The reader will readily call to mind the oft-quoted couplet in Pope's Essay on Criticism:
''Tis with our judgments as our watches: none Go just alike, yet each believes his own.'
Writing prefaces, it seems, has never been a popular task with book-makers, and playwrights have a no less weighty burden of complaint:
'Now, deuce take him that first good prologue writ: He left a kind of rent-charge upon wit, Which, if succeeding poets fail to pay, They forfeit all they're worth, and that's their play.'
Prologue to The Goblins.
His apology for the present work is ingenious:
'The richness of the ground is gone and spent. Men's brains grow barren, and you raise the rent.'
A collection of about thirty letters are addressed, for the most part, to the fair sex, and sparkle with wit and gallantry. The taste that is displayed in them is elegant, and the style, as rapid and flowing as correspondence need be—praeterea nihil. When you have perused them, you find that nothing substantial has been said. But Suckling, with pains, might have risen to superior rank as a prose writer. This is evident from An Account of Religion by Reason, a brochure presented to the Earl of Dorset, wherein his perspicuous style appears to good advantage, joined with well-digested thought and argument.
But it is Suckling's poems that have been best known and most admired. The school that flourished in this age, and devoted its muse to gay and amorous poetry, was but a natural reaction from the stern, harsh views of the Puritan, who despised and condemned belles lettres as the wickedness of sin and folly. Suckling's poems are few in number, and, with rare exceptions, are all brief. The most lengthy is the Sessions of the Poets, a satire upon the poets of his day, from rare Ben Jonson, with Carew and Davenant, down to those of less note—
'Selwin and Walter, and Bartlett both the brothers, Jack Vaughan, and Porter, and divers others.'
The versification is defective, but the satire is piquant, and no doubt discriminating and just. At any rate, what the poet says of himself hits the truth nearer than confessions commonly do:
'Suckling next was called, but did not appear; But straight one whispered Apollo i' the ear, That of all men living he cared not for't— He loved not the muses so well as his sport; And prized black eyes, or a lucky hit At bowls, above all the trophies of wit.'
In Suckling's love-songs we discover the brilliancy of Sedley, the abandon of Rochester, (though hardly carried to so scandalous an extreme) and a strength and fervor which, with care for the minor matters of versification and melody, might have equaled or even surpassed the best strains of Herrick. In a complaint that his mistress will not return her heart for his that she has stolen, he says:
'I prithee send me back my heart, Since I can not have thine; For if from yours you will not part, Why, then, shouldst thou have mine?
'Yet, now I think on't, let it lie; To find it were in vain: For thou'st a thief in either eye Would steal it back again.'
The following, which has always been a favorite, was originally sung by Orsames in Aglaura, who figures in the dramatis personae as an 'anti-Platonic young lord':
'Why so pale and wan, fond lover? Prithee, why so pale? Will, when looking well can't move her, Looking ill prevail? Prithee, why so pale?
'Why so dull and mute, young sinner? Prithee, why so mute? Will, when speaking well can't win her, Saying nothing do't? Prithee, why so mute?
'Quit, quit, for shame; this will not move, This can not take her; If of herself she will not love, Nothing can make her— The devil take her!'
We are tempted to add still another, which, to our taste, is the best of his songs. A faulty versification deserves censure in all of them:
'Hast thou seen the down in the air, When wanton blasts have tossed it? Or the ship on the sea, When ruder winds have crossed it? Hast thou marked the crocodile's weeping, Or the fox's sleeping? Or hast thou viewed the peacock in his pride, Or the dove by his bride, When he courts her for his lechery? Oh! so fickle, oh! so vain, oh! so false, so false is she!'
Love has been compared to a variety of objects, all of them with more or less aptness. When some one likened it to a potato, because it 'shoots from the eyes,' was it not Byron who was wicked enough to add, 'and because it becomes all the less by pairing'? One wretched swain tells us that he finds it to be
'——a dizziness, That will not let an honest man go about his business.'
But no similitude can be more striking or more lasting than that of love to a state of debt. So long as human nature continues materially the same, these words, of four letters each, will express sensations pretty nearly identical. The ease with which a poor creature falls into one or the other of these snares, is all the more remarkable from the difficulty which he is sure to encounter in his attempts at getting out. Besides, is not love sometimes a real debit and credit account? But, not to pursue the interesting inquiry further, we submit that there is good sense, as well as good poetry, (does the latter always insure the presence of the former?) in the lines we quote, which Sir John has labeled Love and Debt alike Troublesome:
'This one request I make to him that sits the clouds above: That I were freely out of debt, as I am out of love; Then for to dance, to drink, and sing, I should be very willing— I should not owe one lass a kiss, nor ne'er a knave a shilling. 'Tis only being in love and debt that breaks us of our rest, And he that is quite out of both, of all the world is blest; He sees the golden age wherein all things were free and common, He eats, he drinks, he takes his rest, he fears no man nor woman. Though Croesus compassed great wealth, yet he still craved more; He was as needy a beggar still as goes from door to door. Though Ovid was a merry man, love ever kept him sad; He was as far from happiness as one that is stark mad. Our merchant, he in goods is rich, and full of gold and treasure; But when he thinks upon his debts, that thought destroys his pleasure. Our courtier thinks that he's preferred, whom every man envies; When love so rumbles in his pate, no sleep comes in his eyes. Our gallant's case is worst of all—he lies so just betwixt them: For he's in love, and he's in debt, and knows not which most vex him!'
The Metamorphose is forcible, perhaps it has more force and wit than elegance. The occasion may be where Sir John has for once shown himself a 'constant lover':
'The little boy, to show his might and power, Turned Io to a cow, Narcissus to a flower; Transformed Apollo to a homely swain, And Jove himself into a golden rain. These shapes were tolerable; but by the mass, He's metamorphosed me into an ass!'
There is no hesitancy in pronouncing which of Suckling's poetic pieces should be called the best. It is the Ballad upon a Wedding. For ease and jocoseness of description it stands almost unapproachable. Of course, many other such productions may show equal fidelity to nature; and there is a small class of poems which may boast a vein of the same sparkling humor; but it would be difficult—we were ready to say impossible—to cite another instance of so exquisite a commingling of these two elements.
It requires a master-hand, it must be remembered, to harmonize these touches of playful fancy with what the poet is obliged to recognize as facts in nature. A tyro in the art is likely to transcend nature and alter a little things as he finds them, when he wishes to indulge in sportive recreation. Something well out of the common course must be laid hold on to excite that pleasant feeling of surprise which lies at the foundation of wit, if not of humor. Every one knows how much easier it is to call forth mirth by caricature than by simple truth; nor need it be added that while the former leaves but a momentary impression, the latter abides longer and seldom tires. Broad farce is rewarded by the tremendous applause of the gallery, but the pit and boxes confess to a deal more gratification in the quiet humor of an old comedy. This ballad displays all the vivacity and humor of light comedy, though we miss the virtue-inculcating moral at the close. We fear that we have already trespassed too far over the limits of a magazine article. We append only a part of this chef d'oeuvre:
'I tell thee, Dick, where I have been, Where I the rarest sights have seen; Oh! things without compare! Such sights again can not be found In any place on English ground, Be it at wake or fair.
'At Charing Cross, hard by the way Where we (thou know'st) do sell our hay, There is a house with stairs; And there did I see coming down Such folk as are not in our town, Forty at least, in pairs.
* * * * *
'The maid, and thereby hangs a tale, For such a maid no Whitsun'-ale Could ever yet produce: No grape that's kindly ripe could be So round, so plump, so soft as she, Nor half so full of juice.
* * * * *
'Her feet beneath her petticoat, Like little mice stole in and out, As if they feared the light: But oh! she dances such a way! No sun upon an Easter-day Is half so fine a sight.
* * * * *
'Her cheeks, so rare a white was on, No daisy makes comparison; Who sees them is undone; For streaks of red were mingled there. Such as are on a Catherine pear, The side that's next the sun.
'Her lips were red; and one was thin, Compared to that was next her chin, Some bee had stung it newly; But, Dick, her eyes so guard her face, I durst no more upon them gaze, Than on the sun in July.
'Her mouth so small when she doth speak, Thou'dst swear her teeth her words did break, That they might passage get; But she so handled still the matter, They came as good as ours, or better, And are not spent a whit.
* * * * *
'Passion, O me! how I run on; There's that that would be thought upon, I trow, beside the bride: The business of the kitchen's great, For it is fit that men should eat; Nor was it there denied.
