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Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 11, No. 65, March, 1863 by Various

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VOL. XI.--MARCH, 1863.--NO. LXV.


Plutarch, when about to enter upon the crowded lives of Alexander and
Caesar, declares his purpose and sets forth the true nature and province
of biography in these words:--"It must be borne in mind that my design
is not to write histories, but lives. And the most glorious exploits do
not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in
men. Sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs
us better of their characters and inclinations than the most famous
sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever.
Therefore, as portrait-painters are more exact in the lines and features
of the face, in which character is seen, than in the other parts of the
body, so I must be allowed to give my more particular attention to the
marks and indications of the souls of men, and while I endeavor by these
to portray their lives, may be free to leave more weighty matters and
great battles to be treated of by others."

That these general principles of biography are correct, and that
Plutarch, by adhering to them, succeeded, beyond all others, in making
his heroes realities, men of flesh and blood, whom we see and know like
those about us, in whom we feel the warmest interest, and from whom we
derive lessons of deep wisdom, as from our own experience,--all this
could best be shown by the enduring popularity of his "Lives," and the
seal of approval set upon them by critics of the most opposite schools.
What a long array of names might be presented of those who have
given their testimony to the wondrous fascination of this undying
Greek!--names of the great and wise through many long centuries, men
differing in age, country, religion, language, and occupation. For ages
he has charmed youth, instructed manhood, and solaced graybeards. His
heroes have become household words throughout the world. He has been
equally familiar with court, with camp, and with cottage. He has been
the companion of the soldier, the text-book of the philosopher, and the
_vade-mecum_ of kings and statesmen. And his name even now, after the
lapse of so many generations, is fresher than ever.

Yet Lord Macaulay could not refrain from a sneer at Plutarch as a pedant
who thought himself a great philosopher and a great politician. Pedant
he may have been; philosopher and politician he may not have been; but
he was, nevertheless, the prince of biographers. Macaulay has praised
Boswell's "Life of Johnson" as the best biography ever written. But was
not Boswell a pedant? Was he a philosopher? Macaulay himself has penned
many biographies. Most of them are quite above the pedantry of
small facts. Instead, they are crammed with deep philosophy, with
abstractions, and with the balancing of antithetical qualities. They
are bloodless frameworks, without life or humanity,--bundles of
peculiarities skilfully grouped, and ticketed with such and such a name.
No one sees a man within. As biographies they will not be remembered,
but as instances of labored learning, of careful special pleading,
and of brilliant rhetoric. Elsewhere, however, he has descended from
philosophy, and not been above the pedantry of detail. And he has given
us, in consequence, charming lives,--successful, in fact, just so far as
he has followed in the footsteps of the old Greek. Yet who would for
a moment compare his Pitt, his Goldsmith, or his William IV., as
biography, with Plutarch's Alcibiades, or Cato the Censor? We remember
the fact that Goldsmith sometimes wore a peach-blossom suit, but we see
Cato in his toga.

Very many works have been written, purporting to be "The Life and Times"
of this or that man. Where a man has occupied a large historic place,
has been moulded by his times, and has moulded in turn the coming years,
such works are well enough as history. As biography they are failures.
The Times get the upper hand, and thrust down the Life. Without the
Life, such works would be better, too, as history; for man and the world
are two different things, and their respective provinces cannot, without
confusion, be thrown into one. Now every leading man bears a twofold
character. He is man, and something more: he is a power in history.
Whatever concerns him as man,--his humanity, his individuality, his
personal qualities, his character and inclinations, "the marks and
indications of the soul," as Plutarch phrases it,--all this, and hardly
more than this, is matter for biography, and for that alone. But so far
as he is a representative man, standing for communities, for nations,
for the world of his time,--so far as he is an historic force, making
and solving, in some degree, large human problems,--so far as he is the
organ chosen by destiny to aid in the development of his race,--just so
far he is a maker of history, and therefore its proper subject, and its
alone. Napoleon was not only a man, but he was Europe for some twenty
years. Louis XIV was the Europe of half a century. There should be lives
of such men, for they were akin to their fellows: histories, too, should
be theirs, for they were allied to Nature, and fate, and law. They
jested; and Biography, smiling, seized her tablets. They embodied a
people; and Clio, pondering, opened the long scrolls of time.

All biography has been said to be eulogistic in its nature. This is well
enough. But it is not well, when the author, high on daring stilts,
overlooks the little matters just about him, and, rapidly running his
eye over the wastes that stretch from Dan to Beersheba, prates of the
fields that lie along the distant horizon. Nor is it well, when he
forgets his hero, and writes himself,--when he constantly thrusts upon
us philosophy, abstractions, and the like,--when he has a pet theory to
sustain through thick and thin,--when narrative becomes disquisition,
memoir is criticism, life is bloodless, and the man is a puppet whose
strings he jerks freakishly. There may be something good in all this;
but it is all quite out of place: it is simply not biography. The
foundation of most biographical sins is, perhaps, ambition,--an ambition
to do something more or something other than the subject demands, and
to pitch the strain in too high a key. Hence we have usually found the
memoirs of comparatively insignificant men to be better reading, and
more fertile in suggestion, than those of what are called great men. Not
that the real life, as he lived it, of a man of mediocrity has in itself
more seeds of thought than that of a hero. Far otherwise. But his
written life has often greater lessons of wisdom for us, precisely
because it is generally found to give us more of the individual, and
more of our common humanity,--which is the very thing we want. There is
less of pretext to pour this one small drop into the broad ocean, and
then treat us to a vague essay on salt-water. What is it, for instance,
that gives to Southey's "Life of Nelson" its great excellence? There
have been many other works on the same subject, larger, fuller, and more
carefully studied. But these will perish, while that will be cherished
by all the generations to come. It is because the author kept throughout
precisely on a level with his subject. He was conscious, on every page,
that he was writing of one man,--that nothing was trivial which could
throw light on this man, and nothing important which did not tend
directly to the same end. Nelson was made to speak, not only in his own
words, but in the many little ways and actions which best show the stuff
one is made of. There is no essay, nothing strictly didactic. Facts are
given: inferences are left entirely with the reader. Few books are more
wearisome than those which are thoroughly exhaustive, which point a
moral and adorn a tale on every page. Imagination and thought must
sit supine, despairing of new conquests. Their work has all been done

Christopher North--Heaven be praised!--was not an "historic force." He
was a good many things, but not that. And so it was always pleasant to
read him and about him. He was so completely vital and individual, that
nothing that concerned him ever lacked in human interest. The world has
known him for a long time, and has lost nothing by the acquaintance.
Latterly it has come to know him better than before in his character
of citizen, son, husband, and father; and it has come to the sage
conclusion that even as a family-man he was not quite so bad, after all.
It is a great relief to know at last that Christopher was throughout
consistent,--that the child was father to the man. One of his first
exploits was fishing with a bent pin. Another was to preach a little
sermon on a naughty fish. The "application," though brief, was earnest.
To the infant expounder, the subject of his discourse doubtless appeared
in the guise of a piscatorial Cockney. After many other the like
foreshadowings, and after draining dry his native village, he went, when
twelve years of age, to Glasgow University. Professor Jardine, who then
held the chair of Logic, was fully alive to the rare promise of his
pupil, and said of him subsequently,--"He lived in my family during the
whole course of his studies at Glasgow, and the general superintendence
of his education was committed to me; and it is but justice to him
to declare, that during my long experience I never had a pupil who
discovered more genius, more ardor, or more active and persevering
diligence." But his ardor was not limited to philosophy and the
humanities; his powers required a larger field than the curriculum. He
walked, ran, wrestled, boxed, boated, fished, wrote poetry, played the
flute, danced, kept a careful diary, and read largely. Even at this
early age, he felt the merit of the then unappreciated Wordsworth, and,
on the appearance of the "Lyrical Ballads," wrote the author a letter
expressive of his admiration.

In 1803, Wilson, now eighteen, was transferred to Oxford as a Gentleman
Commoner of Magdalen. And surely never lighted on the Oxford orb so
glorious a vision, or such a bewildering phenomenon. He was, indeed,

"Rara avis in terris, nigroque simillima cygno."

There, as elsewhere, his life was an extraordinary one. His immense
vitality forced him to seek expression in every possible direction. The
outlets which sufficed for ordinary souls were insignificant conduits
for the great floods pent up within his breast; and he surged forth
mightily at every point, carrying all before him. His tastes and
sympathies were all-embracing. His creed and his practice were alike
catholic. All was fish that came to his net. He sat at the feet of
muscular Gamaliels, and campaigned with veterans of the classics. He
hobnobbed with prize-fighters, and was the choice spirit in the ethereal
feasts of poets. He was king of the ring, and _facile princeps_ in the
Greek chorus. He could "talk horse" with any jockey in the land; yet who
like him could utter tender poetry and deep philosophy? He had no rival
in following the hounds, or scouring the country in breakneck races; and
none so careered over every field of learning. He angled in brooks and
books, and landed many a stout prize. He would pick up here and there
a "fly in amber," and add it to his stores. He was the easy victor in
every foot-race, and took the Newdigate prize for poetry, in 1806. He
burned the midnight oil, and looked through ruddy wine at the small
hours chasing each other over the dial. For hours, almost whole days,
he would sit silent at the helm of his boat on the Isis, his rapt
eye peopling the vacant air with unutterable visions. He swam like
a dolphin, rode like a Centaur, and De Quincey called him the best
unprofessional male dancer he had ever seen. Three times he was
vanquished by a huge shoemaker,--so the story goes,--champion of the
"Town": at the fourth meeting, the Gentleman Commoner proved himself
the better man, knocked his antagonist out of time, and gave him twenty
pounds. Another professor of the manly art of self-defence, who had
ventured to confront the young Titan, and was unexpectedly laid low,
said in astonishment,--"You can be only one of the two: you are either
Jack Wilson or the Devil." He proved himself to be the former, by not
proclaiming, "_Voe victis_!" and by taking his prize of war to the
nearest alehouse, and then and there filling him with porter. Sotheby
said it was worth a journey from London to hear him translate a Greek
chorus; and, at a later day, the brawny Cumberland men called him "a
varra bad un to lick."

Never were such "constitutionals" known, even at old Oxford. He would
wander away alone, sometimes for many days, tramping over the country
leagues and leagues away, making the earth tremble with his heavy tread,
and distancing everything with his long, untiring stride. Then, on his
return, he would be the prince of good-fellows once more, and fascinate
the merry revellers with the witchery of his tongue. Even when a boy, he
had won a bet by walking six miles in two minutes less than an hour. He
once dined in Grosvenor Square, and made his appearance at Oxford at an
early hour the next morning, having walked the fifty-eight miles at a
tremendous pace. In his vacations, he walked over all the Lake region
of England, the North of Scotland, and the greater part of Wales. On
finishing his course at Oxford, he went on foot to Edinburgh,--more than
three hundred miles. He was equally remarkable as a leaper, surpassing
all competitors. He once jumped across the Cherwell--twenty-three feet
clear--with a run of only a few yards. This is, we believe, the greatest
feat of the kind on record. General Washington, it is known, had great
powers in this way; but the greatest distance ever leaped by him, if we
remember right, was but twenty-one feet.

The many vagaries into which he was led, and the innumerable odd pranks
he played, would be sufficient, in the case of any one else, to prove
that he was not a reading man. But not so with Wilson. One of his
contemporaries at Oxford thus described him:--"Wilson read hard, lived
hard, but never ran into vulgar or vicious dissipation. He talked well,
and loved to talk. Such gushes of poetic eloquence as I have heard from
his lips,--I doubt whether Jeremy Taylor himself, could he speak as
well as he wrote, could have kept up with him. Every one anticipated his
doing well, whatever profession he might adopt, and when he left us, old
Oxford seemed as if a shadow had fallen upon its beauty." Wilson himself
confessed that he yielded, for a short time, to "unbridled dissipation,"
seeking solace for the agony he experienced from the conduct of his
stern mother, who ruthlessly nipped in the bud his affection for a bonny
lass at Dychmont. He might have used the very words of Gibbon, whose
father nipped, in a similar way, his attachment for Mademoiselle Susan
Curchod, afterward Madame Necker:--"After a painful struggle, I yielded
to my fate: I sighed as a lover, I obeyed as a son; my wound was
insensibly healed by time, absence, and the habits of a new life." It
is difficult to conceive of Gibbon's wound as a deep one, or of his
struggle as painful. But Wilson, whose affections were far stronger,
suffered much. He almost made up his mind to run away to Timbuctoo, with
Mungo Park; and his deep gloom showed how the iron had entered his
soul. But time and absence and new habits healed his wound, as well as
Gibbon's, without a journey to Africa.

