all our people should be instructed, as universal education is the main pillar that must eventually support the temple of our liberty. It is therefore a duty sacredly binding on our legislators to provide for the instruction, during childhood and youth, of every member of our republic. But while there are so many pursuits, more lucrative and agreeable to active and ambitious young men, there will be a lack of good instructors —of those who are willing to make it their business. Let, then, the employment of school-keeping be principally appropriated to females. They are both by temper and habit admirably qualified for the task—they have patience, fondness for children, and are accustomed to seclusion, and inured to self- government. Is it objected that they do not possess sufficient soundness of learning—that their acquirements are showy, superficial, frivolous? The fault is in their education, not in the female mind. Only afford them opportunities for improvement, and motives for exertion; let them be assured, that, to sing, to dance,To dress, to troll the tongue, and roll their eyes, is not all that is required to make young ladies agreeable or sought by the gentlemen—that they may converse sensibly without the charge of pedantry, and be intelligent without the appellation of a blue; in short, that they are expected to be rational, and required to be useful—and they will not disappoint public expectation.
It is a pleasant thing to dream. I do not mean in sleep,— for such dreams are generally too vague and indistinct—but when you are broad awake at mid-day or in the dim twilight. Upon a hot August noon, when there is not one cloud rioting upon the face of the dazzling sky, to give your eye a momentary relief from its intense brightness—when the clear sun-beams are poured, with a scorching light, full upon the glaring brick buildings opposite to your apartment, and reflected back from the hot pavement, till the lazy air, that lingers about among them, seems almost to become visible from the heat it has gathered, and comes to you with a heavy, parching sultriness. Or on a dreary November day, when the rain commences with a slow, steady drizzle, increasing gradually into larger drops, till it comes down in a heavy, regular, monotonous shower—and the trees, if there happen to be any within sight of your window, seem actually to shiver with the damp chilliness of the weather, as they stand stretching out their wet limbs, with the rain dripping rapidly from the few brown and curled leaves left upon them, to those that lie still more withered beneath—oh, it is delicious then to shut the door of your thoughts upon the outward creation that is around you, and forget yourself in an ideal world—glorious and beautiful! Fancy, like a loosened falcon, springs up on an exulting wing, and bears you free and unfettered wherever you may list.— The morning sun seems to light up for your eyes, the magnificence of Alpine scenery; or the twilight air of Cashmere steals luxuriously over your lips and forehead, bathing them with the gathered fragrance of her roses. You may weave around yourself a tissue of romantic adventures, or exchange the low ceiling and narrow walls of your own apartment, for the mountain breezes of the Catskill, or the dazzling display of lights, beauty and fashion, in a ball-room at Saratoga.
Nor have your own transmogrifications a whit less of the wonderful. Were it not that yourself has been the magician, you would be positively in doubt as to your own identity. Your little lead-coloured eyes, the light of whose beams could never be persuaded to turn in the same direction, are transformed into heavenly azure, and their long lids drop over them with a most amiable expression of melancholy—your non-descript 11 A6r 11 nose becomes suddently twisted into perfection, and your whole face, which, after a month’s daily inspection in the glass, with the hope of discovering some unobtrusive loveliness, you were compelled to acknowledge monstrously plain, you find astonishingly altered into the very extremity of beauty—while your silken tresses, which had formerly approached somewhat too near to the colour of vermilion, to be accurately described by the poetical epithet of Golden, in a most appropriate manner cap the climax of your loveliness. Then you may imagine yourself peerless and unrivalled, the brightest star on the horizon of fashion—and practise, if you please, the haughty curl of your exquisite lip, with which you intend to receive the adoration of your worshippers, or the graceful bend of your superlative head with which you will accede to Mr. ――’s entreaty that you will allow him that infinity of honour, the pleasure of dancing with you.
If you prefer the sentimental, you may fancy yourself seated with your guitar, where the quiet moonbeams steal in between clustering branches of the rose and honeysuckle, to listen to your melody. But woe to your dream, should you forget so deeply as to give sound to the witching of your voice! alas, alas, you have never yet been able to persuade the ungentleness of your voice into the formation of one note of harmony, or prevail upon your disobliging ear to retain the recollection of a tune—and the beautiful bubble world of your fancy, with all its glorious rain-bow hues, is dashed at once into nothing!
But better and pleasanter than all this, is it to go out on a calm Sabbath morning, into the thick woods, and lie down on a green bank, by the twisted roots of an old tree—where the stream that steals with a gentle voice between the grassy banks, hath a purer melody in its tone than the rich swell of church- music;—and the sweet wild flowers, those fair and perishing things, frail as our brightest hopes, and like them springing up everywhere around us—lift up their delicate leaves with a lesson for your heart to study;—and the honey-bee, that comes with its soft hum to drink their sweets, is a kind monitor, teaching you thus to gather into the storehouse of your thoughts, the sweet recollections of well-spent moments.
The dreams of our sleep are sometimes happy—but they have ever their waking hour; and the beautiful creations of our unslumbering fancy, too soon leave us only the remembrance12 A6v 12 brance that they were but shadows—with sometimes, too, a sigh over the far different fate that heaven hath assigned us. But that visionary mood which purifies the heart while it gives it happiness, leaves nothing of bitterness, even when it is broken in upon by the ruder voice of the world.
You will find calm thoughts beneath the whispering tree, and the low rustle of the forest leaves, that comes to you with the cool breeze, hath a soothing influence for the heart. The song of the birds will be understood like a familiar language, and the insect forms that flit past you in the scattered sunshine, have each a separate history; or you may gift them with higher perceptibilities, and they will be to you for friends and fellow worshippers.
We believe it is generally acknowledged that there is more danger to be apprehended to any cause, from the lukewarmness of its pretended friends, than from the bitterest hostility of its professed enemies. The attacks of the one will always rouse up opponents to repel them. The lethargy of the other palsies even the hand of zeal, and infects with a benumbing influence the energies of the warmest hearted. It is this lifelessness, this apathy, that is the more dangerous enemy to the cause of Emancipation. We have been frequently astonished at the perfect indifference manifested when this subject is adverted to, even by those whom we might suppose would be most easily interested, and among some who openly profess to reprobate the system of slavery. You may speak of the wrongs and sufferings of our coloured population; you may tell them of all the evils attendant upon slavery; you may recount, if they will listen to you so long, a harrowing tale of human misery, till your own cheek burns, and heart swells at the recital, and when you have concluded, they will turn coldly away, and answer, All this may be very true—but why do you tell it to us? the fault is not ours, nor the remedy in our power; it is useless, therefore, to distress ourselves with the thought of wretchedness which we cannot relieve. Yet they will almost always conclude with acknowledging that the system13 B1r 13 tem of slavery is both criminal and disgraceful, and with a wish that it was abolished altogether:—while at the same time, to judge from their conduct, they seem perfectly determined not to raise so much as a little finger in aid of that object. And what more can we do, such persons may perhaps exclaim, than to give our best wishes to the cause of emancipation? You can do a great deal more—you can give it your active exertions—and you must do so, if you would ever behold the day when the cry of the oppressed shall be heard no more within our borders. You should form yourselves into societies for the opposition of slavery. Your interest will, by that means, be kept awake, you will have better opportunities both of acquiring and diffusing information upon the subject, and your aid, altogether, will be more effective. Nor should you imagine you have completed your duty by declaring yourselves the enemies of oppression—you should endeavour to prevail upon your friends to do likewise.
The subject is one of the utmost importance, both to the moral and political interests of our country, and should occupy your thoughts, and be made the theme of your conversation, not only in your stated meetings for its discussion, but while you are engaged in your daily occupations, or when you have gathered into a friendly circle around the evening hearth. We do not expect the influence of women to have any immediate or perceptible effect upon the councils of the Senate-house— but let their efforts be steadily directed to arousing the public mind to the importance of this subject, and keeping awake that attention by every means in their power, and we have no doubt but they will be speedily and beneficially felt. It is useless to talk of the difficulties of the case, of the danger of intermeddling with a subject which even men approach with timidity, and of the total impossibility of our effecting any change in the course of circumstances. We do not see the least impossibility in the matter, and we deny that there is any. But we do know that it is impossible to remove from the bosom of our country a crime that should weigh her plumed head in shame to the very dust, by sitting passively down, and wishing it were otherwise. That there may be difficulties in the case, we admit, but it would be absurd to suppose that it is entirely without remedy. Let the general attention be but thoroughly excited, let men be forced into the necessity of acting, and efficientB 14 B1v 14 cient remedial measures will soon be devised and adopted:— and so we may yet see the folds of our star-spangled banner floating unsullied on the free air, and the dark sin, which hath so long polluted our country, atoned for and forgiven.
It will do not good—is an answer we have received so often, when endeavouring to awaken our friends to the subject of emancipation, that we are positively weary of hearing it repeated, and almost out of patience—just as if the success or failure of our endeavours could in the least affect the question of right or wrong!
Is the performance of duties to God and our fellow-creatures the less emphatically urged upon us, because we choose to imagine it will have no effect on the mass of human crime and misery? Nay, is there not even guilt in such reasoning? Because we think that other people will do wrong in spite of our efforts to prevent them, should we join in upholding them in their iniquity, and participate with them in the enjoyment of the fruits of it? And in such a case we need scarcely demand, which would be most deeply criminal—those who thoughtlessly and blindly press forward on a career of guilt, or those, who, fully awake to its sinfulness, persist in lending their support?
That the system of slavery, as existing among us in the very bosom of these free States, is a dark outrage upon justice and humanity, we presume there are few among our own sex hardy enough to dispute. If there be any such, they must daringly maintain a false argument in the very face of conscience, or have been strangely blinded by a long series of years of prejudice.
But what signifies our combating an evil that we can never subdue? What signifies a conscience void of offence in the sight of the everlasting One? What signifies the calm retrospective reflection of the twilight hour, broken in upon by no secret consciousness of blood-guiltiness? It is only for you to act, and to leave to Him—the Omnipotent—the judgment and direction of your usefulness.
Because you, in the short-sightedness of morality, behold no way for the redemption out of their bonds, of an oppressed 15 B2r 15 people, is His power limited, His hand shortened, that it cannot save? And have we not good grounds for believing, that on the offering, however humble, of a sincere and contrite spirit, he will bestow his blessing? We are told that faith—trusting and unfaltering faith—in the power of the Almighty, is sufficient for the removal of mountains—and yet you, because to the eye of human reason your path seems clouded with difficulties, sit down in utter apathy, nor lift up even so much as your voices of prayer, in behalf of a smitten people!
Yet, though there are a fearful number who still listen with a strange indifference to the soul-harrowing eloquence of human suffering, thank heaven! we have no cause of despair. A voice has gone forth over the sleeping pool, to trouble its waters, and there are many who have already gone down and cleansed themselves from the guilt of African oppression. A spirit is at work among the people that will not easily be quieted —a leaven, whose vital principle will not be destroyed till the whole mass is leavened.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, saith St. Paul, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mystery, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Now as we profess to be a nation of Christians, it is but natural to suppose, that a quality, which appears to be the most essential principle of that religion, should be in good esteem among us, and that the outward form of it, at least, should be held in observance. But is this the case? We will read you a description of charity, by the same inspired writer, and bid you ask the same question of your consciences.
Charity suffereth long and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.16 B2v 16
Now which of all these principles does not slavery violate? Where is the long suffering that our slave-holders exhibit, when the most trifling offence on the part of their human cattle is visited by the horsewhip? What is their kindness in claiming from their brethren a daily routine of unmitigated, unrewarded toil, through a long series of years, to feed their luxury?
Charity envieth not—and truly envy herself could scarcely grudge the few poor comforts we have left the slave—but is not envy of the superior luxuries and comforts of others, one of the main inducing causes of that oppression? As for that humility which is so distinguishing a feature in charity and in the Christian religion, we know that it is utterly inconsistent with the very nature of absolute power. Are we not mightily puffed up with out own superiority? Do we not proudly vaunt ourselves as being even of a higher species than our negro brethren? And is it seemly that we should cause oppression with a high hand to rule upon the earth, rioting in the groans of human agony? Charity seeketh not even that which is her own, but we uphold those who wring with violence from the hands of others that which is not their own. Go ask the poor victim, a female, too, perhaps—who stands there all bleeding and lacerated with many stripes, what was the magnitude of the offence that hath been punished with such severe chastisement—and what will be the answer? Some trifling employment forgotten or neglected—or perhaps the passionate outpourings of grief for some beloved one from whom she has been forcibly separated!
Yet will this very text, in the very seat of slavery, be solemnly pronounced from the pulpit, and be characterised as containing some of the sublimest principles of our religion, and commented upon with overpowering eloquence, till the heart of man will glow within his bosom, and the warm tears gush out from the gentle eyes of women—and they will go out from the house of worship, and forget that they are nourishing up within their own households, a system that is at open variance both with that, and every other principle of the Christian religion.
Is it not a delightful evening? We will go down the hill by the old school-house—but we shall not meet any merry groups of the scholars, for it is the harvest holy-days—then turn at the mill, and pass Robert Harman’s pretty farm-house. If you look over the hill, you can see the top of one of its chimneys peeping out from among the trees, now;—there— where that smoke-curl is rising.
The wood sweeps in a curve round the foot of the hill before we reach it; but you will not be fatigued, for when we descend a few steps further we shall quite lose the warm sunshine. How beautiful it looks on the top of that old wood—and here on this hill slope, the long tree-shadows are drawn so distinctly!
When we pass this clump of oaks, we shall come within sight of the open fields and meadows. Do you see yon cloverfield? It is quite purple with blossoms, and the first breeze that comes this way will be loaded with perfume; there is mingled with it a scent of fresh hay, too—farmer Harman cannot yet have finished carrying in his first crop. Ah! there he is, with his hands all busily employed around him; the wagon has just been brought out, and they are about to commence loading. I intend you shall be acquainted with Robert Harman: he is one of the finest specimens of our western country farmer—the most useful man in the neighbourhood, and respected by all about him. He was elected to a seat in the state legislature, a couple of years since, and there is considerable talk of his being held up for senator at the next election.
Ha! there goes Rolla scampering across the field, to seek out his crony, little George Harman. Many a joyous frolic have they had together, while I have looked on and wondered which of the two was most delighted—the boy or the dog. There is Ned, too, staggering under the weight of a fork-load of hay, which he fancies he can deposit on the wagon.—There it comes! down in a thick shower about his head, almost smothering him: he is fairly covered with it! I wish you could see his face now, as he turns to romp with Rolla. I can almost see the flash of his black eyes from here! He is one of the wildest young rogues in the neighbourhood, and almost as big as his brother Robert, who is two years older.—Bob is B2 18 B3v 18 most like his mother, both in looks and character—quieter and more delicate. Yet gentle and timid as you would take him to be, there are few men more inflexible or more courageous on any point of duty or principle: the Indian’s torture would scarcely make him flinch.
Here is the house: you cannot more than catch an occasional glimpse of the stone walls, it is so thickly covered with vines. That multiflora rose almost covers the end of the long piazza— and the beautiful coral, and the scented monthly honeysuckle, creep in twisted luxuriance up its pillars. Then there are the sweet clematis, and the passion-vine, and the jessamine, scattered about on frames; but the two last are not yet in bloom. Then there are the Washington-bower, and the glacina, with its profusion of blue flowers, climbing up the sides of the house, and almost covering even the chimney. Those trees, almost bending beneath the multitude of their blossoms, are the scented acacia: that which is loaded with red flowers, on the other side of the house, is a horse-chestnut—and this so covered with white waxen-like flowers is the philadelphus. Then do but look what a quantity of roses! white and red, of all shades!— from the delicate purity of the white bramble, to the deep crimson of the small burgundy, or still deeper coloured velvet rose. Some of them almost look in at the windows of the pretty little parlour; and if you would look in there too, you would see a plain room, to be sure, but the most perfect neatness, and a large book-case filled with well selected books. You would know that by the very binding—and the last numbers of several periodicals, lying on the table. There is a piano, too—and some good engravings and pictures in watercolours hanging about the wall.
There is Mary Harman herself!—spreading the supper-table, under that great tree. She is a pretty woman, and she is what is a great deal better—very amiable, and an excellent wife and mother. Let us walk on a little further, to a seat which I will find for you on the banks of the creek, and I will tell you something of her history.
Do you recollect the large house situated on the left of Col. Carlington’s plantation, in Virginia? That, with the farm attached to it, was formerly the property of Robert Harman. It was a much handsomer place then, than it is now; for the trees 19 B4r 19 have been cut down from about it, and the shrubbery has been sadly neglected of late years.
Well, I will tell you of a conversation that took place between Robert and his wife, on the green lawn in front of that very house. Little Bob, the oldest boy, was just one year old at the time, and his father had given the slaves a holy-day, because it was his birth-day.
How happy their black faces looked! said Robert, as they left the lawn, after having each received a trifling present from their mistress. Mary turned her face towards her husband; but there was a shade of sadness mingled with the tenderness of its expression.
Nay, now, continued he, laughing, I know all you are going to say about happiness being incompatible with slavery —but I am sure they are better off than if they were free, you are so kind to them!
They are slaves, nevertheless: said she, and though they may seem gay and mirthful—even contented—their lightheartedness is only the absence of immediate care, not the indwelling sense of a deep happiness. How can they know the fullness of bliss which I feel when hanging on your arm, or pressing my lips upon the fair forehead of my babe, in the consciousness, that no hand, save that of our God, hath the power to separate us! What do they know of the delight of studying the beauties of the natural or the intellectual world! You say truly, that your plough-horses know scarcely less of the harassing cares of life than they! but is the mere absence of care sufficient for the happiness of a rational being? Would you, dear Robert, purchase a dull forgetfulness of evil, at the expense of the high nature of your intellectual being, sensitive as it is to pain, as well as gladness? I know you would not! Yet, poor as it is, even that much of bliss is denied to the slave— for, debased as his nature may be, he is still human—and he can think! We imagine they rush exultingly to the dance, when it may be only to drown the bitterness of their dark forebodings. I wish you had sometimes watched their dark countenances, as I have done, when you have carelessly spoken of liberty! and then the sin—oh! Robert, surely there must be deep sin in making merchandize thus of our brethren—deeming them scarcely better than the clods they till—they whom God hath created in his own image.20 B4v 20
But what can I do, dear Mary? I will acknowledge that I do not think the system of slavery is right; but you know that I received most of them from my father, with the plantation. The estate is already mortgaged for more than half its value, and if I free the slaves, which form the most valuable part of my property, I shall probably have to dispose of it altogether. For myself, I should care but little, for I am already almost wearied of this life of inaction; but I could not become a tiller of the earth here—where we have mated with the proudest—for your sake, I could not! Could I bear to see eyes look coldly on you, that have been accustomed to gaze only in admiration and respect? Can I drag you down from the station in which I found you in your father’s house, and plunge you in comparative poverty?—Would not our boy, too, in future upbraid me? I wish, from the bottom of my soul, I wish that the system of slavery was abolished altogether—it is a national iniquity—a shameful blot upon our boasted constitution—but for an individual to attempt its extinction were folly!
Mary raised her eyes—they were suffused with tears. Dearly as I love you, Robert, dearly as I love this boy; better, far better, than my own life, I would rather behold you, even day by day, winning an uncertain subsistence by your own exertions, than to share with you in this guilty luxury and splendour—for guilty that must be, which is purchased with wrong to another. Do not think of me, do not fear for me— the loss of wealth cannot render me unhappy—oh no! the thought of wealth like that comes with a deadly sickness upon the heart, a sensation of utter hollowness! even poverty, abject poverty, would be preferable to such splendour; but that will not be consequent on the emancipation of your slaves; it is but somewhat to circumscribe our wishes, and we shall still be independent. We must both be more actively employed, it is true—but it will be better than living in idleness on the labour of others. Then how many temptations will you not escape from! From how many evils will this boy be preserved! for what is there so likely to harden the heart, and to nourish up all its evil passions, as the possession of absolute power?
Well, Mary, said her husband, my slaves shall be free! —but then we must leave here; and I have no other property than those western lands—will you go there?
Oh how willingly! exclaimed she; and her husband then 21 B5r 21 first saw the deep thankfulness of her countenance. She had caught his hand to her lips, when he spoke the word free, and he felt her hot tears raining upon it; but she did not speak nor lift her face till he had concluded.
Remember, love, you must leave these vines that you have nourished up into beauty, and the bowers beneath which we sat together so often, and all the pleasant remembered places where we have passed our happy bridal days, and the comforts that you have enjoyed so long, and all the familiar faces that we have known, and the friends, too, that we have loved— and go out into a place unknown to us, and a comparative wilderness—will you go, dear Mary?
Her face was still wet with that passion of grateful tears, but it was now serene and smiling. I will!
And can you leave the home of your childhood, and your father, and your mother, and your brothers, and the sister who has grown up by your side, and been to you like another self, almost, for so many years?
Mary’s face grew very white, and there was a deep, but momentary struggle; she was firm in the unfaltering sense of her duty, her woman’s spirit grew strong within her, and she answered calmly and steadily—I will go!
And they came.
I love to wander amid the silence of a rural burial-place; where the long grass curtains so luxuriantly the low couches of the sleepers there; and the low branches of the ancient trees fling over them a deep shadow.
There is one down in that wooded valley, where I have sat for hours together, almost as if I were holding communion with its still inhabitants. It has no tomb-stones, and if it were not for the deep eloquence of those heaped-up mounds of earth, and the air of solemnity about that venerable building, you might take it to be a common pasture-field. Let us go sit down upon one of those old graves, and I will tell you the history of the first gentle bride that plighted her nuptial troth within these gray walls.22 B5v 22
Beautiful Wilhelmine! many a year hath gone by, since there, from her heart’s pure altar, the quiet incense of her devotion rose up into the high courts of heaven! Long since has she passed away from the pleasant places where she was once a dweller, but her memory is still lingering about among them, as the spirit of fragrance will hover over the frail blossom, long after its beauty has departed.
It was a century since, almost, that the meek girl of whom I spake, stood up within that low-roofed worship-house, to breathe the vows of her unchangeable fidelity. She was of the race of England’s noblest; but the power of God’s word had come upon her heart and smote her, so that all the gauds and vanities of her high estate became to her as nothing, and she grew to be one of the humblest worshippers of a despised sect—a sister in the faith of Fox and Penn and Whitehead.
Then the magnificence of her apparelling, the brilliance of her dazzling jewelry, and the splendour of her father’s house, came to be as a heavy burden upon her gentle spirit; her heart turned sick within her at the empty glories of the world, and for the sake of her soul’s peace, she dared not any more bow down to its idle vanities. So the affectionate girl was made to endure rather to be an alien from her father’s house, and from the love of her stately mother, than to win back their parental blessing and forgiveness by a sinful apostacy from the high nature of her religious testimony.
Many a sore struggle had she, that gentle creature, with the yearning tenderness, the agonising affection of her smitten heart, before her spirit was made strong for the sacrifice, and she gave herself wholly up to God. Then there was a deep peace settled upon her soul; and in her meek humility, she became a beloved friend in the house of one who had once been a menial in that of her father. And they came hither to this beautiful wilderness—her aged protectors in the calm unbendingness of their piety, and that young Christian unfaltering in her high trust, that they might worship in the peacefulness of their pure religion.
But the glorious spirit of that exalted creature was not long uncompanied here in these solitary places. There was a youth, not indeed of her own proud rank, but one who, for the majestic capacities of his intellect, might have been the mate of princes. But he, too, had subdued the earthliness of his 23 B6r 23 spirit, till his pulse stirred no longer at the promptings of ambition, and he became to her a dear friend.