* * * * *
'Now hats fly off, and youths carouse; Healths first go round, and then the house, The bride's came thick and thick; And when 'twas named another's health, Perhaps he made it hers by stealth; And who could help it, Dick?
'O' th' sudden up they rise and dance; Then sit again and sigh and glance; Then dance again and kiss. Thus sev'ral ways the time did pass, Till every woman wished her place, And every man wished his.
'By this time all were stolen aside To counsel and undress the bride; But that he must not know— But yet 'twas thought he guessed her mind, And did not mean to stay behind Above an hour or so.'
What can be finer than the verse commencing, 'Her feet beneath her petticoat,' or that which follows: 'Her cheeks,' etc.? That Suckling could write like this, proves that there was in him the dawning of no ordinary genius. He challenges our admiration, not so much for what he has done, as for what he might have done, had his life been spared. Or we should say, rather, what he might have done had he devoted half as much of the life that was granted him to literary labors, as he did to pleasure and dissipation.
TO JOHN BULL.
I hear a voice you can not hear, Which says it will not pay; I see a hand you can not see, Which motions t'other way. The thumb is horizontalized, The fingers perpendic'lar, And scorn for you seems giving there A motion quite partic'lar.
LONDON FOGS AND LONDON POOR.
I first saw London on a morning late in November; or, it will be more correct to say that I should have seen it, if a dense fog had not concealed every thing that belonged to it, wharves, warehouses, churches, St. Paul's, the Tower, the Monument, the Custom-House, the shipping, the river, and the bridge that spanned it. We made our dock in the Thames at an early hour, before I was dressed for landing, and by the time I had hurried upon deck to cast the first eager glance around, the fog had descended, shutting all things from view. A big, looming something was receding as I gained the top of the companion-ladder, and faded altogether before I could attach to it any distinct idea. But the great heart of the city was beating, and where I stood its throbbing was distinctly audible. A hum, in which all sounds were blended, a confused roar of the human ocean that rolled around me, fell with strange effect upon my ear, accustomed for nearly five weeks only to the noises peculiar to shipboard.
Certainly the fog did not afford me a cheering welcome. It was denser and dirtier than the fogs we had encountered off the banks of Newfoundland, and more chilling and disagreeable to the human frame. It did not disperse the whole day. What with the difficulty that attended our landing, and the long delay consequent upon the very dilatory movements of the Custom-House officers, the night had fairly closed in—it did not add much to the darkness—before I was en route to an hotel. A Scotch fellow-passenger, who had maintained a sullen reserve throughout the voyage, which ought to have placed me on my guard against him, had attached himself to me during our troubles at the Custom-House, and now joined with us all in loud rebuke of the sluggish motions and rude behavior of the officers. He knew that I was a stranger, and with a show of cordiality, for which I was very thankful, he invited me to accompany him to a quiet, respectable hotel, where the charges were not exorbitant. As his proposal suited my purse and my humor, I acquiesced willingly enough, little suspecting into what hands I had fallen. In less than an hour we were seated at a capital dinner, the best that I ever remembered to have eaten, so exquisite is the relish imparted by a keen appetite to the first meal one gets on shore after a long sea-voyage.
We were wearied with the day's annoyances, and as the streets were very uninviting, we sat smoking segars in the coffee-room of the establishment. As one person after another dropped in, we heard of the increase of the fog outside, and, indeed, it had long since entered and filled the apartment till the outline of the waiter, as he moved to and fro in supplying the wants of the company, became indistinct, and his head, whenever he approached the chandelier, radiated a glory. As I had often read of a London fog in November, I judged this to be an excellent opportunity for seeing one, and accepted my companion's proposal to repair to the door of the hotel. The scene was like nothing else I ever had witnessed. At the distance of five yards the light of a gas-lamp was invisible. We could not distinguish each other's features as we stood side by side. Stages, cabs, and coaches were creeping forward at the rate of twenty yards in a minute, the drivers carrying glaring torches, and leading the horses by their bridles. Even at this pace the danger of a collision was imminent. Pedestrians, homeward bound, were at their wits' end. As they could not have proceeded fifty paces in security without a torch, they were each provided with one, but some of them contrived to lose their way notwithstanding, and seeing us on the steps of the hotel, halted to make inquiries. One man assured us that he had been half an hour looking for the next street. The better to convince myself of the density of the mist, I extended my arm to its full length and tried to count my fingers. From ocular evidence alone, I certainly could not have told whether I had four, five, or six.
It was an amusing sight to see scores of ragged boys carrying about torches for sale. The cry of 'Links! links!' resounded on all sides. 'Light you home for sixpence, sir,' said one of them, as I stood watching their operations. 'If 'tan't far,' he added, presently, 'I'll light you for a Joey.' A Joey is the flash term for a four-penny piece, or eight cents of our money, and is so called because these silver coins, somewhat larger than a half-dime, are said to owe their origin to Mr. Joseph Hume. We witnessed a bargain struck between one of these urchins and a servant-girl, who imprudently yielded to his demand to have the money in advance. No sooner had the young rogue conveyed it to his pocket than he ran off to seek another customer as simple, leaving the poor girl to strike a wiser bargain on the next occasion.
That I might fairly appreciate the character of the fog, my companion proposed that we should 'put off into the unknown dark.' Not till I had got into the street, and was groping my way among the pedestrians, instead of watching them in security from the topmost of a flight of steps, could I estimate its real nature. To my bewildered eyes it had the appearance of a solid wall constantly opposing our further progress. The blazing torches that we met were invisible at fifty yards' distance. The tradesmen had closed their stores from fear of thieves, who are remarkably active at such seasons. I afterward learned that in one of the leading thoroughfares a vender of hams and bacon, who had a quantity of goods exposed in front of his open store, was robbed in a most daring manner at an early hour of the evening. The thieves drove a cart to his door, and had nearly filled the vehicle with spoil before they were observed. The tradesman rushed into the street, but the villains had urged on the horse, and although he heard the noise of the wheels, pursuit was an utter impossibility. Robberies on the person are of frequent occurrence at such times, even in the most crowded streets, the security with which the thief attacks a single individual rendering his audacity almost incredible. Before assistance can arrive he has darted across the road, and is in safety at a few yards' distance from the scene of his violence.
We were about a quarter of a mile from the hotel, and were on the point of retracing our steps when a cry of 'Fire!' was raised in our vicinity, followed by a rush of several persons in the direction from which the alarm proceeded. In a few minutes all the torches in the street seemed to be collected in one spot, and the crowd grew rapidly. I expected to hear the fire-bell, but I was told that the Londoners have no alarm-bell of any kind. The glare of a conflagration is usually the first warning conveyed to the firemen, when instantly a score of engines are turned out, horses, that are always kept ready harnessed, are fastened to the shafts, and away they go, pell-mell, through the streets, every vehicle, to the Lord Mayor's or Prime Minister's carriage, being compelled to draw aside and give them room to pass. On this occasion their services were not required, the fire being confined to the basement-story of the building in which it had originated, and extinguished by the exertions of the inmates before any material injury was sustained. The crowd that had collected was not a small one, and the congregation of so many torches dispelled in part the oppressive gloom of the fog. But when they had dispersed, and the unnatural darkness was made more palpable by the sudden contrast effected by the withdrawal of such a glare of light, I found that my companion had disappeared. Once I fancied that my name was called, and I thought that he was perhaps searching for me in a wrong direction. I ran, as I conjectured, in pursuit of his retreating footsteps, but was soon abruptly brought to a halt by a wall, against which I nearly dashed myself with a force that would have stunned me. Of the name of the hotel, or even of the street on which it was situated, I was utterly ignorant, and as the climax of my difficulty, I discovered that all the money I had in my pocket was a fifty-cent piece that I had brought from New-York. I attempted to buy a torch of a boy, but I could not persuade him that my half-dollar, though it was not current money, was worth much more than an English sixpence, valued as old silver. He evidently regarded me as an improper character, and refused to deal with me. I detained the first man I met, and explained my situation, but as I could give him no clue to the whereabouts of the hotel, he could furnish me no assistance. As nearly as I could conjecture, it was within half a mile of the spot where I was standing, but I could not indicate the direction, 'There are fifty hotels,' he said, 'within that distance, taking the sweep of the compass.'