We mentioned above that Wilson carried off the Newdigate prize for
the best poem, in 1806. His subject was, "Painting, Poetry, and
Architecture." He professed, in general, to put a very low estimate on
college prize-poems, and rated his own so low that he would not allow
it to be published with his subsequent poems. But in the "Noctes
Ambrosianae" for October, 1825, he was not above saying a good word in
favor of these much-berated effusions, as follows:--

"_North._ It is the fashion to undervalue Oxford and Cambridge
prize-poems; but it is a stupid fashion. Many of them are most
beautiful. Heber's 'Palestine!' A flight, as upon angel's wing, over the
Holy Land! How fine the opening!

[We omit the lines quoted,--the well-known beginning of the poem.]

"_Tickler_. More than one of Wrangham's prize-poems are excellent;
Richard's 'Aboriginal Brutus' is a powerful and picturesque performance;
Chinnery's 'Dying Gladiator' magnificent; and Milman's 'Apollo
Belvedere' splendid, beautiful, and majestic.

"_North._ Macaulay and Praed have written very good prize-poems. These
two young gentlemen ought to make a figure in the world."

Heber was a contemporary and friend of Wilson at Oxford; as was also
Lockhart, among others. The distant See of Calcutta interrupted the
intercourse of the former, in after-life, while Maga and party bound
the latter still closer to his old college-friend. One of Wilson's
college-mates has given an odd anecdote descriptive of his appearance at
their social gatherings:--

"I shall never forget his figure, sitting with a long earthen pipe, a
great tie-wig on. Those wigs had descended, I fancy, from the days of
Addison, (who had been a member of our college,) and were worn by
us all, (in order, I presume, to preserve our hair and dress, from
tobacco-smoke,) when smoking commenced after supper; and a strange
appearance we made in them."

Wilson left Oxford in 1807, after passing a highly creditable
examination for his degree. His disappointed affections had so weighed
upon him, that he had a nervous apprehension of being plucked,--which,
however, turned out to be quite unnecessary. He was now twenty-two
years of age, a man singularly favored both by Nature and by
fortune,--possessed of almost everything which might seem to insure the
fullest measure of health, happiness, success, and fame. Rarely, indeed,
do the gods give so freely of their good gifts to a single mortal. His
circumstances were easy: a fortune of some fifty thousand pounds having
come to him from his father, who had died while his son was a mere boy.
After visiting his mother at Edinburgh, and rambling largely here and
there, he purchased the beautiful estate of Elleray on Lake Windermere,
and there fixed his residence. These were the halcyon days of that noted
region: the "Lakers," as they were called, were then in their glory. A
rare coterie, indeed, it was that was gathered together along the banks
of Windermere. Though they are now no more, yet is their memory so
linked to these scenes that thousands of fond pilgrims still visit
these placid waters to throw one glance upon the home of genius, the
birthplace of great thoughts. Here Wilson was in his element. His soul
feasted itself on the wondrous charms of Nature, and held high converse
with the master-minds of literature. There was quite enough to satisfy
the cravings even of his multiform spirit. He soon came to know, and to
be on terms of greater or less intimacy with, Coleridge, Wordsworth, De
Quincey, Southey, the celebrated Bishop Watson, of the See of Llandaff,
Charles Lloyd, and others,--then the _genii loci_. It may be remembered
that his admiration for Wordsworth was already of long standing, his
boyish enthusiasm having led him, when at Glasgow, to send his tribute
of praise to the author of the "Lyrical Ballads." Some fifteen to twenty
years later,--in one of the numbers of the "Noctes,"--his admiration for
the poet had temporarily cooled somewhat. Then was its aphelion, and
soon it began to return once more toward its central sun. It must have
been transient spleen which dictated such sentences as these:--

"_Tickler_. Wordsworth says that a great poet must be great in all

"_North_. Wordsworth often writes like an idiot; and never more so than
when he said of Milton, 'His soul was like a star, and dwelt apart!' For
it dwelt in tumult, and mischief, and rebellion. Wordsworth is, in all
things, the reverse of Milton,--a good man, and a bad poet.

"_Tickler_. What! that Wordsworth whom Maga cries up as the Prince of

"_North_. Be it so: I must humor the fancies of some of my friends.
But had that man been a great poet, he would have produced a deep and
lasting impression on the mind of England; whereas his verses are
becoming less and less known every day, and he is, in good truth,
already one of the illustrious obscure ...

"And yet, with his creed, what might not a great poet have done? That
the language of poetry is but the language of strong human passion! ...
And what, pray, has he made out of this true and philosophical creed?
A few ballads, (pretty, at the best,) two or three moral fables, some
natural description of scenery, and half a dozen narratives of common
distress or happiness. Not one single character has he created, not one
incident, not one tragical catastrophe. He has thrown no light on man's
estate here below; and Crabbe, with all his defects, stands immeasurably
above Wordsworth as the Poet of the Poor ... I confess that the
'Excursion' is the worst poem, of any character, in the English
language. It contains about two hundred sonorous lines, some of which
appear to be fine, even in the sense, as well as the sound. The
remaining seven thousand three hundred are quite ineffectual. Then what
labor the builder of that lofty rhyme must have undergone! It is, in its
own way, a small Tower of Babel, and all built by a single man."

Christopher was surely in the dumps, when he wrote thus: he was soured
by an Edinburgh study. After a run in the crisp air of the moors, he
would never have written such atrabilious criticism of a poet whom he
admired highly, for it was not honestly in the natural man. Neither his
postulates nor his inferences are quite correct. It is incorrect to say
that the poet's creed was a true one; that, with it, he might have been
a great poet; but that, from not making the most of it, he was a bad
one. De Quincey's position, we think, was the only true one: that
Wordsworth's poetic creed was radically false,--a creed more honored in
the breach than the observance,--a creed good on paper only; that its
author, though professing, did in fact never follow it; that, with it,
he could never have been a great poet; and that, without it, he was
really great.

Wilson at Windermere, like Wilson at Oxford, was versatile, active,
Titanic, mysterious, and fascinating. An immense energy and momentum
marked the man; and a strange fitfulness, a lack of concentration, made
the sum total of results far too small. There was power; but much of it
was power wasted. He overflowed everywhere; his magnificent _physique_
often got the better of him; his boundless animal spirits fairly ran
riot with him; his poetic soul made him the fondest and closest of
Nature's wooers; his buoyant health lent an untold luxury to the mere
fact of existence; his huge muscles and tuneful nerves always hungered
for action, and bulged and thrilled joyously when face to face with
danger. He was exuberant, extravagant, enthusiastic, reckless,
stupendous, fantastic. It is only by the cumulation of epithets that one
can characterize a being so colossal in proportion, so many-sided in his
phases, so manifold in operation. He was a brilliant of the first water,
whose endless facets were forever gleaming, now here, now there, with a
gorgeous, but irregular light. No man could tell where to look for the
coming splendor. The glory dazzled all eyes, yet few saw their way the
clearer by such fitful flashes.

Wilson, in some of his phases, reminds us often of a great glorified
child, rejoicing in an eternal boyhood. He had the same impulse,
restlessness, glee, zest, and _abandon_. All sport was serious work with
him, and serious work was sport. No frolic ever came amiss, whatever
its guise. He informed play with the earnestness of childhood and the
spirituality of poesy. He could turn everything into a hook on which to
hang a frolic. No dark care bestrode the horse behind this perennial
youth. No haggard spectre, reflected from a turbid soul, sat moping
in the prow of his boat, or kept step with him in the race. Like
the Sun-god, he was buoyant and beautiful, careless, free, elastic,
unfading. Years never cramped his bounding spirits, or dimmed the lustre
of his soul. He was ever ready for prank and pastime, for freak and
fun. Of all his loves at Elleray, boating was the chief. He was the
Lord-High-Admiral of all the neighboring waters, and had a navy at his
beck. He never wearied of the lake: whether she smiled or frowned on her
devotee, he worshipped all the same. Time and season and weather were
all alike to the sturdy skipper. One howling winter's night he was still
at his post, when Billy Balmer brought tidings that "his master was
wellnigh frozen to death, and had icicles a finger-length hanging from
his hair and beard." Though there was storm without, the great child had
his undying sunshine within.

In 1811, he married Miss Jane Penny, of Ambleside, described as the
belle of that region,--a woman of rare beauty of mind and person,
gentle, true, and loving. She was either a pedestrian by nature, or
converted by the arguments of her husband; for, a few years after
marriage, they took a long, leisurely stroll on foot among the
Highlands, making some three hundred and fifty miles in seven weeks. The
union of these two bright spirits was singularly happy and congenial,--a
pleasing exception to the long list of mismated authors. Nought was
known between them but the tenderest attachment and unwearied devotion
to each other. For nearly forty years they were true lovers; and when
death took her, a void was left which nothing could fill. The bereaved
survivor mourned her sincerely for more than seventeen years,--never,
for an instant, forgetting her, until his own summons came. Some one
has related the following touching incident. "When Wilson first met his
class, in the University, after his wife's death, he had to adjudicate
on the comparative merits of various essays which had been sent in on
competition for a prize. He bowed to his class, and, in as firm voice as
he could command, apologized for not having examined the essays,--'for,'
said he, 'I could not see to read them in the darkness of the shadow of
the Valley of Death.' As he spoke, the tears rolled down his cheeks;
he said no more, but waved his hand to his class, who stood up as he
concluded and hurried out of the lecture-room."

The joys of Elleray were destined to be fleeting. The fortune of its
master was melted away by the mismanagement of others, leaving him but
a slender pittance. He bore his loss like a man, sorrowing, but not
repining. The estate was given up, and a new home found with his mother,
in Edinburgh. This was in 1815. Four years later, fortune had smiled on
his cheerful labors, and given him the wherewithal to provide a home
of his own for his wife and little ones,--the well-known house in Anne
Street, which was for so many years the abode of domestic joys, the
shrine of literature, the centre of friendship and hospitality. On his
arrival at Edinburgh, Wilson, already famous, though young, finding fame
an unsubstantial portion for a man with a family, looked about him for
something more tangible, and determined to get his livelihood by the
law. Kit North a lawyer, eating bread earned by legal sweat! The very
idea seems comical enough. Yet it cannot be doubted, that, with his
intellect, energy, eloquence, and capacity for work, he would, when
driven to concentration and persistence by the spurs of necessity, duty,
and affection, have run his race manfully, and reached the goal with the
very foremost. Happily the question is an open one, for his affairs took
another turn, which may have given Scotland one legal lord the less. For
some time the briefless barrister diligently frequented the Edinburgh
courts, on the lookout for business. If he had few cases, he had
excellent company in another "limb," of his own kidney, John Gibson
Lockhart. These two roystering pundits, having little to do, filled up
their moments mainly with much fun, keeping their faculties on the
alert for whatever might turn up. The thing that soon turned up was

The "Edinburgh Review"--the first in the field of the modern
politico-literary periodicals--commenced its career in 1802, under the
leadership of Brougham, Sydney Smith, Jeffrey, and Horner, all stanch
Whigs. At first, literature had the second place, while politics
occupied the chief seat; though in later years their relative positions
have been reversed. Then, the one great thing in view was to have an
able party-organ, the fearless champion of a certain policy in matters
of State. The Whigs must be glorified, and the Tories put down, at all
events, whatever else might be done. The rejoicings of the former, and
the discomfiture of the latter, soon bore witness to the ability and
success of this new-fledged champion. But this one-sided state of things
could not continue always. The Tories, too, must have a mouth-piece
to testify of their devotion to "the good old cause," and silence
the clamors of their opponents. Accordingly, in 1809, appeared the
"Quarterly Review," with Gifford as editor, and Scott, Southey, Croker,
Canning, and others, as chief contributors. Under the conduct of such
men, it became at once an organ of great power, yet still not quite what
was wanted. It did not seem to meet entirely the demands of the case.
It had not the wit, pungency, and facility of its rival, and failed
of securing so general a popularity. Its learning and gravity made it
better suited to be the oracle of scholars than the organ of a party.
Compared with its adversary across the Tweed, it was like a ponderous
knight, cased in complete steel, attacking an agile, light-armed Moorish
cavalier; or, to use Ben Jonson's illustration, like a Spanish great
galleon opposed to the facile manoeuvres of a British man-of-war. For
such an enemy there were needed other weapons. Well might the Tories

"Non tali auxilio, nee defensoribus istis Tempos eget."

