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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 11, No. 65, March, 1863 online

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of 1685, quoted above, which sought at once to restrain the license of
masters and to afford them a legal way to be humane and just.[Q]

[Footnote Q: Other motives became influential as soon as the slaves
discovered their advantages. A master in want of money would offer
emancipation for a certain sum; the slave would employ every means, even
the most illicit, to raise the amount upon which his or her freedom
depended. A female slave would demand emancipation for herself or
for some relative as her price for yielding to a master; attractive
negresses wielded a great deal of power in this way. A great evil arose
from testamentary acts of enfranchisement, or equivalent promises; for
the slave in question would sometimes poison his master to hasten the
day of liberty. On the other hand, many masters of the nobler kind
emancipated their slaves as a reward for services: the rearing of
six living children, thirty years of field or domestic labor without
marooning, industry, economy, attachment, the discovery of a poisoning
scheme or of an _émeute_, saving the life of a white person with great
risk, - all these were occasional reasons for enfranchisement.]

In 1703 there were only one hundred and fifty freed persons in San
Domingo. In 1711 a colonial ordinance proscribed every enfranchisement
which did not have the approbation of the colonial government. The King
sanctioned this ordinance in 1713, and declared that all masters who
neglected the formality should lose their slaves by confiscation.

In 1736 the number of freed slaves, black and mulatto, was two thousand.
The Government, alarmed at the increase, imposed a sum upon the master
for each act of enfranchisement, in the hope to check his license. But
the master evaded this and every other salutary provision; the place and
climate, so distant from the Custom of Paris, where men dishonored only
complexions like their own, lent occasion and immunity. Colonial Nature
was more potent than paper restrictions. In 1750 there were four
thousand freed persons.

But the desire of enfranchising children was so great that the colonists
evaded all the regulations, which multiplied yearly, by taking their
slaves to France, where they became free as soon as their feet pressed
the soil. The only measure which the Government could devise to meet
this evasion was to forbid all men of color to contract marriages in
France.

In 1787 the free persons of color in San Domingo numbered 19,632. In
1790 their numbers were 25,000.

In 1681 the white inhabitants of San Domingo numbered four thousand; but
in 1790, notwithstanding a constant tide of emigration from Europe, they
numbered only thirty thousand.

The number of slaves at the same time was about four hundred thousand, a
number which represents the violent removal of several millions of black
men from Africa: some writers not anti-slavery reckon this tremendous
crime of the white man at ten millions!

What a climate, and what a system, in which only the mulatto thrives!

* * * * *

Thus far we have traced the causes and elements, of Nature, race, and
policy, the passions and peculiarities of many kinds of men, which
culminated at length, in no fair forms of humanity nor beneficent
institutions, but in the foremost sugar-plantation of the world, whose
cane-rows were planted and nourished by the first of crimes, whose juice
was expressed by over-hasty avarice and petulant ambition that could
not be satisfied unless the crime preserved features as colossal as the
passion of the hour.

We are now in a condition to perceive that the Horrors of San Domingo
were those of suicide. Bloody licentiousness lays violent hands upon
its life. Its weaknesses were full of fatal vigor, lust poisoned the
humanity which it inspired, the soil of the buccaneer could raise
nothing which was not exuberant with vengeance. Slave-Insurrection was a
mere accidental episode in the closing scenes of this bad and blundering
career.

* * * * *


A LONDON SUBURB.


