Charles Dickens.

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beset his life with pestilent attacks of that kind, that he
too was obliged to affect despondency, for very peace and


These were additions to the list of entertaining incidents,
but there was still another source of interest. We carried
in the steerage nearly a hundred passengers : a little world
of poverty : and as we came to know individuals among them
by sight, from looking down upon the deck where they took
the air in the daytime, and cooked their food, and very often
ate it too, we became curious to know their histories, and
with what expectations they had gone out to America, and
on what errands they were going home, and what their cir-
cumstances were. The information we got on these heads
from the carpenter, who had charge of these people, was often
of the strangest kind. Some of them had been in America
but three days, some but three months, and some had gone
out in the last voyage of that very ship in which they were
now returning home. Others had sold their clothes to raise
the passage-money, and had hardly rags to cover them ;
others had no food, and lived upon the charity of the rest :
and one man, it was discovered nearly at the end of the
voyage, not before for he kept his secret close, and did not
court compassion had had no sustenance whatever but the
bones and scraps of fat he took from the plates used in the
after-cabin dinner, when they were put out to be washed.

The whole system of shipping and conveying these unfortu-
nate persons, is one that stands in need of thorough revision.
If any class deserve to be protected and assisted by the
Government, it is that class who are banished from their
native land in search of the bare means of subsistence. All
that could be done for these poor people by the great
compassion and humanity of the captain and officers was
done, but they require much more. The law is bound, at
least upon the English side, to see that too many of them
are not put on board one ship : and that their accommoda-
tions are decent: not demoralising and profligate. It is
bound, too, in common humanity, to declare that no man
shall be taken on board without his stock of provisions being
previously inspected by some proper officer, and pronounced


moderately sufficient for his support upon the voyage. It
is bound to provide, or to require that there be provided,
a medical attendant ; whereas in these ships there are none,
though sickness of adults, and deaths of children, on the
passage, are matters of the very commonest occurrence.
Above all it is the duty of any Government, be it monarchy
or republic, to interpose and put an end to that system by
which a firm of traders in emigrants purchase of the owners
the whole 'tween-decks of a ship, and send on board as many
wretched people as they can lay hold of, on any terms they
can get, without the smallest reference to the conveniences of
the steerage, the number of berths, the slightest separation
of the sexes, or anything but their own immediate profit.
Nor is even this the worst of the vicious system : for, certain
crimping agents of these houses, who have a percentage on
all the passengers they inveigle, are constantly travelling
about those districts where poverty and discontent are rife,
and tempting the credulous into more misery, by holding
out monstrous inducements to emigration which can never
be realised.

The history of every family we had on board was pretty
much the same. After hoarding up, and borrowing, and
begging, and selling everything to pay the passage, they had
gone out to New York, expecting to find its streets paved
with gold ; and had found them paved with very hard and
very real stones. Enterprise was dull; labourers were not
wanted ; jobs of work were to be got, but the payment was
not. They were coming back, even poorer than they went.
One of them was carrying an open letter from a young
English artisan, who had been in New York a fortnight, to
a friend near Manchester, whom he strongly urged to follow
him. One of the officers brought it to me as a curiosity.
" This is the country, Jem," said the writer. " I like America.
There is no despotism here ; that's the great thing. Employ-
ment of all sorts is going a-begging, and wages are capital.
You have only to choose a trade, Jem, and be it. I haven't


made choice of one yet, but I shall soon. At present I
haven't quite made up my mind whether to be a carpenter
or a tailor."