William Blackwood, the Prince-Street publisher, thought, that, to be
successful, the war should be carried into Africa,--that the enemy must
be met on his own ground with his own weapons. Hogg, whose weekly paper,
"The Spy," had recently fallen through, also came to the conclusion that
a sprightly monthly publication, of strong Tory proclivities, could not
fail to do well. So, the times being ripe, Blackwood issued, in March,
1817, the first number of his new monthly, then called "The Edinburgh
Monthly Magazine." Though himself a violent Tory, he, singularly enough,
chose as his editors two Whigs,--Pringle the poet, and Cleghorn. Hogg
lent his aid from the beginning. Scott, too, wrote now and then; and
very soon Wilson made his appearance as "Eremus," contributing prose
and verse. But the new magazine did not prove to be what was hoped,--a
decided success. It was, in fact, quite flat and dull, having nothing
life-like and characteristic. The radical error of attempting to build
on such heterogeneous foundations was soon perceived. Vigor of action
could proceed only from entire unanimity of sentiment. Soon a rupture
arose between editors and publisher, and the former seceded with the
list of subscribers, leaving the latter his own master. He at once
decided to remodel his periodical entirely,--to make it a thorough-going
partisan, and to infuse a new life and vigor by means of personality and
wit. How well he succeeded we all know. Thenceforward, until his death
in 1834, he acted as editor, and a better one it would be difficult to
find. The new management went into effect in October, 1817, with the
famous No. VII. The difference was apparent at once, not only in the
ability and style, but also in the title of the periodical, which was
then changed to the name which it has borne ever since. In this number
appeared the first really distinctive article of the magazine,--the
celebrated "Translation from an Ancient Chaldee Manuscript,"--an
allegorical account, in quaint Scripture phrase, of Blackwood's quarrel
with his editors, and a savage onslaught on the leading Whigs of
Edinburgh. So great a hubbub arose immediately on the appearance of this
diatribe that it was suppressed as soon as possible; and though the
editor offered an earnest apology for its insertion, he was finally
mulcted in costs in a large sum for libel. But the general effect was
highly favorable to the new magazine. It gave it--what had been lacking
before--notoriety and a recognized position, and made its existence no
longer a matter of indifference. It was known that Hogg conceived the
idea, and wrote some portion of the article. But few could believe, as
was claimed by some, that all the sharp touches came from his hand.
Hogg, it appears, wrote the first part; Wilson and Lockhart together
contributed most of the remainder, amidst side-splitting guffaws, in a
session in the house of the Dowager Wilson, in Queen Street; while the
philosophic Sir William Hamilton, in adding his mite, was so moved by
uproarious cachinnation that he fairly tumbled out of his chair.

The power and personality which thus early characterized the magazine
were its leading features in after-years. Wilson and Lockhart became at
once its chief contributors,--Wilson especially writing for its columns,
with the most extraordinary profusion, on all conceivable topics, in
prose and verse, for more than thirty years. By these articles he became
known beyond his own circle, and on these his fame must ultimately rest.
His daughter points to them with pride, and unhesitatingly expresses the
opinion that they in themselves are a sufficient answer to all who doubt
whether the great powers of their author ever found adequate expression.
We are unable to agree with her. Able and brilliant as these
articles unquestionably were, we cannot think that such glimpses and
fragments--or, in fact, all the relics left by their author--furnish
results at all commensurate with the man. Though Maga increased his
immediate reputation, we think it diminished his lasting fame, by
leading him to scatter, instead of concentrating his remarkable powers
on some one great work. Scott and other great authorities saw so much
native genius in Wilson, that they often said that it lay in him
to become the first man of his time, though they feared that his
eccentricities and lack of steadiness might prove fatal to his success.

Though never really the editor of "Blackwood," Wilson was from the first
its guiding spirit,--the leaven that leavened the whole lump. The way in
which he threw himself into his work he described as follows:--"We love
to do our work by fits and starts. We hate to keep fiddling away, an
hour or two at a time, at one article for weeks. So off with our coat,
and at it like a blacksmith. When we once get the way of it, hand over
hip, we laugh at Vulcan and all his Cyclops. From nine of the morning
till nine at night, we keep hammering away at the metal, iron or gold,
till we produce a most beautiful article. A biscuit and a glass of
Madeira, twice or thrice at the most,--and then to a well-won dinner. In
three days, gentle reader, have We, Christopher North, often produced
a whole magazine,--a most splendid number. For the next three weeks we
were as idle as a desert, and as vast as an antre,--and thus on we go,
alternately laboring like an ant, and relaxing in the sunny air like a
dragon-fly, enamored of extremes." Of all his contributions, we think
the "Noctes Ambrosianae" give by far the best idea of their author. They
are perfectly characteristic throughout, though singularly various.
Every mood of the man is apparent; and hardly anything is touched which
is not adorned. Their pages reveal in turn the poet, the philosopher,
the scholar, and the pugilist. Though continued during thirteen years,
their freshness does not wither. To this day we find the series
delightful reading: we can always find something to our taste, whether
we crave fish, flesh, or fowl. Whether we lounge in the sanctum, or roam
over the moors, we feel the spirit of Christopher always with us.

It has been attempted, on Wilson's behalf, to excuse the fierce
criticism and violent personality of Maga in its early days, on the
plea that his influence over that periodical was less then than
afterwards,--and that, as his control increased, the bitterness
decreased. This is a special plea which cannot be allowed. The magazine
was moulded, from the beginning, more by Wilson than by all others.
If personalities had been offensive to him, they would not have been
inserted, except in a limited degree. Lockhart, it is true, was far more
bitter, but his influence was less. He could never have been successful
in running counter to Wilson. Besides, though Wilson's nominal power
might have been greater in the control of the magazine in later years,
it was virtually but little, if at all, increased. The fact is, these
onslaughts were perfectly congenial to his nature at that time.

His young blood made him impetuous, passionate, and fond of
extremes,--perhaps unduly so. He was a warm lover, and a strong, though
not malignant, hater,--and consequently deliberately made himself the
fiercest of partisans. It was all pure fun with him, though it was death
to the victims. He dearly loved to have a cut at the Cockneys, and was
never happier than when running a tilt _a l'outrance_ with what seemed
to be a sham. Still, he felt no ill-will, and could see nothing wrong in
the matter. We are entirely disposed, even in reference to this period
of his life, to accept the honest estimate which he made of himself, as
"free from jealousy, spite, envy, and uncharitableness." When the fever
of his youth had been somewhat cooled by time, his feelings and opinions
naturally became more moderate, and his expression of them less violent.
In his early days, when his mother heard of his having written an
article for the "Edinburgh Review," she said, "John, if you turn Whig,
this house is no longer big enough for us both." But his Toryism
then was quite as good as hers. By-and-by, as party became less, and
friendship more, he entertained at his house the leading Whigs, and
admitted them to terms of intimacy. Even his daughter was allowed to
marry a Whig. And in 1852 the old man hobbled out to give his vote for
Macaulay the Whig, as representative in Parliament of the good town
of Edinburgh. Conceive of such a thing in 1820! All this was but the
gradual toning-down of a strong character by time and experience.
"Blackwood" naturally exhibited some of the results of the change.

Much allowance must be made for the altered spirit of the times. A
generation or two ago, there was everywhere far more of rancor and less
of decorum in the treatment of politics and criticism than would now be
tolerated. All the world permitted and expected strong partisanship,
bitter personality, and downright abuse. They would have called our
more sober reticence by the name of feebleness: their truculence we
stigmatize as slander and Billingsgate. Wilson was an extremist in
everything; yet he strained but a point or two beyond his fellows. When
the tide of party began gradually to subside, he fell with it. Mrs.
Gordon has given a very correct picture of the state of things in those

"It is impossible for us, at this time, to realize fully the state of
feeling that prevailed in the literature and politics of the years
between 1810 and 1830. We can hardly imagine why men who at heart
respected and liked each other should have found it necessary to hold no
communion, but, on the contrary, to wage bitter war, because the one
was an admirer of the Prince Regent and Lord Castlereagh, the other a
supporter of Queen Caroline and Mr. Brougham. We cannot conceive why a
poet should be stigmatized as a base and detestable character, merely
because he was a Cockney and a Radical; nor can we comprehend how
gentlemen, aggrieved by articles in newspapers and magazines, should
have thought it necessary to the vindication of their honor to horsewhip
or shoot the printers or editors of the publications. Yet in 1817 and
the following years such was the state of things in the capital of
Scotland.... You were either a Tory and a good man, or a Whig and a
rascal, and _vice versa_. If you were a Tory and wanted a place, it was
the duty of all good Tories to stand by you; if you were a Whig, your
chance was small; but its feebleness was all the more a reason why
you should be proclaimed a martyr, and all your opponents profligate
mercenaries." But parties changed, and men changed with them. It was
a Whig ministry which gave Wilson, in 1852, a pension of two hundred

Mrs. Gordon has praised her father as "the beau-ideal of what a critic
should be, whose judgments will live as _parts_ of literature, and not
merely _talk_ about it." That these so-called judgments are worthy to
live, and will live, we fully believe; yet we could never think him a
model critic, or even a great one. Though not deficient in analytic
power, he wanted the judicial faculty. He could create, but he could not
weigh coolly and impartially what was created. His whole make forbade
it. He was impatient, passionate, reckless, furious in his likes and
dislikes. His fervid enthusiasm for one author dictated a splendid
tribute to a friend; while an irrational prejudice against another
called out a terrific diatribe against a foe. In either case, there
might be "thoughts that breathe and words that burn"; still, there was
but little of true criticism. The matchless papers on Spenser and Homer
represent one class, and the articles on Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt the
other. While the former exhibit the tender sympathy of a poet and the
enthusiasm of a scholar, the latter reveal the uncompromising partisan,
swinging the hangman's cord, and brandishing the scourge of scorpions.
Of the novelist's three kinds of criticism--"the slash, the tickle, and
the plaster"--he recognized and employed only the two extremes. Neither
in criticism nor in the conduct of life was Ovid's "_Medio tutissimus
ibis_" ever a rule for him. In the "Noctes" for June, 1823, some of his
characteristics are wittily set forth, with some spice of caricature, in
a mock defiance given to Francis Jeffrey, "King of Blue and Yellow,"
by the facetious Maginn, under his pseudonym of Morgan Odoherty:
--"Christopher, by the grace of Brass, Editor of Blackwood's and the
Methodist Magazines; Duke of Humbug, of Quiz, Puffery, Cutup, and
Slashandhackaway; Prince Paramount of the Gentlemen of the Press, Lord
of the Magaziners, and Regent of the Reviewers; Mallet of Whiggery, and
Castigator of Cockaigne; Count Palatine of the Periodicals; Marquis of
the Holy Poker; Baron of Balaam and Blarney; and Knight of the most
stinging Order of the Nettle."

In 1820 Wilson was elected Professor of Moral Philosophy in the
University of Edinburgh,--an office which he held for more than thirty
years. The rival candidate was his friend, Sir William Hamilton, a firm
Whig; and the canvass, which was purely a political one, was more fiery
than philosophic. Wilson's character was the grand object of attack and
defence, and round it all the hard fighting was done. Though it was pure
and blameless, it offered some points which an unscrupulous adversary
might readily misconstrue, with some show of plausibility. His free,
erratic life, his little imprudences, his unguarded expressions, and
the reckless "Chaldee MS.," might, with a little twisting, be turned to
handles of offence, and wrested to his disadvantage. But the fanatic
zeal of his opponents could not rest till their accusations had run
through nearly the whole gamut of immoralities. He was not only a
blasphemer towards God, but corrupt to wife and children. It seems
comical enough at this day that he was obliged to bolster up his cause
by sending round to his respectable acquaintances for certificates
of good moral character. When at last he triumphed by a greater than
two-thirds vote, an attempt was made to reconsider; but the new
Professor held his own, and the factious were drowned in hisses.

