Littell's Living Age/Volume 128/Issue 1649/Dutch Guiana - Part I
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Volume 128, Issue 1649 : Dutch Guiana
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CHAPTER I. 
- “When creeping carefully along the beach
- The mouth of a green river did they reach,
- Cleaving the sands, and on the yellow bar
- The salt waves and the fresh waves were at war.”
“‘TIS known, at least it should be,” that Surinam, geographically indicated by the easterly slice of Guiana placed between our own South-American possessions on the one side and French Cayenne on the other, is up to the present day under Dutch rule; while Demerara, or, to speak more correctly, the broad British territory that includes in one the three provinces of Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo, was, till a comparatively recent period, Dutch also. Now I had often heard it affirmed that the immense superstructure of prosperity raised by British energy on the shores of Demerara owed its oft-tried solidity, if not in whole, at least in no inconsiderable part, to the well-devised foundation work bequeathed us as a parting legacy by our Batavian predecessors. Our form of administration is Dutch, so said my informants, our local institutions Dutch, our seawalls are Dutch, our canals, our sluices, the entire system of irrigation and drainage from which the land derives its unparalleled fertility and we our wealth, all are Dutch; we have made English use of these things, no doubt, and the merit of that use is ours; but the merit of the things themselves is not all our own, it belongs rather to those who first created them and gave them to the land.
How far might this be true? Colonial success amid the many failures recorded and yet recording in these very regions must be, every one will admit, a phenomenon, the sources of which would be well worth discovery; and here before me was an instance ready to hand, and a cause assigned. Why not investigate its correctness? There was time at disposal, and from Georgetown to Paramaribo is no great distance. Besides, I had already received assurance of a hearty welcome from his Excellency Van Sypesteyn, the representative of Dutch majesty in Surinam; and an invitation of the sort, when combined with that chiefest of all factors in life’s calculations, neighbourhood, made the present occasion doubly favourable. So I readily determined to follow up my Demeraran visit by another to a region which, while in natural respects hardly differing for good or evil from British Guiana, had all along remained under Batavian mastership; and where consequently the original institutions of our own acquired colony might be conveniently studied unmodified, or nearly so, by foreign influences and change of rule.
From Georgetown eastward, an excellent carriage-road runs parallel to the coast, though at some distance from it inland; the drive is a pleasant one, traversing a varied succession of large estates and populous villages, interrupted here and there by patches of marsh and wood, till the journey ends on the western bank of a full-flowing river, the Berbice; beyond which lies the small town of the same name, not far from the Anglo-Batavian frontier. Here official kindness had arranged for my further progress, by putting at my disposal the trim little revenue schooner “Gazelle,” that now lay at anchor off the lower town-wharf, waiting to take me for a cruise of a hundred and fifty miles; such being the distance interposed between the harbour of Berbice and the mouth of the Surinam River, where rises the capital of Dutch Guiana.
A sailing-craft, however small, if in good trim, clean, possessed of a comfortable cabin, and under a steady beam-wind, all which advantages were combined in the present instance, is a welcome change from the inevitable smoke, crowding, noise, oily smell, and ceaseless roll of the largest and finest steamer ever propelled by engine. In the present instance, the crew of the “Gazelle” was to a man composed of creole, that is, colonial-born, negroes; indeed the pilot’s memory reached back to the time when the terms negro and slave were identical in his own person, as in the majority of his Guiana brethren. Civil, cheerful, and obliging, as the descendants of Ham, despite of their ill-conditioned father’s bad example, usually are, they were also, what for a voyage like this amid sand-banks and shoals was of more importance, good seamen, and the captain in charge a good navigator, though a black one.
“I would rather by any amount have a black crew than a white one under my orders,” is a remark which I have heard made by many and many a West-Indian sea-captain, lamenting over the insubordination, drunkenness, and other offences of his men. And in fact negroes, like their half-cousins the Arabs, have naturally in themselves the making of excellent seamen, active, handy, and daring, besides being far more amenable to the restraints of discipline, and less so to the seductions of the brandy or rum bottle, than the average material of which white crews are nowadays formed. And should our own strangely scattered and disunited West-Indian possessions ever realize among themselves the ideal “cluster of small states,” the not unreasonable hope of other statesmen besides the romantic descendant of the Contarinis, such a confederacy might even more easily recruit her indispensable navy than her less necessary standing army from among the black creoles of her own islands and coasts.
A brisk wind was blowing, and the white cloud-drift scudding before the Atlantic trade-wind over the pale blue vault had in it something more akin to a Mediterranean than to a tropical sky, as we weighed anchor, and taking advantage of the seaward ebb, cleared out of the narrow channel alongside of the low bush-grown shoal that lies athwart the Berbice mouth, and bears, in common with countless other small islets and rocks of these latitudes, the name of Crab Island. The crab here in question is not the dainty crustacean of our seas, but the hideous land-crab, known to the students of Roderick Random and Tom Cringle; a monster that may be eaten by such, and such only, as are stomach-proof against the unpleasant associations of burial-grounds and carrion. Soon the tall, formal, semi-Batavian houses of Berbice, and its yet taller market-tower, or look-out, — for every town hereabouts has within its circle one of these at least, to serve for a beacon to the seafarer, and a watch-place whence notice can be given in case of fire or any other sudden danger threatening the townsmen themselves, — had disappeared from our view behind river-bend and forest; and by noon we were afloat on the open sea.
The open, but “not the blue;” much less the typical “black water” of the deep Atlantic. From the Orinoco to the Amazon the aqueous fringe of the South-American coast is a shallow, muddy, brackish, ochrey sort of composition, which overspreads an almost imperceptible downward slope of alluvial deposit, that reaches out seaward for ten, fifteen, twenty, or even more miles, and bears witness to the prodigious volumes of water poured unceasingly, with little difference of month or season, by the countless rivers of the great southern continent into the ocean beyond. As we slowly make our way up along the coast, tacking and re-tacking against the unvarying trade-breeze, broad gaps in the monotonous line of low brown forest, the shore horizon on our left, successively indicated the mouth of one or other of these great streams, many among which, nor those by any means the largest, equal or exceed the Severn and the Garonne in length of course and copiousness of flow. Of the latter in particular a further intimation was given by the tossing of our ship where the strong river current, felt far out at sea, crossed and thwarted the regular succession of waves as they rolled slowly on from the open Atlantic, and roughened them into whitening breakers.
From the outlet of the Corentyn, that acts as boundary between British and Dutch Guiana, to the mouth of the Surinam River itself, hardly anything beside these wide gaps in the forest margin, and the corresponding breaker patches out at sea, occurs to vary the monotony of yellow waves and level forest-line, that by its utter sameness wearies the eye and depresses the spirits of the voyager.
“What a contrast,” may that same voyager not improbably say to himself, “is the Dutch shore to the coast of British Guiana!” There the view by sea or land is not particularly picturesque, to be sure; but, to make up for the want of beauty, we have the prospect scarce less pleasurable to the mind, if not to the eye, of a close succession of tall chimneys, each with its flaunting smoke-pennon, along the whole length of the southern horizon from Berbice to the Pomeroon, or near it, proclaiming an almost continuous cultivation, and the triumphs of the industry that has transformed a “lonely mud-bank, once productive of nothing but alligators, snakes, and mosquitoes,” into a thriving, populous, wealth-coining colony. Here, on the contrary, not a chimney, not a construction of any sort, overtops the impenetrable mangrove growth of the shore; scarcely, and at distant intervals, does an irregular wreath of blue vapour, curling above the forest, tell its tale of clearing and habitition. Whence the traveller may, if so minded, deduce the further conclusion of the inferiority of the Batavian race to the British, of Dutch colonization to English, etc., etc., etc., Q.E.D.