There was yet another kind of passenger, and but one
more, who, in the calm and the light winds, was a constant
theme of conversation and observation among us. This was
an English sailor, a smart, thorough-built, English man-of-
warVman from his hat to his shoes, who was serving in the
American navy, and having got leave of absence was on his
way home to see his friends. When he presented himself to
take and pay for his passage, it had been suggested to him
that being an able seaman he might as well work it and save
the money, but this piece of advice he very indignantly
rejected : saying, " He'd be damned but for once he'd go
aboard ship, as a gentleman.' 1 Accordingly, they took his
money, but he no sooner came aboard, than he stowed his
kit in the forecastle, arranged to mess with the crew, and
the very first time the hands were turned up, went aloft like
a cat, before anybody. And all through the passage there
he was, first at the braces, outermost on the yards, perpetually
lending a hand everywhere, but always with a sober dignity
in his manner, and a sober grin on his face, which plainly
said, "I do it as a gentleman. For my own pleasure, mind

At length and at last, the promised wind came up in right
good earnest, and away we went before it, with every stitch
of canvas set, slashing through the water nobly. There was
a grandeur in the 'motion of the splendid ship, as over-
shadowed by her mass of sails, she rode at a furious pace
upon the waves, which filled one with an indescribable sense
of pride and exultation. As she plunged into a foaming
valley, how I loved to see the green waves, bordered deep
with white, come rushing on astern, to buoy her upward at
their pleasure, and curl about her as she stooped again, but
always own her for their haughty mistress still ! On, on we
flew, with changing lights upon the water, being now in the


blessed region of fleecy skies ; a bright sun lighting us by day,
and a bright moon by night; the vane pointing directly
homeward, alike the truthful index to the favouring wind and
to our cheerful hearts; until at sunrise, one fair Monday
morning the twenty-seventh of June, I shall not easily forget
the day- there lay before us, old Cape Clear, God bless it,
showing, in the mist of early morning, like a cloud : the
brightest and most welcome cloud, to us, that ever hid the
face of Heaven^s fallen sister Home.

Dim speck as it was in the wide prospect, it made the
sunrise a more cheerful sight, and gave to it that sort of
human interest which it seems to want at sea. There, as
elsewhere, the return of day is inseparable from some sense of
renewed hope and gladness; but the light shining on the
dreary waste of water, and showing it in all its vast extent
of loneliness, presents a solemn spectacle, which even night,
veiling it in darkness and uncertainty, does not surpass. The
rising of the moon is more in keeping with the solitary
ocean ; and has an air of melancholy grandeur, which in its
soft and gentle influence, seems to comfort while it saddens.
I recollect when I was a very young child having a fancy
that the reflection of the moon in water was a path to
Heaven, trodden by the spirits of good people on their way
to God ; and this old feeling often came over me again, when
I watched it on a tranquil night at sea.

The wind was very light on this same Monday morning,
but it was still in the right quarter, and so, by slow degrees,
we left Cape Clear behind, and sailed along within sight of
the coast of Ireland. And how merry we all were, and how
loyal to the George Washington, and how full of mutual
congratulations, and how venturesome in predicting the exact
hour at which we should arrive at Liverpool, may be easily
imagined and readily understood. Also, how heartily we
drank the captain's health that day at dinner; and how rest-
less we became about packing up : and how two or three of
the most sanguine spirits rejected the idea of going to bed at


all that night as something it was not worth while to do, so
near the shore, but went nevertheless, and slept soundly ; and
how to be so near our journey ""s end, was like a pleasant
dream, from which one feared to wake.

The friendly breeze freshened again next day, and on we
went once more before it gallantly : descrying now and then
an English ship going homeward under shortened sail, while
we with every inch of canvas crowded on, dashed gaily past,
and left her far behind. Towards evening, the weather
turned hazy, with a drizzling rain ; and soon became so thick,
that we sailed, as it were, in a cloud. Still we swept onward
like a phantom ship, and many an eager eye glanced up to
where the Look-out on the mast kept watch for Holy head.

At length his long-expected cry was heard, and at the
same moment there shone out from the haze and mist ahead,
a gleaming light, which presently was gone, and soon returned,
and soon was gone again. Whenever it came back, the eyes
of all on board, brightened and sparkled like itself: and
there we all stood, watching this revolving light upon the
rock at Holyhead, and praising it for its brightness and its
friendly warning, and lauding it, in short, above all other
signal lights that ever were displayed, until it once more
glimmered faintly in the distance, far behind us.