It was by his side that she stood up, beneath that forest- covered roof, at the time of which I told you, to breathe, in the calm steadfastness of her heart, the promise of her nuptial troth. It was the first Christian bridal that had been celebrated in these, then, almost untrodden places, and there was a still profounder depth of sympathizing silence gathered over their lone temple, as they rose up and stood side by side, with their hands clasped together, she, in the stainlessness of her exceeding beauty,—a most sublime creature,—with the simplicity of her bridal robes, bearing no other ornament than their perfect whiteness; and he bending over her in the depth of his holy affection, and uttering the solemn words of his love, severally and distinctly, in the low, deep cadences of the heart’s tones.
There was a short pause, and then her sweet musical voice spake over the same words, only less audible, and disturbed with the swelling up of a few tears.
But why should I go on to tell you further? For a brief space she moved about, the light and blessing of his quiet home. But there was a gradual change at work upon her, breathing still more of spirituality into the dazzlingness of her beauty, and seeming even in this world to be overpowering the remains of her mortal nature, till it became as a mere shadow, and then she slept.
I pity the man who can glance his eye over the above beautiful lines, without feeling that they have often been the unspoken language of his own heart. To myself, their discovery formed an epoch in the annals of imagination; and often when I have been alone amid the loveliness of nature, they 24 B6v 24 have come to my thought like a channel, whereby my heart might pour out the overflowing of its happiness.
But in order to feel the full force of the sentiment, the reader should watch, as I have done, the slowly progressive footsteps of Spring, from the first green blade that peeps out from the withered grass, like an advanced guard sent forward to reconnoitre, till even the complaining boughs of the sturdy old forests brighten into good humour beneath her smiles, and wear her livery as meekly as the humblest blossom they shadow. He should see, from day to day, the tints of the evening sky, gradually mellowing into their most perfect softness, and know how pleasantly the streams are murmuring in their green places, where the flowers that he loves are blossoming the brightest, and the birds carolling the same songs that he listened to in his early years, when he delighted to watch them flitting around him, till he almost fancied he could recognize their individual forms. He must know and feel all this, and yet be pent up to breathe the air of a populous city, till his heart, like a caged bird, sickens for liberty—and then find himself at once, as it were, transported into the midst of the green hills and shaded waters of his childhood’s home. They may talk of the pleasure of a summer excursion to Long-Branch, or to Saratoga—and pleasure there may undoubtedly be—but it is nothing, absolutely nothing, to the delight of having escaped from The cold heartless city,With its forms and dull routine, into a very paradise of rocks, hills, woods, wild flowers, and waterfalls, where you may revel like a child in fresh air and sunshine, till you feel that even existence alone is blessed; where the name of stranger is in itself a passport to hospitality, but where the name of a friend secures to you a reception, like that of a child of their own families, in the homes of a plain, but unsophisticated and warm-hearted people.
Have you ever, gentle reader, chanced to meet with the History of the Life of John Woolman?
If you have not, then go, I pray you, to the library of some ancient Quaker of your acquaintance, and borrow it. But do not read it then—not, at least, if the Wept of the Wish-ton-wish, with half its leaves still uncut, is lying upon your table—or if you have only just peeped between the pages of one of the annuals;—but when you are wearied of all these things; when you sit among your pleasant company of books, listless and discontented; when your heart turns sick with the long details of human crime and misery, written within your volumes of history; when biography serves but to humble you, with the knowledge that the best have been so frail, and the wisest so ignorant; when philosophy, which has led you with a proud wing among the secret influences of nature, leaves you but a knowledge of your own ignorance—and poetry, glorious poetry, that you thought had almost become a portion of the life-spring of your heart,—you fed so long on its magnificent imaginings—comes only with a dazzling garishness to your worn and feverish spirit—then go forget yourself for a while, in the unpretendingness of John Woolman’s auto-biography.
Were you ever ill of a fever?—and do you recollect the blessedness with which you closed your eyes, when the cool fingers of a beloved friend, came and pushed aside the loose hair, and were laid upon your hot forehead. With such a moonlight feeling, will the pure simplicity of Woolman come to your sick heart. There is no glitter of fancy, no display of stupendous intellect, no splendid imaginations to bewilder you into tears, with their intensity of brightness; it is not even a tale of striking or romantic incident; but it is the beautiful history of a meek heart laid open before you, in all its guilelessness. You will become familiar with a character of the most perfect humility, full of a simple majesty, yet gentle as a very child, unfaltering in its quiet self-denial, and unbending to its own weaknesses, assuming no superior sanctity, lifting not up the voice of stern judgment against the frailties of others, and gifted with all the holy and affectionate charities of life.
You will feel a purifying influence steal gradually over your C 26 C1v 26 heart, while you bend over the quiet pages, calming the rude beatings of its pulse into a thankful evenness, and cooling the impatient irritation of your spirit, with the lesson of its gentle words, till you feel almost as if the unworldly moments of your childhood’s time had again come back to you.
I did not always think, Ellen, said Catherine Dorman, that I could have been so happy as I now feel, under this affliction. When I first knew that I was no more to see the familiar faces that I had so long loved, I thought that as deep a darkness would be forever upon my heart, as that which dwelt perpetually around me in the outward world.
The speaker was a young pale girl, who was sitting with the companion she addressed upon the steps of a vine-wreathed portico. As she turned her face while she spoke, it caught a slight flush from the rich glow of a summer sunset, and her beautiful eye—beautiful even amidst its darkness—seemed to discourse almost as eloquently as in former hours.
Ellen answered only by stooping to touch her lips to the quiet brow of her companion.
It is true, resumed the gentle speaker, that there are sometimes moments when I feel impatient and sorrowful; but when I hear the soft step of my mother, or the approaching tread of your own light foot, Ellen, your affection seems such a deep fountain of blessedness, that I wonder how I could for an instant have yielded to repinings. I did not love you half so well, my friend, when I could read your eloquent thoughts in your gentle eyes, as now that your face has become to me only as a memory.
Then how finely acute are the other perceptions rendered by blindness! I did not know half the exquisite touches of the human voice till now—nor the thousand melodies of nature —nor the numberless delicate varieties of perfume that are mingled in the smell of the sweet flowers—nor the almost impalpable differences of touch; and, although I can no longer look abroad upon the living forms of nature, I have them all pictured here upon my heart, vividly and distinctly—as a lens 27 C2r 27 will throw back into a darkened apartment, in beautiful miniature proportions, a perfect shadowing of the outward scene.
It is true I cannot see the beautiful blossoms that are clustering in such profusion about my head, but I could tell them all over by their names; and although I may not look again, dear Ellen, upon the glorious sunset sky, that we have watched together so often, yet I know how the clouds are sprinkled, in their golden shadowing, over the blue concave— so I will not be sad that you must gaze upon them in loneliness.
Surely, God tempereth the wind to the shorn lamb, murmured Ellen, while an affectionate tear trembled on her eyelids: then in a quicker and clearer voice she added, Shall we sing, dear Catherine?—and the music of their sweet voices went up together: Oh, hallow the beautiful sunset hour,When it comes with the hush of its chastening power!Though the thoughts of the world, through the day-glare have beenBetwixt God and thy heart like a shadowing screen,Now the hot pulse of nature is still’d into rest,So cool thou the fever that burns in thy breast.The time of the twilight!—oh! cherish it well,For its whispering hush hath a holy spell!And the weary burden of earthly care,Is flung from the heart by the spirit’s prayer;And the haunting thoughts of the sinful day,Should pass with its garish beam away.The sunset hour!—how its bright hues speakOf the dying smile on the Christian’s cheek!And the stirring leaves, with their low sweet tone,Have a voice to the listening spirit known;And holier thoughts on your breast have power,’Midst the hush of the beautiful sunset hour.
Opposition to Slavery.
The subject of Emancipation appears, frequently, to be considered merely as one of taste or fancy, which is to be engaged in only by those whose inclination leads them to consider it an object of interest. But opposition to slavery is not a thing to 28 C2v 28 be entered upon only through a transient excitement, or for a display of benevolent feeling, or the indulgence of an amiable humanity; and which it is allowable to neglect in the absence of these or any other selfish motives. It should be considered the conscientious discharge of an imperative duty, and the only means of avoiding a participation in guilt. It is folly to say that we have no agency in the oppression of the slave, while we are revelling in the luxuries produced by his extorted labour. It is vain to endeavour to clear ourselves of the obloquy, by heaping execrations on those more immediately concerned; so long as we continue to be partakers of its fruits, are we active supporters of the system of slavery. It may be said that we do this unwillingly—that we cannot, in fact, altogether avoid it—and that our principles are in direct opposition to slavery. But this does not absolve us from the necessity of making some exertion to remedy the evil of which we complain. If it is so very difficult, in the present state of things, to keep ourselves from partaking of the fruits of iniquity, then ought we to feel the more urgently constrained to make use of every effort in our power to exterminate the system which so widely extends its poisonous influence.
If you find it impossible now to obtain all the articles you may wish, uncontaminated by the taint of slavery, then it rests with you to relax not your endeavours until it is no longer impossible. Make use of the products of free labour, whenever by any efforts you are able to procure them. Do not suffer yourselves to remain inert, because you suppose your exertions will be unfelt: it is well to be engaged in a good cause, even if all the energies devoted to its service should be ineffectual to advance its interests one step. But here your exertions will not be wasted—you can do much. Besides promoting the consumption of free produce, the influence of woman may be widely felt in awaking a more general interest in the cause of Emancipation. By forming societies for the publication and distribution of tracts and pamphlets relative to that subject, information respecting slavery might be largely disseminated, and the feelings of many hitherto unthinking persons aroused into detestation of a system which is a source of so much misery and degradation. The evil is of a nature, that, in the present state of mental cultivation, cannot be long or generally tolerated, after its character has been fully exposed and reflected29 C3r 29 ed upon. In England much good has been done by this means. Thousands of pamphlets and cards, containing a concise account of the nature of colonial slavery, have been distributed by female societies, and a large portion of our own sex are engaged, heart and hand, with their brethren in the work of its extermination. The same measure would, no doubt, here be productive of equally beneficial results, and we hope ere long to see it adopted.
A Legend of Brandywine.
Now, by the dukedom of Northumberland, but this is strange! exclaimed a young British officer, as he reined in his steed, on the brow of a hill, and gazed earnestly at the surrounding landscape.
What is it that is so strange, Percy? demanded a fellow- soldier who rode up to him at the instant.
The speakers were both young men, and the first of them eminently beautiful.
The profusion of fair curls that clustered over his white forehead, the regularity of his features, the delicacy of his complexion, and the gentle expression of his blue eye, might have given a feminine loveliness to his countenance, had it not been for the manly firmness that was written on his serious lip, and the high-thoughted melancholy of his brow. The companions C2 30 C3v 30 continued conversing in a low tone, as they passed slowly down the declivity—at length their voices became more distinct.
Ay, said Percy; the scenery that I have loved from my childhood is not more familiar to me than this.
What can you mean? exclaimed his friend, in evident surprise. That I am to die here! answered Percy. His face was very pale, and though he spoke steadily, it was with an evident effort.I am serious—I am not raving, Ashton. I have seen tha t landscape again and again—it has come to my dreams, and been before me when I have closed my eyes in the dim twilight. There was a fearful conflict here, too—and I was in the midst, with a burning cheek, and a flashing eye, caring not for the sight of blood, nor for the carnage that was around me, till I lay upon the red, wet earth, amidst the ghastly faces of slain men. Then for a while there was an indistinctness in the vision, till presently I was no longer in the open air, and my whole frame was burning with insupportable agony. The groans of the maimed and dying wretches who were near me, rang continually in my ears, and unknown faces were bending over me in offices of kindness. I was sensible then, and I knew that I was dying, and the thought of my mother came like a gush of fiery lead upon my heart. Yet then, after the dream had left me, I cared but little for its monitions. I felt, it is true, that I ought not to come here bathing my hands causelessly in human blood, yet a wild indignation for a fancied wrong, and a thirst for the glory of a conqueror, urged me on—so my mother’s prayers were wasted, and I came. And now I know that I am to die here.
His friend listened in painful silence, and after a short pause, Percy continued. This is not cowardice, Ashton, though you may perhaps consider it such—but no—you will not—we have been known to each other too long and too intimately for such a thought.
He took out his watch, and after looking at the hour, placed it in his friend’s hand. I shall never need it more, but you will keep it, Ashton, in remembrance of one who loved you— and these papers—will you take charge of them? there is a letter which I wish you to deliver to my mother; and tell――
At this instant the advanced lines of the American army 31 C4r 31 appeared hurrying forward at a quick run, and in a few moments the friends were mingling in the wild affray of battle.
The day was fast wearing to a close. The smoke-clouds were still hovering over the war-field of Brandywine, but its wild uproar had died away into a fearful silence; for the victory was won and lost. On what had been that day the scene of the deadliest conflict, stood the low walls and shaded roof of a Quaker worship-house. On its floor warm life-blood was poured out, as if it had been a libation of red wine; and instead of the quiet prayer and thanksgiving that had been wont to ascend from those walls, the convulsive groans of mortal agony, and the wild beseeching prayer for mercy to the parting spirit, now went up together.
The floor and the rude benches were covered with the wounded, and many of the peaceful men who had met there on the last Sabbath in their accustomed worship, were now, though sick and pale with the carnage around them, administering aid and comfort to the sufferers. One of these knelt to support the head of a young officer, who lay apparently lifeless in his arms, while another bent over his form, holding one of his hands, and occasionally moistening his lips, and bathing his pale brow.
Does he live? demanded Ashton gaspingly, as he entered and stole hurriedly towards the group.
He breathes, but life is waxing faint—very; was the answer.
Ashton gazed a moment upon that still white countenance, till he felt as if a sudden blindness had come over him, and, flinging himself on his knees by the side of his friend, he sobbed audibly.
Percy, dearPercy! he exclaimed in his agony, will you not speak to me, will you only look at me but once more?
His voice seemed to rekindle for an instant the fleeting spark of animation in the bosom of Percy, for he half lifted his heavy eyelids, and stretched out his hand towards his friend.
God bless you, Ashton, murmured he; tell my mother that my last earthly thoughts were of her—that I died happy, and I trust, forgiven of my sins—and tell Constance—but no, it will be better not—but do not let them take the portrait from my neck, Ashton.
His voice grew fainter as he concluded, and when, with a 32 C4v 32 feeble pressure of the venerable hand that still retained his within its grasp, he strove to speak somewhat of his kindly thanks, the words died away inarticulately from his lips. Ashton bent over him—tearless, breathless, with the intensity of his feelings—but no warm breath came upwards to his cheek. Percy was dead.
How I love the beautiful repose of a country Sabbath. The very breezes seem to go by with a quieter tone, and the light clouds to rest even more peacefully than their wont, upon the bosom of the pure sky. Then what an air of serenity has the venerable house of prayer, that stands so embowered among its shadowing trees—surely the heart that enters there must be hushed and softened with its purifying influence. Shall we not go up, and join with those who worship there?
Ay, let us go—for we may well humble ourselves before our God, upon a spot that was once scathed by the desolation of man’s ravage. This valley, that now looks so lovely in its slumbering tranquillity, once rang with all the wild turmoil of battle. Behind yonder hills, you may hear the murmurs of the shaded Brandywine, and here, where you now stand, the earth was red with slaughter, on the day of that fight. On that height Lafayette received his first wound in the service of our country—these fields, where the luxuriant corn is now bending so gracefully to the breeze, were then the death-couch of many men—and that building, around which young and old are so quietly gathering, stood once the centre of a sanguinary conflict, and was crowded with its victims.
This, then, is the battle scene of Brandywine, and here, if tradition may be credited, lie unmarked by a single memorial, the remains of one of the proud race of Northumberland.
The New Year.
The year hath gone by. Winter, with its piercing chillness; its storms and its melancholy blasts; its pleasant gatherings round the cheerful fireside, and its hours of suffering to 33 C5r 33 those against whom it has been leagued with poverty—Spring, following in his footsteps, like pity after sorrow, and pouring balm into the wounds he made, has flung the garment of gladness over stricken Nature in her hour of desolation— Summer, with his hot breath, his thunderbolts, his forked lightnings, and the blessings of his plenteous fruits—and Autumn, gathering those fruits into the garner, and again pressing upon the brow of Nature the signet of decay,—have fingered with us for their allotted time, and have all departed.
It is well for us, at the close of the year, to look back at the moments that have past, and consider whether they have made us wiser and better than we were at its commencement, or whether too great a portion of them has not been unprofitably wasted. When we call back to memory these forgotten hours, what shall we find in the account which they have carried in against us? Have we been properly grateful for the good gifts we have received from the Giver of all good, and bowed submissively to the afflictions with which he has been pleased to visit us? Have we offered up the morning and the evening sacrifice of a spirit conscious of its own frailties, and seeking after holier things? Or have we to reproach ourselves, that we have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and have done those things which we ought not to have done? That we have nurtured pride and vanity secretly within our hearts, and suffered anger and discontent too frequently to obtain an undue empire over us?
A year! How rapidly it has passed away! seeming to some of us scarcely more than the memory of an indistinct dream, it has wrought upon us so little change. To others it has been an important era, crowded with eventful incident, and indelibly impressed upon the recollection by the alterations it has made in character, or feeling, or circumstance. Thousands hailed its entrance with gladness, whose hearts are now crushed by some unsparing desolation, or lie cold and pulselesrs beneath the withered grass.
And who, of those that now interchange the customary salutations of the New Year, may say that they will ever be witnesses of its dying hour? Surely, then, it is fitting that the present moments should not be suffered to pass unprofitably— that we should erect in our hearts some monument of good deeds, whereby we may know that they have been.34 C5v 34
Then, amid the festivities that are attendant upon the season, and the serious thoughts that ought to be gathered around its passing hours, shall the poor and miserable plead in vain for the dole of compassion? Woman was not formed to look upon scenes of suffering with a careless eye: it is alike her privilege and her duty to impart consolation to the sorrows of the afflicted, and relief to the necessities of the destitute. And whose cup is so crowded with wretchedness as that of the slave? from whom may he hope for sympathy, if her heart is closed against the cry of his agony? The New Year! oh, suffer it not to go by and leave him still bending hopelessly beneath the weight of his fetters—uncheered by the soothing of compassion, and the knowledge that the exertions of Woman, at least, will be given to the cause of his Emancipation!
Right and Wrong.
That the errors of one person are no excuse for those of another, most persons are very willing to admit—when the aphorism is not used in application to themselves. Yet how often is it urged in palliation of offences, that others are equally guilty! If we had no conscience; if the laws of God were neither written upon our hearts, nor within the volume of truth, this plea might justly be available. But as it is, however powerful the force of example may be, the errors of the best and wisest cannot justify those of the weakest individual. Therefore, the moment it is proved to us by those laws, that any course of conduct is wrong, that instant it behoves us to alter it, before an infatuated persistence deepens out fault into a dark iniquity. No matter though it is a subject which all whom we have been accustomed most to reverence, look upon with carelessness and indifference—no matter for the example of the most pious—if you are acting contrary to the commands of God, shall the opinions of men sustain you in a career of sinfulness? If the characters of the most righteous are still imperfect, then it is needful that they become better than they have yet been; and for those who have many sins to rise up against them, is there not more cause that they should garner up the memory of some good deeds in the store-house of conscience? It is true that in many matters there exists a great 35 C6r 35 contrariety of opinion; some persons esteeming innocent those things which others condemn as deeply sinful;—but this doubt can exist only with regard to secondary duties—the weightier matters of the law are so plain, that unless they are wilfully blind, those who run may read; and those things we can neither neglect ourselves, nor support the violation of them in others, without positive guilt.
If, then, right and wrong are distinctly pointed out before us, are we to be governed in our choice of them by expediency, or the customs of the world, or the opinions of men? Certainly not. We are not to calculate upon the good or the evil, that may ensue by our adherence to the principles of right—nor what sacrifices must be made—nor what privations may have to be endured—it is for God’s creatures to act as he has been pleased to designate, labouring diligently in his service, and trusting to him to apportion the increase.
How very beautiful! I exclaimed mentally.
I was in a village house of worship, and the above observation was excited by a female who sat opposite to me. She was not very young—she might have been twenty-eight, or possibly thirty years; but her features were finely regular, and her complexion still wore an undiminished brilliancy. It must have been undiminished in its beauty, for it was one of the most perfect whiteness I have ever seen, smooth and polished —more like a sheet of hot-pressed letter-paper than any thing else I can think of—and with a tinge of carmine scarcely deeper than that of the most delicate petal of the damask rose. In common with many others, she had laid aside her bonnet on account of the excessive heat of the weather, and her dark hair, arranged with the utmost simplicity beneath a plain gauze cap, contrasted beautifully with the fine intellectual forehead over which it was parted. Her lip had probably once been redder than it was at present, and past hours might have seen a more frequent flush of laughing sunlight upon her cheek, for now the long fringes of her eye bent over it with a continual pensiveness. For that eye—think of all the descriptions you have ever read in poetry of the eye of woman—of its veined 36 C6v 36 lid, with the long drooping curled lash—its expressive diamond light—its melting liquid lustre—and its pencilled, arched, indescribable brow—and separate whatever may seem to you most beautiful, to attach to the idea of a large melancholy hazel eye.
It was this subdued sadness, mingled too as it was with so much sweetness of expression, such perfect unrepiningness, that interested me far more than I should otherwise have been. Even the gladness of the lovely faces that sometimes flit around me like scattered sunshine, frequently awakens only a feeling of pensiveness that it should be so little abiding—but a countenance like hers, over which the world’s sorrow had already flung a veil of spirituality—how could I pass it by unnoticed?
By her sat a little urchin as unlike her as possible. Not in feature, for in that there was some trifling resemblance—but in her whole manner and character. I never saw such an expression of untameable joy, as was exhibited in the face of that child; it seemed blended with the very existence of the light-hearted creature; and though it was now subdued into comparative seriousness, the lashes of her dark blue eyes were occasionally lifted with an animated glance that actually seemed to emit flashes of light. You could scarcely look on her without a feeling of gladness—yet once, when she looked up suddenly, while her mother’s eyes were fixed on her in sad tenderness, the smile for a moment entirely forsook her lip, and I saw a large tear gathering over her eye-lashes.
After the worship was concluded, I enquired the history of that woman. They told me she was one to whom the Angel of Grief had ministered—but that I already knew—and that she had drunk deeply of the bitterness of his vial.
She had wedded in her bright youth, with a high hope that life should be to her a long sunny dream of happiness. But she had leaned her heart upon a broken reed, and it gave way and crushed her. They told me there were three graves out in their grassy burial place, over which hot tears had fallen, when were laid there the perished blossoms of her heart—and the strong stem, round which its tendrils had entwined themselves—perhaps too fondly.
I told you that she had wedded with high hopes;—but they had been crushed by another hand than that of death. He came by only to finish the ruin. Long before Harriet Rogers became a widow, had her husband ceased to be worthy of her. 37 D1r 37 Yet intemperate and unprincipled as he became, she still clung to him, in the steadfastness of her woman’s heart, with a depth of holy affection that no unkindness could subdue, with a hope of his being yet restored to virtue, that no unworthiness could crush.
