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Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

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is your debtor. If I can weave the tale I have wrote into the work I
am about, 'tis at the service of the afflicted, and a much greater
matter ; for in serious truth it casts a sad shade upon the world,
that so great a part of it are, and have been, so long bound in chains
of darkness and in chains of misery ; and I cannot but both respect
and felicitate you, that by so much laudable diligence you have broke
the one, and that, by falling into the hands of so good and merciful
a family, Providence has rescued you from the other.
' And so, good-hearted Sancho, adieu ! and believe me I will not
forget your letter. Yours, L. STERNE.'


The history of Zhinga, the famous negro queen of Angola, on the
western coast of Africa, exhibits the power of negro character, even
when untutored and left half savage. She was born in 1582, a time
when the Portuguese were planting trading settlements on the African
coast, and making encroachments on the possessions of' the native


princes. When Zhingawas forty years of age, and while her brother
reigned over Angola, she was sent as ambassadress to Loanda, to
treat of peace with the Portuguese viceroy at that place. ' A palace
was prepared for her reception, and she was received with the honours
due to her rank. On entering the audience-chamber, she perceived
that a magnificent chair of state was prepared for the Portuguese
viceroy, while in front of it a rich carpet and velvet cushions, embroid-
ered with gold, were arranged on the floor for her use. The haughty
princess observed this in silent displeasure. She gave a signal with
her eyes, and immediately one of her women knelt on the carpet,
supporting her weight on her hands. Zhinga gravely seated her-
self on the woman's back, and awaited the entrance of the viceroy.
The spirit and dignity with which she fulfilled her mission excited the
admiration of the whole court. When an alliance was offered upon
the condition of an annual tribute to the king of Portugal, she proudly
refused it ; but finally concluded a treaty on the single condition of
restoring all the Portuguese prisoners. When the audience was ended,
the viceroy, as he conducted her from the roor% remarked that the
attendant on whose back she had been seated still remained in the
same posture. Zhinga replied : " It is not fit that the ambassadress
of a great king should be twice served with the same seat. I have
no farther use for the woman !'"*

During her stay at Loanda she embraced Christianity, or pre-
tended to embrace it ; was baptised, and in other respects conformed
to European customs. Shortly after her return to Angola, her brother
died, and she ascended the throne, making sure of it by strangling
her nephew. On her accession to the throne, she was involved in a war
with the Portuguese ; and, assisted by the Dutch, and by some native
chiefs, she carried on the contest with great vigour. At length, however,
the Portuguese were completely victorious, and as she refused the offer
which they made of re-establishing her on the throne, on condition
that she should pay an annual tribute, another sovereign was appointed,
and Zhinga was obliged to flee. Exasperated at this treatment, she
renounced Christianity, as being the religion of the Portuguese ;
and, placing herself at the head of a faithful band of negroes, she
harassed the Portuguese for eighteen years, demanding the restoration
of her kingdom, and listening to no other terms. At length, softened
by the influence of advancing age, and by the death of a sister to
whom she was much attached, she began to be haunted with feelings
of remorse on account of her apostasy from the Christian faith.
The captive Portuguese priests, whom she now treated with kindness
and respect, prevailed on her to declare herself again a convert.
She was then reinstated in her dominions, and distinguished herself
by her zeal in propagating her new religion among her pagan subjects,
not a few of whom were martyred for their obstinacy by her orders.

Mrs Child's Appeal.


Among other laws, she passed one prohibiting polygamy, till then
common in her kingdom ; and as this gave great offence, she set an
example to her subjects by marrying one of her courtiers, although
she was then in her seventy-sixth year. She also abolished the
custom of human sacrifices. She strictly observed her treaties with
the Portuguese ; and in 1657, one of her tributaries having violated
the terms of peace, she marched against him, and having defeated
him, cut off his head, and sent it to the Portuguese viceroy. Nothing,
however, not even the influence of the priests, could prevail on her
to become a vassal of the Portuguese king. One of her last acts was
to send an embassy to the pope, ' requesting more missionaries among
her people. The pontiff's answer was publicly read in church, where
Zhinga appeared with a numerous and brilliant train. At a festival
in honour of this occasion, she and the ladies of her court performed
a mimic battle in the dress and armour of Amazons. Though more
than eighty years old, this remarkable woman displayed as much
strength, agility, and skill, as she could have done at twenty-five.
She died in 1663, aged eighty-two. Arrayed in royal robes, orna-
mented with precious stones, with a bow and arrow in her hand, the
body was shewn to her sorrowing subjects. It was then, according
to her wish, clothed in the Capuchin habit, with crucifix and rosary.'