Then, it was time to fire a gun, for a pilot; and almost
before its smoke had cleared away, a little boat with a light
at her mast-head came bearing down upon us, through the
darkness, swiftly. And presently, our sails being backed, she
ran alongside; and the hoarse pilot, wrapped and muffled in
pea-coats and shawls to the very bridge of his weather-
ploughed-np nose, stood bodily among us on the deck. And
I think if that pilot had wanted to borrow fifty pounds for
an indefinite period on no security, we should have engaged
to lend it to him, among us, before his boat had dropped
astern, or (which is the same thing) before every scrap of
news in the paper he brought with him had become the
common property of all on board.


We turned in pretty late that night, and turned out
pretty early next morning. By six o'clock we clustered on
the deck, prepared to go ashore ; and looked upon the spires,
and roofs, and smoke, of Liverpool. By eight we all sat
down in one of its Hotels, to eat and drink together for the
last time. And by nine we had shaken hands all round, and
broken up our social company for ever.

The country, by the railroad, seemed, as we rattled through
it, like a luxuriant garden. The beauty of the fields (so
small they looked !), the hedge-rows, and the trees ; the pretty
cottages, the beds of flowers, the old churchyards, the antique
houses, and every well-known object; the exquisite delights
of that one journey, crowding in the short compass of a
summer's day, the joy of many years, with the winding up
with Home and all that makes it dear ; no tongue can tell,
or pen of mine describe.



THE upholders of slavery in America of the atrocities of
which system, I shall not write one word for which I have
not had ample proof and warrant may be divided into three
great classes.

The first, are those more moderate and rational owners of
human cattle, who have come into the possession of them as
so many coins in their trading capital, but who admit the
frightful nature of the Institution in the abstract, and
perceive the dangers to society with which it is fraught :
dangers which however distant they may be, or howsoever
tardy in their coming on, are as certain to fall upon its guilty
head, as is the Day of Judgment.

The second, consists of all those owners, breeders, users,
buyers and sellers of slaves, who will, until the bloody chapter
has a bloody end, own, breed, use, buy, and sell them at all
hazards ; who doggedly deny the horrors of the system in the
teeth of such a mass of evidence as never was brought to
bear on any other subject, and to which the experience of
every day contributes its immense amount ; who would at
this or any other moment, gladly involve America in a war,
civil or foreign, provided that it had for its sole end and
object the assertion of their right to perpetuate slavery, and
to whip and work and torture slaves, unquestioned by any
human authority, and unassailed by any human power; who,


when they speak of Freedom, mean the Freedom to oppress
their kind, and to be savage, merciless, and cruel ; and of
whom every man on his own ground, in republican America,
is a more exacting, and a sterner, and a less responsible
despot than the Caliph Haroun Alraschid in his angry robe
of scarlet.

The third, and not the least numerous or influential, is
composed of all that delicate gentility which cannot bear a
superior, and cannot brook an equal ; of that class whose
Republicanism means, " I will not tolerate a man above me :
and of those below, none must approach too near;" whose
pride, in a land where voluntary servitude is shunned as a
disgrace, must be ministered to by slaves ; and whose inalien-
able rights can only have their growth in negro wrongs.

It has been sometimes urged that, in the unavailing efforts
which have been made to advance the cause of Human
Freedom in the republic of America (strange cause for his-
tory to treat of!), sufficient regard has not been had to the
existence of the first class of persons ; and it has been con-
tended that they are hardly used, in being confounded with
the second. This is, no doubt, the case ; noble instances of
pecuniary and personal sacrifice have already had their growth
among them ; and it is much to be regretted that the gulf
between them and the advocates of emancipation should have
been widened and deepened by any means : the rather, as
there are, beyond dispute, among these slave-owners, many
kind masters who are tender in the exercise of their unnatural
power. Still, it is to be feared that this injustice is insepar-
able from the state of things with which humanity and truth
are called upon to deal. Slavery is not a whit the more
endurable because some hearts are to be found which can
partially resist its hardening influences ; nor can the indignant
tide of honest wrath stand still, because in its onward course
it overwhelms a few who are comparatively innocent, among
a host of guilty.