But death, a fearful unprepared-for doom, came suddenly upon him; and then she felt that all the tears she had shed over the pure beings whom she had already laid to rest, were happiness—ay bliss—to the few scalding drops that fell as if they were wrung one by one from her seared heart, slowly and separately upon his still brow;—noble and beautiful as it was, and yet so stricken with the shame of guilt!—about to go down to the grave with such a deep cloud forever resting upon it! And then the thoughts of what was beyond those gloomy portals!—she could not dwell upon it, and with a half-uttered groan, she covered up her face, and they bore her away insensible.
She did not see him again; but day by day there grew to be less of agony in her prayers, and as the darkness passed gradually away from her heart, she mingled once more, as she had been wont to do, among her beloved friends. The pure piety of her spirit, refined and deepened by suffering, dared not waste itself in gloomy repinings:—but, though long years had passed away, she never could forget.
And I wondered no more at the melancholy written upon her beautiful countenance.
The more we reflect upon this subject, the more strange does it appear, that it can be tolerated in a Christian country— among a people, too, refined and enlightened as we proudly claim to be, whose laws stoop even to the protection of the brute creation. Yet even in the very face of our republican courts, are men publicly sold and purchased by their fellow-men, in the open market-places, and in the broad gaze of the pure daylight; while the hot gush of shame, that should blind and suffocate them with the consciousness of ignominy, is totally unfelt. Woman, too—bright, high-souled, glorious woman,— will suffer herself to be ministered to by the hand of slavery— D 38 D1v 38 can behold herself surrounded by miserable and degraded beings, yet make no effort to snatch them from the pit into which they have been thrust.
The patriotism of the American ladies has been lauded to the skies, for having refused the use of tea during the revolutionary contest, because that article had been one of the exciting causes of the quarrel. It is probable that under similar circumstances, most of them, at the present day, would act after the same manner. And do not the calls of patriotism, as well as of religion, still more imperatively urge to every exertion that may tend to remove their country from the darkness of crime and infamy? Yet they, who, amid the gloom of former years, unhesitatingly bore privations and sacrifices, that they might strengthen the hands of those, who, on the field of warfare, were contending for liberty, now shrink not from the luxuries which have been wrung with heart-sickening inhumanity from the hands of the helpless and oppressed. If there were no other cause for hate, to the system of slavery, its mean selfishness should alone be sufficient to raise every voice in opprobrium against it. But when we reflect, that disgusting and dishonourable as it is, this is one of the fairest traits in its character, it is really surprising how the gentle and the good can be so little offended by its vileness. We should imagine that the tears of contrition for the past, could be dried only by the high resolve of instant reformation, and the nobler and better conduct of future life. But, alas! how few are there, who, like a Minge, a Smith, or a Ridgely, have the nobility of spirit, that can refuse to weigh the claims of interest against those of right. Yet the cause of emancipation is a holy one, and however tardy may be its progress, there can be no doubt but it will eventually triumph. With reference to this subject, we have liberty to quote the encouraging sentiments of one of our own sex, whose interest in the subject is probably inferior to none, and who has looked with a watchful eye upon the signs of the times.All reformations are slow (or gradual) in proportion to the abuse designed to be removed; hence from all necessity, this must be slow, as it exceeds in magnitude all others on the habitable globe; for what degradation, either of body or mind, can be named, which is not comprehended in this greatest of abominations, African slavery? the demoralizing effects of 39 D2r 39 which, not less to the master than to the slave, exceeds all others in the known world; for evidence of which, we need only refer to the state of mankind, in those parts of the earth cursed by its existence. But a good work is begun, and I believe a change in public opinion is taking place; and if we can but have patience with dull, heedless, and inattentive lukewarm professors, I doubt not many of us will see a brighter day. Much anxiety, labour, and toil, must first me endured; but what is this, in comparison to restoring to the most inestimable rights of man, hundreds of thousands of our fellow-beings?
He was a strange looking old man, and he bewildered me exceedingly. Whether he belonged to the rank of magicians, sprites, or genii, I was unable to determine; but that he was something out of the common way, I was quite certain. Once I had half made up my mind, that it was the famous old wizard, Michael Scott—for he had a high pointed cap, and a long beard hanging down upon his breast, and trimmed into a peak: then I tried to move, so as to place him between myself and the candle, that I might discover whether, like Ossian’s ghost-heroes, the light would twinkle dimly through his form,—but with that inability for motion, which we so frequently feel in dreams, I remained fastened to my seat, and my doubts were totally insolvable. But whatever he might be, his appearance was certainly very queer.
What are you doing? said the strange old man.
I am altering this dress, answered I; it is old fashioned.
When was it made?
Put on these spectacles, said the strange old man.
I stammered a little, for the proposition startled me: I thank you. But I could do nothing with them.—I can see to rip this seam perfectly well, I assure you.
Put them on, I tell you! exclaimed he, with such a terrible frown, that they were over my eyes almost before I was aware.
The scene was all changed before me. I was in a mighty 40 D2v 40 temple, where thousands of my own sex were gathered to worship the presiding divinity. The rarest productions of the loom, of various kinds, but of the finest texture, and the choicest colours, were fantastically twisted around each other, so as to form a kind of throne, on which she was seated. On the altar before her, lay heaps of jewelry, strings of pearl, diamonds, and other precious stones, and all manner of personal ornaments, piled up in glittering confusion. Envoys from different quarters of the globe, were continually bringing their offerings to her feet, and numberless females, who officiated as priestesses, were employed about her person, altering its decorations, and adorning her in a different manner. But I observed that her dress had no sooner been adjusted according to her directions, than she became dissatisfied with it, and ordered some other form substituted for that which she had but the instant before applauded.
These various changes were instantly imitated by her votaries, whose manner of worship seemed to be by thus humouring her caprice. Those who were too far distant to discover the manner of the goddess herself, copied, as well as they were able, that of the most favoured devotees; so that the whole place seemed to be continually in motion.
This is the Temple of Fashion, said my companion; come with me, and I will show you from whose hands are gathered the oblations which crowd her altar.
He conducted me to a window at one side of the edifice, and I looked out upon a widely diversified scene. Far off in the distance, I could catch a shadowy glance of mines, where men were wearing out their lives in search of the glittering treasures of the earth. In another quarter, groups of people,—men, women, and children—were embracing each other, with tears and bitter lamentations, till others, who stood by, forcibly separated them from each other, leaving some to weep in lonely desolation, and bearing others away to a distant market-place, where they were publicly sold. Still I watched their destination, as they were borne away by their future masters. They were placed among a people who were accounted wise and virtuous; they were surrounded by cultivation and refinement, yet they were ignorant and degraded, for the book of knowledge was forbidden to be unfolded before them. They were driven unwillingly to toil, day after day, and the fruits of their 41 D3r 41 labour were claimed by others. Those to whom my attention was principally directed, were employed in the care and cultivation of a species of tree, from whose pods, when ripe, they gathered a white, downy substance, which was collected into large quantities, and carried away into a place where hundreds of beings—many of them squalid, debased, and miserable— were employed throughout their whole lives, in causing it to undergo various operations, till it came from their hands transformed into fabrics of exquisite delicacy and beauty, meet to be employed in forming the garments of Fashion. Others passed their days in watching the life and death of successive races of a certain species of insect, that from its shroud they might form her festival robes. Men dared the torrid sunbeams, that they might minister to her fancied wants, or gathered the spoils of the cold regions of the north, that her votaries might lay them at her footstool.
Neither was it over dress only, that she exercised so despotic a sway. Manners, opinions, and taste, were all regulated according to her will. Nay, so enthusiastically infatuated were some of her worshippers, that they would unhesitatingly sacrifice comfort, health, moral principle, and the holiest affections of the heart, in obedience to her dictates.
But without, in front of the temple, methought I heard the clamour of many voices, uttering murmurs and revilings against the witcheries of the tyrant, and the obsequious compliance with which her orders were attended to. These were fathers and husbands, who had been ruined, both in happiness and wealth, by the folly and extravagance of their relatives. The voice of lamentation, mingled also with that of execrations for some who had stood high among her list of favourites, after having expended their whole fortune in her service, were now cast out destitute, to wail their former devotion to her will, or for their lost station, now occupied by more fortunate competitors.
I was about to give utterance to some very wise and moral reflections, upon the folly of the assembled multitude, when the strange old man, with an exclamation of impatience, dashed the spectacles violently from my eyes, and the whole scene vanished. The old man, too, had vanished—cap, beard, and all—I began to be in doubt of my own substantiality! Yet there I was, broad awake, too, by this time, with my disorganizedD2 42 D3v 42 ized dress lying upon my lap.—The extricated sleeve had fallen on the hearth during my dream, and was almost totally consumed. Fortunately, however, the fashion had changed while I was asleep, and the quantity of stuff which had been required for the formation of one sleeve, was now amply sufficient for both.
One of the worst features in the character of slavery, is the perpetual darkness which it so assiduously gathers round the minds of its victims. Knowledge and rebellion appear to be almost synonymous terms in the mind of the slaveholder, or at least the idea of the latter appears to succeed that of the former, almost as regularly as though it were thus properly defined. Then, too, it affords such a convenient avenue to escape from the reproaches of others, or of their own consciences, from the degrading ignorance of their negroes to plead the danger that would result from their instruction. But if mention is made of the propriety of emancipating the slaves in their present condition, then instantly their masters are alarmed at the consequences that they are pleased to think must necessarily ensue, if so many uneducated and degraded beings were, as they term it, let loose upon society. Thus, although they acknowledge that slavery is an evil, and very willingly join in lamentations for its existence, they cannot consent that it should be abolished, until their slaves are fitted for emancipation by a preparatory education, and still, on account of a just regard to their own safety, cannot suffer them to receive the blessings of instruction while they continue in a state of bondage. This, we believe, is nearly the sum of much of the reasoning employed by the southern planters with regard to the subject in question. We are willing to make all due allowances for the effects of long continued habits and prejudices; we feel more disposed to compassionate than to blame—but we cannot acknowledge that any arguments are reasonable, which have for their object the support of injustice. Yet even if elevating and refining their minds by some degree of literary attainments, might have some tendency to render the weight of their fetters a less endurable burden, surely, not the least shadow of such danger 43 D4r 43 could be apprehended from their instruction in morality and religion. Oh! let all those of our own sex, with whom the power may lie, contribute their utmost to the advancement of the eternal welfare of those immortal beings, over whom fortune has given them the temporal control. Will they not extend the hand of christian and sisterly fellowship to those, who, females though they be, are debarred from so many of the dearest privileges of the sex? Will they not plead with those over whose minds they may exercise a pure and rightful influence, to rescue the female slave from her present state of degradation? Certainly, we may hope that they will do so, unless the poisonous properties of slavery are such as to deaden the vital principle of every good thing within the reach of its effects.
Letters on Slavery. No. I.
To the Ladies of Baltimore.
In thus addressing you upon the subject of American Slavery, we cannot hope to offer to your notice much newness or brilliancy of argument or reasoning—much original information—or many unappropriated sentiments;—the wrongs of the Negroes, and the injustice of their oppressors, have been long since pourtrayed by the thrilling lips of eloquence—and the means for their emancipation, to which we shall invite your attention, have been already pointed out. We can, therefore, do but little more than reiterate what has been said by others. Yet notwithstanding we have confessed thus much, we are still induced to address you; in the hope that an appeal directed particularly to yourselves, condensing what we consider the most important arguments, and presenting the subject in such a point of view as we conceive may be most interesting to you, may, perhaps, succeed in arresting your attention, and bending an hour of your serious thought upon the miserable beings by whom you are surrounded.
We need not waste words in attempting to inspire you with a conviction of the criminality of the slave system. It must certainly be, to every one of you, self-evident! Both its barbarity and iniquity have been long since acknowledged, and 44 D4v 44 that too, in an age which we are apt to consider as far less enlightened than this. Until the minds of christians were blinded by a participation in this evil, an abhorrence of the idea of enslaving their fellow-creatures was a necessary consequence of its suggestion.—A late writer upon this subject, has the following passage, with respect to the commencement of African Slavery:The infamy of being the first who brought the miserable sons of Africa as slaves from their native soil, attaches itself to the Portuguese, who, as early as 14811481, built a castle on the Gold coast, and from thence ravaged the country, and carried off the inhabitants to Portugal, where they were sold into bondage. In 15031503, slaves were first taken from the Portuguese settlements in Africa to the Spanish possessions in America; and from that time to 15111511, large numbers were exported to the colonies of Spain, by permission of King Ferdinand V. After his death, a proposal was made to the regent of Spain, Cardinal Ximenes, by Las Casas, Bishop of Chiapa, to establish a regular commerce in African slaves, under the plausible and well-intentioned, but fallacious pretext of substituting their labour in the colonies for that of the native Indians, who were rapidly becoming exterminated by the severity of their labour, and the cruel treatment of their Spanish masters. To the immortal honour of Cardinal Ximenes, he rejected the proposition on the ground of the iniquity of slavery itself in the abstract, and also, the great injustice of making slaves of one nation, for the liberation of another. The Cardinal appears, therefore, to have been the first avowed opponent of this traffic in men. After the death of this prelate, the Emperor, Charles V., in 15171517, encouraged the slave-trade, and granted letters patent for carrying it on; but he lived to see his error, and most nobly renounced it, for he ordered, and had executed, a complete manumission of all African slaves in his American dominions. About this time, Pope Leo X. gave to the world this noble declaration: That not only the Christian religion, but nature, herself, cried out against a state of slavery! In the year 15621562, in the reign of Elizabeth, the English first stained their hands with the negro traffic; Captain, afterwards Sir J. Hawkins, made a descent on the African coast, and carried away a number of the natives, whom he sold to the Spaniards in 45 D5r 45 Hispaniola; and, although censured by the Queen, it appears that he still continued to prosecute the trade. The French commenced this business about the same time, although Louis XIII. gave the royal sanction with reluctance, and only when soothed by the delusive pretext of converting the Africans to Christianity.
The importation of slaves into the British colonies was strongly opposed by many of them, and in particular by some of those who are now most tenacious of the evil thus entailed upon them. Can any circumstances have occurred since then, to render slavery more humane or more christian-like in its character? We think not. Every succeeding year that has been suffered to elapse without an effort to remove this stain, has but served, in an increasing ratio, to magnify the iniquity of the practice. Every year—nay, every month, every day, that still passes idly by, must continue to deepen the enormity of our country’s guilt.
Can then the female sex, who form so large a part of her population, be free from the pollution of this sin? Had they all used properly their influence as christian women, in opposition to this crime, would it till this day have darkened the volumes of our country’s history? We have no hesitation in saying that it would not, nor in asserting that they have yet a duty to perform for the advancement of its abolition.
Letters on Slavery. No. II.
To the Ladies of Baltimore.
We have already said, that we have nothing new to communicate on the subject of slavery. It has been long since pronounced iniquitous and inhuman. The wise and good have, from its very commencement, poured out denunciations upon its execrable tyranny. What is wanted, therefore, is not so much an acknowledgement of its wickedness, as a general desire for its immediate extinction, and an individual resolution to promote that end. Are there any among you, who do not wish that its abolition was already accomplished throughout all the borders of our land? Is there one of you, over whose thoughts 46 D5v 46 it has not come like a chilling damp, in her moments of patriotic enthusiasm? Yet at the very moment you acknowledge slavery, in the aggregate, to be sinful, there are, perhaps, slaves employed in some of your own households, or those of your dearest friends, without your ever laying it to heart, that you or they are partaking in the unrighteousness you reprobate. It is true that you have the ready plea of custom and the laws of the state, but the very arguments that are used for its palliation, tend only to prove the whole system radically wrong. We do not impute to you any other than gentle and humane treatment of those under your charge— we do not allude reproachfully to the circumstance of your possessing them. You have grown up with this system of things tolerated everywhere around you, till it appears to you natural, and you almost forget the possibility of its being otherwise. You have so long seen it sanctioned by the practice of those whom you have been accustomed to esteem and reverence, that you scarcely look upon it as requiring individual disapprobation; though were you questioned on the subject, you would probably express a wish that it had never been introduced into our country. There are others among you, who would not so far tolerate the practice of slavery, as to hold negroes in their own possession, and who probably consider, that by this passive act, they perform all the duty that is required of them in this respect. But what difference can there be, whether the luxuries with which their tables are spread, or the tasteful garb that arrays their forms, be the productions of slaves in the employ of another or themselves? We beseech all those whom we are addressing, to reason with themselves calmly upon this subject. Think of slavery as it exists in other states of the union—think of the domestic slave-trade, with all its horrors—wives and husbands forcibly torn asunder—parents parted from their children—friend from friend, brother from sister,—never again to meet on the earth. tThese are not circumstances of singular or rare occurrence. New Orleans is the complete mart of the domestic slave- trade, and the Mississippi is becoming a common highway for this traffic. To what scenes of heart-rending misery is not a clue given by these few words! Shrink not for once from their contemplation, we conjure you! Let imagination call up before you the glazed eye of despair—let the fearful shrieks of hearts 47 D6r 47 that are bursting with their insupportable agony, ring in your ears,—place yourselves for a moment in the situation of these miserable victims—fancy yourselves, after the delirious wildness of that separation had past, immured in the suffocating hold of the ship, gasping in vain for one breath of the pure air of heaven, with an indistinct weight of misery pressing on your hot brain, and your hearts crushed and stupified with their wretchedness, forgetting the language of hope forever! Oh! would you not entreat to be preserved from such a doom, with far more earnestness than you would petition for life itself! And surely, those who are hourly liable to be the victims of so much suffering, will not plead in vain for your compassion.
Letters on Slavery. No. III.
To the Ladies of Baltimore.
Once more, for a few moments, we solicit your attention. We need not attempt any further to excite your compassion for the slave, nor horror for the system which is the source of his calamities. If a knowledge of the sufferings of the one, and the iniquity of the other, has not been sufficient to awaken these feelings, and your own benevolent natures have failed to prompt your ready sympathy, we can have but little hope of arousing the dormant principle. But we think not that your heart-pulses beat so languid a response to the voice of misery; we know that there are at least some among you, who have long felt upon this subject, as it best becomes them to feel— who look with anxiety and regret on the broad cloud that flings its deep shadow over their country—and reflect with pain and humiliation on the degradation which she still continues to heap upon so many of her children. We would converse with you, then, on the means that may be most efficient in alleviating their condition, and most successful in loosening the fetters of their bondage; and in what measure your own power may be instrumental in effecting this purpose. Shrink not back under a conviction of your own weakness—remember that though your exertions may be apparently insufficient to tear one link 48 D6v 48 from the shackles of human slavery, your influence, like a reviving leaven, will be silently diffusing a corresponding feeling over the minds of others, and thus, to speak in the figurative language of the Indian, clearing away the briars that now obstruct the path of Emancipation. Let an association be formed among you, having for its object the support of the free system and the diffusion of your principles. Union will give you activity and strength—it will enable you to devise and carry into effect plans, which you would find it otherwise impossible to execute; and while it imparts authority to the sentiments you inculcate, will give a wider extent to the sphere of your usefulness. In other states of the Union, the voice of woman has been already heard pleading that the bruised reed, Ethiopia, may not be utterly broken; that the wounds that have been inflicted upon her heart may be bound up, and the tears of suffering may be wiped away from her eyes. And will not you, also, stretch forth the ready hand of assistance, and strive to lift up from the earth, the mourning brow of the trodden and oppressed one? Can you be insensible to the bliss of shedding light over the soul that was in darkness, or of pouring the oil of gladness over the heads of them that were despised and afflicted? No: it is impossible that you should be thus dull to the pleasures of benevolence—the warm gush of your feelings may have flowed in hidden places, but its well-spring is not the less deep for its hitherto silent course. Let that fountain now shed its refreshing streams over the parched ground of this wilderness, and the blessing of the Holy One may cause it to become a fruitful land.
One thing further we would forcibly impress upon your minds—do not delay the commencement of this good work until a more convenient season. Procrastination is highly prejudicial both to yourselves and the objects of your mercy; and you know not how long the power of usefulness may be granted you. Consult, therefore, immediately with each other, and you know not how long the power of usefulness may be granted you. Consult, therefore, immediately with each other, and with your own hearts, upon the duties that may be allotted you to perform, in removing from your land a system that is so crowded with shame and sinfulness as that of African Slavery.
It is difficult sometimes to restrain a smile, even when we cannot feel otherwise than grieved, at the readiness with which people will find arguments to persuade themselves that they have no manner of concern in slavery, or part to act in its extinction.
Is the necessity of opposing it impressed upon them, they will object, that their own daily participation in its fruits renders them unfit labourers in the soil of emancipation. This might be supposed to be favourable, as it leads immediately to a discussion of the advantage of encouraging free labour, and the wished-for point is already looked upon as half gained. But this is far from succeeding as a natural consequence. A long array of arguments respecting its inconvenience, uselessness, &c. are set forth in formidable order, concluding with alleging the utter impossibility of refraining in all instances from the produce of slavery, or of articles that proceed either directly or indirectly from that source. This is acknowledged, but not without still pleading for even a partial patronization of the free system, just so far as may not be very inconvenient; and this is answered with the opinion, that unless they could put away from them entirely, every thing of this nature, they do not consider it worth while in any instance to attempt doing so. Shall we hint to such reasoners, the parable of the widow’s mite, or shall we attempt to refute their arguments? To do this, we should scarcely suppose that any thing further was necessary, than to remind them of the dangerous tendency of such principles, were we to suffer ourselves to apply them to our general character and actions. They do not consider that they are absolved from all moral or religious duties, because it is difficult to mould themselves into absolute perfection. They do not think it useless to place any restraint upon their angry feelings in a moment of provocation, because they may sometimes be hurried into an impatient expression; nor to withhold the relief that it is in their power to afford to poverty, because it is impossible to supply the wants of all to whom it is a source of suffering. Neither should they refuse to contribute, with what strength they may, towards breaking the fetters of the slave, even though they cannot altogether avoid partaking of the fruit of his extorted labours.E 50 E1v 50
There is another class, who are waiting apparently for a particular revelation upon the subject—till the voice of conscience shall reproach them for their passive tolerance of the system of slavery, in language too plain, and too painful, to be mistaken or resisted. But they wait not to be thus driven to the performance of other duties which are enjoined by reason and humanity; and why, then, should they wait to be thus instructed in this? The voice of conscience is at all times audible, unless we wilfully turn a dull ear to her monitions—but her thunders are sometimes reversed until it is too late for us to feel them, except as in punishment for the offences, we vainly looked for them to prevent.
It has often been remarked, that in sickness there is no hand like woman’s hand, no heart like woman’s heart; and there is not. A man’s heart may swell with unutterable sorrow, and apprehension may rend his mind; yet place him by the sick couch, and in the shadow rather than the light of the sad lamp that watches it; let him have to count over the long dull hours of night, and wait, alone and sleepless, the struggle of the gray dawn in the chamber of suffering; let him be appointed to this ministry, even for the sake of the brother of his heart, or the father of his being, and his grosser nature, even where it is most perfect, will tire; his eye will close, and his spirit grow impatient of the dreary task; and though love and anxiety remain undiminished, his mind will own to itself a creeping in of irresistible selfishness, which, indeed, he may be ashamed of, and struggle to reject, but which, despite of his efforts, remains to characterize his nature, and prove in one instance, at least, his manly weakness. But see a mother, a sister, or a wife, in his place. The woman feels no weariness, and owns no recollection of self. In silence and depth of night she dwells, not only passively, but so far as the qualified term expresses our meaning, joyously. Her ear acquires a blind man’s instinct, as from time to time it catches the slightest stir, or whisper, or breath of the now more than ever loved one, who lies under the hand of human affliction. Her step, as in obedience51 E2r 51 dience to an impulse or a signal, would not waken an insect; if she speaks, her accents are a soft echo of natural harmony, most delicious to the sick man’s ear, conveying all that sound can convey of pity, comfort, and devotion; and thus, night after night, she tends him like a creature sent from a higher world: when all earthly watchfulness has failed, her eye never winked, her mind never palled, her nature, that at other times is weakness, now gaining a superhuman strength and magnanimity; herself forgotten, and her sex alone predominant.