I now began seriously to fear that I should have to pass the night in the streets. My clothes were already moist with the fog, and I knew that before morning they must be saturated. A policeman, who chanced to pass at this juncture, recommended me to obtain a bed at the nearest inn, and to renew my search in the morning. Then arose the difficulty about the money; but as it occurred to me that I could leave my watch in charge of the landlord as security for the payment of my expenses, I decided to accompany him to an inn in the neighborhood, to which he undertook to guide me. It was an indifferent place, being one of the gin-palaces for which London is famous, but I was content, under the circumstances, to remain there. The landlord, having examined my watch, and being satisfied that it would cover all reasonable charges, if I never reappeared to claim it, conferred with his wife respecting her domestic arrangements. It was not usual, he told me, personally, for him to let beds at such a late hour to strangers, but he thought I could be accommodated. The policeman's satisfaction was very cordially expressed, and as he lingered at my elbow, and significantly remarked that the fog had got into his throat, I ordered him a glass of warm brandy and water, for which he bowed acknowledgments. He was dressed, I noticed, in the livery with which the engravings in Punch have made our public familiar. He asked me several questions about the police in New-York, complained that it was impossible for a man to live decently in England, and remarked that 'if it weren't for the knocking-up money, a policeman in London couldn't do it nohow.' I inquired what he meant by 'knocking-up money,' and was informed that it was the custom in London, and in all the large towns, for laboring men, who had to rise to their work at an early hour, to pay a small sum weekly to the policeman in whose 'beat' they resided, for knocking loudly at their doors in the morning to awaken them. It is usual for policemen to add several shillings to their weekly wages by this practice, and it is so far recognized by the regulations of the force, that men who have slightly misconducted themselves are punished by being removed from a 'beat' where there is a great deal of 'knocking-up' to be performed, and transferred to a more respectable quarter of the town, where the inhabitants are not compelled to rise until they choose.
I had leisure before the arrangements for my night's repose were concluded, to contemplate the novel scene which the interior of the gin-palace presented. Many of our Broadway liquor-stores are, in point of gilding and decoration, equally splendid, but there all resemblance ceases. Behind the spacious bar stood immense vats containing whole hogsheads of ardent spirits. These were elevated on a pedestal about four feet from the floor, and reached to the lofty ceiling. Their contents were gin, whisky, rum, and brandy, of various standards. Others of a somewhat smaller size contained port, sherry, and Madeira wines, or the adulterations which pass by their names, with an undiscriminating public. When these vats were empty, they were filled from barrels in the cellars beneath by means of a force-pump.
The customers at the bar were of a motley description. There were many females among them, mostly girls of the town, who were swallowing undiluted drams of gin and peppermint. Pallid mechanics and their wives, the latter sometimes bearing young children in their arms, exhibited varying degrees of drunkenness, from the hilarious or maudlin state to that of rolling intoxication. Even children, whose size was so diminutive that they had to stand on tiptoe to elevate their heads above the counter, demanded and received their liquor, imbibing the burning fluid with eyes that sparkled delight. I was in the temple of the gin-fiend, and the crowd around me were his daily devotees.
The next morning when I awoke I hastened to the window of my room. The opposite houses were visible, and the ordinary traffic of the streets was not impeded. A drizzling rain was falling, and pedestrians waded ankle deep in slush and mud. The fog, though partially dispelled, brooded over the house-tops, and concealed the chimneys. All the stores were lighted with gas, and one could well imagine that the sun had never shone in that dismal climate.
The landlord readily consented to advance me a pound sterling on my watch, and without stopping to take breakfast, I plunged into the miry streets. I was at a loss what course to pursue. The fog of the previous evening had prevented my noticing any of the external features of the hotel in which I had dined with my Scotch acquaintance, and where my trunks, that contained all the money for my travels, and the introductory letters that were essential to the purpose for which I had visited Europe, were deposited. The house in which I had passed the night was situated in St. Martin's Lane, and a radius thrown out from that centre would, in some quarter, touch the hotel at a distance of half a mile or thereabout. I was sure of that, as of one ascertained fact, but I had no other clue to guide my footsteps.
I know not how many hotels I entered during that day. The night, I know, had closed in, and found me a denizen of the streets, splashed with mud to the collar of my coat, and worn out with fatigue. At night I got a bed at a small coffee-house, for I saw that it would be necessary to economize the few shillings that I had in my possession. The sun was really shining the next morning, when I breakfasted, and the landlord spoke of the blue sky, remarking that the day would be a fine one. To my apprehension the sky was gray, which is, indeed, almost always the color of the English sky at all seasons. From the Post-Office Directory, which I found at the coffee-house, I copied a list of all the hotels within half a mile of St. Martin's Lane. Entering one of these about noon—it was situated in Rupert street—I recognized the first waiter who presented himself. I thought it strange that he did not seem surprised at my appearance, or allude to my enforced absence, but upon inquiring for the Scotchman, I was utterly confounded by his reply: 'Oh! the gentleman that dined with you, sir, the day before yesterday. He went away yesterday, sir, and took your trunks with him.'
'Took my trunks with him!' I exclaimed.
'Yes, sir; he said that you had gone on to Birmingham, by the mail-train, and that he was to follow with the luggage.'
I almost reeled at the intelligence. The perfidy of the Scotchman was manifest. He had taken me into the fog to lose me, and while I was picturing his dismay at the accident which had separated us, and his anxiety on my account, the scoundrel was appropriating my trunks and valises. I hastened to confer with the proprietor of the hotel respecting the step which it would be best to take. He was a very respectable man, and was sincerely grieved for my loss.
'We will go to Scotland Yard immediately,' he said, 'and acquaint the Chief of Police.'
My money, my letters, every thing that stood between me and beggary were in the purloined trunks. The landlord told me to regard his house as my home. The police-officer heard my story patiently, but seemed to think that the chance of getting back the trunks was a small one. And the sequel proved he was right.
Altogether, I resided fifteen months in London, and the present record will consist of my later and more matured impressions. An American who has never seen this metropolis can have but a faint idea of it. A fair distribution of the houses would cover Manhattan Island. Two of its parks contain some square miles of pleasure-ground, and the smallest of five would clear New-York of buildings from the City Hall to the Battery. It is indeed a mammoth city. The ancient suburbs of Westminster, Southwark, Lambeth, Chelsea, Islington, Pentonville, Shoreditch, Hackney, Whitechapel, Limehouse, Rotherhithe, with the modern Pimlico, Knightsbridge, Old and New Brompton, Bayswater, Paddington, St. John's Wood, Camden Town, Somer's Town, Kingsland, Camberwell, and many more, are now united with it, and make it by far the largest city in the world. Starting from almost any point of its extreme boundary, and traversing the city till you reach the opposite boundary—as from Brompton to Hackney—you will walk nine miles nearly in a straight line without quitting the pavement. I was disappointed in many of the public buildings; I would be understood, however, to refer to them only as works of architecture, for to the interest attaching to their historical associations I could not be insensible. Protestantism has built no churches. St. Paul's is its best effort, and that is a failure. It is, indeed, a wonderful building, considered per se, but compare it with the Continental cathedrals, or with York Minster. I must own that the shameful exaction of money at the doors created a feeling of dissatisfaction which, perhaps, in some measure transferred itself to the edifice. The English are the only people who are so mercenary as to charge for admission to their temples, and the man who guards the door of St. Paul's is one of the worst specimens of his class. I paid cheerfully a dollar and a quarter to see a play of Shakspeare's performed at the Haymarket Theatre, but I grudged the four cents that I dropped into the exacting palm of the rubicund janitor of St. Paul's, 'Tis a vile system. They sell the memories of their famous heroes, of their philosophers and poets, by making a raree-show of their tombs. A nation should have free access to the hallowed spots where rest the ashes of its mightiest dead. St. Paul's, Westminster Abbey, and all such buildings, should be free as the streets to decent people, for genius receives inspiration at such altars, and men fresh from the commonplace of every-day life rub off the rust of the world in the holy and awful calm of these and kindred sanctuaries. How venerable would they appear to the American, if they were not markets of gain and greed to their clerical proprietors! The poets whose tombs are the chief attraction in Westminster Abbey are not foreigners to the Anglo-Saxon race of the New World. We, too, claim a property in their works. Our forefathers were cotemporaries with Shakspeare, Spenser, and Milton, inhabited the same land, breathed the same air, were subject to the same laws; and we speak to-day the language of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Tennyson. We have, I insist, a claim on the glorious memories that give renown to England; and the avarice that bars the gates of her abbeys and cathedrals against the poor, is a disgrace to a great nation.