In the month of July 1844, twenty persons were executed together
at Havana, in Cuba, for having been concerned in a conspiracy
for giving liberty to the black population the slaves of the Spanish
inhabitants. One of these, and the leader of the revolt, was Gabriel
de la Concepcion Valdes, more commonly known by the name of
Placido, the Cuban poet. Little is known of this negro beyond a
few particulars contained in one or two brief newspaper notices,
which appeared shortly after his execution, announcing the fact in
this country. The Heraldo, a Madrid newspaper, in giving an
account of the execution, speaks of him as ' the celebrated poet
Placido ;' and says, ' this man was born with great natural genius,
and was beloved and appreciated by the most respectable young
men of Havana, who united to purchase his release from slavery.'
The Poems by a Cuban Slave, edited by Dr Madden some years ago,
are believed to have been the compositions of this gifted negro.
Placido appears to have burned with a desire to do something for
his race ; and hence he employed his talents not only in poetry, but
also in schemes for altering the political condition of Cuba. The
Spanish papers, as might be expected, accuse him of wild and
ambitious projects, and of desiring to excite an insurrection in Cuba
similar to the memorable negro insurrection in St Domingo fifty
years ago. Be that as it may, Placido was at the head of a con-
spiracy formed in Cuba in the beginning of 1844. The conspiracy


failed, and Placido, with a number of his companions, was seized
by the Spanish authorities. The following is the account given of
his execution in a letter from Havana, dated July 16, 1844, which
appeared in the Morning Herald newspaper : ' What dreadful scenes
have we not witnessed here these last few months ! what arrests and
frightful developments ! what condemnations and horrid deaths !
But the bloody drama seems approaching its close ; the curtain has
just fallen on the execution of the chief conspirator, Placido, who
met his fate with a heroic calmness that produced a universal
impression of regret. Nothing was positively known of the decision
of the council respecting him, till it was rumoured a few days since
that he would proceed, along with others, to the " chapel " for the
condemned. On the appointed day a great crowd was assembled,
and Placido was seen walking along with singular composure under
circumstances so gloomy, smoking a cigar, and saluting with grace-
ful ease his numerous acquaintances. Are you aware what the
punishment of the " chapel" means? It is worse a thousand times
than the death of which it is the precursor. The unfortunate crimi-
nals are conducted into a chapel hung with black, and dimly lighted.
Priests are there to chant in a sepulchral voice the service of the
dead ; and the coffins of the trembling victims are arrayed in cruel
relief before their eyes. Here they are kept for twenty-four hours,
and are then led out to execution. Can anything be more awful ?
And what a disgusting aggravation of the horror of the coming
death ! Placido emerged from the chapel cool and undismayed,
whilst the others were nearly or entirely overcome with the agonies
they had already undergone. The chief conspirator held a crucifix
in his hand, and recited in a loud voice a beautiful prayer in verse,
which thrilled upon the hearts of the attentive masses which lined
the road he passed. On arriving at the fatal spot, he sat down on a
bench with his back turned, as ordered, to the military, and rapid
preparations were made for his death. And now the dread hour had
arrived. At the last he arose, and said : " Adios, mundo ; no hay
piedad para mi. Soldados, fuego ! " (" Adieu, O world ; here is no
pity for me. Soldiers, fire ! "). Five balls entered his body. Amid
the murmurs of the horror-struck spectators, he got up and turned
his head upon the shrinking soldiers, his face wearing an expression
of superhuman courage. " Will no one have pity on me?" he said.
" Here," pointing to his heart " fire here." At that instant two balls
pierced his breast, and he fell dead whilst his words still echoed
in our ears. Thus has perished the great leader of the attempted

The following is a translation, by Maria Weston Chapman, of the
beautiful lines composed by Placido, as above narrated. ' They
were written in prison the night before his execution, and were
solemnly recited by him as he proceeded to the place of death, so
that the concluding stanza was uttered a few moments before he


expired.' The original is in Spanish ; but the following appears to
be a pleasing version.