But this conclusion, like many others drawn at first sight, would break down on closer inspection of the premises; and, first of all, because the two coasts, however much like each other when seen from five or six miles’ distance out to sea, are in reality very unlike; so much so indeed that neither for praise nor blame can any correct comparison be made between them. For throughout the whole, or very nearly the whole, breadth of British Guiana, a wide swamp district, lower itself than the average sea-level, and in consequence very difficult if not impossible to drain, cuts off the available land-strip of the coast itself from the firm but distant high lands of the interior, and by so doing confines the choicest sugar-producing tracts of the colony to the immediate vicinity of the shore, where they are all arranged side by side in a long, but narrow strip, hemmed in between the ocean to the north and the almost equally unmanageable morass on the south. In Dutch Guiana, on the contrary, a rise, slight but sufficient, of the continental level, has thrust forward the swamp region from the interior down to the very shore, where it forms a barrier behind which the sugar lands and estates ensconce themselves with no particular background, untill perhaps the worthy Brazilians condescend to define their frontier, which as yet they seem in no hurry to do, and thus remain for the most part out of sight of the seafarer, though not out of easy reach of river communication.
This invisibility from the sea and those who go down to their business in the great waters was by no means an adverse circumstance; on the contrary, it was a very desirable one to the old Dutch settlers throughout the seventeenth and even during the eighteenth century. For those were days when many a gallant Captain Morgan, Captain French, or Captain Cutthroat whatever, would hail his men on the look-out, as their piratical bark hugged the coast on her way to the golden plunder of the Spanish Main, ready enough to shorten sail and let down the boats, had any tempting indication of hoarded Batavian wealth, whether in produce or in coin, appeared within the limits of a long-shore raid. But the case was different so long as the dense bush-barrier defended what it concealed; and the river estuaries, however frequent and wide, afforded no better prospect to the would-be plunderers than that of a difficult and perhaps distant navigation up stream, far from their comrades in the ships at sea, with the additional probabilities of meeting with a fort or two on the way to bar their passage. And thus, throughout the worst days of piratic menace, the hoards of Dutch Guiana remained, with one exception to be mentioned hereafter, unpillaged, chiefly because unseen; while the more patent treasures of the Frenchman and the Spaniard were harried to enrich the coffers, or decorate the Pollys and Betsys, of these lawless heroes of the Caribbean deeps.
The age of pirates and buccaneers is past, and even from regular naval invasion a West-Indian colony, under the present circumstances of warfare, has little to fear. But independently of the mischief-makers, whom of old times it brought on its waves, the sea of this coast is itself a troublesome and occasionally a dangerous neighbour to the planter and his labours. Whether it is that the north-eastern side of this great continent is in very truth slowly sinking, as runs the ominous verdict of not a few grave scientific judges or whether, as I found to be the prevalent opinion among the long-shore men themselves, some secular deflection of winds and currents yearly brings a heavier volume of water to war against the unprotected low-lying land, I know not; but this much is certain, that the sea encroaches more and more, and that every equinoctial spring-tide, in particular, is signalled by a wider and more perilous invasion of the watery enemy, and bears his usurpations ever farther over forest and plain.
Whatever the cause, aqueous or terrene, its effects are only too certain; and a woeful example was soon before our eyes, when, after not many hours’ cruise, we anchored off the little town, or, to speak more truly, remnant of a town, called Nikerie. The name is, I believe, like most of the names hereabouts, Indian, the meaning of course unknown. The district, which is also denominated Nikerie, lies immediately to the east of the Corentyn River, and is thus the nearest of all to the British territory. It contains at the present day, as official returns tell us, nine estates, comprising between them 2,832 acres of cultivated soil. The number was formerly greater, but no portion of the colony suffered so much from the emancipation crisis, and the other causes of discouragement and depression, from which wealthier and more favoured colonies are only now beginning to recover, and that slowly.
The estates, mostly cane or cocoa, are all situated at some distance inland up the river, safely sheltered behind the tangled mangrove fringe. Where goods have to be shipped, remoteness from the seacoast is of course an inconvenience; yet with this the colonists long preferred to put up rather than deviate from their traditionary rule. But when, at the opening of the present century, the British lion, jealous lest so choice a morsel as Dutch Guiana should fall into the jaws of the ravenous French republic and still more ravenous empire, temporarily extended a protective paw over these regions, a new order of things prevailed for a time, and an unwonted self-confidence took in more than one instance the place of prudential caution. Under these novel auspices the seemingly eligible site of the Nikerie River mouth was not likely to be passed over, and soon a flourishing little town, with streets, shops, stores, churches, public buildings, and the rest, arose and dilated itself on the western point, to the great advantage of commerce, and for awhile bravely held its own.
But wisdom was before long justified of her Batavian children; and the failure of the foreign experiment — a woeful failure — is now almost complete. It was afternoon when we made the port; as we cautiously threaded our way between sand-bank and shoal, before coming to anchor, we passed a broad triangular space of shallow water, lashed into seething waves by wind and current, where, a few feet under the surface, lies what was once the busy area of populous streets. Meanwhile the breakers, not content with the mischief already done, continue ceaselessly tearing away the adjoining land bit by bit. Right in front, a large house, left an empty shell without doors or window-frames by its fugitive inhabitants, is on the point of sinking and disappearing among the waters that unopposed wash to and fro through the ground-floor. Close by the victorious sea has invaded the gardens of the neighbouring dwellings, and will evidently soon take possession of the buildings themselves; their basement-work is rotten with the salt spray. Farther on, a few isolated fragments of what was once a carefully-constructed sea-dam rise like black specks among the yeasty waters; and the new earth-wall built to protect what yet remains of Nikerie has a desponding make-shift look, as if aware that it will not have long to wait for its turn of demolition. Within its circuit a large, handsome, and solidly-built church, now perilously near the water’s edge; a commodious court-house, where the magistrate of the district presides; a few private dwelling-houses, and three or four grog-shops — stand ranged like the Maclachlans and Wilsons of the famous Solway martyr-roll, resignedly awaiting the steady advance of the tide. The wind was high, and the roar of the waves, as they burst impatiently on the dwindling remnant of what was once the Nikerie promontory, sounded in the dusky evening air like a knell of doom.
There are many sad sights in this sad world, but few give the beholder so dreary a feeling of helpless melancholy as does a town in the act and process of being washed away by the sea. The forces are so unequal, the destruction so wasteful and so complete. Fortunately at Nikerie, however, except for the loss, such as it is, of some acres of sand-bank, and as much building-material as the inhabitants do not think it worth their while to carry away, no great harm is being done. Already the situation of a new emporium for the sugar and other produce of the estates has been marked out farther up the river, and the rise of the level ground, which is here more rapid than to the west along the Demerara coast, will insure it, with the adjoining cultivated land, from any serious risk of Neptunian invasion, for several years to come. Meanwhile the spectacle now presented by Nikerie is undoubtedly a depressing one to the imagination, if not to the mind; and I was glad to learn that it was the only one of its kind on the Surinam coast.