His personal relations to his pupils were singularly happy. A strange
charm went out from his presence at all times, which fascinated all, and
drew them to him. Their enthusiasm and love for him have been spoken of
as "something more to be thought of than the proudest literary fame."
"As he spoke, the bright blue eye looked with a strange gaze into
vacancy, sometimes darkening before a rush of indignant eloquence;
the tremulous upper lip curving with every wave of thought or hint of
passion; and the golden gray hair floating on the old man's mighty
shoulders,--if, indeed, that could be called age which seemed but the
immortality of a more majestic youth." In his lecture-room utterances,
there was an undue preponderance of rhetoric, declamation, and sentiment
over logic, analysis, and philosophy. Yet he once said of himself, that
he was "thoroughly logical and argumentative; not a rhetorician, as
fools aver." Whether this estimate was right or wrong in the main may be
a matter of question: we think it wrong. His genius, in our view, lay
rather in pictorial passion than in ratiocination. At all events, as
a teacher of philosophy, it appears to us that his conception of the
duties of his office, and his style of teaching, were far inferior to
those of his competitor and subsequent associate, Sir William Hamilton.
The one taught like a trumpet-tongued poet, and the other like an
encyclopaedic philosopher. The personal magnetism of the former led
captive the feelings, while the sober arguments of the latter laid siege
to the understanding. The great fact which impressed Wilson's students
was his overpowering oratory, and not his particular theory, or his
train of reasoning. One of them compares the nature of his eloquence
with that of the leading orators of his day, and thinks that in absolute
power over the hearers it was greater than that of any other.
The matter, too, as well as the manner of the lectures, receives
commendation at the hands of this enthusiastic disciple. He says,--"It
was something to have seen Professor Wilson,--this all confessed; but
it was something also, and more than is generally understood, to have
studied under him. Nothing now remains of the Professor's long series of
lectures save a brief fragment or two. Here and there some pupil may be
found, who has treasured up these Orphic sayings in his memory or his
note-book; but to the world at large these utterances will be always

We have been considerably disappointed in Wilson's "Letters." We looked
for something racy, having the full flavor of the author's best spirits.
We found them plain matter-of-fact, not what we should term at all
characteristic. Perhaps it was more natural that they should be of
this sort. Letters are generally vent-holes for what does not escape
elsewhere. Literary men, who are at the same time men of action, seldom
write as good letters as do their more quiet brethren. And this is
because they have so many more ways open to them of sending out what
lies within. They are depleted of almost all that is purely distinctive
and personal, long before they sit down to pen an epistle to a friend.
The formula might be laid down,--Given any man, and the quality of his
correspondence will vary inversely as the quantity of his expression in
all other directions. If, Wilson being the same man, fortune had hemmed
him in, and contracted his sphere of action,--or if, as author, he had
devoted himself to works of solid learning, instead of to the airy pages
of "Blackwood,"--the sprightly humor and broad hilarity that were in
him would have bubbled out in these "Letters," and the "Noctes" and the
"Recreations" would have been a song unsung.

An anecdote of De Quincey, given by Wilson's biographer, is worth
repeating. He and Wilson were warm friends during many long years, and
innumerable were the sessions in which they met together to hold high
converse. One stormy night the philosophic dreamer made his appearance
at the residence of his friend the Professor, in Gloucester Place.
The war of the elements increased to such a pitch, that the guest was
induced to pass the night in his new quarters. Though the storm
soon subsided, not so with the "Opium-Eater." The visit, begun from
necessity, was continued from choice, until the revolving days had
nearly made up the full year. He bothered himself but little with the
family-arrangements, but dined in his own room, often turning night into
day. His repast always consisted of coffee, boiled rice and milk, and
mutton from the loin. Every day be sent for the cook, and solemnly gave
her his instructions. The poor creature was utterly overwhelmed by his
grave courtesy and his "awfu' sicht of words." Well she might be, for he
addressed her in such terms as these:--"Owing to dyspepsia affecting
my system, and the possibility of an additional disarrangement of the
stomach taking place, consequences incalculably distressing would arise,
so much so, indeed, as to increase nervous irritation, and prevent me
from attending to matters of overwhelming importance, if you do not
remember to cut the mutton in a diagonal, rather than a longitudinal

The picture of the aged Christopher, sitting by his own fireside, and
surrounded by his grandchildren, is a charming one. He always loved to
be with and to play with children,--a trait which he had in common with
Agesilaus, Nelson, Burke, Napoleon, Wellington, and many others to
whom was given the spirit of authority. As he grew old, he became
passionately fond of the little men and women, and his affection was
reciprocated. It was rare sport, when grandpapa kept open doors, and
summoned the youthful company into his room. There were games, and
stories, and sweetmeats, and presents. Sometimes notable feasts were set
out, to which the little mouths did large justice, while the stalwart
host took the part of waiter, and decorously responded to every wish. Of
course, he played at fishing; for what would Christopher be without
a hook? When an infant, he fished with thread and pin: when age had
crippled him, the ruling passion still led him to limp into deep waters
on a crutch, and cast out as of yore. So he and the youngsters angled
for imaginary trouts, with imaginary rods, lines, and flies, out of
imaginary boats floating in imaginary lochs. And whether there were
silly nibbles or sturdy bites, all agreed that they had glorious sport.

"With sports like these were all their cares beguiled;
The sports of children satisfy the child."

And--the poet might have added--they often do much to satisfy the child
of larger growth. It was thus that the old man kept alive the embers of
his youth.

Charles Lamb once, considering whom of the world's vanished worthies he
would rather evoke, singled out Fulke Greville, and also--if our memory
is correct--Sir Thomas Browne. He thought, very sensibly, that any
reasonable human being, if permitted to summon spirits from the vasty
deep, would base his choice upon personal qualities, and not on mere
general reputation. There would be an elective affinity, a principle
of natural selection, (not Darwinian,) by which each would aim to draw
forth a spirit to his liking. One would not summon the author of such
and such a book, but this or that man. Milton wrote an admirable epic,
but he would be awful in society. Shakspeare was a splendid dramatist,
but one would hardly ask him for a boon-companion. Who could feel at
ease under that omniscient eye? But, if the Plutonian shore might, for a
few brief moments, render to our call its waiting shades, there are
not very many for whom our lips would sooner syllable the word of
resurrection than for Christopher North. Only to look upon him in his
prime would be worth much. To have a day with him on the moors, or an
ambrosial night, would be a possession forever.

Even now we can almost see him standing radiant before us, illuminated
and transfigured by the halo streaming round him. A huge man, towering
far above his fellows; with Herculean shoulders, deep chest, broad back,
sturdy neck, brawny arms, and massive fists; a being with vast muscle
and tense nerve; of choicest make, and finest tone and temper,--robust
and fine, bulky and sinewy, ponderous and agile, stalwart and elastic; a
hammer to give, and a rock to receive blows; with the light tread of
the deer, and the fell paw of the lion; crowned with a dome-like head,
firm-set, capacious, distinctive, cleanly cut, and covered with long,
flowing, yellow hair; a forehead broad, high, and rounded, strongly and
equally marked by perception and imagination, wit and fancy; light blue
eyes, capable of every expression, and varying with every mood, but
generally having a far, dim, dreamy look into vacancy,--the gaze of
the poet seeing visions; a firm, high, aquiline nose, indicating both
intellect and spirit; flexile lips, bending to every breath of passion;
a voice of singular compass and pliancy, responding justly to all his
wayward humors and all his noble thoughts, now tremulous with
tender passion, now rough with a partisan's fury; a man of strange
contradictions and inconsistencies every way; a hand of iron with
a glove of silk; a tiger's claw sheathed in velvet; one who fought
lovingly, and loved fiercely; champion of the arena, passionate poet,
chastiser of brutes, caresser of children, friend of brawlers, lover of
beauty; a pugilistic Professor of Moral Philosophy, who, in a thoroughly
professional way, gayly put up his hands and scientifically floored his
man in open day, at a public fair;[A] sometimes of the oak, sometimes of
the willow; now bearing grief without a murmur, now howling in his pain
like the old gods and heroes, making all Nature resonant with his cries;
knowing nothing of envy save from the reports of others, yet never
content to be outdone even in veriest trifles; a tropical heart and a
cool brain; full of strong prejudices and fine charities, generous and
exacting, heedless and sympathetic, quick to forgive, slow to resent,
firm in love, transient in hate; to-day scaling the heavens with
frantic zeal, to-morrow relaxing in long torpor; fond of long, solitary
journeys, and given to conviviality; tender eyes that a word or a
thought would fill, and hard lips that would never say die; a child of
Nature thrilled with ecstasy by storm and by sunshine, and a cultured
scholar hungering for new banquets; dreamer, doer, poet, philosopher,
simple child, wisest patriarch; a true cosmopolitan, having largest
aptitudes,--a tree whose roots sucked up juices from all the land, whose
liberal fruits were showered all around; having a key to unlock all
hearts, and a treasure for each; hospitable friend, husband-lover,
doting father; a boisterous wit, fantastic humorist, master of pathos,
practical joker, sincere mourner; always an extremist, yielding to
various excess; an April day, all smiles and tears; January and May met
together; a many-sided fanatic; a universal enthusiast; a large-hearted
sectarian; a hot-headed judge; a strong sketch full of color, with
neutral tints nowhere, but fall of fiery lights and deep glooms;
buoyant, irrepressible, fuming, rampant, with something of divine
passion and electric fire; gentle, earnest, true; a wayward prodigal,
loosely scattering abroad where he should bring together; great in
things indifferent, and indifferent in many great ones; a man who would
have been far greater, if he had been much less,--if he had been less
catholic and more specific; immeasurably greater in his own personality
than in any or all of his deeds either actual or possible;--such was
the man Christopher North, a Hercules-Apollo, strong and immortally
beautiful,--a man whom, with all his foibles, negligences, and
ignorances, we stop to admire, and stay to love.

[Footnote A: One who met him many years ago in Edinburgh, at the
conclusion of a lecture, tells us, as we write these closing sentences,
of his splendid figure, as he saw him twirl an Irish shillalah and show
off its wonderful properties as an instrument of fun at a fair.]


Yes, tyrants, you hate us, and fear while you hate
The self-ruling, chain-breaking, throne-shaking State!
The night-birds dread morning,--your instinct is true,--
The day-star of Freedom brings midnight for you!

Why plead with the deaf for the cause of mankind?
The owl hoots at noon that the eagle is blind!
"We ask not your reasons,--'t were wasting our time,--
Our life is a menace, our welfare a crime!

"We have battles to fight, we have foes to subdue,--
Time waits not for us, and we wait not for you!
The mower mows on, though the adder may writhe
And the copper-head coil round the blade of his scythe!

"No sides in this quarrel," your statesmen may urge,
Of school-house and wages with slave-pen and scourge!--
No sides in the quarrel! proclaim it as well
To the angels that fight with the legions of hell!

They kneel in God's temple, the North and the South,
With blood on each weapon and prayers in each mouth.
Whose cry shall be answered? Ye Heavens, attend
The lords of the lash as their voices ascend!

"O Lord, we are shaped in the image of Thee,--
Smite down the base millions that claim to be free,
And lend Thy strong arm to the soft-handed race
Who eat _not_ their bread in the sweat of their face!"

So pleads the proud planter. What echoes are these?
The bay of his bloodhound is borne on the breeze,
And, lost in the shriek of his victim's despair,
His voice dies unheard.--Hear the Puritan's prayer!

"O Lord, that didst smother mankind in Thy flood,
The sun is as sackcloth, the moon is as blood,
The stars fall to earth as untimely are cast
The figs from the fig-tree that shakes in the blast!

"All nations, all tribes in whose nostrils is breath,
Stand gazing at Sin as she travails with Death!
Lord, strangle the monster that struggles to birth,
Or mock us no more with Thy 'Kingdom on Earth'!

"If Ammon and Moab must reign in the land
Thou gavest Thine Israel, fresh from Thy hand,
Call Baael and Ashtaroth out of their graves
To be the new gods for the empire of slaves!"

Whose God will ye serve, O ye rulers of men?
Will ye build you new shrines in the slave-breeder's den?
Or bow with the children of light, as they call
On the Judge of the Earth and the Father of All?

Choose wisely, choose quickly, for time moves apace,--
Each day is an age in the life of our race!
Lord, lead them in love, ere they hasten in fear
From the fast-rising flood that shall girdle the sphere!

* * * * *


[Footnote A: See Numbers LVI., LVIII., and LIX. of this magazine.]



It will be necessary for the present to omit the story of the settlement
and growth of the French Colony, and of the pernicious commercial
restrictions which swelled the unhappy heritage of the island, in order
that we may reach, in this and a succeeding article, the great points
of interest connected with the Negro, his relation to the Colony and
complicity with its final overthrow.