' Being of infinite goodness ! God Almighty !
I hasten in mine agony to Thee !
Rending the hateful veil of calumny,
Stretch forth thine arm omnipotent in pity ;
Efface this ignominy from my brow,
Wherewith the world is fain to brand it now.

O King of kings ! Thou God of my forefathers !

My God ! Thou only my defence shalt be,

Who gav'st her riches to the shadowed sea ;
From whom the North her frosty treasure gathers

Of heavenly light and solar flame the giver,

Life to the leaves, and motion to the river.

Thou canst do all things. What thy will doth cherish,

Revives to being at thy sacred voice.

Without Thee all is naught, and at thy choice,
In fathomless eternity must perish.

Yet e'en that nothingness thy will obeyed,

When of its void humanity was made.

Merciful God ! I can deceive Thee never ;

Since, as through ether's bright transparency,

Eternal wisdom still my soul can see
Through every earthly lineament for ever.

Forbid it, then, that Innocence should stand

Humbled, while Slander claps her impious hand.

But if the lot thy sovereign power shall measure

Must be to perish as a wretch accursed,

And men shall trample over my cold dust
The corse outraging with malignant pleasure

Speak, and recall my being at thy nod !

Accomplish in me all thy will, my God ! '


While these notices may be of use in aiding the cause of the much
oppressed negro, they are in no respect designed to establish the
fact, that the white and dark races are upon the same native intel-
lectual level, and that education and other circumstances effect all
the difference which is observable between them. It would, we
believe, be imprudent, however philanthropic, to attempt to establish
this proposition, for it is inconsistent with truth, and can only tend to
obstruct our arrival at a less ambitious, but still friendly and hopeful


proposition respecting the negroes, which appears, both from their
organisation and external manifestations of character, to be the only
one that can be maintained that is, that, in the mass, they are at
present far behind the white races, but capable of being cultivated,
in the course of successive generations, up to the same point ; a
small advance in each generation being all that can be achieved in
the way of civilisation even among the white races, and being appa-
rently the law of social progress. The negro intellect is, we believe,
chiefly deficient in the reasoning powers and higher sentiments :
these, though doubtless present in some rudimental form, could no
more be called instantaneously into the same vigorous exercise in
which we find them .in Europe, than could the wild-apple, by
sudden transplantation to an orchard, be rendered into a pippin.
They would require, in the first place, a species of tender nursing, to
bring them into palpable existence. From infancy they would need
to be fondled into childhood, from childhood trained into youth, and
from youth cultivated into manhood. It is not a thin whitewash of
European knowledge which will at once alter the features of the
African mind. The work must be the work of ages, and those ages
must be judiciously employed.

There is no fact more illustrative of this hypothesis than the occa-
sional appearance of respectable intellect, and the frequency of good
dispositions, amongst the negroes. Such men as Jenkins and Can'
at once close the mouths of those who, from ignorance or something
vvorsej allege an absolute difference in specific character between the
two races, and justify the consignment of the black to a fate which
only proves the lingering barbarism of the white.


?VER since reading that most de-
lightful of Scott's romances, The
Pirate, I entertained a strong desire
to visit Shetland, which, however,
I had little expectation of being
permitted to see. By a fortunate
circumstance I made the acquaintanceship of a young gentleman from
that interesting country, during a winter which he spent in Edinburgh,
and was kindly invited to accompany him home on the ensuing
summer. Agreeing to his earnest entreaties to visit his native place,
we set out on our expedition in the month of June 1844, taking a
portion of the North Highlands in our route. The ordinary mode
of visiting Shetland is by a steam- vessel from Leith, which touches
at the principal ports in its voyage along the east coast of Scotland.
The last of its halting-places is Wick, in Caithness, whence it crosses
the Pentland Firth to Kirkwall, in Orkney, and there shoots off in a
north-easterly direction for Shetland. It is only, however, during the
summer months that a steamer plies to this distant land, which at
other seasons can be reached only by sailing-vessels. Having cal-
culated our time pretty accurately, my friend and I arrived in Wick
a few hours before the appearance of the steamer, and had scarcely
time to look about us ere it was necessary to go on board.