Here first I heard negroes speaking Dutch; and I have no doubt that they murdered it as ruthlessly as they do the queen’s English or the republic’s French elsewhere. But I will not detain my readers with a minute account of the ways and fashions of the inhabitants in this Nikerie district, as we shall have the opportunity of studying Dutch Guiana life in all its aspects, black, white, or coloured, to better advantage farther on. This, however, need not hinder our availing ourselves in the mean time, where convenient, of the information copiously supplied by his Excellency Van Sypesteyn, who was in youth the talented historian, as now in middle age he is the active and intelligent governor, of Dutch Guiana. From official documents it appears that the number of sugar-factories in the district of Nikerie is five, all of them worked by steam, and giving an annual result of five or six thousand hogsheads of sugar, besides sixty thousand gallons of molasses, and about as many puncheons of rum; to which must be added nearly fourteen thousand pounds’ weight of coffee, and three hundred thousand of cocoa; from all which data, we may safely conclude that the 2,832 acres of its reclaimed land are neither unfruitful nor badly cultivated. Yet the total number of inhabitants only reaches 2,346, more than six hundred of whom are coolie or Chinese emigrants, the remainder are negroes; here as elsewhere under-population is the great stumbling-block in the way of progress.
It is pitiful to think that out of the ten thousand and more acres, all excellent land, conceded by the Dutch government to the occupation of the Nikerie proprietors, hardly more than a fourth has been, as the preceding numbers show, brought into actual use. Yet it is neither the climate nor the soil that is here in fault. How often, not in Nikerie and the remaining districts of Surinam, but in St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Trinidad, in almost all these western Edens, nay, even in flourishing Demerara itself, has the image of little unpicturesque Barbadoes, unpromising in show, unfavoured by nature, yet thriving, prosperous, overstocked, and therefore only prosperous because overstocked, recurred to my mind! Improved machinery, coolies, Chinese, are all of them excellent things each in their way, but they cannot make up for the absence of that one great requisite of all progress, material or social, a superabundant native population. But how is it to be obtained for our own three-quarters-empty islands? How for Guiana? How for Surinam? Many answers have been given, and more may be given yet; but a wholly satisfactory one is yet to seek. We will try our luck at the solution of this problem farther on.
And how our trim little craft is once more on the open sea, bounding from wave to wave as she cleaves her onward way to the east. Sand-banks and mud-banks covered with scarcely more than a fathom-depth of water, kept us out at a considerable distance from the coast; but had we been nearer we should have had little to study except a dull uniform growth of mangrove and parwa trees; the latter not unlike our poplars in shape and foliage. Behind this woody screen lies the district of Coronie, almost the only quarter of Dutch Guiana where cotton, once a favourite speculation, especially about the time of the late American war, is now grown. So far as soil and climate are concerned, there is no assignable reason why it should not be more widely planted; but agriculture and commerce have their vagaries, often not less capricious than those of fashion and dress.
Coronie left behind us, a rougher sea than any we have yet encountered gives us notice that we are passing the joint estuary of the Coppename and Saramacca Rivers, each the main artery of fertile and comparatively-speaking populous regions to the south.
Not far inland by the banks of the Coppename, though shut out from our sight by the forest screen, is a settlement bearing the name of Batavia; and composed exclusively, exception made, I trust, of the government inspector and the doctor, of lepers. A hundred and fifty in number, they employ themselves in field labour; have cottages and gardens of their own, and as the disease is painless, or nearly so, they live on not unhappily their death in life. The motive for keeping them thus apart from every one else is, of course, the idea that their malady is contagious; an idea wide-spread, it is true, but unsupported by scientific testimony; and probably due to the horror and disgust excited by the sight of so loathsome a disorder. Salt fish, the old established slave-diet throughout the West Indies, is not improbably responsible in many cases, if not most, for the disease; though not contagious and hardly even infectious, it is certainly hereditary. Improved diet, and above all fresh articles of food, put a limit to its ravages, and give hopes that with proper precautions it may ultimately disappear.
For my part I am not sorry to miss seeing Batavia, but I must regret the invisibility of Groningen, where, near the mouth of the Saramacca, a colony of European labourers has been established for several years past. It is one of the many attempts made at various times to supplement negro by European field-work; and has, like the German and Irish colonies of Jamaica, and the Portuguese of St. Kitt’s, proved a failure in the main; though its inevitable non-success as a farm has to a certain extent been compensated by the gardeners and artisans whom it has supplied to the capital. Something of the same kind has, I believe, taken place elsewhere. Field labour and outdoor life are things, early or late, irreconcilable with European vigour, health, and even existence, in the tropical new world. Nor are they needed there. Of all which also more anon.
A night and a day have passed since we quitted the melancholy relics of Nikerie, and we are yet tossing on the turbid waves several miles from land. This grows monotonous, and great was my delight when on the second evening of our voyage, just as the brief twilight deepened into night, we at last sighted, though still at some distance, the dull gleam of the lightship, anchored several miles out to sea, off the mouth of the Surinam River. Cautiously, for the shoals are many and the current strong, we made for the signs of harbour, known even through the general gloom to our pilot and crew, till about midnight we anchored in smooth water just within the entry of the mighty stream, here over three miles in width, and took shelter behind a long, low, mangrove-covered land-spit running out from the east.
A wan crescent moon hung dimly over the black forest-line, and gleamed on the smooth seaward-flowing water where we lay at anchor, waiting the rise of the tide that would not take place till after daybreak. Not a sign of human habitation, not a sound of beast or bird; only the 1ow roar of the breakers outside the bar, and the ceaseless flapping of the idle rudder against the sternpost. The air was mild; and no fear of marsh miasma deterred the crew from taking their rest where they lay, each prone on his face along the deck. That negroes always sleep face downwards is a fact long since observed by Tom Cringle, or rather Michael Scott of Jamaican celebrity; whether his further conjecture that this accounts for the flatness of their noses be correct, let Darwin decide. Night dews, so much and so justly dreaded in many parts of the East Indies, seem to be of little account in these Indies of the West; this, to venture a guess of my own in turn, may perhaps be owing to the much lesser degree of variation here occurring between the diurnal and nocturnal temperature. So we waited while our boat’s prow pointed steadily up stream, in a weird solitude that looked as if it were the world’s outer frontier land, and the great river the portal to mysterious and unexplored regions beyond.
Morning broke at last. The tide turned, and flowed in, while a fresh breeze, with a sprinkling of light showers on its wings, blew from the east, as we hoisted sail for the port of our destination. Very soon it became evident, from the objects around us, that the drear loneliness we had just left behind extended no farther than the immediate margin of the shore, and that we were in reality entering on a region of industry, prosperity, and life.