There has been lately a report that St. Paul's had grown ashamed of its greediness, and Westminster Abbey has at length really admitted the public without demanding its sixpences—admitted, that is, to a large portion of the building, but not to the whole. The mausoleums of the kings are still worthy, in the opinion of the Dean and Chapter, of some silver coins sterling. Let them remain so. We are not especially anxious to do homage to them. The intellectually great of England are worthy of much—sometimes of all reverence; her kings of very little, or of none. But St. Paul's is closed still, notwithstanding the report of free admission which recently agitated the public of London. Nelson's sepulchre is worth some score of pounds sterling per annum. Dr. Johnson's statue can be seen any day for twopence, which is tenpence less than Madame Tassaud charges for admission to her wax effigies, and must therefore be considered cheap.
An American is astonished at the number of beggars in every city of England. Even the small towns and the smallest villages have them. Their numbers in London are roundly estimated at one hundred and twenty thousand. You meet them every where. They are, in some quarters, like the paving-stones of the street—eternally present. There are artists in colored chalks, who limn the heads of Christ and Napoleon on the pavement, with the inscription: 'I am starving.' Very fairly are the portraits executed; very decent artists they are, and they grovel by the side of their handiwork in an attitude of broken-hearted despondency, and pocket the pennies of the charitable. Objects the most decrepit in nature, hideous, half-nude wretches, male and female, creep along the streets, shivering, too evidently starving, till your heart aches at the spectacle, and you deprive yourself of your last cent to administer relief. These are impostors. So are the respectable class—the broken-down tradesmen, who, in a suit of decent black Saxony cloth, and wearing a spotless white kerchief around their necks, offer lead-pencils for sale. So respectable are they, that you start to see them, and are almost ashamed to offer them a dollar; but they will accept a cent, and will ply the same trade for years to come, in a suit equally as respectable. It is one of the mysteries connected with them, that their clothes never wear out. I grew familiar with the features of one of these respectable men, from seeing him almost daily in some quarter of London. During the twelve months that I kept my eye upon him, the condition of his apparel was unchanged. His coat never got old, nor did he ever have a new one. That man is at this moment an unpleasant puzzle to me—a conundrum without a solution. The income of this class of beggars, I was told, is considerable—much better than a clerk's in Lombard or Wall street.
The lodging-houses of the lowest class of professed beggars, who do not trade on assumed respectability, or make a pretense of having once been better off, present to an American a spectacle, or chapter of spectacles, of which he can previously have no conception. They are situated in the most densely crowded and dirtiest quarters of the town, and are approached through lanes of the most noisome filth. No comparison holds good with any quarter of Boston, New-York, Philadelphia, or any city of the Union, for there is nothing in our cities to compare with them. Let us enter one of them. The common boarding-room, in which meals are taken, is about forty feet long by twenty broad. Either the floor has never been paved, or a thick layer of street-soil has hidden the stones for many a day past. Along each side of a long, narrow table, runs a wooden bench of rough construction, which is the only seat the place affords. The knives and forks are chained to the table. Strange implements they are, and a thief, one would think, must be reduced to shifts indeed if they could offer him a temptation. Almost every fork has lost one of its prongs, and every knife has been notched or otherwise abused. The plaster has mostly fallen from the walls of the room, the very laths are cut away, and the naked bricks and rude masonry are exposed. The ceiling is blackened with the tobacco-smoke of years, ascending every night from a hundred pipes. The filth that accumulates is seldom cleared away, but is swept into heaps in the corners, and remains there perhaps for weeks. A stench pervades the place, and a horrible moisture settles upon the walls. The room every night has the appearance of a market-place, where beggars vend and where beggars are the purchasers. From the roof a dim light is suspended, and candles stuck into glass bottles are placed upon the table. The daily contributions of the benevolent are here disposed of; what one has, another lacks. Old coats, old boots and shoes, old gowns, are freely bartered for tobacco and gin. Women from neighboring rag-shops attend to buy, and candle-makers send their agents to collect fat and grease. Every individual brings his own food, for the proprietor of the house finds lodging only, and not board. The atmosphere reeks with the smell of herrings and fried sausages. After supper is finished, a fiddler—one of their number, paid for his services by contributions of tobacco and beer—strikes up some merry music; dancing commences, and goes on till midnight, and often far into the morning. Save in such houses, such dancing and such dancers were never seen. The lame cast aside their crutches, the blind regain their sight, the paralyzed are alert and nimble, the trampers of every species jig in turn, or altogether, shaking their rags unto the jocund tune; and where is there a blither party? Burns has pictured the scene in his 'Jolly Beggars,' and he is the laureate of the night.
Would you know what kind of dormitories these people resort to when their dancing is finished? I will describe one out of many that I saw, which will serve as a specimen of the rest. Let us ascend the rickety staircase. The atmosphere is intolerably foul, and you feel that a week's confinement in such a den would cause your death. Well, these are the beds; a heap of straw, matted with long service, and a filthily foul rug for a coverlet. The sleepers have no other covering, in summer or winter. These beds change their occupants, perhaps, every night; for a tramper seldom sleeps two consecutive nights in the same place. Do not approach too near, for they are alive with loathsome vermin. There are twenty-five beds in a room thirty feet by fourteen, and in each bed two and sometimes three persons are placed. When the landlord is doing a good business, he puts three lodgers in each bed. Seventy-five sleepers in that confined space! For such accommodation the charge is six cents per night. And this is quite a respectable lodging-house. There are four-cent lodging-houses, where there is only straw without any covering; and there are three-cent houses, where there is no straw even, but only bare boards rotting beneath a crustation of dirt and filth, which is never washed off.
The frequenters of these places are professed beggars; and although their sufferings are at times great, they must not be classed with the deserving poor. You will see the latter lingering at the doors of work-houses. I have seen some two hundred of them on a winter's evening, when the frost has sharply bound up the lakes in the parks and the fountains in Trafalgar Square, shivering in semi-nudity on the bare and bitter pavement, waiting for admission. The houses of the rich—where lap-dogs were fed on hot and savory steaks, or even on daintier poultry—were standing around, and the heavens were as brass to the wails of the wretched crowd. I have been fairly staggered at such sights. I remember that one occasion a man dropped dead in the street where I was, while on his way to the workhouse, and it was found upon inquiry that he was really starved to death.
They sit and lie before the work-houses, at such times, huddled almost upon one another, and forming such groups of hungry, squalid, and degraded human beings, as no painter would venture to transfer from life to canvas. Of the number that apply for admission, one half will be rejected, who must shelter themselves under the dry arches of the bridges, or creep into hidden doorways, up narrow alleys, where the police are not likely to find them. For if found, they would be seized and taken before a magistrate, to be punished for being homeless and without food. Many of them do not dread this punishment, but will seek to deserve it by more criminal conditions than enforced indigence and helpless hunger. They will break street-lamps and tradesmen's windows, to get a month's imprisonment, with food, and rest, and shelter for that period. Others, and the majority, have a prouder spirit. They will escape a prison, with the help of God. Their number is very great. There are fifty thousand, it is said, in London, who rise every morning without knowing where to procure a breakfast. God be with them!
But all the want, and all the sin produced by want, in London, it would take all the volumes of the Conversations-Lexicon to recount. The streets—every street—is filled with it. Survey the thoroughfares at night. If any modest person is occasionally shocked at the exhibitions in Broadway, what would he say to Regent street, the Haymarket, the Strand, Fleet street, Cheapside, or fifty other streets in London? I have reckoned nearly three hundred unfortunate females, as they call themselves, in the space of one mile, on one side of the street alone, from Charing Cross to Temple Bar. These girls, as records testify, were mostly starved into the life of their adoption. They will tell you, if you converse with them in their serious moments—for they have such—that but for the mad excitement drawn from gin, they could not live. The river that flows sullenly along—what a catalogue of woes, what shame and frenzied despair, it has ended!
I was crossing Waterloo Bridge one night when there was suddenly a shout and a rush of people. A girl had thrown herself off the parapet, and was struggling in the water. The moon shone brightly down, and her figure was distinctly visible as she wrestled with the tide that was bearing her away. She was the third that had jumped into the river within twelve days; the average of such suicides in London being one in eight days. A vain effort was made to save her. Her body drifted down the river to be cast up at Greenwich or Woolwich, or perhaps the tide swept it out to sea, never to be found. I searched the newspapers for many days afterward, but saw no record of the poor creature's miserable end. These things happen so frequently in London, that the press seldom records them, unless they offer some peculiar features of interest.
