Aunt Phillis's Cabin/Concluding Remarks
I must be allowed to quote the words of Mrs. Harriet B. Stowe:
"The writer has often been (or will be) inquired of by correspondents from different parts of the country, whether this narrative is a true one; and to these inquiries she will give one general answer. The separate incidents that compose the narrative are to a very great extent authentic, occurring, many of them, either under her own observation, or that of her personal friends. She or her friends have observed characters the counterpart of almost all that are here introduced; and many of the sayings are word for word as heard herself, or reported to her."
Of the planter Legree, (and, with the exception of Prof. Webster, such a wretch never darkened humanity,) she says:
"Of him her brother wrote, he actually made me feel of his fist, which was like a blacksmith's hammer or a nodule of iron, telling me that it was calloused with knocking down niggers."
Now as a parallel to this, I will state a fact communicated to me by a
clergyman, (a man of great talent, and goodness of character, and undoubted
veracity,) that a superintendent of Irishmen, who were engaged on a
Northern railroad, told him he did not hesitate to knock any man down that
gave him the least trouble; and although the clergyman did not "examine his
fist and pronounce it like a blacksmith's hammer," yet, I have not the
slightest doubt it was "calloused with knocking down Irishmen." At any
rate, I take the license of the writers of the day, and say it was.
Mrs. Stowe goes on to say, "That the tragical fate of Tom also has too many times had its parallel, there are living witnesses all over our land to testify." Now it would take the smallest portion of common sense to know that there is no witness, dead or living, who could testify to such a fact, save a false witness. This whole history is an absurdity. No master would be fool enough to sell the best hand on his estate; one who directed, and saved, and managed for him. No master would be brutish enough to sell the man who had nursed him and his children, who loved him like a son, even for urgent debt, had he another article of property in the wide world. But Mr. Shelby does so, according to Mrs. Stowe, though he has a great many other servants, besides houses and lands, &c. Preposterous!
And such a saint as Uncle Tom was, too! One would have thought his master, with the opinion he had of his religious qualifications, would have kept him until he died, and then have sold him bone after bone to the Roman Catholics. Why, every tooth in his head would have brought its price. St. Paul was nothing but a common man compared with him, for St. Paul had been wicked once; and even after his miraculous conversion, he felt that sin was still impelling him to do what he would not. But not so with Uncle Tom! He was the very perfection of a saint. Well might St. Clare have proposed using him for a family chaplain, or suggested to himself the idea of ascending to heaven by Tom's skirts. Mrs. Stowe should have carried out one of her ideas in his history, and have made him Bishop of Carthage. I have never heard or read of so perfect a character. All the saints and martyrs that ever came to unnatural deaths, could not show such an amount of excellence. I only wonder he managed to stay so long in this world of sin.
When, after fiery trials and persecutions, he is finally purchased by a Mr. Legree, Mrs. Stowe speaks of the horrors of the scene. She says though, "it can't be helped." Did it ever occur to her, that Northerners might go South, and buy a great many of these slaves, and manumit them? They do go South and buy them, but they keep them, and work them as slaves too. A great deal of this misery might be helped.
Tom arrives at Legree's plantation. How does he fare? Sleeps on a little foul, dirty straw, jammed in with a lot of others; has every night toward midnight enough corn to stay the stomach of one small chicken; and is thrown into a most dreadful state of society--men degraded, and women degraded. We will pass over scenes that a woman's pen should never describe, and observe the saint-like perfection of Tom. He was, or considered himself, a missionary to the negroes, evidently liked his sufferings, and died, by choice, a martyr's death. He made the most astonishing number of conversions in a short time, and of characters worse than history records. So low, so degraded, so lost were the men and women whose wicked hearts he subdued, that their conversion amounted to nothing less than miracles. No matter how low, how ignorant, how depraved, the very sight of Tom turned them into advanced, intelligent Christians.
Tom's lines were indeed cast in a sad place. I have always believed that the Creator was everywhere; but we are told of Legree's plantation "The Lord never visits these parts." This might account for the desperate wickedness of most of the characters, but how Tom could retain his holiness under the circumstances is a marvel to me. His religion, then, depended on himself. Assuredly he was more than a man!