What a relief was the change after two days’ uniformity of turbid water, with nothing but mangrove-grown mud-banks for a horizon! With breeze and tide in our favour, we now went briskly on, while, bend after bend, the river unfolded to our gaze the treasures that lined its banks, more varied and more abundant at every turn. Joyfully I welcomed first one, then two, then several tall factory-chimneys, each flaunting on the air its long grey smoke-pennon, silvered in the level sunbeams; then appeared glimpses of clustered roofs and brick walls through the tall trees planted beside them; boiling-houses, distilleries, overseers’ dwellings; and, not far removed from each group, rose the tall gabled roof of the Dutch-built residence for manager or proprietor, half-screened amid the shades of its garden grove. Under a bright sun, mixed up with glittering foliage, overtopped by graceful palms, and canopied by the most dazzling of skies, even roofs and chimneys combine with the beauty around them, and become part of it in their turn. Or else it was a long row of cottages, evidently pattern-built, that announced the presence of coolies, Indian or Chinese, and implied the prosperity of those who could afford to employ such; while the less regular rooflines scattered amid the thick garden bushes told of creole or Surinam-born negro labour. Or roofs .and sheds, but without the accompaniment of factory and chimney, just visible among the boughs of what the inexperienced eye might take for a natural-grown forest, marked the cocoa estate, scarcely less lucrative in Surinam than the cane-field; or perhaps it is a wide green expanse of plantain leaves — colossal plantains these — or the belfry of a Moravian schoolhouse, that shows over the bank; canoes, too — some mere hollowed tree-trunks, some of larger construction — covered barges, six-oared pleasure-boats, sloops with shoulder-of-mutton sails, become more and more frequent.
So we sailed on, and before long came on one of the grandest sights that nature affords, the junction of two mighty rivers. For here, at a distance of some eight or nine miles from the sea, the Surinam and the Commeweyne Rivers meet together; the former from the south, the latter from the east. It was on their united waters that we had sailed thus far. The Surinam, which has, like the Demerara, given its name to an entire region, is navigable by vessels drawing ten feet of water for a distance of about one hundred miles up stream; higher yet, rocks and rapids permit only canoes to pass. Its sources lie hid among the forests of the equatorial mountain land that forms the watershed of the valley of the Amazon, four or five degrees farther still to the south; its breadth for the last forty miles, before junction with the Commeweyne, averages above half a mile, its depth from thirty to sixty feet. It is the main artery of the colony, which indeed was for many years limited to the immediate neighbourhood of its banks. The Commeweyne, of shorter course, but here, at the junction point, little if at all inferior in breadth and depth to the Surinam itself, runs on an inland parallel with the eastern coast for a distance of some forty miles; farther up a number of smaller rivers — the Cottica, the Perica, and others — deep, though narrow streams, unite their waters to form the main trunk.
On the point which divides the two great rivers, a Hindoo ruler of the good old times, and before the unkind interference of a low-caste government had, Paul-like, commanded widows rather to marry than to burn, would doubtless have erected a graceful temple, and consecrated the spot to the decorous performance of suttee. Dutch governors, a more practical style of men, utilized the spot by erecting on it the fortress of New Amsterdam. Its first stone was laid in 1734, shortly after the plundering exploits of Cassard and the French squadron; its object was evidently the protection of the capital from any repetitions of the like visits in future. But though Paramaribo, and New Amsterdam too, have since that date twice received French, twice English masters within their walls, it has so happened that the fort guns have never had occasion to pour forth any more deadly fire than that of a signal or a salute; treaties having in later times subjected the colony to those changes that hard fighting brought about in former days. However, the position of New Amsterdam is well chosen, the works strong; and should any future age raise up against the Dutch colonies a new Cassard, he would find in the batteries enough, and more than enough, to render a buccaneering excursion up to Paramaribo by no means so easy a business as of yore.
We saluted the national flag, and passing close under a very respectable battery, exchanged a few words of amicable Dutch with a subaltern, who, at the sight of our government pennon, had hastened down for inquiry to the water’s edge. Exempted by his courtesy — a courtesy I have never found wanting in any of his Batavian comrades — from the delays of an inspectorial visit, we continued our course due south, up the Surinam River; but the breeze had died away, and it was near noon when, after about eight miles of slow progress between banks and scenes much like those already described, but with a continually increasing denseness of estates and cultivation on either side, we approached the capital. Gardens, too, small dwelling-houses, and crowded cottages rose thicker and thicker into view, a tall Flemish-looking tower glittered in the sun, and at last, rounding an abrupt fort-crowned promontory on the left river-bank, we cast anchor opposite the river quay and town-hall of Paramaribo.
CHAPTER II 
- “In the afternoon they came unto a land
- In which it seemed always afternoon.”
IT was not afternoon, in fact it was forenoon, and the sun, though mounted high, had not yet throned himself in his meridian tower, when, accompanied by those who had come to meet and welcome my arrival, I mounted a red brick flight of steps, leading from the water’s edge tip to the raised quay, and found myself on the threshold of the capital of Dutch Surinam. Yet there was something in the atmosphere that can only be described as post-meridian; an influence extending over everything around, town and people alike; nor post-meridian only, but distinctly lotophagous, befitting the lotus-eating capital of a lotus-eating land, very calm and still, yet very comfortable and desirable withal.
For what regards the material atmosphere, its heavy warmth even at so early an hour as ten or eleven of the morning need excite no surprise. Paramaribo stands on the South-American map at little more than five and a half degrees north of the equator, and the equator here crosses the immense breadth of the moist plains, brimming river-meshes, and dense forests, that constitute nine-tenths of the Guianas and Brazil. Fifteen miles at least, in a straight line, removed from the nearest coast, and cut off from the very limited sea-breeze of the tropics by intervening belts of plantation and thick wood the air of Paramaribo is not that of wind-swept Barbadoes, or dry Antigua, but that of the moistest among all equatorial continents; and may best be likened to the air of an orchid-house at Kew and that of a Turkish bath combined. Not, be it well understood, a dry-heated pseudo-Turkish bath of the European kind, but a genuine hammam of Damascus or Constantinople. In such an atmosphere Ulysses himself and his crew must, after a very short stay, have betaken themselves, in company with the natives, to lotus-eating; it is a duty imposed by the climate, and there are many less agreeable duties in the world elsewhere.
Not that the climate is unhealthy; quite the reverse. That tall, large-made, elderly European gentleman, in a light grey suit, who, parasol in hand, grandly saunters by, evidently does so not from any want of vigour either in mind or limb, but because a sauntering step is more congenial to the place than a brisk one. Those sleek, stout, comfortable, glossy negroes loitering in sun or shade appear, and are in fact equal, did the occasion require it, to any exertion of which human muscle is capable: they are doing nothing in particular, because nothing in particular is just now the proper thing to do. The town itself, its tall houses, its wide streets, its gardens, its squares, its shady avenues, its lofty watch-tower, its tree-embosomed palace, its shrub-embosomed cottages — each and every particular of the scene, animate or inanimate, is stamped with the same character. “Take life easy,” seems the lesson they all alike inculcate; and the lesson is a popular one, soon learnt and steadily practised on every hand.
But appearances, however real for what regards the surface of which they are part, may yet he very deceptive, if reasoned from unconditionally to what exists beneath them; and a town that numbers more than twenty-two thousand inhabitants, itself the capital of the colony that yearly exports to the average value of a million sterling, cannot he wholly peopled by dreamy lotus-eaters, delicious lotus-eaters only; nor can the sole occupation of the dwellers in city or field be lotus-eating, either physical or moral.