In treating of the horrid want and misery that prevail among the very poorest class in London, I have as yet only partially uncovered the picture. We will draw the curtain back a little further, not to present the entire truth in all its fidelity, for that would be too harrowing.
In the streets of London I have seen women and children contending for the possession of a bone drawn from the slush of the kennel. I have seen boys fight and bruise each other for a crust of bread dropped upon the pavement, and covered with wet mud, or even unsightlier filth. I have entered the abode of this desperate poverty, led thither by children, who have clamored at my side for alms, and found such misery as I am incompetent to express in words. I have seen the living unable to rise from sickness, in the same bed with the dying and the dead. I have known an instance where a living man in strong health, bating the exhausting effects of privation and sorrow, has been compelled to seek repose in the straw beside the body of his dead wife, his children occupying the floor, and there being in the room neither chair in which he could seat himself, nor table on which he could stretch himself for rest. I have seen an infant crawl for nourishment to its dead mother's breast, and there was not in all the house the value of a cent to buy it food. I have seen a wife, in following her husband's body to the grave, drop in the road and die before medical assistance could be procured. A post-mortem examination proved that she died from hunger.
Let no one say that there are charitable asylums enough in London to furnish assistance in all deserving cases of extreme distress. If there are, their doors—and I appeal to all Englishmen who know any thing about the workings of the Poor Law System in their country, whether I do not record the truth—are closed in three cases out of five against the applicant. Besides, charity in London is reserved and suspicious. But its reserve is chilling to the deserving poor, who are usually too proud to disclose their sufferings to strangers, and are ashamed to solicit alms with an open hand. They strive as long as they are able; their history, if duly recorded, would swell the roll of martyrs. I have known among them heroes and heroines, as in all nations such, whether apparent to the world or not, are never wanting. Wives, who have been bred in comfort, working for their husbands who were out of employment, and supporting them by the scanty wages of such industry as many men would shrink from. Girls of tender years toiling to support a surviving parent, sisters toiling for their brothers. And all done not only without a murmur, but with cheerfulness and thankfulness to God that their condition was no worse. I have heard hopeful accents from the plodding charwoman, that have made me ashamed, as Wordsworth stood rebuked before the 'leech-gatherer, upon the lonely moor.' Let England look to it. These women, mothers of men, are abandoning her shores for foreign lands. When good and dutiful children desert the maternal home, what provocation must they have had from the parent?
'In the year ending Lady-day 1859,' said the London Times of February 15th, 1860, 'England and Wales spent five million seven hundred and ninety-two thousand nine hundred and sixty-three pounds in the relief of the poor. It is estimated that on July 1st, 1859, nine hundred and ninety-seven thousand seven hundred and ninety-six paupers were receiving relief in or out of the workhouse in this part of the empire. This is near a million of persons, at an average cost of about five pounds sixteen shillings a head, a considerable improvement on the previous year. The computation is, that every sixteenth person, or one person in every three households, is a pauper, hanging like a dead weight on the industry of the other fifteen. This, too, is only one form of charity, beside untold millions spent in endowed alms-houses, hospitals, asylums for every imaginable infirmity, coal-funds, clothing-funds, charity-schools, voluntary labor-rates, church-collections, alms done in secret, and several hundred other species of benevolence.'
Vainly does an American strive to realize such a state of society. Its effects are visible in the hatred of the poor toward the rich, which, if things continue as they are, will ultimately produce a war of classes. The work-houses and other alms-houses are always filled. There may be brief intervals when trade is brisk, and statesmen brag of the prosperity of the country, but these are only as the sane moments of a delirious patient. The general health of the community must not be judged from these. When in a year that it confesses is a favorable one, the leading political journal admits the proportion of paupers subsisting on alms to be one to fifteen, what must be the proportion in periods of great mercantile depression, which recur more frequently as time advances? I can not at all agree with Mr. Emerson, that England has not within her the elements of decay. She has. Her maritime supremacy is gone; her commercial advantages have vanished. In the world's market she possesses a stall, and nothing more. If it is better supplied than the stalls of some nations in the same market, it is, in its turn, inferior to those of others. I can not say, with her enemies, Let her decay. But I do bid her look to it in time, for her present condition is not one of promise.
A MILITARY NATION.
The Confederates are vastly our superiors in the art of spreading plausible reports. Acting together 'like one man,' a falsehood from head-quarters is at once disseminated from Richmond to New-Orleans, and the North is promptly victimized. At present their game is to make us discredit their own forces, having learned that our belief in the extent of their army is only a stimulus to Northern exertions. The truth is, that the Confederacy never had so large an army as at present, or in such excellent condition. They have been gathering up the odds and ends; they have learned day by day to make better soldiers of them; they have abundant food, are on the whole well armed, and it is rank folly in us to rely on their weakness. Only an overwhelming force—the entire force of the North—can now conquer them, and to make even this available, our Government must have recourse to the most determined and daring measures. It is no longer a question of suppressing rebellion, but of defense; of conquering or being conquered. Were we at this instant to consent to the independence of the Confederacy, it would not be accepted. The Southerner, easily depressed by defeat, becomes arrogant in the hour of victory, and would exact such conditions as we could never endure.
The South, by successful secession, would take with it all our prosperity and all our power. It would take the Border States and the control of the Mississippi, and worse than this, it would establish a war which would rage without intermission until we should be crushed, perhaps into literal tribute and vassalage. Every dispute arising from our entangled neighborhood—and these would be innumerable—would be determined with an insolence and a cruelty far surpassing any thing which we have heretofore experienced; and at every manifestation of unwillingness on our part to submit, we should have the sword tauntingly thrown in the balance. With foreign aid and foreign allies they could soon make our condition more galling than death. We should be the butt of every nation, humiliated and trampled on in every international dispute, and in every such difficulty the South would become the great power of America, and its rising sun would easily find means to abuse us still further.
Is this picture exaggerated? Let the reader shake off the fetters of old custom and see the literal truths of life and what it is capable of becoming. The South seriously proposes to establish itself as a permanently military nation. The blacks are to do all the labor, raise all the food, perform all the menial labor, and, in fact, literally support all the white men. The aristocracy are to govern and fill all higher civil and military functions; the 'mean whites' are to be incorporated in the army. Year by year they will, it is hoped, become more and more identified with their cause and their calling, and firmer in their hatred of the North. Long ago this programme was published, this scheme of a great negro-supported military nation, and it is not difficult to see that recent events have rendered the leaders of the Confederacy sanguine of its success. The whole South is full of crops raised by the slaves—and the Virginia press triumphantly proclaims the success of the first part of the great experiment, a success well worth to them far greater sacrifices than they have already undergone. The negro, it seems, as a slave, can support the Southern Confederacy—feed and clothe it. One year of war has proved this.
'One year ago we might have prevented this,' some furious 'radical' may urge. Let such men be silent. On every hand there are cries for their blood, and it is boldly commended in conservative journals and meetings that they be hanged. However, the question is not now, what might have been done a year ago. It is, what the enemy hope for and what they are yet capable of doing.
By proving, undisturbed, the fact that the slaves can support them, the Confederates have gained a greater victory than the North dreams of. By forming a permanently military nation, they go a step further, and relieve their communities from the weight of a non-productive, idle, dangerous class of poor whites. When every 'bush-whacker,' 'sand-hiller,' 'Arab,' and other hanger-on shall have become a soldier, with his settled place in society, a few new troubles may be incurred, but much greater ones can not fail to be avoided. The leaders in a military government may preserve that unity which could never be hoped for under other conditions. We already know what unanimity prevails among them; we may imagine what this would become when further experience shall have still more coordinated and consolidated them.
It is not proposed in the South that other than military manufactures shall be encouraged. European goods are to flow in untaxed, and the 'military nation' proposes to do all in its power to smuggle them over the Northern frontier. To effect this darling scheme of vast profits to themselves and of ruin to us, any sacrifice will be made. It is urged that direct taxation will not prove sufficiently profitable to enable the South to dispense with a revenue tariff; but those who urge this, do not know the South. They do not know the infinite depths of hatred to the North and to everything Northern—the venom and vindictiveness with which they would pursue us. They forget that as a military nation whatever the rulers will, must and shall be done. The great planters—and Southern policy of capital tends to develop none save great planters and their adherents—will undoubtedly be taxed, but then they will on the other hand be directly interested in sustaining the government, and share in its power and patronage. Let the reader remember that after all, there are only at present in the South some two hundred thousand slaveholders, or men holding slaves sufficient to fairly rank among those whose interests are seriously allied to 'the institution.' Possibly the chances of war have still further diminished this number; it would be strange indeed, if between runaways and the sacrifices which adversity brings, and which fall most heavily on men of moderate means, the number of slaveholders has not been reduced. In such times negroes are sold at any price. This small number of slaveholders will understand their own political interests sufficiently well to admit foreign goods duty free, and to use every effort to smuggle them into the North.