Education of Slaves.
In this age of intellectual advancement, when the cultivation of the mind is considered an object of primary importance, and such strenuous efforts are making for a wider diffusion of knowledge through almost all classes of society, it is strange that the education of one portion, and that a very extensive one, should be almost totally forgotten or neglected.
Men will cheerfully tear themselves away from the delights of home and society, and even peril their lives in order to convey the words of the gospel into distant climes, and implant in the bosoms of those who know not Christ, a knowledge of the divine principles of Christianity. Woman will resign her ornaments, abridge her pleasures, and exert all her influence for the same purpose; and yet at the same time, almost at their doors —nay, in the very bosoms of their families, there are beings far more ignorant and degraded than those distant ones whom they are struggling to save.
It may be that the religious tenets of the Hindoo, or the American Indian, have been formed in error, that In the scattering of the leaves of life,His page was written more imperfectly, yet who can doubt that, according to their knowledge, many of them worship the God of their fathers, with all the sincerity of deep devotedness, and that they possess many noble and surprising traits of character? But the slave—what knowledge, —what instruction, religious or moral, can he obtain, but that which we ourselves see fit to impart to him? And if those to whose charge he is particularly entrusted, suffer his mind, his 52 E2v 52 very soul, to consume away in the most debasing ignorance, how will they be prepared to answer the solemn question— Why put ye not my money to the exchangers, that at my coming I might have received mine own with usury?
Let not his moral character be complained of, nor his intellectual powers be vilified, until the experiment of his instruction has been fairly tried. There are many who are perfectly convinced of the injustice of the system of slavery, and who would joyfully aid in its abolition, did they not consider its victims, by their long formed habits and character, totally unfitted for liberty, and that their enfranchisement would be alike an evil to themselves, and to their former masters. Here then is a field in which the influence of woman may effect much. Let it be her task—the task of those who wish to behold their country freed from a crime, in which they are perhaps compelled to participate,—to extend the hand of compassionate guidance to those unfortunate beings, who are rising up beneath their care—to instil, with unwearying gentleness, into their young minds, the sublime truths of the Christian religion, and impress them firmly with unfaltering principles of morality— and there can be no doubt but the effects of her benevolence will be widely visible. Let it not be said that the slave population can only be kept in subjection while in a state of ignorance. Will the knowledge that his patient endurance of suffering, is complacently beheld in heaven, teach the slave to rebel against his earthly master? or will an undoubting faith in those promises which tell that his ready forgiveness of injuries will win for him the privilege to Wear his immortality as free,Beside the crystal waters, as those who have been his oppressors, dispose him to forfeit that happiness by fostering a spirit of revenge? It is clear that it cannot! and it is sincerely hoped that societies among the ladies of the south, for the education of the youthful slave population, will, ere long, hold a conspicuous place among those which have been already formed for the benefit of that class of our citizens.
Letters to Isabel. No. I.
We have often spoken, dear Isabel, on the subject of African slavery, and I know that you will again rally me for recurring to what you laughingly term my dark-visaged enthusiasm. But I have extracted from you a promise to listen to me patiently, and no fears of your raillery must deter me from attempting to inspire you with a portion of the interest which I feel for the wronged children of Africa.
What would I not give to know that you had entered, heart and soul, into their cause! It surprises me that you have not already done so—and the more deeply I reflect on your character, so in proportion does my astonishment increase.—You fire at the mention of the wrongs of Greece! The name of liberty you cherish like a sacred thing. I have seen your cheek glow and your eye flash with the ardour of your patriotic feelings—yet you look coldly and calmly on the blot that so foully dishonours your country’s escutcheon! Strange!— good too, and pious as you are—gentle and merciful, even to the meanest worm that crawls in its worthlessness beneath your tread—with a heart so alive to the impulses of humanity, so full of tenderness and high romantic feeling, and so steadily calm in the execution of its duties—and yet on this subject— one that should long since have stirred every pulse of your heart, every sympathy of your bosom— so carelessly, so culpably indifferent!—Think not that I am harsh, dear Isabel: even you acknowledge that the system of which I speak is a great evil—you admit that it is sinful to press the iron yoke of oppression upon the neck of any of God’s creatures: how much less then upon those whom he hath created in his own image! and how can you escape the infection of that guilt, unless you openly lift up your hand in remonstrance against it? It is not sufficient that you are not an immediate participant in this iniquity. You are a willing partaker in its advantages, you share freely in all the luxuries purchased by that deep sin, you hold out a bribe, as it were, for its perpetration; yet, because the blood of your brother is not upon your own hand, you hope to fling from you all its awful responsibility! But when the voice of that blood, crying out from the ground, riseth up into the high courts of Heaven, think you, Isabel, that those E2 54 E3v 54 will be held guiltless, who have stood by and beheld the iron of his fetters wearing away into his very soul, and yet have lifted no hand to shield, no voice beseeching mercy for the sufferer? Oh, believe it not! Do not, I entreat you, soothe yourself into a fatal calmness with this hope! You may shut your ear now to the cry of the oppressed; you may persuade yourself that the sphere of your duty extends not thus far;— but when the last shadowy film has gathered over your eye, and your spirit hath passed through the valley of the shadow of death—when all the deceitful mists you had so industriously folded about you are suddenly scattered, and every sense is rendered fearfully acute by the absence of the weakness of mortality—when every unforgiven sin rises up to your recollection with a terrible distinctness—when, with all the intensity of an immortal nature, with a love, to which the warmest transports of earthly enthusiasm are cold and feeble, you shall adore the perfection and the excellence of the Holy One—do you not think that you will then remember, with all the bitterness of regret, that when the voice of the agony of his people went forth over the land, you gave it no heed? that when you saw them smitten wrongfully, bruised and wounded without a cause, you went carelessly by on the other side, nor stopped to pour over their wounds the healing tears of compassion?
Do not, my friend, drive this subject from your mind, as one on which it is painful to reflect! If you cannot bear even a recital of the sufferings of a wronged people, how can they endure, on and on, hopelessly and forever? You shall hear from me again, ere long—till then, adieu.
Letters to Isabel. No. II.
Dear Isabel:—You tell me that you think my language is too strong. You say that you are no advocate for slavery, but that existing circumstances would render it extremely inconvenient (that I believe was your term) for you to become an avowed opponent of it at present; and that while so many, who are open professors of religion, humanity, and benevolence, rest undisturbed by the rebukes of conscience; you cannot 55 E4r 55 believe that it is demanded of you, who are so vastly inferior in all these points, particularly to concern yourself about the subject—especially as you are convinced that all your sacrifices would be of no avail.
Methinks that inconvenience is a strange term, Isabel, to associate with an act of duty—for it is as such I would press it upon your attention:—and the circumstance of this strikingly momentous subject having been hitherto so long and so strangely neglected, is the very reason that your exertions are necessary now; for if apathy and indolence had not long since applied the same salve to the rebukes of conscience, slavery would ere this have ceased to exist.
Then the conduct of others can be no excuse for you. If the path of duty is plain before you, ought you to wait for the example of others to incline you to enter it? Surely not! you know, my friend, that we are to be answerable each for ourselves; we can claim no forgiveness for neglected duties because others have offended in the same manner. Their education, their prejudices, may have gathered a mist around their mental vision, causing them to behold objects totally reversed from their real situation, as sailors are said sometimes to behold a distant vessel with its hull apparently elevated in the air, and its masts resting on the waters; and surely in such a case you would not join with the ignorant and misinformed, in asserting that such was its actual situation!
Slavery, my friend, must be either positively right, or positively wrong. There is no middle point on which it may rest. It is not a thing to be merely disapproved of—coldly warred with as a venial offence. It violates all the most essential principles of the Christian religion. I am not raving, Isabel! I can appeal to that volume which I have seen wet with your own repentant tears, for the truth of my assertions! If the most distinct, the most sublime declarations of the gospel are to be wholly reversed in their acceptation, then indeed is slavery innocent, and I may lay down my pen, and congratulate you that our country is indeed blessed—a shining light to all the inhabitants of the earth! But do you, can you, for one instant imagine slavery to be consistent with the holy principles of Christianity? And if it is not, surely it is at our own peril that we trifle with our knowledge of its guilt! As to the availingness of your exertions, it is not for you to judge:—even if they 56 E4v 56 should be apparently unfelt, (which you cannot tell,) still it is as imperatively your duty to cleanse your hand from injustice.
Do you wait for an express call? till your angry conscience shall press you down to the dust with its terrible upbraiding? Alas, my friend, that hour may come too late! If the case were a doubtful one, then indeed it might be right to wait till the finger of God had expressly taught you; but when your person and your heart tell you that you are lending your support to a system of crime and injustice, can you expect to be absolutely forced into righteousness? You know that I love you, dearest Isabel—you cannot doubt that: but even at the risk of alienating your affection, must I speak thus plainly!— I entreat, I implore, I conjure you, before you God, to commune with your own heart upon this subject—and then answer to your conscience, whether I have not spoken to you the truth!
Letters to Isabel. No. III.
No, my dear Isabel, it is not sufficient that you silently disapprove of iniquity—you should openly avow your disapprobation, that your example may be of benefit to others. You speak very pathetically, to be sure, of the haunting recollections of poundcakes and ice-creams doomed so often to be passed by untasted! and that this may frequently be the case, I will acknowledge. But what kind of devotion to the cause of justice and mercy, can that be, which would shrink from offering a few sacrifices of inclination and luxury upon their altar? If it were for no other purpose but to give evidence of your sincerity, you ought willingly to submit to so trifling a deprivation—for trifling I cannot but consider it, in relation to the momentous object it is intended to support. But it is not a mere question of expediency, it is one of positive right or wrong —and surely, my friend, we have enough of thoughtless, unpremeditated sins to answer for, without deliberately heaping up condemnation for ourselves. Even if there were no other world, dear Isabel, either for ourselves or the unhappy slave, the hope of ameliorating his temporal condition, would be well worth every exertion, every sacrifice, you could make. But when both they and we have to look forward to an eternity— 57 E5r 57 think of it, Isabel—an eternity of after life—when we reflect that there will come a fearful, retributive hour, when we must answer for the deeds done in the body—and think how we shall meet together then, the oppressor and the victim—the one to answer for a life devoted to selfish gratification, and the other mourning over the darkness of his soul—a darkness which we have either formed or perpetuated—when we think upon the subject in this light, my friend,—of what overwhelming importance does it not appear!
Our country has long lain in a state of slumbering lethargy; as if she had forgotten all the misery and the iniquity she was fostering within her bosom. But she is now awake, conscious of the full enormity of the evil, and the guilt—and woe be to her if she cleanse not her polluted hands! We have not the excuse of early and long cherished prejudices—or of ignorance of the fatal effects of the Upas breath of slavery—the proof is before us—the guilt and the consequences have been thoroughly made known to us, and at our peril it must be, if we refuse to listen to the warning voice of admonition!
Letters to Isabel. No. IV.
With what pleasure do I congratulate you, my beloved friend, upon the noble resolution you have adopted! I fear not, now, that you will shrink from, or grow weary of, the sacrifices that it may impose upon you; or that the temptations of luxury will overpower your self-denial.—No, dear Isabel! your gentle spirit will appreciate too well the consciousness of having done right. Your simple meal will be sweetened with the reflection that it is at least unpolluted, and though your form may perhaps be arrayed less daintily, there will be a calm satisfaction within your bosom, which the amplest gratification of an idle vanity could never afford. Yet although you have thus resolved upon taking an open stand in opposition to slavery, you still accuse me of exaggeration, and unnecessary warmth when speaking of this subject. But believe me, Isabel, I have not done so;—nay, I had almost said that it was impossible I could. What, my friend, can it be exaggeration to say that it 58 E5v 58 is a dark and fearful wickedness to make merchandise of men? Why, do we not hold up as fit objects of punishment those who are guilty of purloining the property of their fellows, and those who would wilfully become dealers therein? Then what terms of abhorrence can there be sufficiently strong to apply to a system which causes so many thousands to become robbers, or the upholders of those who are robbers, of the property of the immortal God! Is not this trade in human beings carried on in the very bosom of our own country, tearing husbands from their wives, parents from their children, and trampling down all the holy relations of social and domestic life, as if it were meant by the Eternal that they should be of no avail? And can it be possible that too much warmth can be used in speaking upon this subject?
But even looking upon slavery in its mildest form, allowing the slave to be kindly treated, and well provided for—though he may not at present be miserable, what warrant has he for the continuance of these blessings? Death, or pecuniary ruin, may overtake his master, and the negro be transferred at once into wretchedness. But how seldom is it that their situations are thus favourable!
But we will speak more of this anon, dear Isabel. In the mean time, do not rest satisfied with what you have now done. Exert yourself in raising up other supporters to the cause of freedom, and in doing whatever may be in your power to loose the shackles of the oppressed.
Letters to Isabel. No. V.
I adverted in my last letter, Isabel, to the situation of the slaves under the most favourable circumstances—subjected to the control of a kind master, well fed, comfortably clothed, and not oveworked—possessed of a comfortable habitation to shield him from the inclemency of the weather, and provided for in sickness, or old age, without the exertion of any of his own energy or forethought. Supposing this to be true of the whole of the American slaves—which we know it is not—and allowing the whole of them to be well contented with their 59 E6r 59 situation, still, my friend, we have no right to retain them in bondage: the claims of justice, though not of humanity, are violated almost equally as if they were subjected to the greatest cruelties. And after all, Isabel, if such were the benefits universally shared among them, what would be the amount of all these boasted comforts! not actually equal to those enjoyed by the trusty house-dog! for he is exempted from labour. But is a mere absence of the harassing cares of life, a sufficiency of happiness to satisfy the cravings of an immortal nature? Is the circumstance of refraining from the exercise of unnecessary cruelties towards those whom we have made our servants forever, sufficient to atone for their mental darkness? And how may they drink at the well-spring of life and knowledge, when we have sealed it for only ourselves? Oh! Isabel, have we not a fearful account to render for this iniquity?Woe for those who trample o’er a mind— A deathless thing!—They know not what they do, Or what they deal with—Man perchance may bind The flower his step hath bruised; or light anew The torch he quenches: or to music wind Again the lyre-string from his touch that flew— But for the soul!—oh! tremble and beware To lay rude hands upon God’s mysteries there!
The oppression of the body may be endurable, but that of the spirit is, indeed, death!
You have, doubtless, heard it asserted, that in mental capacity, the negro is naturally the inferior of the white man; but I will not insult you by supposing you, for an instant, capable of giving it credence. It is true that our slaves are not wise, nor learned, nor possessed of high intellectual superiority; if they were, more than half our objections to slavery would be obviated; but to assert that they are by nature incapable of this, would be adding sin to sin, by attempting to charge the effects of our own iniquity upon the hands of God! It is true, that the negroes, who were originally torn away from their palm-tree homes in Africa, were not possessed of gifted souls, and highly cultivated intellects; they were, to use our own often misapplied term, barbarians; but by placing and retaining them here among us, we have become, in the widest sense of 60 E6v 60 the term, our brothers’ keepers—and most assuredly will their blood be required at our hands. Forgive me, dear Isabel, if I weary you, for how can I bear that you should reflect with indifference on a subject that so deeply interests me?
Letters to Isabel. No. VI.
I wish you were near me, Isabel;—your familiar voice would come to me soothingly, and I am sick at heart with the horrors that perpetually unfold themselves as I look upon this system of wickedness. Did you read the last No. of the Genius of Universal Emancipation?—Three thousand wretches immured within the hold of a single ship! Have you never shuddered over a description of the horrors of the Black Hole at Calcutta? but what were they, to what must have been endured by these miserable beings! The thought of them has haunted me, Isabel! How many of the heart’s best affections must have been violently wrenched asunder, when they were dragged away from their happy homes!—you know that home, be it where it may, has always a strong tie—and then when the torn fibres of their hearts were all quivering and bleeding with their agony and indignation, to be buried, suffocated, in that horrible dungeon, till the hot air that they gaspingly inhaled seemed like liquid fire to their burning lips and throats that were parched to a scorching dryness—and they raved and shrieked in their delirious agony, and tore their flesh that they might once more moisten their lips, even if it were with their own blood! Then, in the deep hush of midnight, when the empty sails swung heavily around the masts, when the glassy waters lay unheaving in the calm moon-lit sleep, and the smothered cry, that rose up at intervals from the bosom of that ship, came fearfully upon the depth of that profound silence—then ever and anon the sound of a dull, heavy plunge into the still waters, told again and again, that a human being had found an unwept grave in their vast abyss.
Yet even this, is not the worst of the horrible images of barbarity that are thronging about my brain! I took up an old newspaper yesterday, and—but I cannot tell you, Isabel; you would cover up your face, and grow deadly sick, ere you had finished 61 F1r 61 half the terrible recital. Is it not strange that man can be changed into such a monster of cruelty as he sometimes is? Deliberately sporting with the agony of his fellow-creatures as if he were indeed a very demon! And this is the work of Slavery! Can the denunciations that are heaped upon it, be too severe, my friend? Should any one who bears the name of a woman and christian, for an instant tolerate such wickedness?—or should they not fling from them the luxuries that are purchased by such means, as if they were a deadly poison; and pledge themselves never to remit their efforts for the extinction of this curse, till it no longer sheds its blight upon our country?
Letters to Isabel. No. VII.
You tell me that you have read and reflected on the subject of slavery, till you are melancholy and discouraged. You ask me when the dispositions of men will ever be softened into humanity—when we may hope that the claims of justice will be felt to be stronger than those of interest—and how—even if they were willing to make some atonement to the negro for his past wrongs—the abolition of slavery might be accomplished? I will tell you frankly, Isabel, I do not know. I will acknowledge that there is but too much cause for melancholy, while reflecting on the situation of our enslaved brethren—yet do not for this, my friend, suffer yourself to become discouraged in a good work. We know that liberty is the natural right of every man, who has not by his crimes rendered it a forfeit to the laws of his country: we know that our negroes have been by no just laws deprived of their freedom, and we know that it is one of the deadliest in the long catalogue of human crimes, thus to desolate and ruin the hearts and the immortal souls of men. Surely then, the path we are to pursue is plain before us; and it becomes us not to suffer ourselves to be disquieted with vain doubtings. Were there scarce any hope, to the eye of human reason, that slavery would ever be abolished, still, I should not consider that we had sufficient cause to remit our exertions;—the principles of justice are forever the same, and a knowledge of duty is not with impunity to be trifled F 62 F1v 62 with. Yet we are not without a reasonable hope of the speedy approach of the hour of emancipation. If those who profess themselves favourable to that cause, would give it something beside mere wishes, there can be no doubt but important alterations in existing circumstances would ere long be the result. Do you recollect the description in the Lady of the Lake, of the almost magical effect produced by the approach of the signal-cross of Roderick Dhu? With such an awakening spirit should the call of benevolence and justice go forth, gathering all hearts to their standard! Is it not strange that men will make such sacrifices, as they frequenly do, only to obtain distinction in the sight of men, and are so dead to emulation in deeds for which they might glory in the sight of heaven! The question of how abolition will be accomplished, must be the province of other and wiser heads than ours to determine—but though to the minds of those whose perceptions have become clouded by the suggestions of prejudice or interest, there may appear to be darkness, or difficulty, upon the path, yet we know there is one, whose power can turn the gloom of midnight into the brightness of noonday!
Letters to Isabel. No. VIII.
The world, dear Isabel?—I am scarcely better acquainted with it than yourself. I only know that it contains enough of injustice and inhumanity to render one heartily sick of it sometimes, and a sufficiency of beauty and bliss to make it a paradise, where we might be content to dwell forever, were it not so defaced and darkened by man’s sinfulness. The cup of life was given us by the hands of our Maker, pure and bright, but the ingratitude of man hath drugged it with bitterness.
I wonder not at your sadness, Isabel. You have lived, as it were, almost in the midst of a vision;—you had heard of misery and wretchedness, but the words brought with them rather an unmeaning sound, than a sense of their real import; —for yourself, a star, a flower, a sunbeam, or a strip of blue sky in the clouded firmament, were sufficient to bring you happiness,—and how could you know that other hearts were 63 F2r 63 breaking in silence? But now that you have learned to reflect, to think of the happiness of others, as well as your own, and to gaze upon the varied and accumulated forms of misery, portrayed upon the pages of the world’s volume, and worse than this—when you witness the selfishness and heartlessness of your fellow mortals,—I wonder not, dear Isabel, that you should turn away and weep. But these feelings will gradually pass away from you, my friend, and though you may still mourn over the calamities that you cannot alleviate, yet the consciousness of having done all in your power, will give you a far deeper happiness than you could have won by stifling the impulses of compassion amidst the excitement of gaiety and mirth.
You tell me that you can do little else but weep over the sufferings of those slaves, whose condition you would almost give your life to alleviate. And would you rather not give those tears, than to purchase exemption from the sadness that occasions them, with an increase of cold-hearted selfishness? I think you would. If there were no other life to look forward to, than the few years that are allotted us in this world, we might, perhaps, be justifiable in seeking to forget both our unhappiness, and that of others; since forgetfulness would be the highest bliss that we could hope. But when we regard this world only as a school of education for the next, we need not grudge the few hours of sadness that compassion may give to the crimes and miseries of our fellow-beings. Pursue steadily the course you have begun, my friend, with respect to slavery—and though it may appear to others, and even to yourself, that all your exertions are totally unfelt as the dust of the balance, yet you have a witness in your own soul, Isabel, that will tell you it is well to pursue the path of duty for its own sake. Shall we refuse to hearken to the commands of God, that we should do justly and love mercy, until we have stipulated that a reward for our obedience shall be given us in the success of our works? Surely it is enough of grace for us that we are permitted to place our humble offerings at his footstool! and we should be guilty of insolent presumption, did we dare to solicit a further recompense. What! may we stand chaffering and parleying with the Eternal, respecting the terms on which we will undertake the performance of our duty? I know that you would shrink from such an idea, 64 F2v 64 Isabel! and yet in fact we do this, when, as with regard to the case of slavery, we refuse to pursue the dictates of conscience, because, to the eye of frail mortality, no glorious results await in guerdon for our successful exertions. Oh, it becomes us to look narrowly into our own hearts, lest we suffer ourselves to be beguiled by the wisdom of the serpent, in the specious arguments wherewith we soothe our consciences, and to press onward with an undoubting trust in that path, which has been by the commands of a just God made plain before us!