The solid and underlying fact of Paramaribo is that amid this atmosphere, and on this segment of the great Guiana delta, have planted themselves and taken root, no longer exotic but indigenous, the same Dutch industry, Dutch perseverance; and Dutch good sense, that of old turned the sandy swamps of the Batavian delta into a flower-garden, and erected the Venice of the north on the storm-swept shores of the Zuider-Zee. Surinam, rightly understood, is only Holland under another sky; Paramaribo is Amsterdam by other waters; the colouring and toning of the picture may indeed be equatorial creole, but the lines and grouping are those of the Netherlands school and no other.
This it is that gives to Paramaribo its two-fold character, at once European and tropical, Dutch and creole; a blending of opposites, a dual uniformity, an aspect that when first beheld leaves on the mind an impression bordering on unreality, as if place and people were imaged in a hot picturesque dream. Yet Paramaribo is no dream, nor its inhabitants dream shapes; very much the contrary. In fact no capital town throughout the West Indies, no offspring of European stem, French, English, Danish, or even Spanish, so genuinely, so truthfully represents the colony to which it belongs as Dutch Paramaribo. Contrary examples are easily adduced. Thus, for instance, Jamaica is pre-eminently the land of English country gentlemen, of magistrates, landlords, farmers; in tone, ways, and life, it is an English country district; while Demerara is in no small measure an English, or rather, I should say, a Scotch manufacturing district; Barbadoes an English parish (Little Pedlington its satirists, of whom I beg to state that I am not one, would call it), magnified into an island. But neither Jamaica, nor Demerara, nor Barbadoes, possesses a correct epitome of itself in Kingston, Georgetown, or even Bridgetown; each of these three seaports has a character of its own, distinct from, and in some respects opposed to, the colony at large. This is due to many causes; and most of all to the “mixed multitude” of trade, the camp-followers of enterprise, who, under whatever banner they congregate, acknowledge in heart and life no flag but that of individual self-interest. These are they who muster strongest in the generality of colonial towns, especially seaports; and tinge, if they do not absolutely colour, the places of their resort. And thus from the merest port of call along these shores, where the condottieri element is at its maximum, to Georgetown, where it is decidedly at its minimum, a something of a restless, makeshift, egoistic, “cheap-jack” admixture obscures, or at least jars with the public-spirited nationality, unsettles the population, debases the buildings, ungroups the unity, and deforms the beauty of place and site.
With Paramaribo it is otherwise. The broad straight streets, flanked with spacious and lofty houses, shaded by carefully-planted avenues, adorned with public buildings that Scheveningen or the Hague need not blush to own, and trim almost as the waysides of Brock; the governor’s residence, a miniature palace for elegance of style and stately appearance; the spacious masonic lodge, “Concordia,” where a grand orient himself — I speak as a profane, and if the term be incorrect apologize — might hold his assembly; the seemly synagogues, Dutch the one, Portuguese the other, the decorous if somewhat heavy-built churches, Reformed and Lutheran, the lighter-constructed but more spacious establishments, Moravian and Catholic, the lofty town-hall with its loftier tower, that from a hundred and twenty feet of height looks down over fort and river, the court-house hard by, the noble military hospital, with its wide verandahs, open staircases, and cool halls, the strong-built fort and barracks, the theatre, the club-house, the many other buildings of public use and ornament, all these are Dutch in appearance and character; all expressive of the eleven provinces, though chiefly of Zealand and the steady purpose of her sons. The well-planned and carefully-kept canals that intersect the town in every direction, the neat bridges, the broad river-side quays, the trim gardens, the decent cemeteries, the entire order and disposition of the place, tell the same tale; witness to the same founders; reflect the same image, true to its original on the north seacoast; all tell of settled order and tasteful method.
The site was well chosen. The Surinam, here a tidal river of nearly a mile broad, flows past a slightly raised plateau of sand and gravel mixed with “caddy,” a compound of finely broken fragments of shell and coral, extending for some distance along the left or west bank. The general elevation of the ground is about sixteen feet above low-water level, enough to insure it from being overflowed in the rainy seasons, or by the highest tides. Several streams, improved by Dutch industry into canals, intersect this level; one of them connects the waters of the Surinam with those of the Saramacca farther west; all are tidal in their ebb and flow. Drainage is thus rendered easy; and now that the low bush and scrub, the natural growth of every South-American soil, however light, has been cleared away, the citizens of Paramaribo may securely boast that throughout the entire extent of Guiana, from the Orinoco to the Amazon, no healthier town than theirs is to be found.
This healthiness is, however, in great measure due to their own exertions; and above all to the good sense that presided over the construction of the town. When the true founder of town and colony alike, Cornelius van Aerssen, lord of Sommelsdyk, and the fifth governor of Dutch Guiana, landed on these shores in 1683, Paramaribo, so he wrote, consisted of only “twenty-seven dwellings, more than half of which were grog-shops,” and close to it the Fort of Zeelandia, so named after its builders, the intrepid Zeelanders, who had already repelled more than one Indian or English assault from its walls. But under the vigorous administration of Sommelsdyk the rapidly rising prosperity of the colony was reflected in the town itself, that henceforth grew and prospered year by year. Its records describe it in 1750 as already covering one-half of its present extent; and in 1790 the number of houses within its circuit exceeded a thousand; till about the beginning of the present century, the addition of the extensive suburb of “Combe,” on the north side, brought it up to its actual limits. Then followed a long and dreary period of colonial depression, general indeed throughout the West Indies, but nowhere, Jamaica perhaps excepted, greater than in Suninam; where the uncertainty consequent .on a reiterated change of masters, French, English, and Dutch, helped to depreciate the already declining value of estates and produce in this part of the world. Misfortunes never come singly; and while the colony at large suffered, Paramaribo in particular, ravaged by two severe conflagrations, the one in 1821, and the other in 1832, presented a melancholy spectacle of unrepaired ruins, and abandoned suburbs. Between 1840 and 1860 things were at their worst, both for colony and capital. Then came the turn; the shock of emancipation passed, its benefits remained, town and country alike revived together; houses were rebuilt; suburbs re-populated; and of her past wounds the Paramaribo of our day now scarcely shows a scar. The number of her inhabitants, reckoned at barely sixteen thousand in 1854, at present exceeds twenty-two thousand; thus showing an increase of six thousand in the course of the last twenty years only.
“A goodly city is this Antium;” but during the hot hours of the day, that is, from eight or at latest nine in the morning till pretty near sunset, I would not willingly incur the responsibility of sending a friend or even an enemy, unless he happened to be a mortal one, on a sight-seeing stroll through the streets of Paramaribo. Carriages or riding-horses there are few to be found in the town, and none at all for hire; negro carts are plenty, to be sure, and negro mules too, but the former, independently of other considerations, are jolting conveyances, the latter a hard-mouthed, stiff-necked generation; and neither adapted to the furtherance of European locomotion, whether on pleasure or business. As to walking-exercise under this equatorial sun, it might possibly be an agreeable recreation for a salamander, but hardly for any other creature. It is true that shade may be found even in the hottest hours of perpendicular noon; and when the sun has fairly beaten you, as he will in less than five minutes, from the field, you may take refuge, if you choose, under the broad-leaved, glistening, umbrella-like almond-trees, so called from a superficial resemblance between the kernels of their fruit and those of the almond, but neither in foliage nor growth having the most distant likeness to the European tree of that name, which Dutch forethought has kindly planted all along the river quay. There, in company with any number of ragged black loungers, you may improve your leisure by watching the great barges as they float leisurely along the tide, bearing their neatly protected loads of sugar, cocoa, or other plantation produce for the cargo-ships, that wait off the town “stellings,” or wharfs, patiently moored day by day, with so little bustle or movement of life about them, that you wonder whether their crews have not all by common consent abandoned them, and gone off to join a lotus-eating majority on shore. Or if you are driven to seek refuge while wandering through the interior of the town, the great broad streets, all mathematically straight, will offer you the shelter of their noble avenues, where tamarind, mahogany, sand-box, or other leafy trees, planted with Batavian regularity, cast down a long black streak of shade on the glaring whiteness of the highway; or you may rest, if so inclined, beside some well in one of the many rectangular spaces left open for the sake of air or ornament, here and there in the very heart of the town, like squares in London, but without the soot.