The ground most commonly taken by these better men


among the advocates of slavery, is this : " It is a bad system ;
and for myself I would willingly get rid of it, if I could ;
most willingly. But it is not so bad, as you in England
take it to be. You are deceived by the representations of
the emancipationists. The greater part of my slaves are
much attached to me. You will say that I do not allow
them to be severely treated ; but I will put it to you whether
you believe that it can be a general practice to treat them
inhumanly, when it would impair their value, and would be
obviously against the interests of their masters. 1 '

Is it the interest of any man to steal, to game, to waste
his health and mental faculties by drunkenness, to lie, for-
swear himself, indulge hatred, seek desperate revenge, or do
murder? No. All these are roads to ruin. And why, then,
do men tread them ? Because such inclinations are among
the vicious qualities of mankind. Blot out, ye friends of
slavery, from the catalogue of human passions, brutal lust,
cruelty, and the abuse of irresponsible power (of all earthly
temptations the most difficult to be resisted), and when ye
have done so, and not before, we will inquire whether it be
the interest of a master to lash and maim the slaves, over
whose lives and limbs he has an absolute control !

But again : this class, together with that last one I have
named, the miserable aristocracy spawned of a false republic,
lift up their voices and exclaim "Public opinion is all-
sufficient to prevent such cruelty as you denounce." Public
opinion ! Why, public opinion in the slave States is slavery,
is it not ? Public opinion, in the slave States, has delivered
the slaves over, to the gentle mercies of their masters.
Public opinion has made the laws, and denied the slaves
legislative protection. Public opinion has knotted the lash,
heated the branding-iron, loaded the rifle, and shielded the
murderer. Public opinion threatens the abolitionist with
death, if he venture to the South ; and drags him with a
rope about his middle, in broad unblushing noon, through
the first city in the East. Public opinion has, within a few


years, burned a slave alive at a slow fire in the city of St.
Louis ; and public opinion has to this day maintained upon
the bench that estimable Judge who charged the Jury, im-
panelled there to try his murderers, that their most horrid
deed was an act of public opinion, and being so, must not
be punished by the laws the public sentiment had made.
Public opinion hailed this doctrine with a howl of wild
applause, and set the prisoners free, to walk the city, men of
mark, and influence, and station, as they had been before.

Public opinion ! what class of men have an immense pre-
ponderance over the rest of the community, in their power
of representing public opinion in the legislature ? the slave-
owners. They send from their twelve States one hundred
members, while the fourteen free States, with a free popula-
tion nearly double, return but a hundred and forty-two.
Before whom do the presidential candidates bow down the
most humbly, on whom do they fawn the most fondly, and
for whose tastes do they cater the most assiduously in their
servile protestations ? The slave-owners always.

Public opinion ! hear the public opinion of the free South,
as expressed by its own members in the House of Repre-
sentatives at Washington. " I have a great respect for the
chair,"" quoth North Carolina, " I have a great respect for the
chair as an officer of the house, and a great respect for him
personally ; nothing but that respect prevents me from rush-
ing to the table and tearing that petition which has just
been presented for the abolition of slavery in the district of
Columbia, to pieces." " I warn the abolitionists,' 1 '' says South
Carolina, "ignorant, infuriated barbarians as they are, that
if chance shall throw any of them into our hands, he may
expect a felon's death."" "Let an abolitionist come within
the borders of South Carolina," cries a third; mild Caro-
lina's colleague; "and if we can catch him, we will try him,
and notwithstanding the interference of all the governments
on earth, including the Federal government, we will HANG


Public opinion has made this law. It has declared that
in Washington, in that city which takes its name from the
father of American liberty, any justice of the peace may
bind with fetters any negro passing down the street and
thrust him into jail : no offence on the black man's part
is necessary. The justice says, " I choose to think this man
a runaway : " and locks him up. Public opinion impowers
the man of law when this is done, to advertise the negro in
the newspapers, warning his owner to come and claim him,
or he will be sold to pay the jail fees. But supposing he is
a free black, and has no owner, it may naturally be presumed
that he is set at liberty. No : HE is SOLD TO RECOMPENSE HIS
JAILER. This has been done again, and again, and again.
He has no means of proving his freedom ; has no adviser,
messenger, or assistance of any sort or kind ; no investiga-
tion into his case is made, or inquiry instituted. He, a free
man, who may have served for years, and bought his liberty,
is thrown into jail on no process, for no crime, and on no
pretence of crime : and is sold to pay the jail fees. This
seems incredible, even of America, but it is the law.