We sincerely wish that woman would make use of that heart-spell, which the poet speaks of so enthusiastically—not to win the transient admiration of a ball-room assembly—not in adding new admirers to her triumphant list of conquests; but in advocating the cause of the oppressed, in exciting the compassion of the proud lords of the creation, for the thousands of her fellow-creatures, of her own sex, too, doomed to drain to its very dregs, of the horrors of a cup of bitterness. If she listens with a dull ear to the beseeching agony of her own sex —she whose peculiar claim to the fostering of all the kind and delicate affections of the heart, has long been acceded to—with what face can she heap the opprobrium of cruelty and tyranny upon those whose characters, both by nature and education, are fitted to a sterner mould? Woman—why, she will weep over a faded flower—because it reminds her of fading hope, and of the frailness of mortality! and then if a rhymester happen to come within telescope distance, her sweet sensibility will be trumpeted to the four corners of the Union! Now we are not of those who would dull one of the finer feel ings of woman’s bosom—unless they are so exquisitely 65 F3r 65 fine, that she can refuse her sympathy and relief to the actual, overwhelming misery of her fellow mortals—because she cannot bear to listen to the painful recital! Then indeed we too are tempted to exclaim, Oh la!
But will she, can she, listen with cold indifference—or perhaps a momentary shudder—to tales that should almost madden her with the agonizing swell of her sympathetic feelings —and turn coldly away and forget them? Can she hear of one of her own sex being fastened by the neck to a cart, and in that manner dragged rapidly through the streets—and of other instances of a similar nature, and yet say that her interference is uncalled for, and unneeded? Or should we not, every woman of us, north and south, east and west, rise up with one accord, and demand for our miserable sisters a restitution of the rights and privileges of her sex?
It is pleasant to look back over the history of our mental life—to reflect upon its various changes of sentiment and feeling—to call up to recollection the different acquirements which have formed, as it were, the several stages of our intellectual progress. There are probably few persons who have not felt a gush of exultation, when the opinions or partialities of childhood have been justified by the approval of their riper years, or who do not remember with satisfaction the enthusiastic delights which attended the acquisition of certain ideas. Not long since, I casually met with a copy of the first book that I ever to my knowledge was possessed of. I question whether a volume of Mrs. Hemans or Miss Landon would not have been thrown by at that moment, for those imperfectly recollected pages, or whether its stiff pictures and childish rhymes could have afforded me more gratification, even when my days were numbered by months instead of years. I can remember, too, even now, the bewilderment and excitement of feeling, with which I bent over the pages of the Saracens, and mingled my very spirit with their romance. The high-wrought sentiments, the achievements, and the misfortunes, of the heroic Malek Adel, and the glorious lady Matilda, wrought like a spell F2 66 F3v 66 over my imagination, till I felt as though I were in the midst of a new creation. I know not whether the world may have given its voice of praise to these volumes, or whether they do actually possess any superior degree of interest, for I have never since examined them—but I gave myself up unresistingly to their fascination. It was like being ushered into the midst of a new creation—and I paused not to inquire whether it was one of imagination or reality. The recollection of what I had read, followed me to my pillow, and in my dreams; and when the Sabbath morning interposed betwixt me and the still unfinished history, I stole away to the drawer where it was deposited, to gaze upon the cover of the leaves which I dared not open. I have since wondered that I did resist the temptation of doing so—it was an instance of juvenile self-control, that might shame many of the weaker resolutions of my after years. Thus freshly, and so hoarded up as treasures, do the memories of infancy come back upon the heart in after years, yet then, when the world itself seems but little more than a visionary creation of romance, we look forward to the coming hours of life, as those which are the storehouses of life’s richest pleasures;—and this, in despite of all that is said of the unshadowed bliss of our infant days, is principally true; for however we may profess to envy the happiness of childhood, there are but few who would willingly return to it again.
This has been said to be the predominant feeling of all hearts, mingling with the best and noblest traits of character, and the main-spring of all our virtues. We love our country and our friends, it is asserted, because they are ours;—our fellow-beings, because they have been created after the same image; and we are generous and humane, for the reason that the reverse would be painful to ourselves. Thus all the noblest qualities of the heart may be traced to the impulses of one narrow feeling, and the broad philanthropy of a Howard, becomes but a species of refined selfishness.
But however true it may be, that the practice of the generous virtues is productive of happiness to ourselves, in a proportion67 F4r 67 portion equal to that which it may be the means of bestowing upon others, yet the feelings which invite their possessors to such a course of action are very different from the sordid egotism to which we are accustomed to apply the name of selfishness.
That this principle does frequently influence our conduct to a degree of which we are ourselves conscious, must be admitted; but it is extremely wrong to suffer our exertions in behalf of our fellow-creatures, to be limited in their extent, by this feeling. But we cannot do this, without openly violating our express duties. We were not intended to live solely for ourselves, even if it were possible for all our hopes and wishes to be thus concentred; nor can we serve one Divine Master as we ought, while we are regardless of the happiness of one human being; and to know of the existence of misery, should even be sufficient to call forth our instant exertions for its relief. It is not the least among the blessings with which we have been favoured by a kind of Providence, that we should have so strong an incentive to good deeds in the knowledge that they bring to our feelings. The gifts of God are a double blessing, because they are not only the source of happiness to ourselves, but impart to us the higher privilege of bestowing it upon others.
But it must not be supposed that the offered boon is one which we are permitted to receive or decline, at pleasure. When we neglect to employ the means with which we have been thus favoured, even though it should amount to no more than the possession of one talent, we become unworthy of the goodness of our Creator, and deserve to be deprived of that which we have as a just reward, for the selfishness with which we have suffered our hearts to be corroded. Is it not well then, when we sum up the blessings by which we are ourselves surrounded, to enquire of our hearts how much we have done to alleviate the distresses and calamities of others? Nay, even though we ourselves are miserable, cannot we contribute something to lessen the unhappiness of others? Undoubtedly we may, and ought, to the utmost of our power, do so. When we, therefore, take a survey of the world as it exists around us, and examine the various forms of wretchedness that we behold, what 68 F4v 68 do we find most forcibly to claim the interference of our benevolent energies? Is there not one word, one name, that concentrates in itself all our ideas of degradation and misery? and that name men have given to the being whom they have made the lowest and vilest in the scale of human existence. That word is slavery—that being is the slave! Some calamities with which the human race are afflicted, appear to be the particular visitation of God; but this has its origin wholly in the wickedness of man. To the extirpation of this great evil, should be given the prayers and the sympathy of every heart—the aid of every hand. We are not to confine our views only to alleviating the temporal condition of the slave; his moral and intellectual elevation is an object of tenfold more importance, but his emancipation must be first accomplished, for till then, these cannot be effectually secured. The possibility of the subject being one which can excite no interest in our bosoms, should not be allowed to have the least weight in determining our conduct. We are not to consider whether our exertions in behalf of suffering humanity will be productive of gratification to our own selfish feelings, but whether we shall not disobey the reiterated commands of God by withholding them.
We said something, a short time since, upon the propriety and usefulness of forming Societies for the diffusion of knowledge relative to slavery, and we have again resumed the subject for the purpose of more fully expressing our sentiments. Of the advantages resulting from associations in support of any object, we need to say but little, for they are of themselves sufficiently obvious; and there can be no doubt but that their influence exerted in the manner mentioned, would be highly beneficial to the cause of Emancipation. The abolition of slavery can only be effected by the powerful voice of public sentiment. To awaken and to give a right direction to this sentiment, can certainly, then, be an object of no secondary importance, and we think no better means can be made use of, for the attainment of that end, than the extension of such knowledge as may induce those, who are now indifferent, to 69 F5r 69 reflect on the enormities that are combined in this system of slavery.
There are many among us who are alike ignorant and careless of the guilt and the wretchedness, which they are thoughtlessly or unconsciously assisting to support. These should be aroused from their torpid insensibility; they should be reminded that their boasted banner of freedom waves over thousands of degraded slaves—that while they bear the name, and profess the principles, of Christians, they are openly nourishing injustice—that the stain of blood-guiltiness and oppression is upon their land, and that each of them is in some degree responsible for her crimes, unless they lift up their voice against them.
We know that there are many among our own sex, who are sincerely averse to slavery, and who deeply commiserate the condition of those who are suffering beneath its oppression;—why then will they not decisively attempt something for the relief of its victims? Are these ladies impressed with the belief that their utmost exertions would be unavailing? We can only entreat them at least to make a trial of them; and if they do fail, it will not be without the satisfaction of knowing that they have done what they could, to promote the welfare of their fellow-creatures, and that though in the sight of men their efforts may have been wasted, there is One eye that has looked upon them approvingly. But much the greater degree of probability is on the side of their success—gradual it may be,—perhaps almost imperceptible in its immediate effects, but not the less productive of certain benefit. The moral feeling of our country requires renovation. She is hard of heart and tyrannical, while she fancies herself humane and generous. With one hand she displays to the nations of the earth her ensigns of liberty and justice, with the other she presses the brow of humanity to the dust. To instil juster sentiments into the minds of those who are to be the future guardians of her welfare, her statesmen and her counsellors, should be the task of woman. But to effect this, her own feelings must be warmly and generally interested in the cause of emancipation: there must be a unison of purpose and sentiment, which cannot be attained but by means of associations. Opposition to slavery can be rendered popular and general by no other method; and whether they are intended for the support of free labour, or for the circulation of such sentiments as may give a 70 F5v 70 right tone to public opinion on the subject of slavery, or, what is still better, for the furtherance of both these designs, they are calculated to be of essential service to the cause they advocate. They give the supporters of that cause an opportunity of numbering their friends—they are an evidence that the opinions expressed are not merely the effervescence of excited feeling in scattered individuals, and that the members of them are willing to labour for the extermination of the evil of which they disapprove; while many, with whom the impulses of what they may, perhaps, consider a doubtful duty, would be too weak a spring to invite them to action, might be led by the interest, which is excited by mutual emulation and similarity of feeling, to become steady and conscientious opposers of slavery.
Review of Mrs. Hemans’ Poetry.
It is not our purpose to enter into an examination of the general literary character of the lady above mentioned. Her poetry has been too widely diffused, and the beauty of her sentiments too generally acknowledged, even by those who do not rank among her professed admirers, to render such a discussion necessary. She has been said to divide the palm of poetic merit with Miss Landon; but while we would detract nothing from the excellence of the younger rival, we believe there are few who do not turn with pleasure from the noonday brightness of her page—the scorching breath of woman’s blighted heart, and the dazzling splendour of chivalric tournament, to the gentle pensiveness of the moonlight genius of Hemans. Her name, amid those of the sister votaries of the muse, is like the star Lyræ amid the constellation from which it derives its name—amid the bright, brightest.
We confess the remarks do not so well apply to the volume which we intend particularly to notice at present, as to some of her other productions. Yet, from its title, the Records of Women should have been one of the best among them; for in what should female genius be supposed capable of excelling, if not in dwelling proudly on the exalted merits of her own sex, or extracting from their heart’s chords all their hidden melody, to pour in a flood of inspiration over her page? It is 71 F6r 71 true, there are many beautiful passages scattered throughout the volume—as we intend presently to show—but they are frequently weakened by repetition, and by the ideas being too much diffused. Arabella Stewart, the first and longest piece in the volume, together with the above faults, contains some extremely fine passages. Mrs. H.Hemans, after a short narrative of the history of the heroine, says the poem is meant as some record of her fate, and the imagined fluctuation of her thoughts and feelings during her imprisonment and separation from her husband.—It is supposed to commence while she is yet Fostering for his sakeA quenchless hope of happiness to be;And, feeling still, her woman spirit strongIn the deep faith that lifts from earthly wrongA heavenward glare,— and before a fruitless effort to escape had quenched the bright lamp of reason. The following lines pourtray very finely the buoyant spirit of youthful hope, and the rich, deep feelings of womanly affection:— I bear, I strive, I bow not to the dust,That I may bring thee back no faded form,No bosom chill’d and blighted—And thou art, too, in bonds! yet droop thou not,Oh, my beloved! there is one hopeless lot,and that not ours. If thou wert goneTo the grave’s bosom with thy radiant brow,If thy deep, thrilling voice, with that low toneOf earnest tenderness, which even nowSeems floating through my soul, were music takenForever from this world—Oh! thus forsaken,Could I bear on? Again, after measures had been secretly taken for her escaping and rejoining Seymour—her husband—she exclaims— We shall meet soon—to think of such an hour!Will not my heart, o’erburden’d with its bliss,Faint and give way beneath me, as a flowerBorne down and perishing by noontide’s kiss!72 F6v 72
The simile which ends the verse, we think uncommonly beautiful. She succeeded in making her escape, but was unfortunately discovered, and conducted back into captivity. The ensuing passage is finely expressive of the total blight of her heart after this event: Oh, never in the worthOf its pure cause, let sorrowing love on earthTrust fondly—never more!—the hope is crush’dThat lit my life, the voices within me hush’d,That spoke sweet oracles—and I returnTo lay my youth as in a burial urn,Where sunshine may not find it.—
The above passages we think some of the most beautiful in the book:—and they are beautiful. There are others, perhaps, equally so, and some that are vastly inferior—but with these we will have nothing to do. We wish to extract only such as may be read again and again without weariness:—but the volume which can produce such passages is certainly worth a perusal throughout, even if a considerable portion of its contents does fall below their standard. Passing over several shorter pieces, we come to Properzia Rossi. This poem is more spiritual throughout, and is not so long as the first mentioned. It is in many parts equally beautiful, though of a different character. The heroine—a sculptor—is supposed to be engaged on her last work, a statue of Ariadne: The bright work growsBeneath my hand, unfolding, as a rose,Leaf after leaf to beauty; line by line,I fix my thought, heart, soul, to burn, to shineThrough the pale marble’s veins—it grows, and nowI give my own life’s history to thy brow,Forsaken Ariadne! thou shalt wearMy form, my lineaments; but oh, more fair!Touch’d into lovelier being by the glowWhich in me dwells, as by the summer’s lightAll things are glorified. After describing the blight in her heart, she adds— Yet the world will seeLittle of this, my parting work, in thee—73G1r73Thou shalt have fame! Oh, mockery! give the reedFrom storms a shelter—give the drooping vineSomething round which its tendrils may entwine—Give the parch’d flower a rain-drop—and the meedOf love’s kind words to woman! Worthless fame,That in his bosom wins not for my nameThe abiding place it ask’d! Yet how my heartIn its own fairy-land of song and artOnce beat for praise! But I goUnder the silent wings of peace to dwell,From the slow wasting, from the lonely pain,The inward burning of the words, in vain,Sear’d on the heart, I go.
We have no room for further extracts or remarks at present, and we conclude with advising every lady, who has not already done so, to procure and read Mrs. Hemans’ poems throughout.
I waked from my first slumber in Pennsdale, on a bright Sabbath morning—or, in the phraseology of my uncle’s family, First-day—and after breakfast, prepared for a three or four miles’ ride to meeting. The usual distance was this day to be somewhat lengthened, in order to attend a funeral—that of an aged man, one of the patriarchs of Pennsdale. I had long known him by name, for he had been throughout the course of a long life the most intimate friend of my grandfather; and it was not without a feeling of saddened interest, that I listened, as we rode slowly up the lane towards the house, to a short account of his life and character from the lips of my uncle.— He concluded with saying—Yet though few men have been more generally regarded with a feeling of affectionate veneration, his death will not be very bitterly lamented. It was not one of those which afflict the heart of the survivor alike with grief and terror; he had outlived most of the friends of his youth, and had long been like a ripened sheaf waiting for the harvester.
In a few moments, I was standing by the coffin. The face G 74 G1v 74 before me was deeply furrowed with the lines of age, but the expression it still wore was so calm, so peaceful, so full of benevolence, that I felt I could have dearly loved him; and the tears almost started to my eyes at the thought that he could not now bestow on me one look of kindness.
His son, a man considerably advanced in years, was seated by the head of the coffin. His face was sorrowful, but calm and perfectly resigned. The grand-children of the deceased were seated near him, but though the tears fell fast and almost unconsciously from many of their eyes, they were rather the tears of tenderness than of deep affliction;—called forth by the memory of all the happy hours they had spent by his side, or seated on his knee, and the thought of all his gentle words of admonition and affection.
The coffin was at length closed, and placed in the simple hearse, and the procession moved forward. The meeting-house of Pennsdale was situated in a still, secluded spot, and was completely embowered by large forest trees, while the ground on all sides rose from it in a gentle slope, seeming almost to shut it out from the world, and from all sights save the azure of the heavens and the universal green of the earth. It was an old stone building, and very small, and as plainly constructed as possible. Behind it was the grave-yard;—enclosed by low stone walls, and shaded all round by immense elms, though none were suffered to intrude within its limits. I was scarcely ever more surprised than on entering it. The Quaker burial places in general—I have been in many of them—present nothing but an undulated surface of verdure. But here every grave had its memorial—rose bushes planted at the head and foot, entwining their branches and scattering their perfume, and their luxuriant branches over the remains of the beloved ones—sometimes half hiding from view a simple tablet of wood or marble. The sweet-briar and wild honeysuckle almost covered the walls, filling the air with their fragrance—while the song of the woodland bird and the ceaseless hum of the honey-bee went up for hymn and requiem.
We gathered round the open grave, and there was a deep silence—silence in the heart as well as in the outward world. Most of those who were assembled there, remembered well the face that was now to be seen of them no more; and while their thoughts wandered over the scenes of his past life, they 75 G2r 75 could not fail to return to their bosoms strengthened and purified. A few solemn words were spoken, and then that form was shut from them on earth forever.
We retired into the meeting-house.—There was one seat left vacant—one that had seldom been so, even amid summer’s heat or winter’s storms, for upwards of thirty years past. The time of worship passed over in silence, but the faces of those about me became gradually lightened, and when it was concluded, the usual friendly greetings were interchanged and kindly words spoken, by voices that were indeed more serious than their accustomed tone, but from hearts that were peaceful and happy.
As the increased expense, incurred by making use of the productions of free labour, is often among the reasons assigned for neglect of that method of opposition to Slavery, it may perhaps be well to examine how far such an objection is entitled to consideration. For our own part, we do not think it should be allowed the least weight in determining our conduct. We do not conceive that it is any more excusable to make use of slave-wrought articles, on account of their cheapness, than we have to indulge in whatever else may please our fancy, at the expense of the unpaid creditor. Yet, as a close attention to household economy is certainly the duty of every female, let us enquire if it is not possible to indulge their feelings of humanity, and satisfy the claims of justice, without extending the limits they have prescribed for their expenses. The difference in the price of the articles, though trifling, may still, when the income of a family is barely sufficient to cover its expenses, deserve to be taken into account. But if the expressed philanthropy is sincere, if there is really a wish felt to lift the yoke from the neck of our enslaved countrymen, in every case, short of actual poverty, might the change from slave to free produce be made without adding one item to the expenditure, or even in the least encroaching on the aggregate of comfort. It is but to forego some paltry gratification, to resign some trifle in which the vanity only is concerned, (and who has not such offerings to make,) and a fund is at once provided, 76 G2v 76 sufficient for the purpose. Is it not better to eat coarse food, unspoiled by rapine and injustice? Is it not better to wear a plain garb, than to be pranked out in delicate or fashionable array, which has been won by oppression? Surely it is! and if the importance of the subject was more frequently and carefully examined, we believe there are many who would be not unwilling to give such a proof of their devotion to the cause of emancipation.
Almost three centuries since, at a time when Europe was just emerging from the mental darkness which had been long spread over it, the unprincipled Pope Leo X., little scrupulous as he was with regard to the means of acquiring wealth, declared that not only the christian religion, but that nature herself, cried out against a state of slavery. Elizabeth of England, though she shrank not from the commission of a crime which will forever cast a stigma upon her character— the execution of the unfortunate Queen of Scots—in expressing her opinion of the guilt of violently separating men from their homes and families, and forcing them into a state of bondage, gave it as her sentiment, that it would be detestable, and would call down the vengeance of heaven upon the undertakers.
Such were the opinions entertained with regard to slavery, at the commencement of this horrible traffic, which has since poured out such an ocean of innocent blood. Opinions expressed too, at a time when its heart-sickening cruelty was rather to be inferred from its nature, than absolutely demonstrated by previous example;—though, even then, its horrible inhumanity was sufficiently apparent—and expressed, too, by those who were not, as princes have seldom been, remarkable for an enthusiastic devotion to the principles of justice. Yet now, when the light of reason and knowledge has been shed, in no stinted increase, over the earth, slavery not only has her strenuous advocates among men of refinement and intelligence, but still exists, uncensured and sanctioned by the laws of a nation which professes a close observance of the rules of christianity and moral justice, and which claims no second place among 77 G3r 77 the free, the liberal, and the enlightened of the earth. The foreign Slave-trade has, it is true, been abolished—has been declared piracy. But our country still clings to the guilt, of which, in the face of the world, she has, by that act, openly avowed her conviction; and the domestic traffic in human flesh, is still unforbidden. The dark shadow of the slave vessel yet lies upon our bright rivers, and the long shriek of hearts in their mortal agony, rises on the ear, as the brutal driver hurries before him his brother herd, and the dearest natural ties are parted forever.
Strange inconsistency! that we should foster at home, what we denounce as deadly iniquity abroad! As if the American air, hostile to every finer feeling, had deadened all kindly emotions, as well in the bosom of the slave as of his tyrant, and their ties of home, of kindred, and of friends, were no longer worthy a regardful thought. True, the ravage of fertile plains, the glare of burning villages, and the horrors attendant upon the middle passage, are no longer sanctioned. But what then? are we to consider the evil abolished, because an attempt has been made to confine it to our own door? Do fetters cease to gall when they are worn beneath an American sun; or does a breaking heart agonize less when its cords are, one by one, torn away, that it must more slowly sink to death, than when a fierce grasp has severed them at once, and it bursts with its first throb of unendurable anguish?
Oh, if we would but teach ourselves to reflect! If we would think on all the hearts that so bleed and die beneath the torn fibres of affection—on all the misery that is daily endured— on all the guilt that is incurred—if we would picture to ourselves the infant, wrenched shrieking from the clinging arms of its mother—the wretched wife, torn away in her frantic grief, from the last embrace of her purchased husband—brethren and sisters, who grew up under one roof, scattered asunder, like withered leaves beneath the autumn tempest, and knowing each other’s place upon the earth no more forever. Surely, we would lay our mouths in the dust, in shame and sorrow, for the heartless indifference we have so long manifested for the sufferings of the oppressed.
It was a pretty-looking cottage—with its roof half covered with the boughs of a great tree, and vines creeping up about the doors and windows. The garden, with its gay flowers, tempting berries, and fine vegetables, was almost without a weed; while the paling that surrounded both that and the grass- plot, in front of the house, fairly glistened with its fresh covering of white-wash.
The old woman was seated in a large arm-chair, just outside of the door. Her countenance was one of the finest I have ever seen. She had probably past seventy summers, but her brow yet remained as dark as the still brilliant eye over which it was arched. The lines of age were distinctly, but not deeply traced upon her cheek and forehead; and her mouth and chin, though wearing them much more visibly than her other features, retained their characteristic marks of firmness and dignity. Her whole face was beaming with mingled benevolence, gratitude, and devotion. By her side was sitting a little dark-faced urchin of some half dozen years—and grouped round them, either seated on the grass, or on a long bench beneath the tree, several other descendants of Africa, whose happy faces, glowing with intelligence and feeling, spoke nothing of that consciousness of abasement and degradation, which is so often written upon the countenances of their race.
Shall I tell you the history of that group? It is a tale of female generosity, and negro gratitude.