The next task essential to our plan is to trace the entrance of Negro
Slavery into the French part of the island, to describe the victims, and
the legislation which their case inspired.

The first French Company which undertook a regular trade with the west
coast of Africa was an association of merchants of Dieppe, without
authority or privileges. They settled a little island in the Senegal,
which was called St. Louis. This property soon passed into the hands of
a more formal association of Rouen merchants, who carried on the trade
till 1664, the date of the establishment of the West-India Company, to
which they were obliged to sell their privileges for one hundred and
fifty thousand livres. This great Company managed its African business
so badly, that it was withdrawn from their hands in 1673, and made over
as a special interest to a Senegal Company. The trade, in palm-oil,
ivory, etc., was principally with France, and negro slaves for the
colonies do not yet appear in numbers to attract attention.[B] But in
1679 this Company engaged with the Crown to deliver yearly, for a term
of eight years, two thousand negroes, to be distributed among the French
Antilles. This displaced a previous engagement, made in 1675, for the
delivery of eight hundred negroes. The Company had also to furnish as
many negroes for the galleys at Marseilles as His Majesty should find
convenient. And the Crown offered a bounty of thirteen livres per head
for every negro, to be paid in "pieces of India."

[Footnote B: Du Tertre, the missionary historian of the Antilles,
proudly says, previously to this date, that the opinion of France in
favor of personal liberty still shielded a French deck from the traffic:
"Selon les lois de la France, qui abhorre la servitude sur toutes les
nations du monde, et ou tous les esclaves recouvrent heureusement la
liberte perdue, sitost qu'ils y abordent, et qu'ils en touchent la

This is a famous phrase in the early annals of the slave-trade.
Reckoning by "pieces" was customary in the transaction of business upon
the coast of Africa. Merchandise, provisions, and presents to the native
princes had their value thus expressed, as well as slaves. If the negro
merchant asked ten pieces for a slave, the European trader offered
his wares divided into ten portions, each portion being regarded as a
"piece," without counting the parts which made it up. Thus, ten coarse
blankets made one piece, a musket one piece, a keg of powder weighing
ten pounds was one, a piece of East-India blue calico four pieces, ten
copper kettles one piece, one piece of chintz two pieces, which made
the ten for which the slave was exchangeable: and at length he became
commercially known as a "piece of India." The bounty of thirteen livres
was computed in France upon the wholesale value of the trinkets and
notions which were used in trade with Africa.

The traffic by pieces is as old as the age of Herodotus;[C] it was
originally a dumb show of goods between two trading parties ignorant of
each other's language, but at length it represented a transaction which
the parties should have been ashamed to mention.

[Footnote C: _Melpomene_, Sec. 196.]

Although this second Senegal Company was protected by the rigid
exclusion, under pain of fine and confiscation, of all other Frenchmen
from the trade, it soon fell into debt and parted with its privilege to
a third Company, and this in turn was restricted by the formation of a
Guinea Company, so that it soon sold out to a fourth Senegal Company,
which passed in 1709 into the hands of Rouen merchants who started a
fifth; and this too was merged in the West-India Company which
was formed in 1718. So little did the agriculture of the islands,
overstocked with _engages_, justify as yet the slave-traders in the
losses and expenses which they incurred.

The Guinea Company was bound to import only one thousand yearly into
all the French Antilles; but it did not flourish until it became an
_Asiento_ Company, when, during the War of Succession, a Bourbon mounted
the throne of Spain. It was called _Asiento_ because the Spanish
Government _let_, or farmed by _treaty_, the privilege of supplying its
colonies with slaves. The two principal articles of this contract, which
was to expire in 1712, related to the number of negroes and the rent of
the privilege. If the war continued, the French Company was bound to
furnish Spain with thirty-eight thousand negroes during the ten years
of the contract, but in case of peace, with forty-eight thousand. Each
negro that the Company could procure was let to it for 33-1/3 piastres,
in pieces of India. In consequence of this treaty, the ports of Chili
and Peru, and those in the South Sea, from which all other nations
were excluded, stood open to the French, who carried into them vast
quantities of merchandise besides the slaves, and brought home great
sums in coin and bars. The raw gold and silver alone which they imported
for the year 1709 was reckoned at thirty millions of livres.

But at the Peace of Utrecht, Louis XIV., exhausted by an unprofitable
war, relinquished his _asiento_ to the English, who were eager enough
to take it. It was for this advantage that Marlborough had been really
fighting; at least, it was the only one of consequence that Blenheim and
Malplaquet secured to his country.

The reign of Louis XV. commenced in 1715. By letters-patent which he
issued on the 16th of January, 1716, he granted permission to all the
merchants in his kingdom to engage in the African trade, provided
their ships were fitted out only in the five ports of Rouen, Rochelle,
Bordeaux, Nantes, and St. Malo; nine articles were specially framed
to encourage the trade in slaves, as by the Peace of Utrecht all the
South-Sea ports were closed to the French, and only their own colonies
remained. France no longer made great sums of money by the trade in
slaves, but her colonies began to thrive and demand a new species of
labor. The poor white emigrants were exhausted and demoralized by an
apprenticeship which had all the features of slavery, and by a climate
which will not readily permit a white man to become naturalized even
when he is free.

It is the opinion of some French anti-slavery writers that the _engages_
might have tilled the soil of Hayti to this day, if they had labored for
themselves alone. This is doubtful; the white man can work in almost
every region of the Southern States, but he cannot raise cotton and
sugar upon those scorching plains. It is not essential for the support
of an anti-slavery argument to suppose that he can. Nor is it of any
consequence, so far as the question of free-labor is concerned, either
to affirm or to deny that the white man can raise cotton in Georgia or
sugar in Louisiana. The blacks themselves, bred to the soil and wonted
to its products, will organize free-labor there, and not a white man
need stir his pen or his hoe to solve the problem.

At first it seems as if the letters-patent of Louis XV. were inspired by
some new doctrine of free-trade. And he did cherish the conviction that
in the matter of the slave-trade it was preferable to a monopoly; but
his motive sprang from the powerful competition of England and Holland,
which the Guinea Company faced profitably only while the War of
Succession secured to it the _asiento_. The convention of merchants
which Louis XIV. called in Paris, during the year 1701, blamed
monopolies in the address which it drew up, and declared freedom of
trade to be more beneficial to the State; but this was partly because
the Guinea Company arbitrarily fixed the price of slaves too high, and
carried too few to the colonies.

So a free-trade in negroes became at last a national necessity. Various
companies, however, continued to hold or to procure trading privileges,
as the merchants were not restrained from engaging in commerce in such
ways as they preferred. The Cape-Verde, the South-Sea, the Mississippi
or Louisiana, and the San-Domingo Companies tried their fortunes still.
But they were all displaced, and free-trade itself was swallowed up, by
the union of all the French Antilles under the great West-India Company
of 1716. This was hardly done before the Government discovered that the
supply of negroes was again diminishing, partly because so extensive a
company could not undertake the peculiar risks and expenses of a traffic
in slaves. So in the matter of negroes alone trade was once more
declared free in 1741, burdened only with a certain tax upon every slave

At this time the cultivation of sugar alone in the principal French
islands consumed all the slaves who could be procured. The cry for
laborers was loud and exacting, for the French now made as much sugar
as the English, and were naturally desirous that more negroes should
surrender the sweets of liberty to increase its manufacture. In less
than forty years the average annual export of French sugar had reached
80,000 hogsheads. In 1742 it was 122,541 hogsheads, each of 1200 pounds.
The English islands brought into the market for the same year only
65,950 hogsheads, a decrease which the planters attributed to the
freedom enjoyed by the French of carrying their crops directly to
Spanish consumers without taking them first to France. But whatever may
have been the reason, the French were determined to hold and develop
the commercial advantage which this single product gained for them. The
English might import as many slaves and lay fresh acres open to the
culture, but the French sugar was discovered to be of a superior
quality; that of San Domingo, in particular, was the best in the world.

The French planter took his slaves on credit, and sought to discharge
his debt with the crops which they raised. This increased the
consumption of negroes, and he was constantly in debt for fresh ones.
To stimulate the production of sugar, the Government lifted half the
entry-tax from each negro who was destined for that culture.

A table which follows shortly will present the exports for 1775 of the
six chief products of San Domingo, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Cayenne.
But we must say something first about the value of the _livre_.

In the Merovingian times, the right of coining money belonged to many
churches and abbeys,--among others, to St. Martin de Tours. There were
seigniorial and episcopal coins in France till the reign of Philip
Augustus, who endeavored to reduce all the coin in his kingdom to a
uniform type. But he was obliged still to respect the money of Tours,
although he had acquired the old right of coinage that belonged to it.
So that there was a livre of Paris and a livre of Tours, called _livre
tournois_: the latter being worth five deniers less than the livre of
Paris. The tendency of the Crown to absorb all the local moneys of
France was not completely successful till the reign of Louis XIV., who
abolished the Paris livre and made the livre tournois the money of
account. The earliest livre was that of Charlemagne, the silver value of
which is representable by eighty cents. It steadily depreciated, till
it was worth in the reign of Louis XIV-about sixty cents, from which it
fell rapidly to the epoch of the Revolution, when its value was only
nineteen cents, and the franc took its place.

It is plain from this, that, when livres are spoken of during a period
of a hundred years, their precise equivalent in English or American
money cannot be stated,--still less their market-relations to all
the necessaries of life. The reader can therefore procure from the
statistics of these periods only an approximative idea of the values of
crops and the wealth created by their passing into trade.

A great deal of the current specie of the island consisted of Spanish
and Portuguese coin, introduced by illegal trade. A Spanish _piastre
gourde_ in 1776 was rated at 7-1/2 livres, and sometimes was worth 8-1/4
livres. A _piastre gourde_ was a dollar. If we represent this dollar
by one hundred cents, we can approach the value of the French livre,
because the _gourde_ passed in France for only 5-1/4 livres; that is,
a livre had already fallen to the value of the present franc, or about
nineteen cents.

The difference of value between Paris and the colony was the cause of
great embarrassment. Projects for establishing an invariable money were
often discussed, but never attempted. All foreign specie ought to have
become merchandise in the colony, and to have passed according to its
title and weight. Exchange of France with San Domingo was at 66-2/3:
that is, 66 livres, 13 sols, 4 deniers tournois were worth a hundred
livres in the Antilles. Deduct one-third from any sum to find the sum in
livres tournois.

Pounds. Livres.
Sugar, {To France, 166,353,834 for 61,849,381
{Abroad, 104,099,866 " 38,703,720

Coffee, {To France, 61,991,699 " 29,421,039
{Abroad, 50,058,246 " 23,757,464

Indigo, {To France, 2,067,498 " 17,573,733
{Abroad, 1,130,638 " 9,610,423

Cacao, {To France, 1,562,027 " 1,093,419
{Abroad, 794,275 " 555,992

Roucou,[D] {To France, 352,216 " 220,369
{Abroad, 153,178 " 95,838

Cotton, {To France, 3,407,157 " 11,017,892
{Abroad, 102,011 " 255,027

[Footnote D: This was the scarlet dye of the Caribs, which they procured
from the red pulpy covering of the seeds of the _Bixa orellana_, by
simply rubbing their bodies with them. The seeds, when macerated and
fermented, yielded a paste, which was imported in rolls under the name
of _Orlean_, and was used in dyeing. It was also put into chocolate
to deepen its color and lend an astringency which was thought to be
wholesome. Tonic pills were made of it. The fibres of the bark are
stronger than those of hemp. The name _Roucou_ is from the Carib
_Urucu_. In commerce the dye is also known as Annotto.]

This table, with its alluring figures, that seem to glean gratefully
after the steps of labor, is the negro's manifesto of the French
slave-trade. The surprising totals betray the sudden development of that
iniquity under the stimulus of national ambition. The slave expresses
his misery in the ciphers of luxury. The single article of sugar, which
lent a new nourishment to the daily food of every country, sweetened
the child's pap, the invalid's posset, and the drinks of rich and poor,
yielded its property to medicine, made the nauseous palatable, grew
white and frosted in curious confections, and by simply coming into
use stimulated the trades and inventions of a world, was the slave's
insinuation of the bitterness of his condition. Out of the eaten came
forth meat, and out of the bitter sweetness.