Public opinion is deferred to, in such cases as the following :
which is headed in the newspapers :

"Interesting Law-Case.

" An interesting case is now on trial in the Supreme Court,
arising out of the following facts. A gentleman residing in
Maryland had allowed an aged pair of his slaves, substantial
though not legal freedom for several years. While thus
living, a daughter was born to them, who grew up in the
same liberty, until she married a free negro, and went with
him to reside in Pennsylvania. They had several children, and
lived unmolested until the original owner died, when his heir
attempted to regain them ; but the magistrate before whom
they were brought, decided that he had no jurisdiction in
the case. The owner seized the woman and her children in
the night, and carried them to Maryland"


" Cash for negroes," " cash for negroes, 1 ' " cash for negroes,"
is the heading of advertisements in great capitals down
the long columns of the crowded journals. Woodcuts of a
runaway negro with manacled hands, crouching beneath a
bluff pursuer in top boots, who, having caught him, grasps
him by the throat, agreeably diversify the pleasant text.
The leading article protests against " that abominable and
hellish doctrine of abolition, which is repugnant alike to
every law of God and nature."" The delicate mamma, who
smiles her acquiescence in this sprightly writing as she reads
the paper in her cool piazza, quiets her youngest child who
clings about her skirts, by promising the boy "a whip to
beat the little niggers with." But the negroes, little and
big, are protected by public opinion.

Let us try this public opinion by another test, which is
important in three points of view : first, as showing how despe~
rately timid of the public opinion slave-owners are, in their
delicate descriptions of fugitive slaves in widely circulated
newspapers ; secondly, as showing how perfectly contented the
slaves are, and how very seldom they run away ; thirdly, as
exhibiting their entire freedom from scar, or blemish, or any
mark of cruel infliction, as their pictures are drawn, not by
lying abolitionists, but by their own truthful masters.

The following are a few specimens of the advertisements in
the public papers. It is only four years since the oldest
among them appeared ; and others of the same nature con-
tinue to be published every day, in shoals.

"Ran away, Negress Caroline. Had on a collar with one
prong turned clown."

" Ran away, a black woman, Betsy. Had an iron bar on
her right leg."

"Ran away, the negro Manuel. Much marked with

"Ran away, the negress Fanny. Had on an iron band
about her neck."

" Ran away, a negro Ixiy alxnit twelve years old. Had


round his neck a chain dog-collar with 'De Lampert^
engraved on it."

" Ran away, the negro- Hown. Has a ring of iron on his
left foot. Also, Grise, his wife, having a ring and chain on
the left leg."

" Ran away, a negro boy named James. Said boy was
ironed when he left me. 11

" Committed to jail, a man who calls his name John. He
Jias a clog of iron on his right foot which will weigh four
or five pounds."

, " Detained at the police jail, the negro wench, Myra. Has
several marks of LASHING, and has irons on her feet."

"Ran away, a negro woman and two children. A few
days before she went off, I burnt her with a hot iron, on
the left side of her face. I tried to make the letter M."

" Ran away, a negro man named Henry ; his left eye out,
some scars from a dirk on and under his left arm, and much
scarred with the whip."

" One hundred dollars reward, for a negro fellow, Pompey,
40 years old. He is branded on the left jaw."

" Committed to jail, a negro man. Has no toes on the
left foot. '

" Ran away, a negro woman named Rachel. Has lost all
her toes except the large one."

" Ran away, Sam. He was shot a short time since
through the hand, and has several shots in his left arm
and side."

"Ran away, my negro man Dennis. Said negro has been
shot in the left arm between the shoulder and elbow, which
has paralysed the left hand."

"Ran away, my negro man named Simon. He has been
shot badly, in his back and right arm."

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 23 of 43)