That woman—she in the elbow-chair, with the open bible upon her knee—was a native, and till within these few years a resident, of Kentucky. Her husband was an owner of slaves —her father had been—and in her youth she thought but little of the sinfulness of laying unrighteous hands upon the property of God. But when the gentle creatures that called her mother, gathered about her with their loving eyes, and she listened to their soft voices in the evening twilight, she felt how wretched would be her lot, if it were in the power of man’s hand to tear them from her arms forever; and she thought of them, and commiserated the condition of the miserable slave. At first it was compassion only that led her to sympathise with 79 G4r 79 their unhappy fate; but the conviction soon came to her heart, that slavery was unjustifiable wickedness in the sight of the Almighty. She entreated her husband, almost with the earnestness of one beseeching for her own life, to liberate their slaves. He refused—and she wept secretly and in silence—but by every means in her power she strove with tireless perseverance to alleviate the bitterness of their lot. She was their instructor, their friend, their benefactress, moving about among them more like a parent than a mistress, preserving their respect by the quiet dignity of her manner, and winning their enthusiastic gratitude and love, by her kindness and affection.
When her husband died, they were distributed among their children, who had all married, and left the paternal roof. Again she renewed her solicitations for the freedom of those objects of her care—and again she was repulsed—ay, even by her own children was her prayer refused to be granted. She did not stoop to remonstrance, but her resolution was taken—and great as was the sacrifice, she accomplished the holy purpose of her heart. She purchased those slaves, from the oldest to the youngest—she accompanied them here, to Ohio, where she might bestow on them the blessing of liberty—she expended almost her last cent in the performance of her high deed of justice; and they flung themselves at her feet in an overwhelming burst of gratitude—disenthralled—enfranchised!
And they have never forgotten her kindness. She owes all the comforts with which she is surrounded, to their unwearying industry: to labour for her, to serve her, and to obey her lightest word, is alike their pride and their happiness—and on this evening they are all met together at her cottage, to celebrate the anniversary of their emancipation.
Is it a true story?
Why—recollect ’t is summer twilight, and there is the moon, just rising over the tree-tops; so a little embellishment may be pardonable. But the circumstance of that widow having thus purchased and manumitted those slaves, and the story of their gratefully labouring for her support—is really the truth.
Among the methods employed by the female friends of emancipation, to benefit the unhappy slave, and extend to other bosoms the sympathy for his situation, which they themselves feel, must not be overlooked the useful and very obvious one, of frequent conversation on that subject. Those who are already interested will, by pursuing this course among themselves, find their feelings still more deeply engaged in the cause of freedom, their purposes strengthened, and their minds excited to more sedulous perseverance; while an allusion to the subject, in the presence of others, may open the door to an instructive discourse, awaken the dormant sensibilities, and perhaps arouse into action those who have never before had their attention directed to the subject. Opportunities for this are rarely wanting in society, and a few words so uttered may perhaps leave an abiding impression on a mind previously unoccupied by prejudices, and prepare it to receive, with attention, any future information relative to the system. Let not any be discouraged from adverting to this topic by the belief that they shall fail to interest their hearers; it is better to risk the mortification of being listened to with repulsive coldness, than to fail of using every proper exertion, in a cause where so much is needful in order to ensure success. Besides, where there is least expectation of securing attention, the attempt to do so is sometimes rewarded by a more than ordinary display of it;— or, if productive of no immediate effect, the words may be like bread, which, being cast upon the waters, shall be found after many days. If those who are now most deeply interested for our slave population endeavour to trace those feelings of interest to their spring, they will, probably, in many instances, find that they have their rise from quite as trifling a source as a casual conversation. Cowper’s beautiful poem, The Negro’s complaint, was distributed all over England under the title of A subject for Conversation at the Tea-table; and was supposed to be productive of so much good effect that Clarkson has thought it worthy of notice in his History of the Abolition. An abstinence from slave produce, if of no other service, would be valuable on account of its frequently giving rise to such conversations, and we hope that the few advocates of that system, will suffer no suitable opportunity for representing its advantages to pass unimproved.
There is something inexpressibly solemn in the silence of a starry moonlight. The splendour of the moon is beautiful, but it has less of high magnificence, less of the upliftedness of thought, with which we gaze on those immeasurably distant constellations. The moonless sky has nothing of that surpassing loveliness that presses with a tangible weight of pleasure upon the heart; but there is more unearthliness in the high imaginations that gather around the spirit, when the dark blue concave is bended over the raised brow, and written all over with a visible sermon of light, teaching the heart a holy lesson with its unapproachable purity.
The wearying toil of the day has given way to a deep repose, and the very slave hath sunk into a short-lived slumber. Alas, alas, bright watchers! that ye should look down in your pure light upon a world of so much sinfulness. That ye should behold man fettered by his brother, and the heart of woman crushed by those who should seek to shelter it from the blasts of all sorrow. Woe for man’s cruelty! that hath made so many anguished hearts to keep ward with you, and send up the beseeching cry of wretchedness, instead of the deep hymn of adoration, beneath your beams!
When we consider the strength of early impressions, and the readiness with which even our own more matured minds receive a bias from trifling circumstances, the necessity will easily be perceived of using the utmost watchfulness, in order to guard the minds of the young from the influence of erroneous impressions. Upon the friends of the negro we would particularly impress the duty of extreme wariness, in order to preserve those under their care from the contagion of the prevailing prejudices against that unhappy race. Suffer not those who are rising into life to enter its arena, as too many of ourselves have done, with their feelings warped by early misrepresentations, and 82 G5v 82 their ideas of a dark skin inseparably connected with unworthiness of character. There are few females who have not, in some way or other, a degree of influence over the mind of childhood. Let them exert that influence for the benefit of their negro brethren. Let them carefully search out, and endeavour to eradicate from the minds of their young friends or relatives, any feelings of dislike or contempt, that may have been acquired from derogatory opinions of the coloured race, which have been expressed in their presence; and thus fit them, in after-life, to be the friends and advocates of the cause of the slave.
We do not say, that the vices of the negro should be glossed over, and his faults concealed or palliated, in order to effect this. But it is surely most unjust, because many of them have been hitherto degraded beings, to insinuate the idea into the mind of the child, that all are, and must ever remain so. If he is told that they are ignorant and debased, let the inducing causes of their situation be pointed out to him;—let him see the difficulties they have to contend with; and let him be told, that some among them have nobly succeeded in conquering all the opposing force of untoward circumstances, and rising into high respectability. He will them form a true estimate of their respective situations. He will see that the negroes have not risen to a higher grade in society because their efforts to do so have been continually baffled and discountenanced, by the contempt and unrelenting prejudices of the whites; and instead of despising them for what they are, he will endeavour to elevate their character, and to infuse a higher tone of moral feeling into their minds, by inspiring them with self-respect, and teaching them that they may, by exertion, reach a station in life worth contending for.
Ought it not to be a source of shame to us, when we reflect upon the unhesitating enthusiasm with which many of the votaries of a heathen faith enter into the performance of what they deem their religious duties, that our own obedience to the commands ofour Eternal Lawgiver should be so tardily rendered,83 G6r 83 dered, so measured according to the rules of a calculating convenience?
The pilgrim, who worships at the shrine of Mecca, has dared the perils of the desert, and the deadly breath of the poisonous simoom, that he may pour his prayer on what he deems the holiest spot of the earth’s regions;—the wretch who lies mangled and writhing in tortures beneath the car of Juggernaut, voluntarily tore himself away from all the twining affections of the heart, in the hope that he might win an abode in heaven as the recompense of his self-immolation;—the mother who lays her only infant in his bark of flowers, upon the bosom of the sacred Ganges, as a pure and stainless offering to her God, is sustained in the hour of that terrible sacrifice by a wild devotedness of religion, that, erring as it may be, gives proof, at least, of sincerity and singleness of heart. But we—whose religion requires of us only our own happiness—whose heaven is to be won, not by devoting ourselves to wretchedness on earth, but by obedience to laws, which, like Him from whom they emanate, are full of mercy and universal love—we, with a strange perverseness, dash away from us the cup of our bliss, and refuse submission!
We profess to be a Christian people—to kindle the devotion of our hearts at the altars of the unchangeable Jehovah; yet our actions turn his holiest precepts into mockery. He hath bidden us to love our brethren; but we have made them miserable slaves—degraded them into chattels—brutes—to be tasked and sold at our pleasure. He hath charged us to return good for evil; but we heap up injuries upon those who have done us no evil. The Hindoo offers himself a willing sacrifice; but we crush the hearts of thousands of our brethren beneath the car of a demon far more horrible than the eastern idol. The voice of our brother’s blood crieth out against us from the ground—and shall we dare to hope that we shall be held guiltless concerning it? Shall we soothe ourselves with the belief, that our iniquity will never be met by retributive justice?
I love the fair and beautiful blossoms that are scattered so abundantly in the spring season over the field, and by the quiet edges of the wood, or when their sunny petals tremble to the pleasant murmuring of the streams, that go by like merchantmen trafficking their melody for gales of odour. I would not gather the first flowers that lift up their delicate heads to meet me in my spring path;—it seems to me, almost as if they were gifted with a feeling, and a perception of the loveliness of nature, and I cannot carelessly pluck them from their frail stems and throw them aside to their early withering—’t is like defacing the pages of a favourite book of poetry, round which the spirit of the bard seems hovering still in a preserving watchfulness.
Beautiful flowers! they are the jewelry of spring, and bravely do they decorate her laughing brow, gladdening all hearts with her exceeding loveliness. But no! there are some hearts for whom her voice has no cadences of joy, her beauty no power to hasten the lagging pulses. How can the glorious spring speak rejoicingly to those over whose degraded brows the free gales seem to breathe revilings, instead of peacefulness and high thoughts, and for whose ears the gush of melody seems only to syllable one reproachful name? Gladness and beauty are not for the sympathies of the wretched, and far better than the brightness of the vernal sunshine does the dreariness of winter harmonize with the desolate spirit of the slave.
Oh, that the warm breathings of universal love might drive out from the bosoms of men, the cold unfeeling winter of indifference, with which they have so long regarded the sufferings of their oppressed brethren! that the beautiful blossoms of Christian compassion and holy benevolence, springing up in their hearts, might shed over them the fragrance of the memory of good deeds! Then should the benediction of those that were ready to perish, come upon them like the blessing of the 85 H1r 85 early and the latter rain, and the grateful tears of the forlorn ones rest on them as a fertilizing dew, clothing them with happiness like a thick mantle of summer verdure.
The Dying Slave.
He lay on a straw couch, with his face half turned towards the sinking sun. The skin was drawn tightly over his forehead, as though it was parched and shrunken by extreme age; but the restless and uneasy wanderings of his eye told that he still claimed some companionship with earthly feelings.
He was a slave, and for more than an hundred years he had gone forth to the daily toil of a bondman. It was said that in the father-land, from which he had been torn by unprincipled violence, he had been a prince among his people. In the first days of his slavery, he had been fierce and ungovernable, nor could his haughty spirit ever be tamed into subjection until it had been subdued by gratitude. The father of his present master had, in his childhood, by interfering to save him from punishment, received on his own body the blows intended for the slave; and from that moment he became to his youthful master a devoted servant. The child had grown up to manhood, flourished throughout his term of years, and faded away into the grave, but still the aged Afric lingered upon the earth; and it was for the son of that man that he now waited, and, to use his own expression, held back his breath, until he should behold him.
At length the light of the low cabin door was darkened, as the master stooped his tall form to enter the dwelling of his slave. I have come, said he, as he approached: what would you with me?
The negro raised himself up with a sudden energy, and stretched out his withered hand. Have I not borne you in my arms in your helpless infancy, said he, and should I not now once more behold you before I die? Heed me, master! ere yon sun shall set, the last breath will have passed my lips H 86 H1v 86 —its beams are fast growing more aslant and yellower—tell me, before I die, if have II have not served you faithfully?
I have been honest and true—I have never spoken to you a falsehood—I have never deserved the lash?
To my knowledge, never! said his master.
Then there is but one more boon that I would crave of you:—I am going home,—to revisit the scenes of my youth— to mingle with the spirits of my friends! Suffer me not to return to them a slave! My fathers were proud chieftains among their native wilds—they sought out the lion in the midst of his secret recesses—they subdued the strength of the savage tiger—they were conquerors in battle—they never bowed to man—they would spurn a bondman from their halls! Oh tell me, exclaimed he, seizing his master’s hand in the rising excitement of his feelings,—oh, tell me, while I may yet hear the sound, that I am once more free!
Your wish is granted, said his master, you are a freeman.
A freeman! repeated the negro, slowly sinking back upon his couch, and clasping his hands above his head with all his remaining energy—write it for me, master!
The gentleman tore a leaf from his pocket-book, and pencilling a hasty certificate of his freedom, handed it to the slave. The old man lifted up his head once more, as he received it, and the last ray of sunlight streamed across his countenance, as with a strange smile he gazed upon the paper; then falling suddenly back, he once more repeated the name of freedom, and expired.
Doing as Others Do.
We would not willingly ascribe to selfishness or callous feeling, the general reluctance, which so evidently prevails, to engage in an active and practical opposition to slavery. With some, the fear of ridicule may operate—the dread of being supposed to assume a superior sanctity;—or a diffidence of appearing to adopt a higher standard of moral purity, than those whom they have been accustomed to look up to with respect and veneration. But we believe the principal reason why so little is done, may be found in the disposition of individuals to 87 H2r 87 be guided by the opinion and example of others who are unconcerned upon the subject, rather than to give it a close and thoughtful examination themselves, and follow up the decision of judgment with active support. My parents, or my husband, or my friends, do not see the necessity of restricting themselves to free labour produce, serves as a satisfactory excuse to many, who would willingly follow a contrary example. Yet would it not be well for these to consider how far they are justifiable in excusing themselves with such a plea. They cannot look into the hearts of others—they do not know whether the subject has been placed before the minds of their friends in its proper light, or how far it has been resisted as an unwelcome intruder. Neither can they tell how far their own example does, or might, affect the actions of those to whom they themselves look for instruction. But in pursuing the course which humanity dictates, they cannot be mistaken. The slave is before them, helpless, fettered, and miserable. Their sister, woman, amidst her bonds and her degradation, calls upon them for mercy and succour; she is faint and sick with her burden of toil and wretchedness; and will they refuse to listen to the voice of her sad tears? Instead of calling on their friends to fly with them at once to the relief of the sufferer, mingling their tears with hers, soothing her sorrows and cheering her heart once more with the light of hope, will they engage in a heartless consultation, whether their duty requires of them to yield her their assistance, and which of them shall first go forward to offer her relief? Alas! let them remember, that while they delay, her wounds are still bleeding, her aching brow is burning with insupportable anguish, and that the long deferred aid may perhaps come too late!
I believe it is Addison who declared, in one of his essays, that the sight of a luxuriously spread table, always exhibited to his imagination, the sight of innumerable diseases lying in ambush among the dishes. An idea, somewhat similar to this, has arisen in my mind with respect to an entertainment imbued with the spirit of the slave-cultivated cane. I have fancied that the death-sigh of some unfortunate victim of oppression 88 H2v 88 might yet be trembling on the bosom of a jelly, and the rich flavour of a conserve conceal the briny tears that have mingled with the saccharine crystals that enter into its composition. A pound-cake seems like the sepulchre of the broken heart with which it may, perhaps, have been purchased, and the delicious ice to wear the red tinge of human blood. If those who unscrupulously partake of these delicacies, had beheld the horrors by which they are too often purchased, if they could witness, gathered up before them, all the agony endured by their fellow- creatures, only that the gratification of their palates might be ministered to, I believe there are few females who would retain any desire to taste of the blood-polluted banquet. Yet why should the sight of blood be needed, when they know it has been shed, to awaken their sleeping sensibilities? Under other circumstances they would shudder to be told that the morsel upon their lips, or the garments upon their forms, had been torn by rapine and murder from the hands of their rightful possessors; and who can assure them that the price of the very article now before them, has not been the life of a fellow- creature? The whole system of slavery is replete with barbarity, and there are numerous instances of the o’erwearied slave having perished with exhaustion amidst his toil, or died beneath the tortures of the mercilessly inflicted lash;—and how can it be said that the object for which such cruelties are perpetrated, is free from the stain of blood?
When slaveholding is abolished we may aspire to the character of a civilized nation; until that era we may expect to be characterized by posterity as a race of savages. Cruelty 89 H3r 89 and oppression are yet unexpunged vestiges of heathen barbarism. The spirit of Christianity and philosophic refinement, are both directly and unalterably opposed to them; and before these they must eventually disappear, leaving future ages to reflect with astonishment on their long protracted existence. Were it not for the strange obliquity of our moral eyesight, occasioned by prejudice and long familiar custom, we should regard with becoming horror and repugnance the savagely unnatural practice of enslaving our fellow-creatures, and making merchandize of human flesh. To one whose feelings have not been rendered obtuse by long acquaintance with the system of slavery, the bare imagination of a slave-market would be productive of feelings of utter abhorrence. To place before the mind’s eye a view of Christian men gathered together for the purpose of chaffering about the purchase of their brethren, disputing for their possession, and meting out the price of human limbs in paltry pieces of coin:—to behold the miserable objects of their scandalous traffic—terrified and heart-stricken mothers, whose frighted infants cling shrieking about them for protection—youthful females shrinking painfully from the exposure of their situation, and goaded forward by the rude lash and brutal oath into public notice—husbands and fathers awaiting in sullen anguish the decision which is to them the parting knell from all they love—and aged men that have, perhaps, worn out their lives in toil for those who are now about to transfer them, for a paltry pittance, to a stranger’s service— who that has the feelings of a human being would not be filled with mingled emotions of grief and shame and detestation at such a scene! Yet these are only the outlines of the picture, the less obvious touches of the reality are crowded with much that is still more harrowing to the feelings; the appealing look, the convulsive sigh, the disregarded prayer—these we have not attempted to pourtray:—nor aught of the varied circumstances of peculiar and individual wretchedness that are of perpetual recurrence.
How can it be believed that the authors of so much misery are professors of the religion of the meek and merciful Jesus! that gentle, compassionate Woman can lend her sanction to such a system, and join the oppressor in the gains of his dark iniquity. It is a bitter thing to feel that this is the truth—to H2 90 H3v 90 know that such scenes are of daily occurrence in our country; and still more painful to witness the indifference with which they are regarded by so large a portion of the community.
He has lived long, who has lived well, was the impressive sentiment we lately read on a tombstone in a country burial place. It was twilight: a few moments earlier, the merry voices of the playful children just let loose from the school- house, that stood a few paces distant, had thrilled in the clear evening air over the cold gray memorials of death, but the place was now deserted and silent, except the hum of the wind through the branches of the scattered cedars. It was a time for serious thought; and as we stood in that place of graves, we gave ourselves up to the reflections it was so well calculated to excite. There lay the head of infancy, and the weary brow of the ancient of days—the arm of manly strength, and the flowing tresses of beauty—the pastor, amid his silent but inattentive congregation, not as heretofore uttering the monitions of the Christian law, but with a lip despoiled of all its eloquence.
There were none among the tombstones whose inscription arrested our attention more forcibly than the one above mentioned;—it told so much of the value of our passing moments— of the rich treasure of a few hours that have been crowded with good deeds. Who would not rather die in early youth, with their parting moments brightened by the consciousness of having been useful to their fellow-creatures, than to fritter away the years of a Methusaleh in vanity and nothingness? And yet how many of the hours of life are thus wasted! How many of the bitter tears of misery, which might so easily be wiped away, if each one were less devoted to a selfish pursuit after happiness, are suffered to flow on, uncared for, and unregarded! The influence of Woman, in determining the amount of human felicity, is, perhaps, even more powerful than that 91 H4r 91 of her brethren. They must go out, and endure the rudest buffetings of the world, in nerving their minds to a stern pursuit of their various purposes; but she, in the sheltered bower of her domestic retirement, has leisure to analyse the strange workings of the human heart, and to instil into it high principles of virtue. It should never satisfy her to be a merely brilliant and fascinating being. Her own gratification should ever be to a woman only a secondary consideration; and though her lot may thus be one of endurance and self-denial, she will learn that the endeavour to secure happiness for others, will impart it also to her own bosom. Let her look abroad upon the immensity of suffering that is poured upon the hearts of her fellow-creatures from the vial of slavery; let her behold her unoffending sisters, with a bleeding heart, and too often with lacerated limbs, driven out to their daily labour—the parent torn from the embraces of the child, the wife from her husband, the sister from the brother: let her think how many of life’s severest trials she would endure—sickness, abject poverty, nay, even death itself, rather than such a separation, and resolve, at once, however long her efforts may seem to be exerted unavailingly, in endeavouring to relax the unyielding hand of oppression, never for one instant to remit them, till her own heart is cold in death, or injustice has ceased to triumph.
Stroke away the curls from your face, Eleanor, that I may see your eyes; and tell me what you have been thinking of for the last half hour.
I have been watching the sunset, sister; since the broad western sky was spread out like a sea of glory, fringing every island cloud that lay upon its surface with a shore of gold, till now that it has faded into a pure, transparent yellowness, and seems to spring up like a transparent arch of amber to meet the blue vault above. Do you see yonder mountain-tops which are just visible, like a bank of clouds, at the edge of the horizon?—I have been thinking, sis, how that clear ocean of ether, with the floating isles of vapour that lie upon its surface, resembles our present life;—for you see that, beautiful as it is, it has no abiding place;—while yonder, shadowy indeed, and 92 H4v 92 dimly seen, yet still sufficiently discernible to give us full assurance of their reality, are stretched out beyond it the perpetual shores of eternity.
And do you really deem yonder beautiful and waveless sky a fit emblem of our present existence?
And is not life beautiful, sister,—with its wealth of outpouring affections, its perpetual gathering up of new thoughts, and feelings, and attainments, its hours of high-wrought reflection, its thousand links upon the heart, and more than all, its moments of silent holiness, when we may partake of the bliss of angels in the privilege of loving and worshipping, like them, our Eternal Father? It may have, ’t is true, its hours of chastening, but from His hand shall we not endure its bitterness patiently?”
“)It is not from His hand that we are visited with the bitterest of our afflictions; it is man’s guilt and inhumanity that have so marred the fair picture of life, and drugged its bright cup with poison. Cruelty and oppression and selfishness shed a dark blight upon our glorious world, and pollute our altars with hypocrisy and unholiness. Man is the slave of man; the neck of woman bowed down to the yoke of injustice, the most sacred ties of the human heart are rent asunder at the command of a tyrant; and yet we go on from day to day, absorbed in our own pursuits, and lay none of these things to heart.
Ay, it is the map of Africa—there is the seat of ancient Carthage—there is Egypt—there is the spot from whence arose the bright day-star of science—the birth-place of intellectual glory, where the human mind first arose in its strength, and arrayed itself with knowledge, as the garment of a conqueror. They may talk of Rome, the Niobe of Nations, sitting in voiceless woe amidst the melancholy ruins of her former grandeur; but what is her fate to that of Africa? hapless, unpitied Africa! weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they are not—because they have been torn from her with ruthless violence, that they might be immolated on the altars of the unrighteous mammon!93 H5r 93
When the hearth-stones of Ramah were drenched in blood, and soft, laughing eyes looked up in innocent confidence through the golden curls that clustered over their brows, at the stern hands that were lifted for slaughter—then Africa received in her arms, and sheltered in her bosom, the Christian’s infant Saviour from the destroying wrath of Herod—and the Christian hath requited her by making her children a prey to unholy avarice and cruelty—by plunging her amidst calamity and bloodshed, and carrying desolation throughout her borders!
Sources of Influence.