It was a charming morning towards the end of June, when our
60 *


vessel left the port and stood out to sea, bound for what was to me
an unknown land. The sea was beautifully green, the air mild, and
scarcely a breath of wind agitated the face of the deep. The coast
of Caithness on our left was bare and uninviting, and mostly level,
with high pastoral hills rising in the distance. In from two to three
hours after leaving Wick, our vessel was off John o' Groats, the
north-eastern extremity of Great Britain, and about to cross' the
Pentland Firth. This is the strait or arm of the sea betwixt the
mainland of Scotland and the Orkney Islands, extending about
twenty miles in length from east to west, by a breadth varying from
five and a half to eight miles. It is the most dangerous of the Scottish
seas, yet is the route necessary to be taken by all vessels of a large
size passing to and from the east coast of Scotland in communication
with the Atlantic the Caledonian Canal now allowing the passage
of vessels of moderate burden. The dangers of this dreaded gulf
arise from the conflict of the tides of the Atlantic and German
Oceans, and the impetuosity of various currents agitated by the
winds. It also is beset by whirlpools, one of which, near the island
of Stroma, is exceedingly dangerous. On the present occasion, the
sea was so tranquil that the smallest boat might have sailed along
the firth without any risk of injury ; and as we steamed across, we
perceived a number of small fishing-craft busily plying their labours.
The Orkney Isles lay straight before us, like so many rugged masses
crested on the horizon : bending a little to seaward, we soon had
them on our left, and passed at a respectful distance several bold
headlands and islands. That which lay nearest our course was
Copinsha, a small island, consisting of a huge pile of rocks, on
which sat such vast numbers of sea-birds, that the whole rocky
surface seemed to be covered with a living mass. The captain of
our vessel, to amuse his passengers, requested the mate to fire a
musket, and the noise produced the most extraordinary spectacle I
had ever beheld. Alarmed for their safety, the poor animals set up a
universal scream, which was prolonged for some minutes, almost
like the roar of thunder, while the whole atmosphere became filled
with birds darting in different directions, upwards and downwards,
and careering away in great clouds towards the northern boundary
of the horizon.

Our steamer now made a curvature to the west, and in an hour or
thereabouts entered Kirkwall Bay, and came to a pause in front of
the town. The time allowed for the vessel to remain was only an
hour and a half ; yet in this brief period I was able to pick up a
tolerable idea of the capital of the Orkneys. Kirkwall is a curious
old-fashioned-looking town, reminding me of the ancient and pic-
turesque towns of the Netherlands. It consists of little else than a
single narrow and irregular thoroughfare, with the gables of the
houses turned generally towards the street. Many of these houses
bear strong marks of old age, as the doors and windows are very


small, and the walls uncommonly thick. The apartments within
must accordingly be anything but light or cheerful. The town takes
its name from the great kirk or cathedral of St Magnus, a structure
of great antiquity, and remarkable as the only building of the kind
in Scotland, besides that of Glasgow, which survived the outbreak at
the Reformation. We went to see this celebrated edifice, which, with
the exception of the spire, partly destroyed, is in good condition,
and contains a number of interesting old monuments. Near the
cathedral stood the castle of Kirkwall, now a complete ruin, but a
place of great strength in the beginning of the seventeenth century,
when it was in the possession of the infamous Patrick Stewart, known
in these parts as ' Earl Pate.' This man deserves a passing notice,
if only for the purpose of shewing the state of affairs in Scotland two
hundred years ago. He was the son of Robert Stewart, natural son
of James V., who in 1581 was raised to be Earl of Orkney. Patrick,
who succeeded his father as earl, was a man of a haughty turn of
mind ; and being of a cruel disposition, he committed not only many
acts of rebellion, but of local oppression. Assuming the airs of a
petty king in his earldom, he kept a retinue of desperadoes to do his
bidding, and became the terror of the surrounding islands and seas.
Unable any longer to endure the insolence of Earl Pate, James VI.
despatched a strong force to dislodge and capture him ; and after
a desperate encounter, he was taken, brought to Edinburgh, tried,
condemned, and executed, vastly to the relief of the long-abused