Legree had several ways of keeping his servants in order--"they were burned alive; scalded, cut into inch pieces; set up for the dogs to tear, or hung up and whipped to death." Now I am convinced that Mrs. Stowe must have a credulous mind; and was imposed upon. She never could have conceived such things with all her talent; the very conception implies a refinement of cruelty. She gives, however, a mysterious description of a certain "place way out down by the quarters, where you can see a black blasted tree, and the ground all covered with black ashes." It is afterward intimated that this was the scene of a negro burned alive. Reader, you may depend, it was a mistake; that's just the way a tree appears when it has been struck by lightning. Next time you pass one, look at it. I have not the slightest doubt that this was the way the mistake was made. We have an occasional wag at the South, and some one has practised upon a soft-hearted New Englander in search of horrors; this is the result. She mentions that the ashes were black. Do not infer from this that it must have been a black man or negro. But I will no longer arraign your good sense. It was not, take my word for it, as Mrs. Stowe describes it, some poor negro "tied to a tree, with a slow fire lit under him."
Tom tells Legree "he'd as soon die as not." Indeed, he proposes whipping, starving, burning; saying, "it will only send him sooner where he wants to go." Tom evidently considers himself as too good for this world; and after making these proposals to his master, he is asked, "How are you?" He answers: "The Lord God has sent his angel, and shut the lion's mouth." Anybody can see that he is laboring under a hallucination, and fancies himself Daniel. Cassy, however, consoled him after the style of Job's friends, by telling him that his master was going "to hang like a dog at his throat, sucking his blood, bleeding away his life drop by drop."
In what an attitude, O Planters of the South, has Mrs. Stowe taken your likenesses!
Tom dies at last. How could such a man die? Oh! that he would live forever and convert all our Southern slaves. He did not need any supporting grace on his deathbed. Hear him--"The Lord may help me, or not help, but I'll hold on to him."
I thought a Christian could not hold on to the Lord without help. "Ye can of yourself do nothing." But Tom is an exception--to the last he is perfect. All Christians have been caught tripping sometimes, but Tom never is. He is "bearing everybody's burdens." He might run away, but he will not. He says, "The Lord has given me a work among these yer poor souls, and I'll stay with 'em, and bear my cross with 'em to the end." Christian reader, we must reflect. We know where to go for one instance of human perfection, where the human and the Divine were united, but we know not of another.
Tom converts Cassy, a most infamous creature from her own accounts, and we are to sympathize with her vileness, for she has no other traits of character described. Tom converts her, but I am sorry to see she steals money and goods, and fibs tremendously afterwards. We hope the rest of his converts did him more credit.
The poor fellow dies at last--converting two awful wretches with his expiring breath. The process of conversion was very short. "Oh! Lord, give me these two more souls, I pray." That prayer was answered.
The saddest part of this book would be, (if they were just,) the inferences to be drawn from the history of this wretch, Legree. Mrs. Stowe says, "He was rocked on the bosom of a mother, cradled with prayer and pious hymns, his now seared brow bedewed with the waters of baptism. In early childhood, a fair-haired woman had led him, at the sound of Sabbath bells, to worship and to pray. Far in New England that mother had trained her only son with long unwearied love and patient prayers." Believe it not, Christian mother, North or South! Thou hast the promises of Scripture to the contrary. Rock thy babe upon thy bosom--sing to him sweet hymns--carry him to the baptismal font--be unwearied in love--patient in prayers; he will never be such a one. He may wander, but he will come back; do thy duty by him, and God will not forget his promises. "He is not man that he will lie; nor the son of man that he will repent."
Legree is a Northerner. Time would fail me to notice all the crimes with which Southern men and women are charged; but their greatness and number precludes the possibility of their being believed. According to Mrs. Stowe, mothers do not love their beautiful children at the South. The husbands have to go to New England and bring back old maids to take care of them, and to see to their houses, which are going to rack and ruin under their wives' surveillance. Oh! these Southern husbands, a heart of stone must pity them.
Then again, Southern planters keep dogs and blood-hounds to hunt up negroes, tear women's faces, and commit all sorts of doggish atrocities. Now I have a charitable way of accounting for this. I am convinced, too, this is a misapprehension; and I'll tell you why.
I have a mortal fear of dogs myself. I always had. No reasoning, no scolding, ever had the slightest effect upon me. I never passed one on my way to church with my prayer-book in my hand, without quaking. If they wag their tails, I look around for aid. If they bark, I immediately give myself up for lost. I have died a thousand deaths from the mere accident of meeting dogs in the street. I never did meet one without believing that it was his destiny to give my children a step-mother. In point of fact, I would like to live in a world without dogs; but as I cannot accomplish this, I console myself by living in a house without one. I always expect my visitors to leave their dogs at home; they may bring their children, but they must not bring their dogs. I wish dogs would not even look in my basement windows as they pass.