If we look around not only on the external, but on the moral and mental distinctions among mankind, and consider the ignorance, the miseries and the vices of others as a ground for our more abundant gratitude; what sort of feeling will be excited in certain persons by a sight and sense of those miseries, those vices, and that ignorance, of which their own influence, or example, or neglect, has been the cause?.
There is no power so widely diffused, or of which we are so little able to compute the final extent, as that of Influence. As a spark, originating in the most humble source, or falling at first unnoticed or disregarded, is capable, as it kindles and spreads, of producing a vast and uncontrollable conflagration; —so may a seemingly obscure individual, give the first impulse to a sentiment, that, like the rushing flame, shall bear down in its course the whole broad fabric of some long enduring error. Such instances, it may be said, are exceedingly rare;—and we grant it. But though it would be preposterous for every individual to expect to influence the opinions of a world, there are few, indeed, whose sphere is so contracted, and whose character of so little weight, as not to hold some ascendancy, either for good or for evil, over the minds and habits of others, and through them over another and wider circle, producing effects of which, they, who gave the first impetus to the sentiment are totally unconscious. Let not any then attempt to palliate or excuse an error of which they are conscious, by the idle and dangerous plea, that they harm no one but themselves. They 94 H5v 94 do not—they cannot know this—and it is most probably as false with regard to others, as it is injurious to themselves.— It is scarcely more those who fill a high and conspicuous station among men—the great, the wise and the talented—who exert a controlling force over general character, than undistinguished woman in her quiet retirement. And if through perilous and culpable indolence, or wilful carelessness, she neglects the duty and the power assigned her, suffering them to lie dormant, to be exerted only as chance may direct, or employed for selfish or unworthy purposes, will it not be sin—sin of no light grade or venial character.
Oh let her seriously reflect upon this,—let her consider that what appears but a venial fault in her own conduct, may be the source of crime and misery to others; and surely she will look warily to her way, lest, in her errors, those whom she best loves may be led astray also.
The Slave Trader.
There is no character which, to our view, presents such a mass of total and unmingled depravity as that of the slave trader;—the habitual and mercenary dealer in the bones and sinews of his fellow-beings. All the qualities that we most hate, and that are usually divided in single portions through a whole community, seem in him alone to have met in an undivided band. The fierce bandit exhibits in his reckless career a spirit of determined daring, not unfrequently mingled with flashes of wayward generosity; and even the skulking midnight assassin needs a species of dogged courage to support him in his dangerous course of guilt. But the sanctioned pirate of the law, the licensed pedlar in blood and agony, stands secure and protected in his hazardless villany, and employs the safer art of transmuting into gold, the life-drops of those who can seek no 95 H6r 95 redress, who can offer no defence against his cruelty. We detest the avaricious wretch who can wring the last cent from the hand of sickness and poverty, and chuckle as he adds to his heaped-up store, the narrow pittance of the widow and the orphan. Yet when he dragged down into poverty and distress, those whom he might have made blessed and happy, he left them at least the privilege of enduring and suffering together. If he tore away the last paltry coin from his starving debtor, he did not, at least, lacerate his back with stripes in answer to his appeals for mercy. But the slave-dealer—he demanded the payment of no debt—he tore away no gold from the hand of his victim. It was the heart which he made his prey—and rifled it of all love, all hope, all the brightness of life. When the wretched father of a family knelt before him, beseeching mercy and compassion, he did not coldly bid them go labour for their support, but he wrenched them away from him forever. When the agonized mother wept before him, and he cast her prayer to the idle winds, it was not to petition that he would leave wherewith to provide bread for her children, but that he would leave her only one, of all her infants, upon which to pour out the affections of her bereaved bosom. And what is the passion that urges him on in his career of inhumanity and crime? Avarice! mean, heartless, soul-destroying avarice! The same thirst of gold that roots every finer feeling from the bosom of the grasping miser—that steels the heart of the felon murderer—and prompts the abandoned wrecker to secure his spoil by plunging the knife into the heart of the shipwrecked mariner.
Tea-table Talk. Helen and Maria.
Dear me, Helen, I cannot conceive why you think that taking a lump of sugar in your tea, or eating a piece of cake, or a preserve, can do any harm to the slaves. And when you are in company it must be so disagreeable, and look so singular, to decline eating almost every thing that is offered you! I think you must almost starve sometimes!
I have never yet been driven to such an extremity, answered96 H6v 96 swered her friend, smiling; but I will acknowledge that it is certainly very disagreeable to be obliged so frequently to disappoint the kindness of my friends; neither is it at all pleasant to appear singular in one’s notions, which however is not now greatly to be feared, since abstinence from slave articles has become lately quite common. But even if that was not the case, my reasons are, I believe, sufficiently strong to render singularity in this respect entirely proper, and to enable me to bear the imputation of it patiently.
But you have eaten of such things all your life, till lately, and never thought it wrong; and all the rest of your family make use of them, so that, begging your pardon, cousin Helen, I cannot think it otherwise than very silly for you to make such a fuss about it now.
In telling me that I have made use of slave produce through the whole of my life until lately, you have mentioned an excellent reason, my dear Maria, why I should patiently and cheerfully endure any privations that an abstinence from it may impose upon me now. But because I have done wrong ignorantly, or because those whom I most love have not the same views with myself in that respect, shall I continue to sin against my conscience?
I suppose you should not, if the use of slave produce really were wrong, or could be done without altogether;—but other people do not think it wrong, and why should you be more particular?
Shall I tell you why I think it wrong, Maria?
Oh! now, you want to tell me some horrid story about the treatment of the slaves. I do not know how you can bear to think and talk about such things.
How, then, dear Maria, can you wonder that I should refuse to assist in creating them. It is indeed very painful to think upon the vast amount of suffering produced by slavery but not half so painful, cousin, as to assist in producing it. Do not imagine that I think I deserve credit for my abstinence from slave luxuries, or what I suppose you would call necessary articles. I claim none—to partake of them would be to me far the greater punishment. There are times when I almost shudder at the thought, and when I feel as if I could almost as easily endure the taste of human blood, as of the sweetness 97 I1r 97 of the slave-grown cane! It is wonderful to me how any female, who has even a partial knowledge of the horrors of slavery, can be willing to support such a system, or can receive the least enjoyment from the indulgence in comforts and luxuries which are purchased by the sacrifice of so many lives. We shudder to think of the immolation of human beings by savage nations, at the altars of their gods; but when our own gratification is in question, we become careless of the poured- out blood of thousands!
Now you are severe, Helen! Do you think I would continue to use slave produce, especially when I could avoid doing so by any means, if I thought all I made use of would occasion the loss of life to any human being?
Yet you must acknowledge, Maria, for I believe you are aware of the fact, that, even excluding those who have sunk under the pressure of long continued toil and hardships, the number of the miserable beings who have been deprived of their lives by actual violence is immense. And the cause of slavery, and all its attendant ills, can only be found in the profits of its extorted labour.
But, cousin, all the slave produce I should use in the whole course of my life would make no difference in the number of slaves. Abstinence would only punish myself, without any benefit to those you compassionate.
The articles you make use of cannot be produced without some time and labour, be the quantity what it may. Allowing the labour of a slave for six or twelve years to produce all the various slave-grown products which you may use during the course of your life, would not he who was so occupied be in effect your slave, during the time he was thus employed? Do you not receive as much benefit from his oppression as the individual who is his nominal owner, but in fact, for that length of time, only your agent? Nor will the circumstances of this portion of labour, being divided among many persons, create any difference. You must excuse me for considering that for the time that is necessary to produce the articles you consume, you are a slave-holder; or that you are doing worse, by paying another for the commission of a crime which you would not dare to commit yourself!
You speak very plainly, Helen; but I will not be offended, I 98 I1v 98 for I know you feel strongly—nay, I will even acknowledge that I have taken my last cup of tea without sugar, and that it was not so very disagreeable. But I will talk no more upon the subject now, only to say that if I was fairly convinced you were right, I believe I would give up the use at least of slave sugar.
The immense force of first impressions is on the side of the mother. In the moral field she is a privileged labourer. Ere the dews of morning begin to exhale, she is there. She breaks up a soil which the root of error and the thorns of prejudice have not pre-occupied. She plants germs whose fruit is for eternity..
Is there one among our maternal readers who will not pause upon the above impressive lines, to reflect, for a moment, on the awful responsibility of her station? Will not the name of Africa—poor injured Africa—rise to her thoughts, and her heart swell, and her eyes moisten with the high resolve that she, at least, will never lead the young beings who are sporting by her side to become instruments in the work of oppression? Will she not remember that the fate of thousands may, perhaps, be measurably committed to her hand— that she may bring the rosy lip, now running over with the fulness of its innocent mirth, to pledge holy vows at the altar of Emancipation, and that all its eloquence shall be poured out in the defence of the oppressed—or that her tuition may prepare another auxiliary for the ranks of the powerful oppressor. Let her not think it a matter of indifference, that they should now, in their thoughtless infancy, be the innocent upholders of a system which in after life they ought to abhor. A misplaced indulgence now may make the beauties of life of higher consequence to them than the rights and tears of thousands;—the gratification of your own loving vanity in their attire may render of no avail the lessons of a life-time. Do not say it would be folly to impose such restrictions upon children. Nothing can be folly which teaches them the noble virtue of self-denial in a righteous cause. Teach them early to pity the poor slave. Let their sacrifices be made voluntarily: 99 I2r 99 as they will be, if the reason and feelings have been trained properly; and they will not be felt as such. Surely, children cannot be too early taught that their own pleasures should never infringe upon the rights of another. It is a lesson that must be commenced with the first awakening of reason to be inculcated efficiently, and when ye look upon them in the purity of their early years, let not their forms be arrayed in a garb that may well be to you a dark omen of the sin that will fling its evil mantle over their coming hours.
It appears to be considered no small grievance by some of our gentle sisters, that the subject of slavery should so frequently be forced before their attention by the friends of Emancipation. They complain that it is but little short of persecution or slavery in itself, to be so frequently obliged to endure remonstrances on their inactivity, to be so perpetually called upon for their aid and sympathy, or so often reminded of what, they are told, is their duty.
To us, this extreme sensitiveness seems not to belong to consciences so wholly untouched by the subject as they would be willing to appear. Persons are not usually disturbed at the approach of what is totally indifferent to them. We should rather suppose that their irritations proceeded, perhaps truly unconsciously, from a fear that such troublesome interference might dissipate the slumbers, which they have been at some pains to force upon a sense of duties which it might be troublesome to perform. Yet, if they were really as indifferent as they would persuade themselves they have a right to be, that would not be a sufficient reason why the voice of remonstrance should be silenced. Were it a subject that concerned only the personal gratification of the pleaders, then indeed their friends might justly complain if they were wearied with importunity. But this is not the case. Opposition to slavery is not a theme to be taken up merely in compliance with a prevailing fashion, or an individual taste or inclination. It is a question which concerns the vital interests of millions of human beings—of thousands—of hundreds of thousands of our own sex; and those 100 I2v 100 of us who feel that the influence of woman must and will be felt in its discussion, have a right to demand that it should be examined patiently. What! are we to behold our fellow-creatures suffering and oppressed—must we see, as it were, tears of blood wrung out, drop by drop, from the crushed hearts of our sisters, and yet stifle the indignant agony of our own bosoms, and fear to lift up our voices in their behalf, because you have grown weary of the harrowing tale of their anguish? Shall we smother the convictions of conscience, and silence the promptings of humanity, rather than intrude a disagreeable theme upon your ear? And turning to the helpless beings whose cause our God and our religion command us to plead as earnestly as if it were our own, shall we tell them, as the dim eye is lifted towards us in passionate supplication, that we are conscious our united efforts would release them from their soul-destroying bonds, but that you are wearied of the subject, and we like not to press it upon your attention! Would you not condemn, as a heartless wretch, the individual who could act thus by one single sufferer? How much less then may we so betray the cause of thousands! Strike me, said the Athenian orator, if you will but hear me! and shall we desist to press upon your attention a subject of far greater moment than any merely political one that was ever agitated, because you have grown impatient of the often repeated topic? No! we must still again and again present it before you. We must not cease to assail you with our importunity till weariness is changed into interested and active compassion. If your hearts turn sickening away from the thought of so much wretchedness, reflect, then, that no exertions, no sacrifices of yours can be too great, that have for their object the alleviation of the lot of those who are actually groaning under its endurance. Even though you may not be certain of success, it is worth while, at least, to endeavour to do good; and should your efforts fall short of their desired end, you will be amply rewarded for them in the satisfaction of having done what you could, and in the consciousness that your brothers’ blood will never lie with a burning weight upon your souls.
Reasons for Flogging the Slaves.
To those whose humane feelings have not been utterly debased, the afflictions of suffering nature, when the heart is bereaved of the dearest objects of its affection, appeal with an irresistible claim for compassion and sympathy. Who will not say that the heart must be dead to even the most common feelings of humanity, ere it can witness without some softening, the grief of an affectionate child for the loss of a beloved parent? Who would not shudder to make the sorrows of a bereaved wife the object of ridicule, still less to convert the natural exhibition of her woe into an offence demanding the infliction of a barbarous punishment? What mother, bending over the cold and pale brow of her beautiful and loved, would not feel it an inhuman cruelty to be denied the privilege of pouring out her grief in tears and lamentations? And how still more barbarous would such a restriction seem to her, if instead of resigning her darling in his unspotted innocence into the arms of God, he had been wrested from her by the hand of violence, and forced far and forever from her sheltering arms, to struggle alone beneath all the bitterness of life, and die at last on the bosom of ignominy? Yet such is the lot of the slave. Not only are all the dearest and strongest ties of her heart wantonly rent asunder, but the gushing forth of the natural feelings of her affection and tenderness, are arrested with cruel punishment. It is criminal in a slave to sink, heart- broken, under oppression. The possession of the best and holiest feelings with which the merciful God has enriched the human heart, is assigned as a reason why they must be ranked with the stubborn brutes, and, even more unmercifully than they, lacerated with the horse-whip! A female writer, on the subject of slavery in the West Indies, says, that a naval officer, who had been in the East Indies, was trying to prove to her, that the negroes must be flogged; and his proof was this: that when they lose a father, or mother, or perhaps a lover, they sulk, (that is, they are broken-hearted,) and then nothing will do but flogging them, and flogging them severely.
Nor is it only in the West India Islands, that the lash is thus used to silence the affecting bursts of filial or maternal sorrow. The forms of a million females in our own country, may be made to bleed and writhe beneath the barbarous thong. A I2 102 I3v 102 million female hearts may be lacerated, at the will of tyrant man, by being wrenched from the objects of their fondest love. Oh, how can their happier sisters lie down and rise up with the knowedge of these things upon their souls, and strive not to release them from the grasp of such a thraldom!
It has been well and beautifully said that there is no medicine for a wounded heart, like the sweet influences of Nature. The broad, still, beautiful expansion of a summer landscape— the stealing in of the sunlight by glimpses among the trees— the unexpected meeting with a favourite blossom, half hidden among the luxuriant verdure—the sudden starting of a wild bird, almost from beneath your feet—the play of light and shade upon the surface of the gliding brook, and the ceaseless, glad, musical ripple of its waters—the gushing melody poured from a thousand throats, or the rapid and solitary warble, breaking out suddenly on the stillness, and withdrawn again almost as soon as heard—the soft, hymn-like murmur of the honey- bees—and above all, the majesty of the blue, clear, bending sky!—from all these steals forth a spirit of calm enjoyment, that mingles silently with the darker thoughts of the heart, and removes their bitterness. If thou art worn and hard beset,With sorrows that thou wouldst forget—If thou wouldst read a lesson that will keepThe heart from fainting, and the soul from sleep,Go to the woods and hills!—no tearsDim the sweet look that Nature wears.
Yet there are moods of the soul, that even the ministering tenderness of Nature cannot brighten. There are sorrows which she cannot soothe, and, too often, alas! darker passions, which all her sweet and balmy influences cannot hush into tranquility. When the human heart is foul with avarice, and the unblest impulses of tyranny, the eloquence of her meek beauty is breathed in vain. The most sublime and lovely scenes of nature have been made the theatre of wrong and violence; and the stony heart of the oppressor, though surrounded103 I4r 103 rounded by the broad evidences of omnipotent love, has persisted, unrelenting, in the selfishness of its own device.
There was all the gloriousness of summer beauty round the little bay, in whose sleeping waters rested a small vessel, almost freighted for her departure. A few human beings, only, were to be added to her cargo, and as her spiry masts caught the first rays of the beaming sunlight, the frequent hoarse and brief command, and the ready response of the seamen, told that they were about to weight anchor and depart. Among those who approached the shore, was a household group, a mother and her babes, the price of whose limbs lay heaped in the coffers of one who called himself a Christian, and who were now about to be torn from the husband and the father forever. It was a Christian land; and, perchance, if the bustle of the departing vessel had not drowned its murmur, the voice of praise and prayer to the merciful and just God, might have been dimly heard floating off upon the still waters. But there was no one to save those unhappy beings from the grasp of unrighteous tyranny. The husband had been upon the beach since day-break, pacing the sands with a troubled step, or lying in moody anguish by the water’s edge, covering his face from the breaking in of the glorious sunlight, and pleading at times with the omnipotent God, whom, slave as he was, he had learned to worship, for strength to subdue the passionate grief and indignation of his heart, and for humility patiently to endure his many wrongs.
A little fond arm was twined about his neck, and the soft lip of a young child was breathing loving, but half sorrowful kisses all over his burning forehead.
Father! dear father! we are going! will you not come with us? look where my mother, and my sisters and brothers are waiting for you.
With a shuddering and convulsive groan the unhappy man arose, and lifted the frighted child to his bosom.
Will you not go with us, father? repeated the boy: but the slave made him no answer, except by straining him to his bosom with a short bitter laugh, and imprinting one of his sobbing kisses upon his cheek. With a convulsive effort for the mastery, he subdued the workings of his features, and with a seemingly calm voice and countenance, approached his children. One by one he folded them in his arms, and, breathing over 104 I4v 104 them a prayer and a blessing, gave them up forever. Then once more he strove to nerve his heart for its severest trial.— There was one more parting;—one more sad embrace to be given and returned.—There stood the mother of his children —his own fond and gentle wife, who had been for so many years his heart’s dearest blessing; and who, ere one short hour had passed, was to be to him as if the sea had swallowed her up in its waves, or the dark gloomy earth had hidden her beneath its bosom! A thousand recollections and agonizing feelings came rushing at once upon his heart, and he stood gazing on her, seemingly bewildered and stupified, motionless as a statue, and with features to which the very intensity of his passion gave the immobility of marble; till suddenly flinging up his arms with a wild cry, he dropped at once senseless to the earth, with the blood gushing in torrents from his mouth and nostrils. And the miserable wife, amid the shrieks of her despair, was hurried on board the vessel, and borne away from him, over the calm, sleeping, and beautiful sea, forever. A fact.
There is much in the world to make the heart sad. Much poverty, much suffering, much guilt, much of that inward wretchedness that bows down the soul to the dust, with the weight of its agony. Even amidst the loveliest scenes of nature, when the heart, touched by her sweet influences, opens itself to the balmy spirit of happiness, that is diffused all around, even there will come mingling with the gush of its emotions, the thought of the misery that rankles in the bosoms of thousands. It is not only the dark places of the earth that are full of wickedness; where science and refinement glow with the brightest105 I5r 105 est lustre, where knowledge has been poured in a strong flood over the human mind, where the altars of the Christian religion have been raised to the worship of the Most High, and where the lives of thousands have been shed, like autumn leaves, in defence of liberty—there, even there, are shackled millions! There man has made of man a slave, an implement of labour, a thing to be tasked, and scourged, and sold, at his pleasure! Nor is this all—nor the worst. There is the tearing asunder of all the heart-strings, when at the command of mammon, all the ties of life are violently broken, that the price of human limbs may heap the coffers of the oppressor. Nor is this yet all. There is the degradation, the compelled ignorance, the abasement of the high intellectual faculties, from which escape is utterly hopeless. All these are concomitants of American slavery—of that slavery which is contemplated without abhorrence—certainly without any effort for its removal,— by thousands of females, though they are aware what multitudes of their own sex are prostrated under this cruel load of oppression.
Hannah Kilham, The English Female Philanthropist.
There is much in the character of this noble-hearted woman that deeply interests our feelings. The high philanthropy of her spirit, and the unwearied zeal with which she gave herself to the pursuance of its dictates, are worthy of all honour. We behold her, day by day, with a patience and perseverance that difficulty could not exhaust, nor fatigue subdue, devoting herself to the study of the African languages, that she might carry light and knowledge to a land of darkness and ignorance, and to those for whom all the nations of christendom had united in mingling a cup of degradation and bitterness. We behold her resigning without a murmur the dearly cherished comforts of home and friends, and, undeterred by the hardships to be endured, unappalled by the pestilential nature of the climate, devoting herself, if need be, to die for the cause in which she had embarked. What a beautiful picture do the extracts from some of her letters present! Surrounded by her young charge, many of them just rescued from the poisonous hold of a slave- 106 I5v 106 ship, we behold her endeavouring to instil into their minds lessons of moral and intellectual brightness—watching with affectionate earnestness over the unfolding of their mental natures, and seeking to turn their minds to the source from which she herself sought direction and assistance in her arduous task. With what affectionate interest does she speak of them!—the portals of her heart were not rudely barred against them because their brows were darker than her own! Then came the closing scene. It is ever an awful thing to die, yet there are times and circumstances by which even a death-bed may be illumined with a solemn brightness and beauty. When the Christian lies down to the sleep of the grave, surrounded by those he loves, and trusts ere long to embrace again—when the hand of affection supports the failing frame—when the soft, fragrant airs of evening come stealing in to dry the moisture from the cold brow—when even the aspect of the beautiful earth seems to tell of a still brighter and better world, and the clear ambered sky of the sunset seems like an opening gate leading to paradise—there is, at least, for the weakness of humanity, a soothing in their soft influences; and the heart even of the Christian may shrink less from the gloomy passage of the grave, when light is thus gleaming in at both its portals. But to be smitten with sickness, destitute of almost all the comforts it requires, far from home and the tenderness of those to whom the heart is turning with irrepressible affection, to languish in a sultry atmosphere, and on the bosom of the great deep, with the flapping sail overhead, and the hoarse cries of the seamen breaking in upon the few intervals of repose—thus to be hurried off to the grave by the swift stroke of pestilence, lends even death a more fearful aspect. It was thus she died—died in the cause of a noble philanthropy. And her name should be as a rallying word to urge on her sex to pursue the task of alleviating the condition and elevating the minds of the long oppressed race of Africa.
It is the season of gladness—exulting, abounding gladness. There is joy over all the face of the earth. Joy in the breeze and in the sunshine—in the springing of every green blade, and the unfolding of every blossom; joy in the broad stretch of the smiling heavens; joy over the mountain tops, and in the quiet depths of the green-haired valleys. It is poured out on the air in the song of the birds, in the hum of the awakened insects, in the perfume of the thousand flowers. The fetterless streams have caught its influence, and go carolling along their pleasant paths, and tossing up their tiny waves to the smiling sunbeams. It is well for the human heart to be opened to these pleasant influences; well to suffer them to steal in and perform their allotted ministering offices there, till it is insensibly won from its wonted selfishness, into a better and holier nature. If the gloriousness and beauty of the creation declare to us, all over the earth, that God is love, they should also impress upon the heart, the sinfulness of aiding, be it as indirectly as it may, in the oppression of his children. They should teach us sympathy for the miserable, and fill us with earnest desires for the moral and intellectual improvement of all the human race. They should speak to every bosom of the claims of the wronged slave, and bid every hand engage in the task of loosening his fetters.
