J. J. (John Jacob) Thomas.

Froudacity; West Indian Fables by James Anthony Froude Explained by J. J. Thomas online

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J.J. Thomas




Preface by J.J. Thomas


Introduction: 27-33
Voyage out: 34-41
Barbados: 41-44
St. Vincent: 44-48
Grenada: 48-50


Trinidad: 53-55
Reform in Trinidad: 55-80
Negro Felicity in the West Indies: 81-110


Social Revolution: 113-174
West Indian Confederation: 175-200
The Negro as a Worker: 201-206
Religion for Negroes: 207-230


Historical Summary or Résumé: 233-261, end



[5] Last year had well advanced towards its middle - in fact it was
already April, 1888 - before Mr. Froude's book of travels in the West
Indies became known and generally accessible to readers in those

My perusal of it in Grenada about the period above mentioned disclosed,
thinly draped with rhetorical flowers, the dark outlines of a scheme to
thwart political aspiration in the Antilles. That project is sought to
be realized by deterring the home authorities from granting an elective
local legislature, however restricted in character, to any of the
Colonies not yet enjoying such an advantage. An argument based on the
composition of the inhabitants of those Colonies is confidently relied
upon to confirm the inexorable mood of Downing Street.

[6] Over-large and ever-increasing, - so runs the argument, - the African
element in the population of the West Indies is, from its past history
and its actual tendencies, a standing menace to the continuance of
civilization and religion. An immediate catastrophe, social,
political, and moral, would most assuredly be brought about by the
granting of full elective rights to dependencies thus inhabited.
Enlightened statesmanship should at once perceive the immense benefit
that would ultimately result from such refusal of the franchise. The
cardinal recommendation of that refusal is that it would avert
definitively the political domination of the Blacks, which must
inevitably be the outcome of any concession of the modicum of right so
earnestly desired. The exclusion of the Negro vote being inexpedient,
if not impossible, the exercise of electoral powers by the Blacks must
lead to their returning candidates of their own race to the local
legislatures, and that, too, in numbers preponderating according to the
majority of the Negro electors. The Negro legislators thus supreme in
the councils of the Colonies would straightway proceed to pass
vindictive and retaliatory laws against their white fellow- [7]
colonists. For it is only fifty years since the White man and the
Black man stood in the reciprocal relations of master and slave.
Whilst those relations subsisted, the white masters inflicted, and the
black slaves had to endure, the hideous atrocities that are inseparable
from the system of slavery. Since Emancipation, the enormous strides
made in self-advancement by the ex-slaves have only had the effect of
provoking a resentful uneasiness in the bosoms of the ex-masters. The
former bondsmen, on their side, and like their brethren of Hayti, are
eaten up with implacable, blood-thirsty rancour against their former
lords and owners. The annals of Hayti form quite a cabinet of
political and social object lessons which, in the eyes of British
statesmen, should be invaluable in showing the true method of dealing
with Ethiopic subjects of the Crown. The Negro race in Hayti, in order
to obtain and to guard what it calls its freedom, has outraged every
humane instinct and falsified every benevolent hope. The slave-owners
there had not been a whit more cruel than slave-owners in the other
islands. But, in spite of this, how ferocious, how sanguinary, [8] how
relentless against them has the vengeance of the Blacks been in their
hour of mastery! A century has passed away since then, and,
notwithstanding that, the hatred of Whites still rankles in their
souls, and is cherished and yielded to as a national creed and guide of
conduct. Colonial administrators of the mighty British Empire, the
lesson which History has taught and yet continues to teach you in Hayti
as to the best mode of dealing with your Ethiopic colonists lies
patent, blood-stained and terrible before you, and should be taken
definitively to heart. But if you are willing that Civilization and
Religion - in short, all the highest developments of individual and
social life - should at once be swept away by a desolating vandalism of
African birth; if you do not recoil from the blood-guiltiness that
would stain your consciences through the massacre of our
fellow-countrymen in the West Indies, on account of their race,
complexion and enlightenment; finally, if you desire those modern
Hesperides to revert into primeval jungle, horrent lairs wherein the
Blacks, who, but a short while before, had been ostensibly civilized,
shall be revellers, as high-priests and [9] devotees, in orgies of
devil-worship, cannibalism, and obeah - dare to give the franchise to
those West Indian Colonies, and then rue the consequences of your