One of our English summers looks, in the retrospect, as if it had been
patched with more frequent sunshine than the sky of England ordinarily
affords; but I believe that it may be only a moral effect, - a "light
that never was on sea nor land," - caused by our having found a
particularly delightful abode in the neighborhood of London. In order to
enjoy it, however, I was compelled to solve the problem of living in
two places at once, - an impossibility which I so far accomplished as to
vanish, at frequent intervals, out of men's sight and knowledge on one
side of England, and take my place in a circle of familiar faces on the
other, so quietly that I seemed to have been there all along. It was the
easier to get accustomed to our new residence, because it was not
only rich in all the material properties of a home, but had also the
home-like atmosphere, the household element, which is of too intangible
a character to be let even with the most thoroughly furnished
lodging-house. A friend had given us his suburban residence, with all
its conveniences, elegancies, and snuggeries, - its drawing-rooms and
library, still warm and bright with the recollection of the genial
presences that we had known there, - its closets, chambers, kitchen, and
even its wine-cellar, if we could have availed ourselves of so dear and
delicate a trust, - its lawn and cozy garden-nooks, and whatever else
makes up the multitudinous idea of an English home, - he had transferred
it all to us, pilgrims and dusty wayfarers, that we might rest and take
our case during his summer's absence on the Continent. We had long been
dwelling in tents, as it were, and morally shivering by hearths which,
heap the bituminous coal upon them as we might, no blaze could render
cheerful. I remember, to this day, the dreary feeling with which I sat
by our first English fireside, and watched the chill and rainy twilight
of an autumn day darkening down upon the garden; while the portrait
of the preceding occupant of the house (evidently a most unamiable
personage in his lifetime) scowled inhospitably from above the
mantel-piece, as if indignant that an American should try to make
himself at home there. Possibly it may appease his sulky shade to know
that I quitted his abode as much a stranger as I entered it. But now, at
last, we were in a genuine British home, where refined and warm-hearted
people had just been living their daily life, and had left us a
summer's inheritance of slowly ripened days, such as a stranger's hasty
opportunities so seldom permit him to enjoy.

Within so trifling a distance of the central spot of all the world,
(which, as Americans have at present no centre of their own, we may
allow to be somewhere in the vicinity, we will say, of St. Paul's
Cathedral,) it might have seemed natural that I should be tossed about
by the turbulence of the vast London-whirlpool. But I had drifted into a
still eddy, where conflicting movements made a repose, and, wearied with
a good deal of uncongenial activity, I found the quiet of my temporary
haven more attractive than anything that the great town could offer. I
already knew London well; that is to say, I had long ago satisfied (so
far as it was capable of satisfaction) that mysterious yearning - the
magnetism of millions of hearts operating upon one - which impels every
man's individuality to mingle itself with the immensest mass of human
life within his scope. Day after day, at an earlier period, I had
trodden the thronged thoroughfares, the broad, lonely squares, the
lanes, alleys, and strange labyrinthine courts, the parks, the gardens
and inclosures of ancient studious societies, so retired and silent amid
the city-uproar, the markets, the foggy streets along the river-side,
the bridges, - I had sought all parts of the metropolis, in short, with
an unweariable and indiscriminating curiosity; until few of the native
inhabitants, I fancy, had turned so many of its corners as myself. These
aimless wanderings (in which my prime purpose and achievement were to
lose my way, and so to find it the more surely) had brought me, at one
time or another, to the sight and actual presence of almost all the
objects and renowned localities that I had read about, and which had
made London the dream-city of my youth. I had found it better than my
dream; for there is nothing else in life comparable (in that species of
enjoyment, I mean) to the thick, heavy, oppressive, sombre delight which
an American is sensible of, hardly knowing whether to call it a pleasure
or a pain, in the atmosphere of London. The result was, that I acquired
a home-feeling there, as nowhere else in the world, - though afterwards I
came to have a somewhat similar sentiment in regard to Rome; and as long
as either of those two great cities shall exist, the cities of the Past
and of the Present, a man's native soil may crumble beneath his feet
without leaving him altogether homeless upon earth.