One such green oasis contains half-hidden amid its trees the handsome Portuguese synagogue, of recent construction; another the Dutch, less showy but more substantial, as befits the old standing and wealth of the worshippers within its walls, and the memory of Samuel Cohen Nassy, its talented founder, the Surinam Joshua of his tribe when they camped, two centuries ago, on the banks of their newly-acquired Jordan. A third “square” — I use the inappropriate word for want of a better in our own language; but the French place or Arab meidan would more correctly express the thing — boasts the presence of the Dutch Reformed church (the building, I mean), a model of heavy propriety, suggestive of pew-openers and the Hundredth Psalm, Old Tune; while a fourth has in its enclosure the flimsy, showy construction that does appropriate duty for the gaudy rites of Rome. A fifth has for its centre-piece the Lutheran place of worship; a sixth, the Moravian; and so forth. But whatever be the gods within, the surroundings of every temple are of a kind in which Mr. Tylor could legitimately discern something of a “survival” of tree-worship and the “groves” of old — a sensible survival in these sun-lorded equatorial regions. Select, then, your city of refuge where you will; but except it be by chance some stray black policeman, whom an unusual and utterly heroic sense of duty keeps awake and on his beat, or a few dust-sprinkled ebony children, too young as yet to appreciate the impropriety of being up and alive at this hour — you yourself, and the ungainly Johnny-crows that here, as at Kingston, do an acknowledged share of the street-cleaning business, will be the only animal specimens discernible among this profusion of vegetable life. For these shade-spots, with all their cool, are delusive in their promise — they are mere islets plunged amid an overwhelming ocean of light and heat; and flesh, however solid, though protected by them from actual combustion in the furnace around, must soon thaw and resolve itself into a dew under the influence of the reflected glare.
Better take example, as indeed it is the traveller’s wisdom to do in any latitude, whether tropical or arctic, from the natives of the land, and like them retire, after a substantial one-o’clock breakfast, luncheon, or dinner — since any of these three designations may be fairly applied to the meal in question — to an easy undress and quiet slumber till four or later have chappit in the afternoon. Indoors you will find it cool enough. The house-walls, though of wood, at least throughout the upper stories, are solidly constructed, and are further protected from the heat by any amount of verandahs outside, which, in true Dutch taste, are not rarely dissembled under the architectural appearance of porticos. The house-roofs are highly pitched, and an airy attic intervenes between them and the habitation below; the windows, too, are well furnished with jalousies and shutters, and the bedrooms are most often up two flights of stairs, occasionally three. If, under circumstances like these, you cannot keep cool, especially when you have nothing else on earth to do, you have only yourself, not the climate, to blame. Such at any rate is the opinion, confirmed by practice, of the colonists universally, European or creole, white or coloured; and as they have, in fact, been up and at work each in his particular line of business ever since earliest dawn, it would be hard to grudge them their stated and, for the matter of that, well-earned afternoon nap. Merchants, tradesmen, accountants, proprietors, bankers, and the like, thus disposed of, his Dutch Majesty’s officials, civil, military, or naval (for a small frigate is always stationed at Paramaribo, ready at the colonial governor’s behests), may, I think, sleep securely calm when all around are sleeping; nay, even the watchmen — and they are many in these gates of keen, energetic Israel —
have retired to their tents in the universal post-meridian trance. As to the eighteen or nineteen thousand negroes of the town, it would he superfluous to say that, no special persuasion or inducement of local custom is needed to induce them to sleep either at this or any other hour of the day.
Follow then the leader, or rather the whole band. If, however, you still prefer to prove yourself a stranger by using your eyes for sight-seeing at a time when every genuine Paramariban has closed his for sleep, the open parade-ground will afford you while crossing it an excellent opportunity for experimental appreciation of the intensity of the solar rays, lat. 5º 40m. north. This done, you may, or rather you certainly will, take speedy refuge under the noble overarching tamarind alley that leads up from the parade-ground to the front of Government House, and passing through the cool and lofty hall of the building, left open, West-India fashion, to every corner, make your way into the garden, or rather park, that lies behind. It is probable that the peccaries, tapirs, monkeys, deer, and the other animal beauties or monstrosities, collected the most of them by his Excellency, the present governor, and domiciled in ample wire enclosures between the flower-beds, will, in their quality of natives, be fast asleep; and if the quaint, noisy, screaming birds, the tamed representatives of Guiana ornithology, collected here, are asleep also, you may admire their plumage without needing to regret the muteness of their “most sweet voices.” But the humming-birds and butterflies are wide awake, and, unalarmed your approach, will continue to busy themselves among flowers such as Van Elst himself never painted, nor Spenser sang. Here is a crimson passion-flower, there a pink-streaked lily; golden clusters hang from one plant, spikes of dazzling blue rise from another; — the humming-birds themselves are only distinguishable from them, as they dart through, by the metallic lustre, not by the vividness or variety of their colours. As to the butterflies, who is the greatest admirer of the race? Let him see the butterflies of Surinam, and — die! Beyond this, the flower-garden merges in the park — a Guiana park of Guiana trees. Their names and qualities it is easy to look out in books, or recapitulate from memory; but how to describe them as they are? Mr. Ruskin says that the tree-designer begins by finding his work difficult, and ends by finding it impossible; and I say the same of tree-describer, at any rate here. And yet, luxuriant as in the Government House garden, I am not sure if any of its beauties charmed me so much as the exquisite betel-nut avenue, each palm averaging fifty feet in height, and each equally perfect in form and colour, that adorns the central space enclosed by the spacious buildings of the public hospital at the farther end of the town. Leave all these, if you can, and — which will be better still — enter instead the cool vaulted brick hall, of genuine Dutch burgher build, that serves partly as an entry to the public law offices and courts, partly as a depository for whatever colonial records have escaped the destructive fires of ‘21 and ‘32. Hence you may mount, but leisurely, in compassion for your guide if not for yourself, the central tower, till you reach the lantern-like construction that at a height of a hundred feet crowns the summit of the town hall. There stand, and look down far and wide over the most fertile plain that ever alluvial deposit formed in the new world, or the old either. On every side extends a green tree-grown level as far as the eye can reach, its surface just high enough raised above water-mark to escape becoming a swamp, yet nowhere too high for easy irrigation; capriciously marked at frequent intervals by shining silver dashes, that indicate sometimes the winding of rivers broad and deep, sometimes the more regular lines of canals, of creeks, and of all the innumerable waterways which in this region supply the want of roads, and give access to every district by that lies between the northern sea and the equatorial watershed, far beyond the limits of European enterprise, all too narrow as yet. Long years must pass before the children of Surinam have cause to complain that the “place is too strait for them” — long before the cultivation that now forms an emerald ring of exceptional brightness round the city, and reaches out in radiating lines and interrupted patches along the courses of the giant rivers, has filled up the entire land circle visible from the tower of Paramaribo alone.