Alas, if the foregoing summary of the ghastly imaginings of Mr. Froude
were true, in what a fool's paradise had the wisest and best amongst us
been living, moving, and having our being! Up to the date of the
suggestion by him as above of the alleged facts and possibilities of
West Indian life, we had believed (even granting the correctness of his
gloomy account of the past and present positions of the two races) that
to no well-thinking West Indian White, whose ancestors may have,
innocently or culpably, participated in the gains as well as the guilt
of slavery, would the remembrance of its palmy days be otherwise than
one of regret. We Negroes, on the other hand, after a lapse of time
extending over nearly two generations, could be indebted only to
precarious tradition or scarcely accessible documents for any knowledge
we might chance upon of the sufferings endured in these Islands of the
West by those of our race who have gone before us. Death, with
undiscriminating hand, had gathered [10] in the human harvest of
masters and slaves alike, according to or out of the normal laws of
nature; while Time had been letting down on the stage of our existence
drop-scene after drop-scene of years, to the number of something like
fifty, which had been curtaining off the tragic incidents of the past
from the peaceful activities of the present. Being thus circumstanced,
thought we, what rational elements of mutual hatred should now continue
to exist in the bosoms of the two races?

With regard to the perpetual reference to Hayti, because of our oneness
with its inhabitants in origin and complexion, as a criterion for the
exact forecast of our future conduct under given circumstances, this
appeared to us, looking at actual facts, perversity gone wild in the
manufacture of analogies. The founders of the Black Republic, we had
all along understood, were not in any sense whatever equipped, as Mr.
Froude assures us they were, when starting on their self-governing
career, with the civil and intellectual advantages that had been
transplanted from Europe. On the contrary, we had been taught to
regard them as most unfortunate in the circumstances under which [11]
they so gloriously conquered their merited freedom. We saw them free,
but perfectly illiterate barbarians, impotent to use the intellectual
resources of which their valour had made them possessors, in the shape
of books on the spirit and technical details of a highly developed
national existence. We had learnt also, until this new interpreter of
history had contradicted the accepted record, that the continued
failure of Hayti to realize the dreams of Toussaint was due to the
fatal want of confidence subsisting between the fairer and darker
sections of the inhabitants, which had its sinister and disastrous
origin in the action of the Mulattoes in attempting to secure freedom
for themselves, in conjunction with the Whites, at the sacrifice of
their darker-hued kinsmen. Finally, it had been explained to us that
the remembrance of this abnormal treason had been underlying and
perniciously influencing the whole course of Haytian national history.
All this established knowledge we are called upon to throw overboard,
and accept the baseless assertions of this conjuror-up of inconceivable
fables! He calls upon us to believe that, in spite of being free,
educated, progressive, and at peace with [12] all men, we West Indian
Blacks, were we ever to become constitutionally dominant in our native
islands, would emulate in savagery our Haytian fellow-Blacks who, at
the time of retaliating upon their actual masters, were tortured
slaves, bleeding and rendered desperate under the oppressors' lash - and
all this simply and merely because of the sameness of our ancestry and
the colour of our skin! One would have thought that Liberia would have
been a fitter standard of comparison in respect of a coloured
population starting a national life, really and truly equipped with the
requisites and essentials of civilized existence. But such a reference
would have been fatal to Mr. Froude's object: the annals of Liberia
being a persistent refutation of the old pro-slavery prophecies which
our author so feelingly rehearses.

Let us revert, however, to Grenada and the newly-published "Bow of
Ulysses," which had come into my hands in April, 1888.