Thus, having once fully yielded to its influence, I was in a manner free
of the city, and could approach or keep away from it as I pleased. Hence
it happened, that, living within a quarter of an hour's rush of
the London Bridge Terminus, I was oftener tempted to spend a whole
summer-day in our garden than to seek anything new or old, wonderful or
commonplace, beyond its precincts. It was a delightful garden, of no
great extent, but comprising a good many facilities for repose and
enjoyment, such as arbors and garden-seats, shrubbery, flower-beds,
rose-bushes in a profusion of bloom, pinks, poppies, geraniums,
sweet-peas, and a variety of other scarlet, yellow, blue, and purple
blossoms, which I did not trouble myself to recognize individually,
yet had always a vague sense of their beauty about me. The dim sky of
England has a most happy effect on the coloring of flowers, blending
richness with delicacy in the same texture; but in this garden, as
everywhere else, the exuberance of English verdure had a greater charm
than any tropical splendor or diversity of hue. The hunger for natural
beauty might be satisfied with grass and green leaves forever. Conscious
of the triumph of England in this respect; and loyally anxious for the
credit of my own country, it gratified me to observe what trouble and
pains the English gardeners are fain to throw away in producing a few
sour plums and abortive pears and apples, - as, for example, in this very
garden, where a row of unhappy trees were spread out perfectly flat
against a brick wall, looking as if impaled alive, or crucified, with a
cruel and unattainable purpose of compelling them to produce rich fruit
by torture. For my part, I never ate an English fruit, raised in the
open air, that could compare in flavor with a Yankee turnip.

The garden included that prime feature of English domestic scenery,
a lawn. It had been levelled, carefully shorn, and converted into
a bowling-green, on which we sometimes essayed to practise the
time-honored game of bowls, most unskilfully, yet not without a
perception that it involves a very pleasant mixture of exercise and
ease, as is the case with most of the old English pastimes. Our little
domain was shut in by the house on one side, and in other directions by
a hedge-fence and a brick wall, which last was concealed or softened by
shrubbery and the impaled fruit-trees already mentioned. Over all the
outer region, beyond our immediate precincts, there was an abundance of
foliage, tossed aloft from the near or distant trees with which that
agreeable suburb is adorned. The effect was wonderfully sylvan and
rural, insomuch that we might have fancied ourselves in the depths of
a wooded seclusion; only that, at brief intervals, we could hear the
galloping sweep of a railway-train passing within a quarter of a mile,
and its discordant screech, moderated by a little farther distance, as
it reached the Blackheath Station. That harsh, rough sound, seeking me
out so inevitably, was the voice of the great world summoning me
forth. I know not whether I was the more pained or pleased to be thus
constantly put in mind of the neighborhood of London; for, on the one
hand, my conscience stung me a little for reading a book, or playing
with children in the grass, when there were so many better things for an
enlightened traveller to do, - while, at the same time, it gave a deeper
delight to my luxurious idleness, to contrast it with the turmoil which
I escaped. On the whole, however, I do not repent of a single wasted
hour, and only wish that I could have spent twice as many in the same
way; for the impression in my memory is, that I was as happy in that
hospitable garden as the English summer-day was long.

One chief condition of my enjoyment was the weather. Italy has nothing
like it, nor America. There never was such weather except in England,
where, in requital of a vast amount of horrible east-wind between
February and June, and a brown October and black November, and a wet,
chill, sunless winter, there are a few weeks of incomparable summer,
scattered through July and August, and the earlier portion of September,
small in quantity, but exquisite enough to atone for the whole year's
atmospherical delinquencies. After all, the prevalent sombreness may
have brought out those sunny intervals in such high relief, that I see
them, in my recollection, brighter than they really were: a little
light makes a glory for people who live habitually in a gray gloom. The
English, however, do not seem to know how enjoyable the momentary gleams
of their summer are; they call it broiling weather, and hurry to the
sea-side with red, perspiring faces, in a state of combustion and
deliquescence; and I have observed that even their cattle have similar
susceptibilities, seeking the deepest shade, or standing mid-leg deep in
pools and streams to cool themselves, at temperatures which our own cows
would deem little more than barely comfortable. To myself, after the
summer heats of my native land had somewhat effervesced out of my blood
and memory, it was the weather of Paradise itself. It might be a little
too warm; but it was that modest and inestimable superabundance which
constitutes a bounty of Providence, instead of just a niggardly enough.
During my first year in England, residing in perhaps the most ungenial
part of the kingdom, I could never be quite comfortable without a fire
on the hearth; in the second twelvemonth, beginning to get acclimatized,
I became sensible of an austere friendliness, shy, but sometimes almost
tender, in the veiled, shadowy, seldom smiling summer; and in the
succeeding years - whether that I had renewed my fibre with English beef
and replenished my blood with English ale, or whatever were the cause - I
grew content with winter and especially in love with summer, desiring
little more for happiness than merely to breathe and bask. At the
midsummer which we are now speaking of, I must needs confess the
noontide sun came down more fervently than I found altogether tolerable;
so that I was fain to shift my position with the shadow of the
shrubbery, making myself the movable index of a sun-dial that reckoned
up the hours of an almost interminable day.