In 1701, Western San Domingo had 19,000 negroes: in 1777, a moderate
estimate gives 300,000, not including 50,000 children under fourteen
years of age,--and in the other French colonial possessions 500,000. In
the year 1785, sixty-five slavers brought to San Domingo 21,662 negroes,
who were sold for 43,236,216 livres; and 32,990 were landed in the
smaller French islands. In 1786, the value of the negroes imported was
estimated at 65,891,395 livres, and the average price of a negro at that
time was 1997 livres.

But we must recollect that these figures represent only living negroes.
A yearly percentage of dead must be added, to complete the number taken
from the coast of Africa. The estimate was five per cent, to cover the
unavoidable losses incurred in a rapid and healthy passage; but such
passages were a small proportion of the whole number annually made, and
the mortality was irregular. It was sometimes frightful; a long calm
was one long agony: asphyxia, bloody flux, delirium and suicide,
and epidemics swept between the narrow decks, as fatally, but more
mercifully than the kidnappers who tore these people from their native
fields. The shark was their sexton, and the gleam of his white belly
piloted the slaver in his regular track across the Atlantic. What need
to revive the accounts of the horrors of the middle passage? We know
from John Newton and other Englishmen what a current of misery swept
in the Liverpool slavers into the western seas. The story of French
slave-trading is the same. I can find but one difference in favor of the
French slaver, that he took the shackles from his cargo after it had
been a day or two at sea. The lust for procuring the maximum of victims,
who must be delivered in a minimum of time and at the least expense,
could not dally with schemes to temper their suffering, or to make
avarice obedient to common sense. It was a transaction incapable of
being tempered. One might as well expect to ameliorate the act of
murder. Nay, swift murder would have been affectionate, compared with
this robbery of life.

Nor is the consumption of negroes by the sea-voyage the only item
suggested by the annual number actually landed. We should have to
include all the people maimed and killed in the predatory excursions
of native chiefs or Christian kidnappers to procure their cargoes. A
village was not always surprised without resistance. The most barbarous
tribes would defend their liberty. We can never know the numbers slain
in wars which were deliberately undertaken to stock the holds of

Nor shall we ever know how many victims dropped out of the ruthless
caravan, exhausted by thirst and forced marches, on the routes sometimes
of three hundred leagues from the interior to the sea. They were usually
divided into files containing each thirty or forty slaves, who were
fastened together by poles of heavy wood, nine feet long, which
terminated in a padlocked fork around the neck. When the caravan made a
halt, one end of the pole was unfastened and dropped upon the ground.
When it dropped, the slave was anchored; and at night his arm was tied
to the end of the pole which he carried, so that a whole file was
hobbled during sleep. If any one became too enfeebled to preserve his
place, the brutal keepers transferred him to the swifter voracity of the
hyena, who scented the wake of the caravan across the waste to the sea's
margin, where the shark took up the trail.

The census of the slaves in San Domingo was annually taken upon the
capitation-tax which each planter had to pay; thus the children, and
negroes above forty-five years of age, escaped counting. But in 1789,
Schoelcher says that the census declared five hundred thousand slaves;
that is, in twelve years the increase had been two hundred thousand.
How many negroes deported from Africa do these figures represent! what
number who died soon after landing, too feeble and diseased to become

Here is the prospectus of an expedition to the coast of Guinea in 1782
for the purpose of landing seven hundred slaves in the Antilles. They
were shipped in two vessels, one of six hundred tons, the other a small

Outfit of large vessel, 150,000 livres
" " corvette, 50,000 "
Purchase of 700 negroes at 300 livres per head, 210,000 "
Insurance upon the passage at 15 per cent., 61,500 "
" " " premiums at 15 per cent., 9,225 "
Total cost of the passage, 480,725 "

The passage was a very prosperous one: only 35
negroes spoiled, or 5 per cent, of the whole
number. The remaining 665 were sold in San
Domingo at an average price of 2,000 livres,
making 1,330,000 "
Deduct commissions of ships' officers and
correspondents in West Indies, at 11-1/2 per cent 152,950 "
1,177,050 "
Deduct expenses in West Indies, 17,050 "
1,160,000 "
Deduct exchange, freight, and insurance upon
return passage of the vessels, 20 per cent., 232,000 "
928,000 "
Deduct crews' wages for 10 months, reckoning the
length of the voyage at 13 months, 55,000 "
873,000 "
Add value of returned vessels, 90,000 "
963,000 "
Deduct original cost of the whole, 480,725 "
The profit remains, 100 per cent., 482,275 "

Two hundred and seventy-four slavers entered the ports of San Domingo,
from 1767 to 1774, bringing 79,000 negroes. One-third of these perished
from various causes, including the cold of the mountains and the
unhealthiness of the coffee-plantations, so that only 52,667 remained.
These could not naturally increase, for the mortality was nearly double
the number of births, and the negroes had few children during the first
years after their arrival. Only one birth was reckoned to thirty slaves.
There was always a great preponderance of males, because they could bear
the miseries of the passage better than the women, and were worth more
upon landing. Include also the effects of forced labor, which reduced
the average duration of a slave's life to fifteen years, and carried
off yearly one-fifteenth of the whole number, and the reason for the
slaver's profits and for his unscrupulous activity become clear.

Out of the sugar, thus clarified with blood, the glittering frosted-work
of colonial splendor rose. A few great planters debauched the
housekeeping of the whole island. Beneath were debts, distrust,
shiftlessness, the rapacity of imported officials, the discontent
of resident planters with the customs of the mother-country, the
indifference of absentees, the cruel rage for making the most and the
best sugar in the world, regardless of the costly lives which the mills
caught and crushed out with the canes. Truly, it was sweet as honey in
the mouth, and suddenly became bitter as wormwood in the belly.

Let us glance at the people who were thus violently torn from the
climate, habits, diet, and customs which created their natural and
congenial soil, from their mother-tongues, their native loves and
hatreds, from the insignificant, half-barbarous life, which certainly
poisoned not the life-blood of a single Christian, though it sweetened
not his tea. What bitterness has crept into the great heart of Mr.
Carlyle, which beats to shatter the affectations and hypocrisies of
a generation, and to summon a civilized world to the worship of
righteousness and truth! Is this a Guinea trader or a prophet who is
angry when Quashee prefers his pumpkins and millet, reared without the
hot guano of the lash, and who will not accept the reduction of a bale
of cotton or a tierce of sugar, though Church and State be disinfected
of slavery?[E] It is a drop of planter's gall which the sham-hater
shakes testily from his corroded pen. How far the effluvia of the
slave-ship will be wafted, into what strange latitudes of temperance
and sturdy independence, even to the privacy of solemn and high-minded
thought! A nation can pass through epochs of the black-death, and
recover and improve its average health; but does a people ever
completely rally from this blackest death of all?

[Footnote E: _Latter-Day Pamphlets_, No. I. pp. 32, 34; No. II. pp. 23,
25, 47; No. III. p. 3. "And you, Quashee, my pumpkin, idle Quashee,
I say you must get the Devil sent away from your elbow, my poor dark
friend!" We say amen to that, with the reserved privilege of designating
the Devil. "Ware that Colonial Sand-bank! Starboard now, the Nigger
Question!" Starboard it is!]

The Guinea trader brought to San Domingo in the course of eighty years
representatives of almost every tribe upon the west coast of Africa and
of its interior for hundreds of miles. Many who were thus brought were
known only by the names of their obscure neighborhoods; they mingled
their shade of color and of savage custom with the blood of a new Creole
nation of slaves. With these unwilling emigrants the vast areas of
Africa ran together into the narrow plains at the end of a small island;
affinity and difference were alike obedient to the whip of the overseer,
whose law was profit, and whose method cruelty, in making this strange
people grow.

When a great continent has been thus ransacked to stock a little farm,
the qualities which meet are so various, and present such lively
contrasts, that the term _African_ loses all its application. From the
Mandingo, the Foulah, the Jolof, through the Felatahs, the Eboes, the
Mokos, the Feloups, the Coromantines, the Bissagos, all the sullen and
degraded tribes of the marshy districts and islands of the Slave Coast,
and inland to the Shangallas, who border upon Southwestern Abyssinia,
the characters are as distinct as the profiles or the colors. The
physical qualities of all these people, their capacity for labor, their
religious tendencies and inventive skill, their temperaments and diets,
might be constructed into a sliding scale, starting with a Mandingo,
or a Foulah such as Ira Aldridge, and running to earth at length in a

The Mandingoes of the most cultivated type seldom found their way to the
West Indies. But if ever slave became noticeable for his temperate and
laborious habits, a certain enterprise and self-subsistence, a cleanly,
regular, and polished way, perhaps keeping his master's accounts, or
those of his own private ventures, in Arabic, and mindful of his future,
he was found to be a Mandingo. Their States are on the Senegal; Arabic
is not their language, but they are zealous Mohammedans, and have
schools in which the children learn the Koran. The men are merchants and
agriculturists; they control the trade over a great extent of country,
and the religion also, for the Koran is among the wares they carry, and
they impose at once the whole form of their social condition. These
Northern African nations have been subjected to Arab and Moorish
influence, and they make it plain that great movements have taken place
in regions which are generally supposed to be sunk in savage quiescence.
The Mandingoes, notwithstanding a shade of yellow in the complexion,
are still negroes, that is, they are an aboriginal people, improved by
contact with Islamism, and capable of self-development afterwards; but
the Moors never ruled them, nor mingled with their blood. Their features
are African, in the popular sense of that word, without one Semitic
trace. Awakened intelligence beams through frank and pleasing
countenances, and lifts, without effacing, the primitive type.
Undoubtedly, their ancestors sprang into being on sites where an
improved posterity reside. But what a history lies between the Fetichism
which is the mental form of African religious sentiment, and the worship
of one God without image or symbol!

In the administration of justice, some classes of their criminals are
sold into slavery, and occasionally a Mandingo would be kidnapped. But
there are many Mandingoes who are still pagans, and know nothing of
Arabic or commerce, yet who have the excellences of the dominant tribes:
these were found in the gangs of the slave-merchant.

So were the Jolofs, handsome, black as jet, with features more regular
than the Mandingoes, almost European, excepting the lips: a nonchalant
air, very warlike upon occasion, but not disposed to labor. They have
magistrates, and some forms for the administration of justice, but a
civilization less developed than the Mandingo, in consequence of early
contact with Christians. It is said that the slave-traders taught them
to lie and steal, and to sell each other, whenever they could not
supply a sufficient number of their neighbors, the simple and pastoral

The Foulahs live upon the elevated plateaus of Senegambia and around the
sources of the Rio Grande. The Mandingoes introduced the Koran among
them. French writers represent them as being capable of sustained
labor; they cultivate carefully the millet, wheat, cotton, tobacco, and
lentils, and have numerous herds. Their mutton is famous, and their oxen
are very fat. The Foulahs are mild and affable, full of _esprit_, fond
of hunting and music; they shun brandy, and like sweet drinks. It is not
difficult to govern them, as they unite good sense to quiet manners, and
have an instinct for propriety. Their horror of slavery is so great,
that, if one of them is condemned to be sold, all the neighbors club
together to pay his forfeit or purchase a ransom; so that few of them
were found in the slave-ships, unless seized in the fields, or carried
off from the villages by night.

They have mechanics who work in iron and silver, leather and wood; they
build good houses, and live in them cleanly and respectable. The Foulahs
show, quite as decidedly as the Mandingoes, that great passions and
interests have given to these parts of Africa a history and developed
stocks of men. When the Foulahs are compared with the wandering
Felatahs, from whom they came, who speak the same language and wear the
same external characters, it will be seen how Nature has yearned for her
children in these unknown regions, and set herself, for their sakes,
great stints of work, in that motherly ambition to bring them forward in
the world. Yes,--thought the Guinea trader,--these skilful Foulahs are
Nature's best gifts to man.

Their pure African origin is, however, still a contested point. Many
ethnologists are unwilling to attribute so much capacity to a native
negro tribe. D'Eichthal objects, that "a pretended negro people,
pastoral, nomadic, warlike, propagating a religious faith, to say
nothing of the difference in physical characteristics, offers an anomaly
which nothing can explain. It would force us to attribute to the black
race, whether for good or for evil, acts and traits that are foreign to
its nature. To cite only one striking example, let me recall that Job
Ben Salomon, the African, who in the last century was carried to America
and thence to England, and was admired by all who knew him for the
loftiness of his character, the energy of his religious fanaticism, and
the extent of his intelligence,--this Ben Salomon, who has been cited as
a model of that which the negro race could produce, did not belong to
that race; he was a Foulah."[F]

[Footnote F: _Memoires de la Societe Ethnologique_, Tom. I. Ptie 2, p.