I am convinced therefore, that some Northerner has passed a plantation at the South, and seen dogs tied up. Naturally having a horror of dogs, he has let his imagination loose. After a great deal of mental exercise, the brain jumps at a conclusion, "What are these dogs kept here for?" The answer is palpable: "To hunt niggers when they run away." Reader, imitate my charity; it is a rare virtue where white faces are concerned.
All the rest of Mrs. Stowe's horrors can be accounted for satisfactorily. It is much better to try and find an excuse for one's fellow-creatures than to be always calling them "story-tellers," and the like. I am determined to be charitable.
But still it is misrepresentation; for if they took proper means, they would find out the delusions under which they labor.
Abolitionists do not help their cause by misrepresentation. It will do well enough, in a book of romance, to describe infants torn from the arms of their shrieking mothers, and sold for five and ten dollars. It tells well, for the mass of readers are fond of horrors; but it is not true. It is on a par with the fact stated, that masters advertise their slaves, and offer rewards for them, dead or alive. How did the snows of New England ever give birth to such brilliant imaginations!
Family relations are generally respected; and when they are not, it is one of the evils attendant on an institution which God has permitted in all ages, for his inscrutable purposes, and which he may in his good time do away with.
The Jews ever turn their eyes and affections toward Jerusalem, as their home; so should the free colored people in America regard Liberia. Africa, once their mother country, should, in its turn, be the country of their adoption.
As regards the standard of talent among negroes, I fancy it has been exaggerated; though no one can, at present, form a just conclusion. Slavery has, for ages, pressed like a band of iron round the intellect of the colored man. Time must do its work to show what he is, without a like hindrance.
The instance mentioned in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," of a young mulatto, George Harris, inventing a machine, is very solitary. The negroes, like a good many of their owners, are opposed to innovations. They like the good old way. The hot sun under which they were born, and the hotter one that lighted the paths of their ancestors, prejudices them against any new effort. I think, when they do get in Congress, they will vote for agricultural against manufacturing interests. I am sure they would rather pick cotton than be confined to the din and dust of a factory. An old negro prefers to put his meal bags in a covered wagon, and drive them to market at his leisure, with his pocket full of the tobacco he helped to raise, and the whole country for a spit-box, to being whirled away bodily in a railroad car, in terror of his life, deaf with the whistling and the puffing of the engine. When Liberia or Africa does become a great nation, (Heaven grant it may soon,) they will require many other buildings there, before a patent office is called for.
George Harris is a natural Abolitionist, with a dark complexion. He is a remarkable youth in other respects, though I should first consider the enormous fact of George's master appropriating to himself the benefit of his servant's cleverness. Even with a show of right this may be a mean trick, but it is the way of the world. A large portion of New England men are at this time claiming each other's patents. I know of an instance down East, for Southerners can sometimes "tak notes, and prent 'em too." A gentleman took a friend to his room, and showed him an invention for which he was about to apply for a patent. The friend walked off with his hands in his pocket; his principles had met, and passed an appropriation bill; the invention had become his own--in plain English, he stole it. Washington is always full of people claiming each other's brains. The lawyers at the Patent Office have their hands full. They must keep wide awake, too. Each inventor, when he relates his grievances, brings a witness to maintain his claim. There is no doubt that, after a while, there will be those who can testify to the fact of having seen the idea as it passed through the inventor's mind. The way it is settled at present is this--whoever can pay the most for the best lawyer comes off triumphantly! Poor George is not the only smart fellow in the world outdone by somebody better off than himself.
George positively refuses to hear the Bible quoted. He believes in a higher law, no doubt, Frederic Douglas being editorial expounder; a sort of Moses of this century, a little less meek, though, than the one who instructed the Israelites. George won't hear the Bible; he prefers, he says, appealing to the Almighty himself. This makes me fear his Abolitionist friends are not doing right by him; putting him up to shooting, and turning Spanish gentleman, and all sorts of vagaries; to say nothing of disobeying the laws of the country. No one blames him, though, for escaping from a hard master; at least, I do not.
It would be a grand thing to stand on the shore of a new country, and see before you, free, every slave and prisoner on the soil of the earth; to hear their Te Deum ascend to the listening heavens. Methinks the sun would stand still, as it did of old, and earth would lift up her voice, and lead the song of her ransomed children; but, alas! this cannot be yet--the time is not come. Oppression wears her crown in every clime, though it is sometimes hidden from the gaze of her subjects.