The day has declined from heat to heat, and at last the tall trees begin to intercept the slant sun-rays; when, behold! with one consent, Paramaribo, high and low, awakes, shakes itself, puts on its clothes, ragged or gay, and comes out to open air and life. The chief place of resort is, of Course, the parade-ground, the where, according to established custom, a Dutch or creole military band performs twice a week; and where, in the absence of musical attractions, cool air, pleasant walks, free views, and the neighbourhood of the river, draw crowds of loungers, especially of the middle and even upper classes. But in truth, for a couple of hours, or near it, every road, every street, is full of comers and goers, and loud with talk and laughter. For the negro element, a noisy one, predominates over all, even within the capital itself; the Dutch, though rulers of the land, are few, and other Europeans fewer still. Indeed, a late census gave the total number of whites in the town, the soldiers of the fort included, but little over a thousand. As to Indians, the pure-blooded ones of their kind have long since abandoned the neighbourhood of Paramaribo, and now seldom revisit the locality to which two centuries past they gave a name; a few half-breeds, with broad oval faces and straight black hair, alone represent the race. Bush negroes, in genuine African nudity, may be seen in plenty from the river wharfs; but they seldom leave their floating houses and barges to venture on shore, though common sense has for some time past relaxed the prudish regulations of former times, according to which no unbreeked male or unpetticoated female was permitted to shock the decorum of Paramaribo promenades. Coolies and Chinese, too, though now tolerably numerous on the estates — where, indeed, about five thousand of them are employed — are rarely to be met with in the streets of the captal; which in this respect offers a remarkable contrast to Georgetown and Port of Spain, where the mild Hindoo meets you at every turning with that ineffable air of mixed self-importance and servility that a Hindoo alone can assume, and Chinamen and women make day hideous with the preternatural ugliness of what flattery alone can term their features. The absence of these beauties here may be explained partly by the recentness of their introduction into the Dutch colony, where they are still bound by their first indentures to field-work, and consequently unable as yet to display their shop-keeping talents; partly by the number and activity of the negro creole population which has preoccupied every city berth. Of all strangers, only the irrepressible Barbadian, with the insular characteristics of his kind fresh about him, has made good his footing among the Surinam grog-shops and wharfs, where he asserts the position due to his ready-handed energy, and keeps it too. But the diversity between the Barbadoes negro and his kinsman of the neighbouring islands, or of the main, is one rather of expression and voice than of clothes and general bearing, and hence may readily pass unnoticed in the general aspect of a crowd.
However diversified the species, the genus is one. Watch the throng as it passes: the kerchief-turbaned, loose-garmented market-woman; the ragged porter and yet more ragged boatman; the gardener with his cartful of yams, bananas, sweet potatoes, and so forth; the white-clad shop clerk and writer, the straw-hatted salesman, the umbrella-bearing merchant, sailors, soldiers; policemen quaintly dressed, as policemen are by prescriptive right everywhere, except in sensible, practical Demerara; officials, aides-de-camp, high and low, rich and poor, one with another, and you will see that through and above this variety of dress, occupation, rank, colour even, there runs a certain uniformity of character — a something in which all participate, from first to last. A few exceptions, indeed, there are; but they are confined almost exclusively to the white colonists; and among them, even, the anomalies are few. In general, one pattern comprehends the entire category of white colonists, men and women, gentle and simple; and it is an eminently self-contained, self-consistent pattern, the Dutch. Steady in business, methodical in habit, economical in expenditure, liberal in outlay, hospitable in entertainment, cheerful without flightiness, kindly without affectation, serious without dulness, no one acquainted, even moderately, with the mother country, can fail to recognize the genuine type of the Hague in the colonial official, and that of Maestricht or Amsterdam in the business population of Paramaribo. This indeed might have been fairly anticipated; the steady, unimpressionable Dutchman being less subject to — what shall we call it ? — equatorization, than the soon-demoralized Spaniard or lighter Portuguese. It is a matter of more surprise, an agreeable surprise, when we find much that recalls to mind the Dutch peasantry and labouring classes, distinctly traceable among the corresponding classes of creole negroes throughout the delta of Surinam. By what influence is it — attraction, sympathy, or master-ship — that some nations so eminently succeed in transforming the acquired subjects of whatever race into copies, and occasionally caricatures, of themselves, while other nations not less signally fail in doing so? That Frenchmen, however much they may annoy those they annex by their incurable habit of administrative over-meddling, yet make, not always indeed obedient subjects of France, but anyhow Frenchmen and Frenchwomen out of those they rule, is a fact attested everywhere, and one that will long remain to grieve German hearts in Alsace and Lorraine. How long ago is it since the tricolor has been hauled down to make place for the union-jack at St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Dominica, and Trinidad? Yet in each of these and their kindred isles the French impress still survives, uneffaced as yet by change and time. Much in the same way to run through the list of other national annexations or conquests: Brazil is not merely ruled by a Portuguese emperor, but is Portuguese itself; and even the revolted Spanish colonies are Spanish in almost everything but official allegiance to this day. On the contrary, who ever heard of a land Germanized by the Germans, however influential their settlers, and absolute their rule? And is there the remotest prospect that the Hindoo, though reconciled by sheer self-interest to toleration of the most equitable rule that ever race exercised over race, will ever become not merely an English subject, but an Englishman in ways and heart? Still more complete has been the failure of Danish attempts at extra-national assimilation, in whatever land or age, from the days of Æthelred to our own. But, indeed, where there is diversity of blood, mistrust and antipathy are more easily accounted for than sympathy and unison. To return to our Dutch friends. How it may he with them elsewhere, in Java for instance, I know not; here, on the Guiana coast, they have almost outdone the French in assimilative results; a problem of which the solution must be sought, partly in history, partly in actual observation. Our best opportunity for the latter will be when visiting the country districts farther up the river, among the estates.
Meanwhile let us linger yet a little in Paramaribo itself; and here among the European townsmen, their visitor will find everywhere, so he be one that deserves to find, a pleasant uniformity of unostentatious but cordial welcome, of liberal entertainment, of thoughtful and rational hospitality, attentive to the physical, and not neglectful of the mental requirements of the guest; whatever, in a word, he would meet with, though under a different aspect, on the shores of the Yssel or the Waal. Indeed he might even have some difficulty in remembering, when endeavouring to recall to mind the events of his stay in the Surinam capital, at which citizen’s house in particular he passed that pleasant evening, at whose table he shared that copious meal, breakfast, dinner, or supper; where it was that he admired the fine old china and massive plate; under which roof the hostess smiled most courteously, the host conversed with most good-nature and good sense. After all, “Si vis ut redameris, ama” holds good in every age and land; and if the Dutch colonists and creoles of Surinam are universally popular, it is because they have been at the pains of earning popularity, which, like other good things, has its price, and is worth it too.