It seemed to me, on reading that book, and deducing therefrom the
foregoing essential summary, that a critic would have little more to
do, in order to effectually exorcise this negrophobic political
hobgoblin, than to appeal to [13] impartial history, as well as to
common sense, in its application to human nature in general, and to the
actual facts of West Indian life in particular.

History, as against the hard and fast White-master and Black-slave
theory so recklessly invented and confidently built upon by Mr. Froude,
would show incontestably - (a) that for upwards of two hundred years
before the Negro Emancipation, in 1838, there had never existed in one
of those then British Colonies, which had been originally discovered
and settled for Spain by the great Columbus or by his successors, the
Conquistadores, any prohibition whatsoever, on the ground of race or
colour, against the owning of slaves by any free person possessing the
necessary means, and desirous of doing so; (b) that, as a consequence
of this non-restriction, and from causes notoriously historical,
numbers of blacks, half-breeds, and other non-Europeans, besides such
of them as had become possessed of their "property" by inheritance,
availed themselves of this virtual license, and in course of time
constituted a very considerable proportion of the slave-holding section
of those communities; (c) that these [14] dusky plantation-owners
enjoyed and used in every possible sense the identical rights and
privileges which were enjoyed and used by their pure-blooded Caucasian
brother-slaveowners. The above statements are attested by written
documents, oral tradition, and, better still perhaps, by the living
presence in those islands of numerous lineal representatives of those
once opulent and flourishing non-European planter-families.

Common sense, here stepping in, must, from the above data, deduce some
such conclusions as the following. First that, on the hypothesis that
the slaves who were freed in 1838 - full fifty years ago - were all on an
average fifteen years old, those vengeful ex-slaves of to-day will be
all men of sixty-five years of age; and, allowing for the delay in
getting the franchise, somewhat further advanced towards the human
life-term of threescore and ten years. Again, in order to organize and
carry out any scheme of legislative and social retaliation of the kind
set forth in the "Bow of Ulysses," there must be (which unquestionably
there is not) a considerable, well-educated, and very influential
number surviving of those who had actually [15] been in bondage.
Moreover, the vengeance of these people (also assuming the foregoing
nonexistent condition) would have, in case of opportunity, to wreak
itself far more largely and vigorously upon members of their own race
than upon Whites, seeing that the increase of the Blacks, as correctly
represented in the "Bow of Ulysses," is just as rapid as the diminution
of the White population. And therefore, Mr. Froude's
"Danger-to-the-Whites" cry in support of his anti-reform manifesto
would not appear, after all, to be quite so justifiable as he possibly

Feeling keenly that something in the shape of the foregoing programme
might be successfully worked up for a public defence of the maligned
people, I disregarded the bodily and mental obstacles that have beset
and clouded my career during the last twelve years, and cheerfully
undertook the task, stimulated thereto by what I thought weighty
considerations. I saw that no representative of Her Majesty's Ethiopic
West Indian subjects cared to come forward to perform this work in the
more permanent shape that I felt to be not only desirable but essential
for our self-vindication. [16] I also realized the fact that the "Bow
of Ulysses" was not likely to have the same ephemeral existence and
effect as the newspaper and other periodical discussions of its
contents, which had poured from the press in Great Britain, the United
States, and very notably, of course, in all the English Colonies of the
Western Hemisphere. In the West Indian papers the best writers of our
race had written masterly refutations, but it was clear how difficult
the task would be in future to procure and refer to them whenever
occasion should require. Such productions, however, fully satisfied
those qualified men of our people, because they were legitimately
convinced (even as I myself am convinced) that the political destinies
of the people of colour could not run one tittle of risk from anything
that it pleased Mr. Froude to write or say on the subject. But,
meditating further on the question, the reflection forced itself upon
me that, beyond the mere political personages in the circle more
directly addressed by Mr. Froude's volume, there were individuals whose
influence or possible sympathy we could not afford to disregard, or to
esteem lightly. So I deemed it right and a patriotic duty to attempt
[17] the enterprise myself, in obedience to the above stated motives.