George declares he knows more than his master; "he can read and write better;" but his logic is bad. He thus discusses the indications of Providence. A friend reminds him of what the apostle says, "Let every man abide in the condition in which he is called," and he immediately uses this simile: "I wonder, Mr. Wilson, if the Indians should come, and take you a prisoner, away from your wife and children, and want to keep you all your life hoeing corn for them, if you'd think it your duty to abide in that condition in which you were called. I rather think, that you'd think the first stray horse you could find an indication of Providence--shouldn't you?"
This does not apply to slavery. A man born a slave, in a country where slavery is allowed by law, should feel the obligation of doing his duty while a slave; but Mr. Wilson, carried off by Indians, would feel as if he had been called to a state of life previous to the one in which he was so unfortunate to be doomed, while he was among savages.
George goes on to say--"Let any man take care that tries to stop me, for I am desperate, and I'll fight for my liberty. You say your fathers did it: if it was right for them, it is right for me."
Too fast, George! You are out in your history, too. Your master must be a remarkably ignorant man if you know more than he. Our glorious ancestors were never condemned to slavery, they nor their fathers, by God himself. Neither have they ever been considered in the light of runaways; they came off with full permission, and having honestly and honorably attained their liberties, they fought for them.
Besides being of a prettier complexion, and coming of a better stock than you, they were prepared to be free. There is a great deal in that.
Then, those very ancestors of ours--ah! there's the rub--(and the ancestors of the Abolitionists, too,) they got us and you into this difficulty--think of it! They had your ancestors up there in New England, until they found you were so lazy, and died off so in their cold climate, that it did not pay to keep you. So I repeat to you the advice of Mr. Wilson, "Be careful, my boy; don't shoot anybody, George, unless--well--you'd better not shoot, I reckon; at least, I wouldn't hit anybody, you know."
As regards the practice of marking negroes in the hand, I look upon it as one of the imaginary horrors of the times--delusion like spiritual rappings, got up out of sheer timidity of disposition, though I have heard of burning old women for witches in New England, and placing a scarlet letter on the bosom of some unhappy one, who had already sorrow and sin enough to bear.
It won't do; the subject has, without doubt, been duly investigated already. I'd be willing (were I not opposed to betting) to bet my best collar and neck ribbon, that a committee of investigation has been appointed, consisting of twelve of Boston's primmest old maids, and they have been scouring the plantations of the South, bidding the negroes hold out their hands, (not as the poor souls will at first suppose, that they may be crossed with a piece of silver,) and that they are now returning, crest-fallen, to their native city, not having seen a branded hand in all their journeying. Could aught escape their vigilance? But they will say they saw a vast number, and that will answer the purpose.
(Ah! Washington Irving, well mayest thou sigh and look back at the ladies of the Golden Age. "These were the honest days, in which every woman stayed at home, read the Bible, and wore pockets." These days are for ever gone. Prophetic was thy lament! Now we may wear pockets--but, alas! we neither stay at home, nor read our Bible. We form societies to reform the world, and we write books on slavery!)
Talking of our ancestors, George, in the time of the Revolution, (by-the-by, yours were a set of dear, honest old creatures, for there were no Abolitionists then among us,) reminds me of an anecdote about George Washington and a favorite servant. Billy Lee was an honest, faithful man, and a first-rate groom, and George Washington--you need not blush to be a namesake of his, though he was a slaveholder.
The two were in a battle, the battle of Monmouth, the soldiers fighting like sixty, and Billy Lee looking on at a convenient distance, taking charge of a led horse, in case Washington's should be shot from under him.
O, but it was a hot day! Washington used to recall the thirst and the suffering attendant upon the heat, (thinking of the soldiers' suffering, and not of his own.) As for Billy Lee, if he did not breathe freely, he perspired enough so to make up for it. I warrant you he was anxious for the battle to be over, and the sun to go down. But there he stood, true as steel--honest, old patriot as he was--quieting the horse, and watching his noble master's form, as proud and erect it was seen here and there, directing the troops with that union of energy and calmness for which he was distinguished. Washington's horse fell under him, dying from excessive heat; but hear Billy Lee describe it:
"Lord! sir, if you could a seen it; de heat, and dust, and smoke. De cannons flyin, and de shot a whizzin, and de dust a blowing, and de horses' heels a kickin up, when all at onct master's horse fell under him. It warn't shot--bless your soul, no. It drapped right down dead wid de heat. Master he got up. I was scared when I see him and de horse go; but master got up. He warn't hurt; couldn't hurt him.