Much the same, proportion and circumstances taken into account, may be said of the black creoles of Dutch Guiana. The evils and degradation inseparable from slavery were not, it is true, wanting here, but in spite of these unfavourable antecedents the Surinam negro has amply proved by his conduct, both before and during emancipation, that he had learnt from his white masters lessons of steadiness, of order, of self-respect, of quiet industry, of kindliness even, not indeed alien from his own native character, but too often unpractised elsewhere. And thus the ex-slave has, with a rapidity of change to which, I believe, no parallel can be found in the history of any other West-Indian colony, blended into national, and even, within certain limits, into social, unison with his masters; a unison so little impaired by the inevitable, however involuntary rivalry consequent on differences, some artificial indeed but some immanent, of caste and race, as to afford the best hopes for the future of the entire colony. It is remarkable that even the terrible servile wars, which lasted with hardly an interruption for sixty entire years, that is from 1715 to 1775, and not only checked the prosperity, but even more than once menaced the very existence of the colony, should have passed and left behind them no trace, however slight, of hostile feeling or memory among the negro population, whether slave or free; that no outbreak, like those of Jamaica,. St. Croix, and so many other neighbouring colonies, here followed or anticipated emancipation, though delayed in Surinam till 1863; and more remarkable yet, that no discontent interfered with the compulsory though paid labour of the ten years following. Slavery quietly faded into apprenticeship, apprenticeship into freedom; and in a land where riot and revolt would have a better chance than anywhere else of success, that chance was never embodied in act. Facts like these speak certainly well for the creole blacks, but if attentively considered, they speak even better in favour of their white masters. Our present business is, however, not with these last, but with the negro creoles, as they show themselves in the capital, where they muster five or six to one among the entire population. Cheerful contentment is, the prevailing expression of every dusky face, whether turned towards you in friendly morning greeting as the busy swarm presses on talking, laughing, jesting, along the highways to the market and quay; or in the afternoon gatherings on the parade-ground, under the avenues, and alongside of the river-banks. You watch, and soon cease to wonder that the official statistics of Paramaribo, while enumerating and classifying its twenty-two thousand inhabitants, make no distinctive headings of colour or race. I wish many another West-Indian town could with equal good reason permit themselves a like omission.
Glossy, however, as the surface may be, there is a wrong side of the stuff; and to this we must now turn our attention. Though a comfortable and, so far at least as the majority of its indwellers are concerned, a contented town, Paramaribo cannot, if compared, say with Georgetown or Bridgetown, Kingston, or even Port d’Espagne, take rank as exactly prosperous or progressive. True, the streets of the creole quarters of the city are constantly extending themselves; there new rows of small neat dwellings, each with gay garden and well-stocked provision-ground, spring up year by year, but in the commercial and what may in a general way be termed the European quarter of the town, large half-empty stores, tall neglected-looking houses, a prevailing want of fresh repair, here deficient paint, there broken woodwork, besides a certain general air of listlessness verging on discouragement, and an evident insufficiency of occupation not from want of will but of means, all combine to give an appearance of stagnation suggestive of “better days “for the European colonists at least, in the past, and contrasting almost painfully with the more thriving back streets and suburbs beyond. If any of my readers have visited Italy in the sad bygone years when Italy was a geographical name only, and there compared, as they may well have done, the trim “Borghi” of grand-ducal Florence with her stately but dilapidated Lungarno; or have at Genoa seen the contrast of those times between the palatial loneliness of Strada Babbi and the pretty grove-embosomed villas of recent commercial date, they might, under all local differences of circumstance and colouring, recognize something not dissimilar in both the meaning implied and effect produced in this transatlantic capital of Dutch Guiana. The actual and immediate cause of decadence is a very common one, by no means peculiar to Paramaribo or Surinam: want of capital. Were, however, that want is in a certain sense doubled by the circumstance that not only are the means of the colony itself insufficient to its needs, but that there is no satisfactory prospect of an adequate supply from without. It is, I might almost say, the condition of a man indigent at home, and friendless out of doors. The home poverty is readily accounted for. It began with invasions, resistances, foreign occupations, treaty-embarrassments, and the other war-begotten ills of the troublous years that closed the last and opened the present century. Followed next the evil days already alluded to, evil for Transatlantic colonies everywhere; and, in. consequence of the hostilities of 1833 between France and Holland, doubly evil for Surinam. Then came emancipation, long and unwisely deferred till financial exhaustion had reached its lowest depths; and with all these the appalling conflagration of 1821, followed by one scarce less destructive in 1832; commercial difficulties of every kind; the fatal yellow-fever epidemic of 1851; in a word, a whole Pandora’s box of adversities opened for Dutch Guiana in a scarce less disastrous profusion than for Jamaica herself. And thus, to revert to the more special topic of this chapter, Paramaribo was brought low indeed, almost to the very gates of death; and her condition, as we this day see her, is that of a patient recovering from a long and dangerous illness, and weak, not indeed with the weakness of actual disease, but the weakness of convalescence.
Nor is that convalescence likely to be a rapid one. With Jamaica, we know, it has been otherwise; but then Jamaica is the child of a parent alike vigorous and wealthy, able to chastise, able also to assist. Not so with Dutch Guiana. In more than one respect the good-will of Holland exceeds her power; and her comparatively recent severance from Belgium, a political gain, was yet a financial loss. Besides, Java is a more popular name by far in the home mart of Dutch enterprise than Surinam; and the eastern colony is indisputably the more attractive, the larger, the wealthier, and, more I believe owing to external and accidental circumstances than to its own intrinsic qualities, as contrasted with those of its rival, proportionally the more remunerative of the two. Hence, while the invigorating cordial, to continue our former metaphor, or rather the true and certain panacea for the patient’s lingering illness is poured out freely in the direction of the Pacific, a feeble and interrupted dribble is all that finds its way to the Atlantic coast. Nor again can the annual subsidy with which for years past the maternal government of the States has striven to uphold and still upholds the drooping vigour of her western offspring be regarded as a remedy adapted for the case; it is at best a palliative, nor, I think, — and in this the wisest heads of the colony agree, — one conducive to genuine recovery and health. State support after this fashion tends rather in its results to cramp the energies of the recipient than to develop them; it has something of the prop in it, but more of the fetter. Compare, for example, the French colonies, where it is most lavishly bestowed, with the English, where the opposite and almost niggardly extreme is the rule; the conclusion is self-apparent, and the corollary too. Periodical subsidy in particular is an error, less injurious it may be than the opposite conduct of Denmark, exacting for herself a yearly tribute from her overtaxed and exhausted colonies, but an error nevertheless; it is the injudicious conduct of an over-indulgent parent, as the other is that of a step-mother at best. Private enterprise, private capital, these are what Surinam requires; and, on the part of the mother country, not a supplement to her coffers, but a guarantee. Lastly, emancipation and its immediate and inevitable consequences, the multiplication of small freeholds, both of them events of yesterday in Surinam, have not yet allowed time for the balance of hired and independent labour to redress itself; nor has the increase of creole well-being yet reacted, as react it ultimately must, in a corresponding increase of prosperity among the European townsmen and estate-owners themselves. The present moment is one of transition; and transition implies that something has been left behind, a temporary loss even where more has been attained, or is in process of attainment.