At this point I must pause to express on behalf of the entire coloured
population of the West Indies our most heartfelt acknowledgments to Mr.
C. Salmon for the luminous and effective vindication of us, in his
volume on "West Indian Confederation," against Mr. Froude's libels.
The service thus rendered by Mr. Salmon possesses a double significance
and value in my estimation. In the first place, as being the work of a
European of high position, quite independent of us (who testifies
concerning Negroes, not through having gazed at them from balconies,
decks of steamers, or the seats of moving carriages, but from actual
and long personal intercourse with them, which the internal evidence of
his book plainly proves to have been as sympathetic as it was
familiar), and, secondly, as the work of an individual entirely outside
of our race, it has been gratefully accepted by myself as an incentive
to self-help, on the same more formal and permanent lines, in a matter
so important to the status which we can justly claim as a progressive,
law-abiding, and self-respecting section of Her Majesty's liege

[18] It behoves me now to say a few words respecting this book as a
mere literary production.

Alexander Pope, who, next to Shakespeare and perhaps Butler, was the
most copious contributor to the current stock of English maxims, says:

"True ease in writing comes from Art, not Chance,
As those move easiest who have learnt to dance."

A whole dozen years of bodily sickness and mental tribulation have not
been conducive to that regularity of practice in composition which
alone can ensure the "true ease" spoken of by the poet; and therefore
is it that my style leaves so much to be desired, and exhibits,
perhaps, still, more to be pardoned. Happily, a quarrel such as ours
with the author of "The English in the West Indies" cannot be finally
or even approximately settled on the score of superior literary
competency, whether of aggressor or defender. I feel free to ignore
whatever verdict might be grounded on a consideration so purely
artificial. There ought to be enough, if not in these pages, at any
rate in whatever else I have heretofore published, that should prove me
not so hopelessly stupid and wanting in [19] self-respect, as would be
implied by my undertaking a contest in artistic phrase-weaving with one
who, even among the foremost of his literary countrymen, is confessedly
a master in that craft. The judges to whom I do submit our case are
those Englishmen and others whose conscience blends with their
judgment, and who determine such questions as this on their essential
rightness which has claim to the first and decisive consideration. For
much that is irregular in the arrangement and sequence of the
subject-matter, some blame fairly attaches to our assailant. The
erratic manner in which lie launches his injurious statements against
the hapless Blacks, even in the course of passages which no more led up
to them than to any other section of mankind, is a very notable feature
of his anti-Negro production. As he frequently repeats, very often
with cynical aggravations, his charges and sinister prophecies against
the sable objects of his aversion, I could see no other course open to
me than to take him up on the points whereto I demurred, exactly how,
when, and where I found them.

My purpose could not be attained up without direct mention of, or
reference to, certain public [20] employés in the Colonies whose
official conduct has often been the subject of criticism in the public
press of the West Indies. Though fully aware that such criticism has
on many occasions been much more severe than my own strictures, yet, it
being possible that some special responsibility may attach to what I
here reproduce in a more permanent shape, I most cheerfully accept, in
the interests of public justice, any consequence which may result.

A remark or two concerning the publication of this rejoinder. It has
been hinted to me that the issue of it has been too long delayed to
secure for it any attention in England, owing to the fact that the West
Indies are but little known, and of less interest, to the generality of
English readers. Whilst admitting, as in duty bound, the possible
correctness of this forecast, and regretting the oft-recurring
hindrances which occasioned such frequent and, sometimes, long
suspension of my labour; and noting, too, the additional delay caused
through my unacquaintance with English publishing usages, I must,
notwithstanding, plead guilty to a lurking hope that some small
fraction of Mr. Froude's readers will yet be found, [21] whose interest
in the West Indies will be temporarily revived on behalf of this essay,
owing to its direct bearing on Mr. Froude and his statements relative
to these Islands, contained in his recent book of travels in them.
This I am led to hope will be more particularly the case when it is
borne in mind that the rejoinder has been attempted by a member of that
very same race which he has, with such eloquent recklessness of all
moral considerations, held up to public contempt and disfavour. In
short, I can scarcely permit myself to believe it possible that concern
regarding a popular author, on his being questioned by an adverse
critic of however restricted powers, can be so utterly dead within a
twelvemonth as to be incapable of rekindling. Mr. Froude's "Oceana,"
which had been published long before its author voyaged to the West
Indies, in order to treat the Queen's subjects there in the same more
than questionable fashion as that in which he had treated those of the
Southern Hemisphere, had what was in the main a formal rejoinder to its
misrepresentations published only three months ago in this city. I
venture to believe that no serious work in defence of an [22] important
cause or community can lose much, if anything, of its intrinsic value
through some delay in its issue; especially when written in the
vindication of Truth, whose eternal principles are beyond and above the
influence of time and its changes.