The Voice of Conscience.
It is frequently urged as a plea for indifference and inaction with regard to Emancipation, that the mind has never been particularly impressed with the subject, and that the conscience has always remained at rest concerning it. But this we do not conceive to be by any means a valid argument, unless we have diligently called upon, and carefully attended to the suggestions of the mental counsellor. Conscience does not always give her advice unasked; we sometimes walk blindly in a wrong path; but, though we may perhaps be held guiltless, so long as we remain unconsciously slumbering, yet, if we obstinately turn away from the hand that would awaken us, and refuse to open our eyes that we may discover whether 108 I6v 108 light or darkness is around us, surely, we are not less culpable than if we knowingly persisted in error.
There seems to be prevalent, a strange opinion, that it is incumbent upon none to become advocates for the rights of humanity, in the persons of the enslaved Africans, but those who have received an especial intimation of their duty in that respect; that the productions of slavery, which are undeniably its foundation and support, may be freely partaken of by all but those to whom they have been forbidden in a voice that might not be gainsayed. In other things we listen to the tones of reason, we seek her guidance to the gate of conscience, and ask her interpretation of the hidden responses of the bosom oracle. Shall we not then, in like manner, expect to be enlightened in this matter, by a patient investigation and search after knowledge? We know that many persons have been called from a life of sin and disobedience, by the terrible voice of God, sounding like a clear trumpet-note to the innermost recesses of their bosoms. But who would therefore be so mad, as to suppose that we may with impunity persist in a course of impiety, until an irresistible summons comes to turn us from our path, as to Saul of Tarsus, at the broad noon-day? So neither have we any reason to believe, that a particular revelation will be vouchsafed to us with regard to our conduct here. If the system is repugnant to the known general laws of religion and morality; if it is contrary to the written commands of God, and to those which are whispered, in the heart’s silent hour, to the spiritual ear, then we know of a truth it must be wickedness; and it follows, as a natural and inevitable consequence, that we are called upon to lend our influence to its destruction, and that we cannot innocently in any way be partakers therein. We know that the enslaved negroes are human beings;—our brethren and our sisters; that they are sick and an hungered, and in prison, and shall we dare to assert that our duty does not require us to minister unto them, till we have received a particular command to do so? There are others who seem to fear to enter lightly and with unconsecrated foot upon a field which presents a work of such magnitude, that God’s own hand seems only competent to the completion of the task. And if it were only a labour of religious reformation—one of those mighty overthrowings which sometimes take place when the finger of the Almighty is at work secretly in the mysterious109 K1r 109 rious depths of the human bosom, then might we indeed justly dread to lay unhallowed hands upon the Ark of the Covenant. But this is a plain question of Christian duty. The simple performance of a right action—no more involving the danger of an officious interference, than the thousand beneficent deeds for which we uniformly bestow the tribute of our applause on others, or receive the reward of an approving conscience in ourselves. As reasonably might we hesitate to perform the commonest duties of humanity, because our hands were not clear of all evil, as to make our imperfections an excuse for suffering our brethren to remain unaided in their bondage. The rule upon which we are to act, was long since promulgated. It is written upon every page of the Christian religion—it is graven upon a broad scroll of light in words that may be read to the farthest extremity of the universe. All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye unto them: and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Slavery! what a name for Christian lips! what a fraternal greeting from the lips of freemen. I rose up as if from a dream. I had looked upon the advertisement till my eyes grew dim and my senses bewildered. I knew it was not a strange thing—I had seen such, although not frequently, before; but I had not, perhaps, perfectly caught their import, for I repeated the words now again and again, without a full comprehension of their meaning. They spoke of a sale of human beings with all the heartless and accustomed terms of trade; men, women, and children were to be disposed of at auction to the highest bidder. How could it be? In what had these miserable beings forfeited the rights of humanity? Had the Almighty resumed his benefaction, and given them to be a spoil for those whom he had once made their brethren? Were they no longer possessed of the high capacities of an undying nature—had their destiny been changed, and a new portion assigned them, so that they were not in this life to win an eternity of future bliss or misery? Such might have seemed to be their lot, from the fate that awaited them. They were to be sold and purchased as chattels—mere implements of K 110 K1v 110 labour; they were to drudge out a life of toil like the laborious ox, with whom they were classed in fellowship; their days were to wear away without a consciousness of their capabilities of mind, without knowledge, without thought, without religion. And yet these beings were men! men upon whom a merciful Creator had bestowed the boon of an immortal nature; whose souls had been kindled from the same spark as that which gave animation to the haughty forms of their oppressors. They were human beings, and they who bought and they who sold them, were in form and fashion like unto themselves. Nay, they called upon one God as their mutual Father,—upon one Saviour for redemption and everlasting life. Was it strange that I should gaze with a sick incredulity upon the paper which gave evidence of such broad and heartless contempt of the divine law, and of the commonest dictates of humanity.
There is a class of persons professedly favourable to the cause of emancipation, who nevertheless content themselves with vague hopes and wishes for the discontinuance of slavery, at some indefinite period, without once attempting to hasten the hour of its approach, by any thing like active exertion. They are perfectly willing that the good work of emancipation should be accomplished—that millions of their fellow-creatures should be raised from the miserable condition of beasts of burden, to the rank of men, and useful citizens—provided, only, that such consent involves nothing like personal exertion, no possible inconvenience to themselves, during the process of this transformation. They acknowledge the deep iniquity of the system of slavery, but they act as if the admission of its criminality, instead of being merely prefatory to amendment, was amply sufficient of itself to satisfy all the demands of justice, to silence all the reproaches of conscience. They appear to have one species of justice for their theory, and another, vastly lower in its standard, for actual practice;—or rather, the high and true rule of moral equity by which they mete out justice between themselves, swerve instantly from their even measure, when the rights of their sable brethren are brought into competition with their own convenience, or their prejudices. Certainly,111 K2r 111 tainly, say they, every man has a just and natural right to his own person, and to the control of his own conduct, so long as it interferes not with the well-being of others,. Yet should the ancestors of any individual, unfortunately guilty of having been gifted by his Maker with a sable brow, have been violently wrenched in some terrible scene of ruin and conflagration from their native home, and having been dragged to some distant land, there sold into perpetual bondage—then, under such circumstances, the right of the individual to his own flesh and sinews, or of the Creator to the being whom he has made, is superseded and invalidated by the claims of one who hath bought him for money, or received him as a lawful inheritance; and, although we regard with horror the idea of trafficking in human flesh, or holding our fellow-men in a state of slavery, yet we would not be so unjust as to wish rashly to deprive the slaveholders of their property. We know that the employment of free labourers would be much more advantageous to the planter, but we can convince him of this only by practical experiment; and it is not worth while for us to undergo the expense and inconvenience of obtaining free articles, unless every one else would do the same. So stands the argument; and so, were it committed to their hands, would the destinies of the slave stand unaltered for ages, unless some terrible convulsion, like the sudden springing of a mine, should at once tear asunder the bonds of the slave, and overwhelm his master beneath the falling ruins of his wall of oppression.
A Prison Scene.
There is much said of the misery induced by the internal slave trade; tale after tale is repeated of the separation of families—of the dearest ties of the affections violently broken— of hearts closely allied in their natural affinities, as the leaves that flourish upon one bough, torn rudely asunder and left to bleed and wither far distant from each other and from the parent stem that nourished them. Yet, terrible as are the catastrophes which sometimes arise out of such scenes, we believe they seldom come before the heart in the startling vividness of reality. The ear has been so long habituated to the repulsive terms of slavery, that it almost ceases to regard them; and 112 K2v 112 the mention of a sale of human beings is heard by many persons with as little emotion as if they were unbreathing chattels. To others, the very enormity of the circumstance gives it an air of unreality. The reason may yield an unwilling assent to the facts, but the imagination turns loathing away from the view of so detestable a traffic, and the mind refuses to receive the comprehension of such a scene. To some, indeed, the existence, at the present day, of so foul a disgrace to our country, is almost unknown. The abolition of the foreign slave-trade is conceived to have removed from slavery the most objectionable features, and they are not aware that piratical traders abroad, and regular unblushing dealers in human flesh and sinews in our own land, still pour out to the children of Africa a cup of intolerable cruelty.
These reflections were suggested by our accidentally meeting the other day with a short narration of the following circumstance. A gentleman who visited the prison in Washington City, found in one of the cells a negro mother and three children, who had been brought from Maryland, and were confined there for sale. They were offered in one lot, or for the accommodation of purchasers they would be parted and disposed of separately to different individuals. Upon enquiring more particularly into their history, the gentleman found that she was the mother of nine children, and the wife of a free man. He had toiled industriously and hard to provide for his family, and as they grew of an age to satisfy the rapacious cravings of the monster who claimed them for his prey, the children had been torn one by one from the sheltering arms of parental affection, and sold into a distant captivity. At last his wife, and his three only remaining ones, were snatched away, and he was left, in his declining years, alone and desolate, to weep beside his forsaken hearth-stone.
And she—to whose woman’s heart had come all that weight of unutterable suffering—what was to be her future lot? Were the loving eyes that she had gazed upon so long, and the soft voices whose tones she had treasured up in her heart till they had become her world of happiness, to be seen and heard no more forever? Who could know the agony of her bereaved spirit, as she sat amid the dark loneliness of that damp cell! who could tell what images of despair were gathering with a horrid distinctness about her brain, as the thought 113 K3r 113 of a still further separation came upon her soul, when the hollow echo of an approaching foot-fall caught her ear, and with a wild shriek she sprang forward and clasped her infants to her bosom as if she would have hidden them in the very centre of her heart from the grasp of the spoiler! And can woman —free, happy, cherished woman—think unmoved upon these things? She whose compassionate nature is moved for the sufferings of the lowest of the animal creation; whose sympathy may be won upon even by the passing grief of happy childhood! Surely she will not forget the tears shed openly and in secret by her victim sister under the stinging lash, over the unaccomplished task at hot noon-day, in the silence of the dark midnight, upon the faces of the doomed infants, and amid the silence of the gloomy prison cell, where, though guiltless of crime, she has been made to share the abode and the punishment of the criminal.
The enormous crimes and miseries inseparable from the system of slave cultivation have at length been fully exposed; henceforth the guilty responsibility of slave-holding rests with the consumer of slave produce. Let conscience, therefore, do her office, and fix the conviction of blood-guiltiness in our own bosoms.
That if there were no consumers of slave produce, there would be no slaves, is an axiom too self-evident to the meanest capacity, to require us to use a single argument in its demonstration. But that the class of consumers share equally in the guilt of slavery with those who are the more immediate upholders of the system, will not probably, by the multitude, be so readily admitted,. Even while they acknowledge themselves to be the main supporters of this scheme of oppression, they would exonerate themselves from any portion of its turpitude; as if it were possible for them to be innocent of a crime of which they are wilfully the cause! Can they employ another in the commission of evil, enjoy the advantage of his villany, and yet suppose that the stain of iniquity clings only to him who was but the agent of their will? Were they disinterested reasoners, we think such would not be their decision. Their K2 114 K3v 114 own hands do not, it is true, wield the blood-extorting lash, or rivet the fetter, but they know that it is done by others, in order to afford at the cheapest rate the luxuries which they will neither resign, nor make one exertion to obtain from the hands of freemen. They have no hesitation in branding the trafficker in human flesh with the stigma of shame and cruelty; but while they would not for the universe engage personally in the exercise of so much barbarity, they will not relinquish one single iota of the comforts it procures for them. Is this consistency? Is such fastidiousness the result of humanity;—or has it not rather, if fairly examined, its root in mere selfishness? Their education has unfitted them for mingling actively in scenes of cruelty; they would sicken and shudder at the sight of wantonly shed blood, and the agonizing cries of a breaking heart would frighten sleep from their pillows, or were like a haunting spirit to their dreams. Is it so vastly meritorious, then, to consign to other hands what would be revolting to their feelings? Or may such sensibility claim its spring from the nobler principles of beneficence and justice, while they unhesitatingly receive from the hands of another, that which they have not nerve enough to obtain for themselves? Let them remember when they execrate the enormities of the slave system, that it is themselves who hold out the inducements for their perpetration. Guilty as the slave-holder may be, let them not flatter themselves that he alone is guilty. To them the criminality and hideousness of slavery are clearly discernible. But he is mentally benighted. The bribe which they have given him, the unrighteous mammon, hath perverted his judgment. He is compassed about with the iron bands of prejudice,—he fancies that to break the fetters of his slaves would be to insure his own ruin.—But it is the purchasers of his ill-gotten produce, who have woven around him this filmy web of prejudice. Let them but make it his interest to be just, and his moral perceptions will be clear as the day-light. Emancipation will no longer appear to him a visionary scheme, ruinous and impracticable. His opinions will be grounded on wiser and juster reasoning, and he will make haste to render back their liberty to those from whom he has so long withheld it. He who clings with so tenacious a grasp to his gathered stores of human wealth, while we hate his crime, may claim our pity for his self-delusion and his unhappy situation. But what have those 115 K4r 115 to advance in behalf of their heartless conduct, who, with the full light of conviction around them, obstinately persist to abet him in his error? Nothing, absolutely nothing, beyond the miserable and even criminal plea of self-convenience, or a disinclination to encounter a trivial portion of salutary self-denial! —And they, who can so lightly weigh their own gratification against the intolerable anguish of their sister’s lot,—who count the sacrifice of a few paltry luxuries, too vast a ransom for the redemption of thousands and tens of thousands of their fellow- creatures from a fate of servitude and darkness, are the good, the amiable, and the gentle of the earth. Such a maze of inconsistency is the human heart! We could fling away the pen, and weep in very shame and bitterness for the hard-heartedness of our sex. One would suppose that the bare knowledge of the terrible price at which those cherished comforts have been procured, would cause a woman to turn shuddering and loathingly away as though they were infected with a taint of blood. And the curse of blood is upon them! Though the dark red stain may not be there visibly, yet the blood of all the many thousands of the slain, who have died amid the horrors and loathsomeness of the slave-ship—been hurled by capricious cruelty to the yawning wave, or sprang to its bosom in the madness of their proud despair—of those who have pined away to death beneath the slow tortures of a broken heart, who have perished beneath the tortures of inventive tyranny, or on the ignominous gibbet—all this lies with a fearful weight upon this most foul and unnatural system, and that insatiable thirst for luxury and wealth in which it first originated, and by which it is still perpetuated.
Influence of Slavery on the Female Character.
This is not one of the least important points of view, in which we are all called upon to examine the effects of slavery. On the right formation of the female character depends so much, not only of her own happiness, but of the well-being of all who are nearly connected with her, that whatever circumstances possess the power of moulding her mind and habits, imperatively demand a careful examination. The debasing 116 K4v 116 effects of slavery on those who are its victims, are too painfully obvious to require a portraiture. On these, therefore, we need not dwell, but may turn at once to their fairer, and more fortunate sisters.
It is on all sides acknowledged, that the domestic circle is the proper sphere of woman. We do not say that her talents and influence should be confined within these boundaries, but however beneficially they may be felt abroad, if homebred usefulness forms no part of her character, be her claims on our respect and admiration what they may, she fails of one half of her perfection. A knowledge of household good is one of the most essential branches of female education. I will venture to affirm, says the venerable Hannah More, that let a woman know what she may, yet if she knows not this, she is ignorant of the most indispensable, the most appropriate branch of female knowledge. It is not in the fair, fluttering thing of fashion, the beautiful wonder and admiration of the hour, lovely though she may be, and possibly even gifted with high attainments of mind and character, that we are to look for the true standard of female excellence. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon, is not a more undeniable allegation, than that woman cannot at once satisfy the demands of fashionable and domestic life. They are wholly incompatible with each other, and whatever is yielded to the importunity of the one, detracts from the power of satisfying the claims of the other. In deciding this destiny of our country-women in unfitting them for the calm pleasures of domestic life, and leading them into the tumultuous vortex of folly and vanity—in giving them an education of showy accomplishments, instead of cultivated minds, and well regulated tempers—in teaching them the wish to shine, rather than the ambition to be useful—the desire of wealth and expensive pleasures, rather than intellectual advancement—in leading them to prefer the uneasy excitement of a crowd, to the quiet enjoyment of books, retirement, and rational conversation—the flattery and admiration of the many, to the sober approbation of the few—in teaching them to consult rather their inclinations than their duty—to follow the dictates of fancy or caprice, instead of reflective judgment—we believe the slave system will be found a powerful agent. Those who have been accustomed from youth to the ready service of dependants, rarely acquire habits of industry and extensive usefulness.117 K5r 117 fulness. The mind as well as the body sinks into habits of listless indolence, and is suffered to remain inactive and unoccupied, or fritters away its noble energies in the trifling excitements of vanity and fashion.—Wealth becomes of immense importance as the means of supporting her extravagance, and of rivalling or eclipsing her compeers in their love of folly: her responsibility, her high nature as a rational creature are almost forgotten or unheeded; anxious rather to outshine her equals in their petty distinctions of splendour and display, than to raise those who are beneath her to a higher standard of intellectual and moral worth, she learns to trifle away the loan of her existence, and to waste in selfish gratifications, the thousands that have been wrung with the most odious injustice from the hand of unrewarded toil. Thus with a heart undisciplined by self-control, a mind enervated by frivolous pursuits, and a temper accustomed to the indulgence of all its humours, how frail is the bark of her happiness! How imperfectly is she calculated to fill the station and perform the duties assigned her by the hand of Providence. In prosperity, a thing, it may be, of beauty and grace, but of unsubstantial endowments—in adversity without support, and without resource, and in neither performing the duties of a consistent Christian. Nor is the evil we speak of confined to that district to which slavery is limited. The frequent intercourse between the inhabitants of the different states, gives a ready transmission to manners and habits. The ladies of the north imitate those of the south, and a fondness for show, ornament, and extravagance, almost to the exclusion of a desire for the better wealth of substantial acquirements and moral excellence, invades all classes of society.
Could we but persuade those with whom we plead, in behalf of the slave, to imagine themselves for a few moments in his very circumstances, to enter into his feelings, comprehend all his wretchedness, transform themselves mentally into his very self, they would not surely long withhold their compassion. Let them feel the heart-brokenness of being separated from all they love—take the long last glance at all that is dear to them, 118 K5v 118 and while the brain is reeling, and the hot brow throbbing with agony, know that their sufferings excite only the heartless jest, or the brutal curse—let the fetter lie with its wearing weight upon their wrists, as they are driven off like cattle to the market, and the successive strokes of the keen thong fall upon their shoulders till the flesh rises in long welts beneath it, and the spouting blood follows every blow—let them go day after day with their sick hearts, to their unceasing and hopeless toil, fainting beneath the hot sun, or exposed to all the pitiless beating of the elements—let them yield up their hearts again for a while to the gentle influences of affection, till they feel almost as if there was yet something like to happiness in their lot, and then know suddenly that they are to gaze no more upon their beloved objects forever—let them enter into the desolateness of that moment; stand alone and forsaken in the world; without religion, without a friend in earth or heaven, to whom they may turn for consolation in their hour of trial; with no kind accents to soothe, no hope to cheer them—oh! would they but endeavour to realize the bitterness of such a lot, surely, surely, they would rush to the rescue of the thousands who are agonizing beneath its endurance.
The twilight is a fit season for retrospection. There is a soothing for the seared spirit in its hushing influence, and when the restless and wandering thoughts have gathered themselves back to the heart, and settled down like quiet waters, the mental eye may look down amidst their deep places, taking note of all its imperfections. Among these imperfections may we not properly class the want of a warm and active interest in the happiness and well-being of all our fellow creatures? If, absorbed in the pursuit of our own enjoyments, or yielding all our attention to our own pursuits, or our own cares, we neglect 119 K6r 119 to inquire how we may alleviate the misfortunes or contribute to the welfare of our fellow beings, we cannot be otherwise than culpable. Our power over the situation of others may seem almost as nothing, but let us remember how much things trifling in themselves, contribute to the amount of human happiness, and that in the sight of our beneficent Judge, it is less the offering, than the spirit which prompts that offering, that is esteemed of value. If it should seem too great a subtraction from our own comforts, or to press too heavily on our time and our industry, to resign those articles which have been purchased by human misery, and to exert ourselves as we ought in the cause of emancipation, let us compare our situation with that of those whose wretchedness we would feign pass by, and surely the contrast will render the sacrifice easy. If the advocates of emancipation would daily, in a retrospect of their conduct, carefully examine whether they have done all they could have done in behalf of the victims of our country’s injustice, and on each succeeding one do their best to relieve the neglect and the indolence that the past might acknowledge, the cause of abolition would go forward with an accelerated pace, that would soon bring it to a triumphant conclusion.
The Favourite Season.
It is thy favourite season, Coz. The gorgeous clouds of sunset have almost departed, and the air has grown dim amidst its perfect tranquility, like a starry eye whose brightness hath been shadowed by the depth of a delicious feeling.—Come, let us go abroad, and stand upon that old bridge thou wot’st of, where we may watch the still shadows that lie on the smooth deep places of the stream, and the flashing ripples that go on singing to the gentle light. Or, if thou sayest, we will take the wood path, that leads over the scattered stones of yonder drawling rivulet, to where the green sod slopes away nearly to the water’s edge from the heaped-up pile of webs, and the old half-burnt tree stands in its bleakness, like a solitary watcher in the solemn twilight. Is it not pleasant to be so together in the gentle hush, while indistinct shadowings of happiness come over the heart, like the soft dimness upon the clinquant waters? 120 K6v 120 —and, look, friend, seest thou not yonder bright spark—the star thou lovest—a beautiful and lonely thing in the blue heavens, shining like a far-seen beacon, to summon all hearts to the gathering place of prayer! The wild-bird catches the light of its pale beams as he hurries homeward to his nest, and its first twinkling ray is the signal that Summons home the bee,And sets the weary labourer free from his day-long task of industry. Oh, there is gladness of spirit in the twilight hour to those who are indeed free, and who may eat in fearlessness of heart, amidst their band of loved and loving ones, the bread which they have wrung with a strong sinew from the earth.—What matters it that, from the rising to the setting of the sun, they may have bent their limbs to the service of another? The twilight brings them their reward, and they go onwards to their humble homes with an unstooping mien, and the blessed consciousness that no hand dare invade the privileges of their home sanctuary. But the slave —how may he lift up a glad eye to yon bright messenger? A release from toil, if release indeed it brings him, lifts not the heavy yoke of servitude from off his neck, nor gives to his heart one delightful throb of security and happiness. He too may have a home, a wife, and a smiling group of young loving ones, yet happy amid their childish ignorance, who have been wont to meet his returning step with the fond name of father. But the threshold and the hearth-stone that he left at the early dawn, surrounded by faces of glad innocence, may now be stripped and desolate, or echo back from its solitary walls only the sad voice of maternal lamentation. He knows not but tomorrow’s sun may find him a far distant wanderer, torn away from all the breathing affections of his bosom, and transferred to another master and another scene, as reckless as though his heart were pulseless as the unsuffering clod. May the peacefulness of the pure twilight impart its tranquillity to his bosom —or soothe with its tender light the darkness of his fate? Will it teach him to forget that he is a slave?—a wronged, depised, degraded slave! Alas, the scar of his fetters is too deeply printed in his soul, and the dim air cannot cover it with its shadow.