For each day seemed endless, though never wearisome. As far as your
actual experience is concerned, the English summer-day has positively no
beginning and no end. When you awake, at any reasonable hour, the sun is
already shining through the curtains; you live through unnumbered hours
of Sabbath quietude, with a calm variety of incident softly etched upon
their tranquil lapse; and at length you become conscious that it is
bed-time again, while there is still enough daylight in the sky to make
the pages of your book distinctly legible. Night, if there be any such
season, hangs down a transparent veil through which the by-gone day
beholds its successor; or, if not quite true of the latitude of London,
it may be soberly affirmed of the more northern parts of the island,
that Tomorrow is born before Yesterday is dead. They exist together in
the golden twilight, where the decrepit old day dimly discerns the face
of the ominous infant; and you, though a mere mortal, may simultaneously
touch them both, with one finger of recollection and another of
prophecy. I cared not how long the day might be, nor how many of them.
I had earned this repose by a long course of irksome toil and
perturbation, and could have been content never to stray out of the
limits of that suburban villa and its garden. If I lacked anything
beyond, it would have satisfied me well enough to dream about it,
instead of struggling for its actual possession. At least, this was
the feeling of the moment; although the transitory, flitting, and
irresponsible character of my life there was perhaps the most enjoyable
element of all, as allowing me much of the comfort of house and home
without any sense of their weight upon my back. The nomadic life has
great advantages, if we can find tents ready pitched for us at every
stage.

So much for the interior of our abode, - a spot of deepest quiet, within
reach of the intensest activity. But, even when we stepped beyond our
own gate, we were not shocked with any immediate presence of the great
world. We were dwelling in one of those oases that have grown up (in
comparatively recent years, I believe) on the wide waste of Blackheath,
which otherwise offers a vast extent of unoccupied ground in singular
proximity to the metropolis. As a general thing, the proprietorship of
the soil seems to exist in everybody and nobody; but exclusive rights
have been obtained, here and there, chiefly by men whose daily concerns
link them with London, so that you find their villas or boxes standing
along village-streets which have often more of an American aspect than
the elder English settlements. The scene is semi-rural. Ornamental trees
overshadow the sidewalks, and grassy margins border the wheel-tracks.
The houses, to be sure, have certain points of difference from those
of an American village, bearing tokens of architectural design, though
seldom of individual taste; and, as far as possible, they stand aloof
from the street, and separated each from its neighbor by hedge or fence,
in accordance with the careful exclusiveness of the English character,
which impels the occupant, moreover, to cover the front of his dwelling
with as much concealment of shrubbery as his limits will allow. Through
the interstices, you catch glimpses of well-kept lawns, generally
ornamented with flowers, and with what the English call rock-work, being
heaps of ivy-grown stones and fossils, designed for romantic effect in
a small way. Two or three of such village-streets as are here described
take a collective name, - as, for instance, Blackheath Park, - and
constitute a kind of community of residents, with gate-ways, kept by
policemen, and a semi-privacy, stepping beyond which, you find yourself
on the breezy heath.