We, on the other hand, who have no negroes to plant for us, who must pay our farmers far more than the wretched black earns, have no 'mud-sill' whereon to rest. We are manufacturers, and can not form a permanent military nation. We hold in horror the idea of a standing army, and of having our young men who might grow up wealthy and learned—and what Northern youth is there who has not his 'chances'?—become garrison-soldiers for life. We love learning, culture, independence, progress. Year by year sees noble schools rising among us—schools in which every man's son may obtain an excellent free education, and qualify himself for any position in any society. Year by year sees our manufacturers demanding fresh labor, more talent, more youth, more energy, and with them sees the condition of the mechanic becoming more and more ameliorated. Year by year finds the public lecture and library more used by the workman, and the masses rising little by little above their post. In short, we belong to a community whose conditions are those of refinement and of peace; ours is an advanced stage of civilization, and it is our duty to maintain this advance.
'The South' cares nothing for all these things. It 'loathes the very name of free schools,' despises industry and ingenuity, scorns the mechanic, and is altogether, as a community, behind us: as a merely agricultural and would-be merely military government, must essentially be. There are predicaments when the shrewd brute and cunning brigand has his superior at a disadvantage. Let the South prolong this contest till its military social system acquires sufficient strength, and it will drag us down to its own wretched lord-and-serf level. 'To its level!' rather let us say beneath it; yes, beneath its iron heel, to endless shame and ruin.
It can never be. The man who believes in peaceable secession must be an idiot. Secession means a military nation living side by side with a non-military nation, which it hates and will do its best to crush. It means a successful rebel flashing the sword in our face at every fancied insult, and all the work of war perennially renewed. It means conservative traitors and doughface scoundrels stirring up riot and ruin among us at every corner, with no man to make them afraid; nourishing the South in our faces and intriguing to bring us into the Confederacy. It means the breaking up of the Union into many fragments—for who supposes that Southern hatred will not intrigue to this effect, and that the pro-slavery Northern men of the present day who have worked so hard to secure to the South the successful solution of the first part of its problem will not be found laboring heart and soul to aid their old masters?
Vae victis! If we do not rise in our might and crush this rebellion root and branch, we shall be crushed—and no honest, observant man can deny it. Fire and water may as well mingle as we two hope to inhabit the same continent. It is hammer or anvil with us now, and no escape. They realize with delight that our year of procrastination has been to them more than two years of preparation, and so confident are they of success as to even wish to conceal their numbers.
Reader, this is not an emergency whose evil results may fall on others and not on yourself. There is not one loyal American to whom Southern success does not portend misery, poverty, degradation. We have not yet felt the foot of the enemy on our soil, but if we pour away the life-blood of the nation little by little, why, a day will come when the blood will be exhausted, and the enemy, grown to fearful strength, will come ravaging over the border. Do not fold your hands in fancied security and say of that day: 'It is far off.' When it comes, you will say, as you now say of the past year, that there was time lost and sad negligence. A year ago we 'progressives' cried aloud in bitter earnestness for one great, overwhelming effort, for decisive measures, and after debating, and delaying, and plucking all the feathers from our bird, they threw him, half-starved, at Bull Run, and then cried: There is your victory! A year ago we urged expediency and boldness; but 'Democracy' quibbled at every thing, hindered everything, and then laid the fault on us—as its friend Jeff Davis does when accusing the Federal Government of waging barbarous warfare—so as to excuse his own iniquities. But now we have come to the bitter need, and the country must choose between bold measures and measureless disgrace.
Lo! the country is responding heart and soul. From every township comes the cry of Union or death! What was the waking of Sumter, compared to this of the summer and autumn of eighteen hundred and sixty-two? At last the truth has gone home—we must conquer. Conquer or be conquered, it is, O friends! but if you will it, you shall have victory. You have the strength: in God's name put forth your hand and grasp the golden crown.
TOM WINTERS' STORY.
I was taking an early walk on the morning after my arrival at the city of C——, in the spring of 186-, in order to sharpen my appetite for breakfast, when I observed a tall and stoutly-built man on the opposite sidewalk proceeding in the same direction with myself. There was something in his gait and his manner of swinging his right arm (he had a common market-basket on his left) that seemed not unfamiliar to me; and I hastened my pace to keep up with him while I observed him further. It was no easy matter; for he had a stride that, if hurried to its beat, would have put me to a run to save being distanced; but I succeeded in heading him off after a rapid walk of several squares, which brought us to the market-place, and I soon had the satisfaction of hearing his voice as he inquired the price of some of the marketing exposed for sale. This decided me, and I immediately threw myself in his way. He recognized me at once, and as he held out his huge hand, which I took in mine, we exclaimed simultaneously: 'How are you, Owen?' 'How are you, Tom?'
The greeting was something more than cordial. We had once been quite intimate, and it was seventeen years since we had met. I had lost sight of him that number of years before, and getting no satisfactory response to any inquiries I had from time to time made after him of mutual acquaintances, I had gradually dropped the subject, and never expected to meet him again.
Tom Winters was a Marylander by birth, and I had known him in Ohio during the Presidential canvass of 1844, when he had supported the gallant son of Kentucky, Henry Clay, with all the ardor of his generous, rash, and passionate nature; while I had supported James K. Polk, because—because he was nominated by the Democratic party.
I can appreciate at its true worth now that political infatuation which led me to reject the 'Mill Boy of the Slashes,' and to 'decline upon' Polk. There was no comparison between the two men.
——'That was, to this,' Hyperion to a satyr.'
But that is passed. Polk was elected, and the gallant 'Harry of the West' died of a broken heart. Thence came Texas, the repeal of the Compromise, the Rebellion,
'Sin, and death, and all our woes.'
After a few hasty questions and answers on each side, we parted to meet at dinner at Tom's residence, and to sit down then for a general palabre.
I was punctual to my appointment, and after being introduced to Mrs. Winters, (Tom was now married and held an important position under the State government,) and after having been presented to Master Henry Clay Winters, a lad of three years, and being informed—in an aside—that the next was to be named John Fremont Winters, we sat down to the table and accomplished our dinner and our explanations 'by piece-meal simultaneously,'
Having satisfied my quondam friend upon the subject of my various wanderings, successes, and reverses since we parted—which were decidedly too dull and commonplace to interest the reader, although Tom, from a sense of duty, probably, listened to their rehearsal with a great deal of attention—I, in turn, questioned him of the events of his life. He ran them hastily over, and seemed inclined to treat them with so much brevity that I had frequently to call him back upon his narrative by a question on some point where I required more detailed information. But our dinner was over, and Mrs. Winters had retired, with Master Henry Clay Winters, ere he had half satisfied my curiosity.
Winters had left N——, the little county-town in Middle Ohio, where I had known him, in the spring of 1845, and had begun to travel as agent for a marble dealer of Pittsburgh, Pa. In this capacity he had roamed over all the Western States during several years, had made extensive acquaintances, and been rubbed against the world until he had acquired great knowledge of mankind and habits of self-reliance, without much of that polish of manner which worldly attrition usually gives a man. He was at that time between twenty-five and thirty years of age, in perfect health, and of herculean strength. He was considerably over six feet in height, compactly built, and that consciousness of power which such favored individuals possess, rendered him, in a great measure, indifferent to the opinions of others. Without any of the refinement which careful culture and early training confer, it is not to be wondered at that Tom was not 'over-particular' as to the society in which he ventured, or what profession he followed.
He had also been captain of a canal-packet, a drover, a deputy-sheriff, a general collector, and had first married in Kentucky, and settled at Lexington, where he had spent four years. There his wife died, without leaving children, and Tom was afloat upon the world again. Then he had spent two years in Mississippi; returned to Lexington, went to Cincinnati; 'and since then,' he continued, 'I have lived in every county on this side in succession, and have been here four years since I married my present wife; so that you see the seventeen years is now filled up, and you know my whole history.'
'But what were you doing in Mississippi?' I inquired.
For the first time Tom hesitated; and he answered, with an uneasy expression and a furtive glancing about of his keen hazel eye, that he had been an overseer on a plantation.