D'Eichthal develops at great length his theory, that the Foulahs are
descended from some Eastern people of strong Malay characters, who found
their way to their present site through Madagascar, along the coast, to
Cordofan, Darfour, and Haoussa. They are bronzed, or copper-colored, or
like polished mahogany,--the red predominating over the black. Their
forms are tall and slim, with small hands and feet, thin curved noses,
long hair braided into several queues, and an erect profile. Certain
negro traits do not exist in them.

Burmeister, who saw Ira Aldridge, the Foulah actor, play in Macbeth,
Othello, and his other famous parts, saw nothing negro about him, except
the length of his arm, the shrillness of his voice in excitement, the
terrible animality of the murder-scenes, and his tendency to exaggerate.
"The bright-colored nails were very evident, and his whole physiognomy,
in spite of his beard, was completely negro-like."[G]

[Footnote G: _The Comparative Anatomy and Physiology of the African
Negro_, by Hermann Burmeister.]

But if Ira Aldridge's exaggerated style of acting points to an African
origin, would it not be better, if some of our distinguished actors, who
are presumptively white before the foot-lights, took out free-papers at
once? We have seen Macbeth and Othello so "created" by the Caucasian
models of the stage, that but one line of Shakspeare remained in our
memory, and narrowly escaped the lips,--"Out, hyperbolical fiend!"

It is not unlikely that the Felatah was mixed with Moorish or Kabylic
blood to make the Foulah. If so, it proves the important fact, that,
when the good qualities of the negro are crossed with a more advanced
race, the product will be marked with intelligence, mobility, spiritual
traits, and an organizing capacity. Felatah blood has mixed with white
blood in the Antilles; the Jolof and the Eboe have yielded primitive
affections and excellences to a new mulatto breed. This great question
of the civilizable qualities of a race cannot be decided by quoting
famous isolated cases belonging to pure breeds, but only by observing
and comparing the average quality of the pure or mixed.

When we approach the Slave Coast itself, strong contrasts in appearance
and culture are observable among the inhabitants; they are all negroes,
but in different social conditions, more or less liable to injury from
the presence of the slaver, and yielding different temperaments and
qualities to colonial life. The beautiful and fertile amphitheatre
called Whidah, in North latitude 6 deg., with Dahomey just behind it, is
populous with a superior race. Where did it come from? The area which
it occupies has only about fifty miles of coast and less than thirty of
interior; its people are as industrious and thrifty as any on the face
of the earth. They never raised sugar and indigo with enthusiasm, but at
home their activity would have interpreted to Mr. Carlyle a soul
above pumpkins. They cultivated every square foot of ground up to
the threshold of their dwellings; the sides of ditches, hedges, and
inclosures were planted with melons and vegetables, and the roads
between the villages shrank to foot-paths in the effort to save land for
planting. On the day when a crop was harvested, another was sown.

Their little State was divided into twenty-six provinces or counties,
ruled by hereditary lords. The King was simply the most important one
of these. Here were institutions which would have deserved the epithet
_patriarchal_, save for the absence of overseers and the auction-block.
The men worked in the field, the women spun at home. Two markets were
held every four days in two convenient places, which were frequented by
five or six thousand traders. Every article for sale had its appropriate
place, and the traffic was conducted without tumult or fraud. A judge
and four inspectors went up and down to hear and settle grievances.
The women had their stalls, at which they sold articles of their own
manufacture from cotton or wood, plates, wooden cups, red and blue
paper, salt, cardamom-seeds, palm-oil, and calabashes.

How did it happen that such a thrifty little kingdom learned the
shiftlessness of slave-trading? Early navigators discovered that they
had one passion, that of gaming. This was sedulously cultivated by the
French and Portuguese who had colonies at stake. A Whidah man, after
losing all his money and merchandise, would play for his wife and
children, and finally for himself. A slave-trader was always ready to
purchase him and his interesting family from the successful gamester,
who, in turn, often took passage in the same vessel. In this way Whidah
learned to procure slaves for itself, who could be gambled away more
conveniently: the markets exposed for sale monthly one thousand
human beings, taken from the inferior tribes of the coast. The whole
administration of justice of these superior tribes was overthrown by the
advent of the European, who taught them to punish theft, adultery, and
other crimes by putting up the criminal for sale.

The Whidah people were Fetich-worshippers; so were the inhabitants
of Benin. But the latter had the singularity of refusing to sell a
criminal, adjudged to slavery, to the foreign slave-traders, unless
it was a woman. They procured, however, a great many slaves from the
interior for the Portuguese and French. The Benin people dealt in magic
and the ordeal; they believed in apparitions, and filled up their cabins
with idols to such an extent as nearly to eject the family.

The slaves of the river Calabar and the Gaboon were drawn from very
inferior races, who lived in a state of mutual warfare for the purpose
of furnishing each other to the trader. They kidnapped men in the
interior, and their expeditions sometimes went so far that the exhausted
victims occasioned the slaver a loss of sixty per cent, upon his voyage.
The toughest of these people were the Eboes; the most degraded were the
Papels and Bissagos.

The Congo negro was more intelligent than these; he understood something
of agriculture and the keeping of cattle. He made Tombo wine and some
kinds of native cloth. The women worked in the fields with their
children slung to their backs. The Congo temperament near the coast was
mild and even, like the climate; but there dwelt in the mountains the
Auziko and N'teka, who were cannibals. The Congoes in Cuba had the
reputation of being stupid, sensual, and brutal; but these African names
have always been applied without much discrimination.

The slavers collected great varieties of negroes along the coasts of
Loango and Benguela; some of them were tall, well-made, and vigorous,
others were stunted and incapable. They were all pagans, accustomed to
Fetich- and serpent-worship, very superstitious, without manliness and
dignity, stupid and unimpressible.

The Benguela women learned the panel game from the Portuguese. This is
an ugly habit of enticing men to such a point of complicity, that an
indignant husband, and a close calculator, can appear suddenly and
denounce the victim. Many a slave was furnished in this way.--But
we restrain the pen from tracing the villanous and savage methods,
suggested by violence or fraud or lust, to keep those decks well stocked
over which the lilies of France drooped with immunity.

All these negroes differed much in their sensitiveness to the condition
of slavery. Many of them suffered silently, and soon disappeared, killed
by labor and homesickness. Others committed suicide, in the belief that
their spirits would return to the native scenes. It was not uncommon for
a whole family to attempt to reinhabit their old cabin in this way. The
planters attributed these expensive deeds of manumission to a depraved
taste or mania; but we do not know that they laid Greek under
contribution for a term, as Dr. Cartwright did, who applied the word
_drapetomania_ to the malady of the American fugitive. Many negroes
sought relief in a marooning life; but their number was not so great
as we might expect. After two or three days' experience, hunger and
exposure drove them back, if they were not caught before. The number of
permanent maroons did not reach a thousand.

But a few tribes were so turbulent and sullen that the planter avoided
buying them, unless his need of field-hands was very urgent. He was
obliged to be circumspect, however; for the traders knew how to jockey a
man with a sick, disabled, or impracticable negro. The Jews made a good
business of buying refuse negroes and furbishing them up for the market.
The French traders thought it merit to deceive a Jew; but the latter
feigned to be abjectly helpless, in order to enjoy this refitting branch
of the business.

The Coromantine negroes were especial objects of suspicion, on account
of their quarrelsome and incendiary temper. Such powerful and capable
men ought to have valued more highly the privileges of their position;
but they could never quite conquer their prejudices, and were
continually interpreting the excellent constitutional motto, _Vera pro
gratis_, into, _Liberty instead of sugar!_ An English physician of the
last century, James Grainger by name, wrote a poem in four books upon
the "Sugar-Cane," published in 1764. Perhaps it would be more correct to
say that he exhibited a dose; but the production yields the following
lines which show that the Coromantine of Jamaica was no better than his
brother of San Domingo:--

"Yet, if thine own, thy children's life, be dear,
Buy not a Cormantee, though healthy, young,
Of breed too generous for the servile field:
They, born to freedom in their native land,
Choose death before dishonorable bonds;
Or, fired with vengeance, at the midnight hour
Sudden they seize thine unsuspecting watch,
And thine own poniard bury in thy breast."

All these kinds of negroes, and many others whom it would be tedious to
mention, differing in intelligence and capability, were alike in the
vividness of their Fetich-worship and the feebleness of their spiritual
sentiments.[H] They brought over the local superstitions, the grotesque
or revolting habits, the twilight exaggerations of their great pagan
fatherland, into a practical paganism, which struck at their rights, and
violated their natural affections, with no more pretence of religious
than of temporal consolation, and only capable of substituting one
Fetich for another. The delighted negroes went to mass as to their
favorite _Calenda_; the tawdry garments and detestable drone of the
priest, whose only Catholicism was his indiscriminate viciousness,
appeared to them a superior sorcery; the Host was a great _Gree-gree;_
the muttered liturgy was a palaver with the spirits; music, incense, and
gilding charmed them for a while away from the barbarous ritual of their
midnight serpent-worship. The priests were white men, for the
negroes thought that black baptism would not stick; but they were
fortune-hunters, like the rest of the colony, mere agents of the
official will, and seekers of their pleasures in the huts of the
negro-quarter.[I] The curates declared that the innate stupidity of the
African baffled all their efforts to instil a truth or rectify an error.
The secret practice of serpent-worship was punishable, as the stolen
gatherings for dancing were, because it unfitted them for the next day's
toil, and excited notions of vengeance in their minds. But the curates
declined the trouble of teaching them the difference in spiritual
association between the wafer in a box and the snake in a hamper. On the
whole, the negro loved to thump his sheepskin drum, and work himself
up to the frantic climax of a barbarous chant, better than to hear the
noises in a church. He admired the pomp, but was continually stealing
away to renew the shadowy recollection of some heathen rite. What
elevating influence could there be in the Colonial Church for these
children of Nature, who were annually reinforcing Church and Colony at a
frightful pace with heathenism? Twenty or thirty tribes of pagans were
imported at the rate of twenty thousand living heads per annum, turned
loose and mixed together, with a sense of original wrong and continual
cruelty rankling amid their crude and wild emotions, and prized
especially for their alleged deficiency of soul, and animal ability to
perform unwholesome labor. Slavery never wore so black a face. The
only refining element was the admixture of superior tribes, a piece of
good-fortune for the colony, which the planter endeavored as far as
possible to miss by distributing the fresh cargoes according to their
native characters. A fresh Eboe was put under the tutelage of a
naturalized Eboe, a Jolof with a Jolof, and so on: their depressed and
unhealthy condition upon landing, and their ignorance of the Creole
dialect, rendered this expedient.[J]

[Footnote H: Sometimes Fetichism furnished a legend which Catholicism,
in its best estate, would not despise. Here is one that belongs to
the Akwapim country, which lies north of Akkra, and is tributary to
Ashantee. "They say that Odomankama created all things. He created the
earth, the trees, stones, and men. He showed men what they ought to eat,
and also said to them, 'Whenever anybody does anything that is lovely,
think about it, and do it also, only do not let your eye grow red' (that
is, inflamed, lustful). When He had finished the creation. He left men
and went to heaven; and when He went, the Fetiches came hither from the
mountains and the sea. Now, touching these Fetiches, as well as departed
spirits, they are not God, neither created by God, but He has only given
them permission, at their request, to come to men. For which reason no
Fetich ever receives permission to slay a man, except directly from the
Creator."--Petermann's _Mittheiltungen_, 1856, p. 466.]

[Footnote I: _Droit Public des Colonies Francoises, d'apres les Lois
faites pour ces Pays_, Tom. I. p. 306.]

[Footnote J: On the other hand, an elaborate _Manuel des Habitans de
St. Domingue_ cautions the planters on this point: "Carefully avoid
abandoning the new negroes to the discretion of the old ones, who are
often very glad to play the part of hosts for the sake of such valets,
to whom they make over the rudest part of their day's work. This
produces disgust and repugnance in the new-comers, who cannot yet bear
to be ordered about, least of all to be maltreated by negroes like
themselves, while, on the contrary, they submit willingly and with
affection to the orders of a white." This Manual, which reads like a
treatise on muck or the breeding of cattle, proceeds to say, that, if
the planter would preserve his negroes' usefulness, he must be careful
to keep off the ticks.]