On this great, bare, dreary common I often went astray, as I afterwards
did on the Campagna of Rome, and drew the air (tainted with London smoke
though it might be) into my lungs by deep inspirations, with a strange
and unexpected sense of desert-freedom. The misty atmosphere helps you
to fancy a remoteness that perhaps does not quite exist. During the
little time that it lasts, the solitude is as impressive as that of a
Western prairie or forest; but soon the railway-shriek, a mile or two
away, insists upon informing you of your whereabout; or you recognize in
the distance some landmark that you may have known, - an insulated villa,
perhaps, with its garden-wall around it, or the rudimental street of a
new settlement which is sprouting on this otherwise barren soil. Half
a century ago, the most frequent token of man's beneficent contiguity
might have been a gibbet, and the creak, like a tavern-sign, of a
murderer swinging to and fro in irons. Blackheath, with its highwaymen
and footpads, was dangerous in those days; and even now, for aught I
know, the Western prairie may still compare favorably with it as a safe
region to go astray in. When I was acquainted with Blackheath, the
ingenious device of garroting had recently come into fashion; and I can
remember, while crossing those waste places at midnight, and hearing
footsteps behind me, to have been sensibly encouraged by also hearing,
not far off, the clinking hoof-tramp of one of the horse-patrols who do
regular duty there. About sunset, or a little later, was the time when
the broad and somewhat desolate peculiarity of the heath seemed to me
to put on its utmost impressiveness. At that hour, finding myself on
elevated ground, I once had a view of immense London, four or five miles
off, with the vast Dome in the midst, and the towers of the two Houses
of Parliament rising up into the smoky canopy, the thinner substance of
which obscured a mass of things, and hovered about the objects that were
most distinctly visible, - a glorious and sombre picture, dusky, awful,
but irresistibly attractive, like a young man's dream of the great
world, foretelling at that distance a grandeur never to be fully
realized.

While I lived in that neighborhood, the tents of two or three sets of
cricket-players were constantly pitched on Blackheath, and matches were
going forward that seemed to involve the honor and credit of communities
or counties, exciting an interest in everybody but myself, who cared not
what part of England might glorify itself at the expense of another. It
is necessary to be born an Englishman, I believe, in order to enjoy
this great national game; at any rate, as a spectacle for an outside
observer, I found it lazy, lingering, tedious, and utterly devoid of
pictorial effects. Choice of other amusements was at hand. Butts for
archery were established, and bows and arrows were to be let, at so
many shots for a penny, - there being abundance of space for a farther
flight-shot than any modern archer can lend to his shaft. Then there
was an absurd game of throwing a stick at crockery-ware, which I have
witnessed a hundred times, and personally engaged in once or twice,
without ever having the satisfaction to see a bit of broken crockery.
In other spots, you found donkeys for children to ride, and ponies of a
very meek and patient spirit, on which the Cockney pleasure-seekers of
both sexes rode races and made wonderful displays of horsemanship. By
way of refreshment there was gingerbread, (but, as a true patriot,
I must pronounce it greatly inferior to our native dainty,) and
ginger-beer, and probably stancher liquor among the booth-keeper's
hidden stores. The frequent railway-trains, as well as the numerous
steamers to Greenwich, have made the vacant portions of Blackheath a
play-ground and breathing-place for the Londoners, readily and very
cheaply accessible; so that, in view of this broader use and enjoyment,
I a little grudged the tracts that have been filched away, so to speak,
and individualized by thriving citizens. One sort of visitors especially
interested me: they were schools of little boys or girls, under the
guardianship of their instructors, - charity-schools, as I often surmised
from their aspect, collected among dark alleys and squalid courts; and
hither they were brought to spend a summer afternoon, these pale little
progeny of the sunless nooks of London, who had never known that the sky
was any broader than that narrow and vapory strip above their native
lane. I fancied that they took but a doubtful pleasure, being half
affrighted at the wide, empty space overhead and round about them,
finding the air too little medicated with smoke, soot, and graveyard
exhalations, to be breathed with comfort, and feeling shelterless and
lost because grimy London, their slatternly and disreputable mother, had
suffered them to stray out of her arms.

Passing among these holiday-people, we come to one of the gate-ways of
Greenwich Park, opening through an old brick wall. It admits us from the
bare heath into a scene of antique cultivation and woodland ornament,
traversed in all directions by avenues of trees, many of which bear
tokens of a venerable age. These broad and well-kept pathways rise and
decline over the elevations and along the bases of gentle hills which
diversify the whole surface of the Park. The loftiest and most abrupt of
them (though but of very moderate height) is one of the earth's noted
summits, and may hold up its head with Mont Blanc and Chimborazo, as
being the site of Greenwich Observatory, where, if all nations will
consent to say so, the longitude of our great globe begins. I used to


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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 11, No. 65, March, 1863 → online text (page 6 of 20)