'The devil!' I exclaimed, rather abruptly.
'It is a fact,' said the plain-spoken Tom, looking seriously into his empty glass, then adding apologetically:
'What should I care about it? I had lived a long time in Kentucky, and been accustomed to slavery as it existed there. Besides, I am a Marylander by birth. I said slavery was right, and I believed it. My wife was dead; I had little means left, and cared for nothing.
'I had become acquainted with Luke Meminger, the principal negro-dealer at Lexington, who boarded at McGowan's Hotel, where I was then stopping, and he introduced me to a Mississippi planter' who was there buying a few hands for his plantation back of Grand Gulf. Talbot (that was the planter's name) seemed to take a fancy to me, and finally proposed to me to go with him to Mississippi and serve as assistant overseer. He offered me a salary of eight hundred dollars a year; said I should have a horse to ride over the plantation, a servant to wait on me, and an easy time of it generally. I accepted the offer, and accompanied him down the river. We took down fifteen niggars whom he had purchased in Kentucky, mostly at Lexington. I was there two years, and left heartily sick of it.'
'Well, that is an episode in your history, Tom,' I said, 'that I could never have imagined. But now you must tell me something about plantation life. I have heard and read a great deal about it, but never had it from the mouth of an old friend on whose word I could rely, and who possessed the advantage of having been an overseer himself.'
'Oh! there is very little to tell,' said Tom. 'I had to set the niggars at work and see that they performed their tasks; that was all.'
'Well, what crops did you cultivate?'
'How many hands did you work?'
'About seventy-five. There were some hundred and fifty on the plantation, altogether, big and little.
'What did the women do?'
'Women?' said Tom, with a slight note of interrogation. 'We didn't know any thing about women: they were all hands. When I was driving stock to New-York, I treated oxen and cows all alike; and on our plantation all the able-bodied hands worked together in the field, and no difference was made between them. There were old, decrepit wenches, unable to work, who took care of the children during the day. When the mothers came from the field at night they suckled their picaninies—for nearly all the women have babies. They breed like rabbits,' added Tom, 'in postscript.'
'But what did you know about raising cotton?' I asked.
'Nothing, of course,' he replied, 'you must remember that I was second overseer. The head overseer took the chief management of affairs. But when I had been there about three months, Blake died—that was my chief's name—then the whole charge of the plantation then devolved on me. Talbot was North, spending the summer. I wrote to him at Saratoga, informing of the death of Blake, and requesting him to get another head-overseer. But I got no reply, and I supposed he never received the letter. When he came back in the fall, I found that he had, though; but he said he supposed things would go on well enough. And so they did. The supplies were all on hand, and there was nothing to do but to work the place, raise the crop, and gather it.'
'But, after the death of Blake, and in the absence of Talbot, your want of knowledge of the business must have worked you great inconvenience,' I remarked.
'Not at all,' he replied; 'I knew next to nothing about it, it is true; but the niggars did. [Tom would call them niggars.] They understood the business well enough, the most of them. Talbot knew nothing about it himself, and he seemed to care less. These planters put every thing on the overseers. They make them responsible for the crop; and the overseers—they make the hands responsible.'
'Well, tell me something, now, of the operations of each day on the plantation. How early did you get the hands at work in the morning?'
'In summer I called the hands at about four o'clock. They had half an hour to get their feed and reach the field. I divided them into gangs of from fifteen to thirty each, and appointed some one of the most intelligent to oversee each gang. I then set them their tasks for the day; and calling out Dick, or Jeff, or whatever his name might be that I had appointed, I told him, in presence and hearing of his gang, that I made him responsible for the work being done, and being well done; that if the hands did not obey him, he should lick them, and make them do their work. In this way I never had any difficulty in getting the work done which I had set for them.
'When I had got them all at work, I rode from one part of the field to another to see how they were getting along; and when the sun began to get too hot, toward nine o'clock, I would go back to my quarters at the house, get my breakfast, and then lounge about awhile, and finally lie down and sleep through the heat of the day. After four or five o'clock in the afternoon, I had my horse brought up by my servant—I had my own servant, I told you; I had my boots blacked twice a day; had to keep up the dignity of the institution, you know—I had my horse brought up, and rode round to the different gangs.'
'But, Tom,' I inquired; 'I suppose you sometimes had to flog the slaves?'
'Never touched a one of them, never! 'T wan't no use. Made 'em do just as I wanted without striking a blow.'
'Why, how did you do it?'
'I've told you how I did it. I set some of them to oversee the rest. They thrashed them; I didn't. If they failed in their tasks, I talked to them in this way,' (and he turned his wicked eye on me with a merry twinkle,) 'I called out the overseer, and spoke to him so that the rest could hear me; I said to him: 'Dick,' or 'Jeff,' or whatever his name was, 'how is this? I set you a task this morning that you could do easy enough. Why isn't it done? Some of your hands have been lazy. Now, mind, this won't do. I don't want to punish you, but I see I'll have to do it.' Then turning to the hands: 'Boys, what have you been so lazy for? You don't want Jeff licked, do you? Why don't you work like men, and finish the tasks I set you? You black devils, you! if you keep on in this way you will always be niggars; but if you work, and do as you ought to, you will get as white as I am, after a while!'
'This course generally had the desired effect; but I clinched the argument by threatening to withhold their whisky rations if they failed in their work.'
'Then you gave them whisky rations, did you?'
'Yes. Every Saturday night, if they had behaved well during the week, I gave them a keg of whisky to keep Sunday with. We locked up the tools, and the supplies, and in fact the houses. My room was bolted and barred like a state's prison, and I had a complete arsenal of guns, swords, and ammunition. And then they had a regular 'drunk' on Sunday. The keg held just enough, and not a drop over. They divided it out among themselves, by measurement, and it was all gone in time for them to get over the effects of it before Monday morning.'
'Don't you think,' I inquired, 'that the expected whisky rations was quite as great a stimulus to their exertions as your philosophical exhortations?'
'Perhaps it was. But you must recollect that the whisky rations formed a part of my lecture, and were always introduced as a clincher. I was the most popular overseer ever on the plantation, and when I left the darkies cried like babies. Talbot raised my wages to twelve hundred dollars, dating from the time I went there, and I performed the whole duties of overseer without any assistance.'
'And how did you come to leave so agreeable and profitable an employment?'
'Well, I'll tell you how it was. Talbot used to get tight; and although he was ordinarily a perfect gentleman in his behavior, when drunk he was the very devil! Then, he would abuse me like a pickpocket, and find all manner of fault with whatever I did. He would curse me for a d—d Yankee, and I would give him as good as he sent. I was no more a Yankee than he was, having been born, as you know, in Maryland.
'Often he drew his bowie-knife, and rushed at me as if he would cut me into mince-meat; but I met him boldly with my 'cheese-cutter,' and backed him down. I could have handled him as I would a child, and he knew it. And if he had ever drawn blood on me, I would have killed him in an instant; and he knew it.
'One day when he was drunk, he got mad at a niggar woman he kept about the house, and ordered me to whip her. I told him to whip her himself. This enraged him terribly. He was just drunk enough to be crazy. Out came the everlasting bowie-knife, and out came mine, as usual. Then he turned from me—whom he feared to attack, drunk and insensate as he was—he turned from me upon the poor black girl. She was standing near, with her eyes cast down, and did not immediately perceive his intention.
'She was a pretty girl—a dark mulatto—and had long been his favorite. But he was then perfectly blind with fury, and dashed at her with his glittering knife raised above his head. She saw him in time to utter a piercing shriek, and while in the act of turning to fly, the weapon fell upon her neck, severed the jugular vein, and prostrated her to the floor.
'The poor girl never spoke again. The blood rushed like water from the wound, her face paled, her limbs stiffened, and, with a few convulsive shudders, she was dead. She was taken to one of the huts, and buried by the blacks on the following night. There was no inquest—no inquiry—it was nobody's business.
'As for Talbot, as soon as he saw her fall he appeared to be sobered all at once. He looked at her a moment, glanced at the bloody knife, and then cast it from him, as if he were purging himself of the offense, or punishing the offender by the act. He said not a word, but went to his room. I saw him no more that day.
'On the next, I went to him and told him he must get another overseer, for I was about to leave. He seemed incredulous at first, then stormed, then finding me inflexible, he offered to increase my wages if I would remain. I had but one answer for all. I said to him: 'Mr. Talbot, I don't want your money. If I would stay with you at all, I would stay for my present salary. But I will not stay: I never eat my words. If you are ready to settle with me now, say so; if not, say when you will be ready.'