At any rate, this attempt to answer some of Mr. Froude's main
allegations against the people of the West Indies cannot fail to be of
grave importance and lively interest to the inhabitants of those
Colonies. In this opinion I am happy in being able to record the full
concurrence of a numerous and influential body of my fellow-West
Indians, men of various races, but united in detestation of falsehood
and injustice.


LONDON, June, 1889.


[27] Like the ancient hero, one of whose warlike equipments furnishes
the complementary title of his book, the author of "The English in the
West Indies; or, The Bow of Ulysses," sallied forth from his home to
study, if not cities, at least men (especially black men), and their
manners in the British Antilles.

James Anthony Froude is, beyond any doubt whatever, a very considerable
figure in modern English literature. It has, however, for some time
ceased to be a question whether his acceptability, to the extent which
it reaches, has not been due rather to the verbal attractiveness than
to the intrinsic value and trustworthiness of his opinions and
teachings. In fact, so far as a judgment can be formed from examined
specimens of his writings, it appears that our [28] author is the
bond-slave of his own phrases. To secure an artistic perfection of
style, he disregards all obstacles, not only those presented by the
requirements of verity, but such as spring from any other kind of
consideration whatsoever. The doubt may safely be entertained whether,
among modern British men of letters, there be one of equal capability
who, in the interest of the happiness of his sentences, so cynically
sacrifices what is due not only to himself as a public instructor, but
also to that public whom he professes to instruct. Yet, as the too
evident plaything of an over-permeable moral constitution, he might set
up some plea in explanation of his ethical vagaries. He might urge,
for instance, that the high culture of which his books are all so
redolent has utterly failed to imbue him with the nil admirari
sentiment, which Horace commends as the sole specific for making men
happy and keeping them so. For, as a matter of fact, and with special
reference to the work we have undertaken to discuss, Mr. Froude, though
cynical in his general utterances regarding Negroes-of the male sex, be
it noted-is, in the main, all extravagance and self-abandonment
whenever he [29] brings an object of his arbitrary likes or dislikes
under discussion. At such times he is no observer, much less
worshipper, of proportion in his delineations. Thorough-paced,
scarcely controllable, his enthusiasm for or against admits no degree
in its expression, save and except the superlative. Hence Mr. Froude's
statement of facts or description of phenomena, whenever his feelings
are enlisted either way, must be taken with the proverbial "grain of
salt" by all when enjoying the luxury of perusing his books. So
complete is his self-identification with the sect or individual for the
time being engrossing his sympathy, that even their personal
antipathies are made his own; and the hostile language, often
exaggerated and unjust, in which those antipathies find vent, secures
in his more chastened mode of utterance an exact reproduction none the
less injurious because divested of grossness.

Of this special phase of self-manifestation a typical instance is
afforded at page 164, under the heading of "Dominica," in a passage
which at once embraces and accentuates the whole spirit and method of
the work. To a eulogium of the professional skill and successful [30]
agricultural enterprise of Dr. Nichol, a medical officer of that
Colony, with whom he became acquainted for the first time during his
short stay there, our author travels out of his way to tack on a
gratuitous and pointless sneer at the educational competency of all the
elected members of the island legislature, among whom, he tells us, the

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