But these distinctions could not be preserved upon such a limited area
and amid these jostling tribes. People of a dozen latitudes swarmed in
the cabins of a single negro-quarter. Even the small planter could not
stock his habitation with a single kind of negro: the competition at
each trade-sale of slaves prevented it. So did a practice of selling
them by the scramble. This was to shut two or three hundred of them into
a large court-yard, where they were all marked at the same price, and
the gates thrown open to purchasers. A greedy crowd rushed in, with
yells and fighting, each man struggling to procure a quota, by striking
them with his fists, tying handkerchiefs or pieces of string to them,
fastening tags around their necks, regardless of tribe, family, or
condition. The negroes, not yet recovered from their melancholy voyage,
were amazed and panic-stricken at this horrible onslaught of avaricious
men; they frequently scaled the walls, and ran frantically up and down
the town.

As soon as the slaves were procured, by sale on shipboard, by auction,
or by scramble, they received the private marks of their owners. Each
planter had a silver plate, perforated with his letter, figure, or
cipher, which he used to designate his own slaves by branding. If two
planters happened to be using the same mark, the brand was placed upon
different spots of the body. The heated plate, with an interposing piece
of oiled or waxed paper, was touched lightly to the body; the flesh
swelled, and the form of the brand could never be obliterated. Many
slaves passed from one plantation to another, being sold and resold,
till their bodies were as thick with marks as an obelisk. How different
from the symbols of care in the furrowed face and stooping form of a
free laborer, where the history of a humble home, planted in marriage
and nursed by independent sorrow, is printed by the hand of God!

By this fusion of native races a Creole nation of slaves was slowly
formed and maintained. The old qualities were not lost, but new
qualities resulted from the new conditions. The _bozal_ negro was easily
to be distinguished from the Creole. _Bozal_ is from the Spanish,
meaning _muzzled_, that is, ignorant of the Creole language and not able
to talk.[K] Creole French was created by the negroes, who put into it
very few words of their native dialects, but something of the native
construction, and certain euphonic peculiarities. It is interesting to
trace their love of alliteration and a concord of sounds in this mongrel
French, which became a new colonial language. The bright and sparkling
French appears as if submitted to great heat and just on the point of
running together. There is a great family of African dialects in which
a principal sound, or the chief sound of a leading word, appears in
all the words of a sentence, from no grammatical reason at all, but to
satisfy a sweetish ear. It is like the charming gabble of children, who
love to follow the first key that the tongue strikes. Mr. Grout[L] and
other missionaries note examples of this: _Abantu bake bonke abakoluayo
ba hlala ba de ba be ba quedile_, is a sentence to illustrate this
native disposition. The alliteration is sometimes obscured by elisions
and contractions, but never quite disappears. Mr. Grout says: "So
strong is the influence of this inclination to concord produced by the
repetition of initials, that it controls the distinction of number, and
quite subordinates that of gender, and tends to mould the pronoun after
the likeness of the initial element of the noun to which it refers; as,
_Izintombi zake zi ya hamba_, 'The daughters of him they do walk.'"
These characteristics appear in the formation of the Creole French, in
connection with another childlike habit of the negro, who loves to put
himself in the objective case, and to say _me_ instead of _I_, as if he
knew that he had to be a chattel.

[Footnote K: In Cuba, the slave who had lived upon the island long
enough to learn the language was called _Ladino_, "versed in an idiom."]

[Footnote L: _American Oriental Society_, Vol. I. p. 423, _et seq._]

The article _un, une_, could not have been pronounced by a negro. It
became in his mouth _nion_. The personal pronouns _je, tu, il_, were
converted into _mo, to, ly_, and the possessive _mon, ton, son_ into
_a moue, a toue, a ly_, and were placed after the noun, which negro
dialects generally start their sentences with. Possessive pronouns had
the unmeaning syllable _quien_ before them, as, _Nous gagne quien a
nous_, for _Nous avons les notres_; and demonstrative pronouns were
changed in this way: _Mo voir z'animaux la yo_, for _J'ai vu ces
animaux_, and _Ci la yo qui te vivre,_ for _Ceux qui ont vecu._ A few
more examples will suffice to make other changes clear. A negro was
asked to lend his horse; he replied, _Mouchee_ (Monsieur), _mo pas gagne
choual, mais mo connais qui gagne ly; si ly pas gagne ly, ly faut mo
gagne ly, pour vous gagne_: "Massa, me no got horse, but me know who got
um; if him no got um, him get me um for you." _Quelquechose_ becomes
_quichou; zozo = oiseau; gournee = combattre; guete = voir; zombi =
revenant; bouge = demeurer; hele = appeler,_ etc.[M]

[Footnote M: Harvey's _Sketches of Haiti_, p. 292. See a vocabulary in
_Manuel des Habitans de St. Domingue,_ par L.J. Ducoeurjoly, Tom. II.
Here is a verse of a Creole song, written in imitation of the negro

Dipi mo perdi Lisette,
Mo pas souchie Calinda,[A]
Mo quitte bram-bram sonette,
Mo pas batte bamboula.[B]
Quand mo contre l'aut' negresse,
Mo pas gagne z'yeu pour ly;
Mo pas souchie travail piece,
Tou qui chose a moue mouri.

The French of which is as follows:--

Mes pas, loin de ma Lisette,
S'eloiguent du Calinda;
Et ma ceinture a sonnette
Languit sur mon bamboula.
Mon oeil de toute autre belle
N'apercoit plus le souris;
Le travail en vain m'appelle,
Mes sens sont aneantis.

[Footnote A: A favorite dance.]

[Footnote B: A kind of tambourine or drum made of a keg stretched with
skins, and sometimes hung with bells.]]

The dialect thus formed by the aid of traits common to many negro tribes
was a solution into which their differences fell to become modified;
when the barriers of language were broken down, the common African
nature, with all its good and evil, appeared in a Creole form. The
forced labor, the caprice of masters, and the cruel supervision of the
overseers engendered petty vices of theft, concealment, and hypocrisy.
The slave became meaner than the native African in all respects; even
his passions lost their extravagant sincerity, but part of the manliness
went with it. Intelligence, ability, adroitness were exercised in
a languid way; rude and impetuous tribes became more docile and
manageable, but those who were already disposed to obedience did not
find either motive or influence to lift their natures into a higher
life. An average slave-character, not difficult to govern, but without
instinct to improve, filled the colony. A colonist would hardly suspect
the fiery Africa whose sun ripened the ancestors of his slaves, unless
he caught them by accident in the midst of their voluptuous _Calenda_,
or watched behind some tree the midnight orgy of magic and Fetichism. A
slave-climate gnawed at the bold edges of their characters and wore them
down, as the weather rusted out more rapidly than anywhere else all
the iron tools and implements of the colony. The gentler traits of the
African character, mirth and jollity, affectionateness, domestic love,
regard and even reverence for considerate masters, were the least
impaired; for these, with a powerful religiosity, are indigenous, like
the baobab and palm, and give a great accent to the name of Africa. What
other safeguard had a planter with his wife and children, who lived with
thirty slaves or more, up to six hundred, upon solitary plantations that
were seldom visited by the _marechaussee,_ or rural police? The root of
such a domination was less in the white man's superiority than in the
docile ability of those who ought to have been his natural enemies.
"_Totidem esse hostes quot servos_" said Seneca; but he was thinking of
the Scythian and Germanic tribes. A North-American Indian, or a Carib,
though less pagan than a native African, could never become so subdued.
Marooning occurred every day, and cases of poisoning, perpetrated
generally by Ardra negroes, who were addicted to serpent-worship, were
not infrequent; but they poisoned a rival or an enemy of their own race
as often as a white man. The "Affiches Americaines," which was published
weekly at Port-au-Prince, had always a column or two describing fugitive
negroes; but local disturbances or insurrectionary attempts were very
rare: a half-dozen cannot be counted since the Jolofs of Diego Columbus
frightened Spaniards from the colony. If this be so in an island whose
slaves were continually reinforced by native Africans, bringing Paganism
to be confirmed by a corrupt Catholicism, where every influence was
wanton and debased, and the plantation-cruelties, as we shall shortly
see, outheroded everything that slave-holding annals can reveal, how
much less likely is it that we shall find the slave insurrectionary in
the United States, whence the slave-trade has been excluded for nearly
two generations, and where the African, modified by climate, and by
religious exercises of his own which are in harmony with his native
disposition and enjoin him not to be of a stout mind, waits prayerfully
till liberty shall be proclaimed! If the slaveholder ever lived in
dread, it was not so much from what he expected as from what he knew
that he deserved. But the African is more merciful than the conscience
of a slaveholder. Blessed are these meek ones: they shall yet inherit
earth in America!

France was always more humane than her colonies, for every rising sun
did not rekindle there the dreadful paradox that sugar and sweetness
were incompatible, and she could not taste the stinging lash as the
crystals melted on her tongue.[N] An ocean rolled between. She always
endeavored to protect the slave by legislation; but the Custom of Paris,
when it was gentle, was doubly distasteful to the men who knew how
impracticable it was. Louis XIII. would not admit that a single slave
lived in his dominions, till the priests convinced him that it was
possible through the slave-trade to baptize the Ethiopian again. Louis
XIV. issued the famous _Code Noir_ in 1685, when the colonists had
already begun to shoot a slave for a saucy gesture, and to hire
buccaneers to hunt marooning negroes at ten dollars per head.[O]

[Footnote N: There was a proverb as redoubtably popular as Solomon's
"Spare the rod"; it originated in Brazil, where the natives were easily
humiliated:--"_Regarder un sauvage de travers, c'est le battre; le
battre, c'es le tuer: battre un negre, c'est le nourrir_": Looking hard
at a savage is beating him: beating is the death of him: but to beat a
negro is bread and meat to him.]

[Footnote O: A Commissioner's fee under the Fugitive-Slave Bill. History
will repeat herself to emphasize the natural and inalienable rights of
slave-catchers. In 1706 the planters organized a permanent force of
maroon-hunters, twelve men to each quarter of the island, who received
the annual stipend of three hundred livres. In addition to this, the
owners paid thirty livres for each slave caught in the canes or roads,
forty-five for each captured beyond the _mornes_, and sixty for those
who escaped to more distant places. The hunters might fire at the slave,
if he could not be otherwise stopped, and draw the same sums. In 1711
the maroons became so insolent that the planters held four regular
chases or _battues_ per annum.]

The _Code Noir_ was the basis of all the colonial legislation which
affected the condition of the slave, and it is important to notice its
principal articles. We have only room to present them reduced to their
essential substance.

Negroes must be instructed in the Catholic religion, and _bozals_ must
be baptized within eight days after landing. All overseers must be
Catholic. Sundays and _fete_ days are days of rest for the negro; no
sale of negroes or any other commodity can take place on those days.

Free men who have children by slaves, and masters who permit the
connection, are liable to a fine of two thousand pounds of sugar. If the
guilty person be a master, his slave and her children are confiscated
for the benefit of the hospital, and cannot be freed.

If a free man is not married to any white person during concubinage with
his slave, and shall marry said slave, she and her children shall become

No consent of father and mother is essential for marriage between
slaves, but no master can constrain slaves to marry against their will.

If a slave has a free black or colored woman for his wife, the male
and female children shall follow the condition of the mother; and if a
slave-woman has a free husband, the children shall follow his condition.

The weekly ration for a slave of ten years old and upwards consists of
five Paris pints of manioc meal, or three cassava loaves, each weighing
two and a half pounds, with two pounds of salt beef, or three of fish,
or other things in proportion, but never any tafia[P] in the place of a
ration; and no master can avoid giving a slave his ration by offering
him a day for his own labor. Weaned children to the age of ten are
entitled to half the above ration. Each slave must also have two suits
of clothes yearly, or cloth in proportion.

[Footnote P: A coarse rum distilled from the sugar-cane.]

Slaves who are not properly nourished and clothed by their masters can
lodge a complaint against them. If it be well-founded, the masters can
be prosecuted without cost to the slave.

Slaves who are old, infirm, diseased, whether incurable or not, must be
supported. If they are abandoned by masters, they are to be sent to the
hospital, and the masters must pay six sols daily for their support.

A slave's testimony can be received as a statement to serve the courts
in procuring light elsewhere; but no judge can draw presumption,
conjecture, or proof therefrom.

The slave who strikes his master or mistress, or their children, so as
to draw blood, or in the face, may be punished even with death; and all
excesses or offences committed by slaves against free persons shall be
severely punished, even with death, if the case shall warrant.

Any free or enfranchised person who shall shelter a fugitive shall be

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