'He said he was ready then, and we settled. I had a few hundred dollars due to me, which he paid, and I was on my way to Grand Gulf within two hours after. The subject of the murder of the mulatto girl was not alluded to between us.'
* * * * *
'Well,' I said to Tom, 'what is your opinion of slavery now? You are able to judge for yourself of the 'institution,' having formed one of its ornaments, and contributed to keep up its 'dignity.' I suppose you have read Uncle Tom's Cabin, and are prepared to give a flat denial to the pretended facts of the author. Of course it is all false about the parting of families—husband and wife, parent and child, etc., and all the instances of that sort of cruelty cited in her appendix are trash and a libel upon the beneficent and patriarchal institution?'
I spoke ironically, and he so understood me. The passions of Tom's great heart had been gradually wrought up by a review of the bloody scene he had himself witnessed, and which had made a strong impression on him, and he now sprung to his feet.
'Uncle Tom's Cabin be d—d!' he cried. 'Owen Glendower, what I've seen with my own eyes I know, don't I? I could tell you things that would make your hair stand straight out, if I was a mind to; but it's no use.
'As to slavery, as it exists in the Sugar and Cotton States, to-day, I have but one fit illustration for it.
'The religious writers of the Jews, and those who follow their ideas, have pictured to us the future condition of the sinner and finally impenitent as the most desperate and deplorable possible to be conceived—as they thought. They had never witnessed American slavery as practiced in the nineteenth century. If they, had, the material fire, the tormenting fiends, and the 'worm that never dies,' would have given place to the natural features of a Mississippi plantation, where the unrestrained passions of avarice, brutality, and lust make a Hell to which the Gehenna of the Hebrews is but a mild sort of purgatory by comparison.
'About parting husband and wife, and parent and child, I will tell you one thing I myself saw in Kentucky; and in Kentucky you know, slavery exists in its mildest form, and the system approaches nearer to that patriarchal character which is most falsely claimed for it by its supporters, than in any of the more Southern States.'
Just then Master Winters returned to the room, and on seeing him Tom's excitement apparently increased. He gesticulated violently, and delivered himself in short, emphatic sentences, interlarded, I am sorry to say, with rather too many of those objectionable expletives that an ex-slave-overseer may be supposed to be addicted to. Swearing is a vulgar practice, and one for which there is no sort of justification; and yet, I must confess, it is calculated to give a certain savage energy to one's language when he has not a very copious vocabulary of choicer epithets and synonyms at command. Of course I can not do justice to Tom's colloquial style in print, but he proceeded:
'I was, as I told you before, well acquainted with the slave-dealer, Meminger, at Lexington. We boarded together at M'Gowan's; and after my wife died I went about with him considerable.
'One day, in the winter before I left there to go to Mississippi, he and I were coming over from Danville. It was the coldest day I ever knew in Kentucky. Kentucky has a mild climate, and the winters are short and not very severe. Still the weather is very variable, and there will occasionally occur a day in January which is as cold as any where else, and which is felt all the more for being an exception.
'This day, when Meminger and I were coming over from Danville, was one of those days. It was cold; I tell you, it was almighty cold! We were on horseback, and were bundled up with any amount of clothes and mufflers, and had leggins on—as they always wear them in Kentucky when they go on horseback. We had got—you know where the turnpike forks south of the Kentucky river. One branch runs this way, to Danville; the other, that way to Lancaster and Stanford. Right here in the forks—that is the identical spot where Camp 'Dick Robinson' now is; but there was no camp there then, by a long shot. Then as you approach the river, you come down a long hill, a mile long, at least, you know.
'Well, we had got nearly to the bottom of this hill, and were coming along at a pretty good jog, when we heard some body hallooing after us, and we held up. Looking around, we saw a man running down from the house standing upon the side-hill, a little away from the road. May be you remember the house up there? Well, he was hallooing like a loon, and we waited till he came up. Soon as he got near enough to talk, he says:
''An't one o' you Mr. Meminger, the negro-trader from Lexington?'
''My name's Meminger,' said my companion, 'and I sometimes buy niggars. What do you want?'
''I want to sell you a woman,' replied the man.
''Where is she?'
''Up at my house, there.'
''Well, fotch her down, then. You don't suppose I'm going up there for any d—d niggar woman, such a day as this, do you? And be quick about it, for I don't intend to stand here in the cold.'
'The man started back for the house on the run, and kept hallooing and motioning to some one who met him on the way; and he returned to where we stood on the 'pike with as fine, healthy a looking young black girl as I have often seen. She was dressed with a single garment, which hardly covered her; and she carried in her arms a child, apparently about two or three months old, which she had wrapped up in some rags to keep it warm.
''This is the woman,' said the man.
''What do you ask for her?' said Meminger.
''I'll take eight hundred dollars for the mother and child,' said the man.
''D—n the child!' said Meminger; 'do you suppose I want two months children in my pen? If you do, you are cursedly mistaken. What will you take for the woman alone?'
''I don't very well like to part them,' said the man hesitatingly, 'and I promised my wife I wouldn't. But if you won't buy the child—'
''I tell you I won't buy the child, and that's enough,' broke in Meminger.
''—— I'll take seven hundred dollars for the woman.'
'Meminger threw his bridle-rein to me, and slid down from his horse to look at the girl. He stepped up to her, caught her upper lip with one hand and her lower with the other, and opened her mouth, and examined her teeth in the same manner that you or I, Owen, would a horse. Then he took her by the arm, twirled her round, struck her roughly on her back, felt the muscle of her fore-arm, her thigh, and calf; then stood back and examined her all over a moment, and said:
''I suppose she is all right? I don't want her, but I am going right home, and I can take her along as well as not, and I'll give you six hundred dollars for her. If you want it, say so at once, for I an't going to stand here talking all day!'
'The man seemed reluctant to take the sum offered—said she was worth more, and he ought to give six hundred and fifty for her.
'Meminger cut him short with a savage oath, telling him that if he wasn't going to accept the six hundred, to say so, for he would not stand there in the cold any longer for the six hundred dollars, niggar and all, and he moved toward his horse as if to remount.
''Well, then,' said the man, who seemed determined to sell her at some price, 'take her at six hundred if that's all you'll give.'
'Meminger drew out a blank bill of sale—that's the way they do it, you know, have to have it in writing—and said to me:
''Here, Tom, you fill out this for me, for my hands have got so cold I can't write.'
'He took a pen and ink from his pocket, and I filled out the bill of sale while he counted down six hundred dollars in bills on the Northern Bank of Kentucky, and paid them over. By the time the man had signed the bill the ink was frozen solid.
''Hurry up!' says Meminger.
'The man having received his money, caught the child from its mother's arms and started for the house without saying another word.
'The woman had all this time been shivering with the cold, and apparently wholly occupied with the child in endeavoring to keep it warm. She pressed it to her bosom, examined the ragged covering with care and tenderness, and strove to draw her own scanty garment over it. She seemed, in fact, so engrossed with her care of the child that she had not comprehended that part of the negotiation which threatened to part her from it. Perhaps she did not, in her blind maternal confidence, conceive such a thing possible!
'When the child was roughly snatched from her, she paused an instant, as if collecting her thoughts, and then, awakening to the reality of the case, she started wildly after it. But Meminger was too quick for her. He was used to such scenes. He caught her before she had gone three steps, and rudely threw her down. She uttered scream after scream, and implored him not to part her from her child. Turning alternately from the unfeeling and repulsive countenance of the slave-trader to the retreating form of her late master, who bore away farther and farther from her all that she knew of love or hope on earth, her impassioned entreaties touched every key-note of human agony from frenzy to despair. It was of no use. Meminger regarded her feelings no more than I regarded the lowings of my stock when I was in the droving business.
'He mounted his horse, brought him up alongside of a low bank, and ordered the woman to get up behind him. This she did as one accustomed to obey, groaning and crying piteously. He placed her behind his saddle, astride of the horse as if she were a man. In this position, what dress she had on, and it was not much, was necessarily drawn up above her knees. She had an old pair of scuffs of shoes on, the rest of the limbs were bare. And in this way we went on through the cold, she shivering, sobbing, and clinging to the negro-trader, all the way to Lexington. Only at Nicholasville, I persuaded Meminger to alight and get some clothes to wrap up the girl's legs to prevent them from being frosted before he got her home.'