"Master he got up, looked round at me. 'Billy,' says he, 'give me the other horse, and you take care of the new saddle on this other poor fellow.'
"Did you ever hear de like?" added Billy Lee, "thinking of de saddle when de balls was a flyin most in our eyes. But it's always de same wid master. He thinks of every thing."
I agree with the humane jurist quoted by Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe: "The worst use you can put a man to is to hang him." She thinks slavery is worse still; but when "I think of every thing," I am forced to differ from her.
The most of our Southern slaves are happy, and kindly cared for; and for those who are not, there is hope for the better. But when a man is hung up by the neck until he is dead, he is done for. As far as I can see, there is nothing that can be suggested to better his condition.
I have no wish to uphold slavery. I would that every human being that God has made were free, were it in accordance with His will;--free bodily, free spiritually--"free indeed!"
Neither do I desire to deny the evils of slavery, any more than I would deny the evils of the factory system in England, or the factory and apprenticeship system in our own country. I only assert the necessity of the existence of slavery at present in our Southern States, and that, as a general thing, the slaves are comfortable and contented, and their owners humane and kind.
I have lived a great deal at the North--long enough to see acts of oppression and injustice there, which, were any one so inclined, might be wrought into a "living dramatic reality."
I knew a wealthy family. All the labor of the house was performed by a "poor relation," a young and delicate girl. I have known servants struck by their employers. At the South I have never seen a servant struck, though I know perfectly well such things are done here and everywhere. Can we judge of society by a few isolated incidents? If so, the learned professors of New England borrow money, and when they do not choose to pay, they murder their creditors, and cut them in pieces! or men kill their sleeping wives and children!
Infidelity has been called a magnificent lie! Mrs. Stowe's "living dramatic reality" is nothing more than an interesting falsehood; nor ought to be offered, as an equivalent for truth, the genius that pervades her pages; rather it is to be lamented that the rich gifts of God should be so misapplied.
Were the exertions of the Abolitionists successful, what would be the result? The soul sickens at the thought. Scenes of blood and horror--the desolation of our fair Southern States--the final destruction of the negroes in them. This would be the result of immediate emancipation here. What has it been elsewhere? Look at St. Domingo. A recent visitor there says, "Though opposed to slavery, I must acknowledge that in this instance the experiment has failed." He compares the negroes to "a wretched gibbering set, from their appearance and condition more nearly allied to beasts than to men." Look at the free colored people of the North and in Canada.
I have lived among them at the North, and can judge for myself. Their "friends" do not always obtain their affection or gratitude. A colored woman said to me, "I would rather work for any people than the Abolitionists. They expect us to do so much, and they say we ought to work cheaper for them because they are 'our friends.'" Look at them in Canada. An English gentleman who has for many years resided there, and who has recently visited Washington, told me that they were the most miserable, helpless human beings he had ever seen. In fact he said, "They were nuisances, and the people of Canada would be truly thankful to see them out of their country." He had never heard of "a good missionary" mentioned by Mrs. Stowe, "whom Christian charity has placed there as a shepherd to the outcast and wandering." He had seen no good results of emancipation. On one occasion he hired a colored man to drive him across the country. "How did you get here?" he said to the man. "Are you not a runaway?"
"Yes, sir," the man replied. "I came from Virginny."
"Well, of course you are a great deal happier now than when you were a slave?"
"No, sir; if I could get back to Virginny, I would be glad to go." He looked, too, as if he had never been worse off than at that time.
The fact is, liberty like money is a grand thing; but in order to be happy, we must know how to use it.
It cannot always be said of the fugitive slave,--
"The mortal puts on immortality,
The attentive reader will perceive that I am indebted to Mrs. Stowe for the application of this and other quotations.
The author of Uncle Tom's Cabin speaks of good men at the North, who "receive and educate the oppressed" (negroes). I know "lots" of good men there, but none good enough to befriend colored people. They seem to me to have an unconquerable antipathy to them. But Mrs. Stowe says, she educates them in her own family with her own children. I am glad to hear she feels and acts kindly toward them, and I wish others in her region of country would imitate her in this respect; but I would rather my children and negroes were educated at different schools, being utterly opposed to amalgamation, root and branch.
She asks the question, "What can any individual do?" Strange that any one should be at a loss in this working world of ours.
Christian men and women should find enough to occupy them in their families, and in an undoubted sphere of duty.
Let the people of the North take care of their own poor.
Let the people of the South take care of theirs.
Let each remember the great and awful day when they must render a final account to their Creator, their Redeemer, and their Judge.