There are some other antiquities worth seeing in Kirkwall ; but
our allowance of time was elapsed, and we were compelled to hurry
on board without paying them a visit. I was glad to observe that
even this remote town has been latterly improved by the erection
of new houses, and that it is an industrious and thriving little port.
Its principal communication is with Leith and Edinburgh, from
which it is distant 352 miles.*

* Stromness, the only other town and port of any consequence in Orkney, is situated on
the west side of the mainland, and from it is supplied a considerable number of the sailors
engaged in whaling expeditions. ' The English and Scotch whalers arrive about March
at Stromness. Their tonnage amounts to from three to four hundred tons ; and their com-
plement of men is usually about fifty, of whom about twenty are regular sailors. The
Orkneymen, who acquire from childhood great skill and intrepidity in the management
of boats on their stormy and dangerous seas, are usually employed almost exclusively in
the boat-service. But it is remarked of them, that, being habituated to the constant vicinity
of coasts and harbours, they are apt to fail both in perseverance and courage when exposed
to the perils of distant cruises in open boats ; so seldom is the human mind prepared for
circumstances to which it is unaccustomed, exhibiting either the rashness of inexperience,
or the confusion of ungrounded apprehension. The Orkneymen being unpractised in the
management of vessels, are very unskilful in that branch of nautical duty. The number
of natives who went from Stromness on this service in the present year was seven hundred,
a number far inferior to that formerly employed, amounting sometimes to one thousand.
The English are said to have offered themselves lately more readily, and to have pro-
portionally displaced the natives of the northern isles. The vessels return from the fisheries
about harvest-time. They are now daily expected, and their arrival is dreaded at Stromness,
the inhabitants being prevented walking' in the streets by day, as well as by night, by the
tumultuous revels in which the Orkneymen indulge for some time after their return. Their



Our steamer, again on its way, soon cleared the islands in the
Orkney group, and began to cross the sound which separates
them from Shetland. This sound is fifty miles broad, and is
clear of any islands except Foula and Fair Isle, which lie half-
way between Orkney and Shetland.* In an hour after passing Fair
Isle, the bold promontory of the mainland of Shetland came into
view. The extreme point of this elevated peninsula is one of the
most terrific things in marine scenery. On the east is the precipitous
front called Sumburgh Head, and on the west is the lofty crag
named the Fitful Head, against which the rolling waves of the
Atlantic, aggravated by the contrary pressure from the German
Ocean, are continually lashing and raging in unmitigable fury. As
we approached the beetling cliff of Sumburgh, which rises four
hundred feet above the boiling ocean beneath, our view became
unfortunately intercepted by the mists of evening, which crept over
the scene, shrouding everything in their bosom. This was doubly
unfortunate, for it caused our captain to slacken his speed, and
detained us at sea till early next morning. We had, however, some
agreeable companions on board ; and as the accommodations were
good, we passed the night without feeling that we had much to
lament in our detention. Being now in the 6oth degree of north
latitude, daylight could scarcely be said to have left us during the
nighty and at two o'clock in the morning, albeit the mist still hung
about us, we could see as clearly as we can do in London at about
any hour in a November day. At six, the fog, to our delight, broke
up, drawing itself away to seaward; and as it rose like a curtain
from the land, we had before us, at the distance of two or three miles,
the inlet called Bressay Sound, at the head of which was Lerwick,
the place of our destination. In half an hour we were landed at
a little quay in this the most remote town in the British Islands, and
in a few minutes more lodged under the hospitable roof of Mr ,

conduct has, however, improved in all respects of late years, especially in their attendance
at church, which was formerly entirely neglected by those people. The young minister
of Strpmness assured me that he had lately seen as many as a hundred of them present
at divine service ; and he confidently attributed the change to the practice, now observed
at the Straits, of hoisting a flag on board some of the vessels on Sunday, for the purpose

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 40 of 58)