Page images
PDF
EPUB

NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE.

THE NEGROES OF THE SOUTH.*

It is impossible to defend slavery as an institution. The ownership of a human being from birth until death, and the power of sale over his body, or of the transfer of a right in a fellow-creature's existence, are so abhorrent to every principle of humanity, and so opposed to the great basis of Christianity, that no argument in its favour will bear a moment's consideration. But since the institution does exist, and the opposition brought about by its existence has involved civil war, and has overwhelmed, in all probability for ever, the great principle by which the United States held together-the separate sovereignty of each state-it is well to know what that institution really is, in order to form, in the first place, a correct notion of what is the condition of the slave ; in the second, to understand the chief influences affecting the belligerent parties; and, thirdly, to be enabled to form an opinion as to the future downfal of the institution.

It is quite certain that, carried away by a just prejudice against slavery, there is no state of society in the world that has been so grossly misrepresented and so grievously misunderstood as that which exists in the Southern States. Those writers who, during the last few years, have flooded the book mart with sensation tales of slavery, have, it has been justly remarked, injured the cause which they, no doubt, sincerely thought to serve. Horrible scenes have undeniably occurred in the Slave States, as in other countries; but let any upright reader judge whether it would be a fair representation of English society to collect from a year's, or even a week's, newspapers the terrible list of crimes and sufferings, and, concentrating them in one volume, to send it forth to the world, saying, “ Such is England.”

We gladly avail ourselves, then, of the experiences of a lady who, as a governess, lived in the bosom of different families in different states in the South, and who was thrown into the mixed society of town, camp, and boarding-house during the trying times that preceded secession, and the still more stirring and eventful episodes that followed upon open hostilities. A residence in various homes of the Southern States, indeed, afforded the author—who writes under, we suppose, the pseudonym of Miss Sarah Jones-opportunities of becoming acquainted with traits of character and domestic manners which could never have met the eye of the mere wayfarer, and which at once rivet the attention, as conveying a

[ocr errors]

* Life in the South; from the Commencement of the War. In Two Vols. Chapman and Hall. 1863.

May-VOL. CXXVIII. NO. DIX.

true picture, not only of the condition of the slave, but also of the social condition of the slaveholder, and, consequently, of the reaction of one upon the other.

Our author's first home in the South was at Dr. W.'s, Forest Rill, a plantation in the neighbourhood of Fredericksburg, on the Rappahannock, and the family one of the F. F. V.s, or fine old Virginian families, who suddenly became transformed, on seceding from the North, into “brutes” and “ tyrants” in the eyes of their enemies. It was here she first became acquainted with the natural and graceful dignity of character and deportment, and with the simple and unostentatious kindness and hospitality of the descendants of the old families in Virginia, as also with the “ uncles" and "aunts” (for mister and mistress are titles never applied to negroes), and with the innumerable “ Topsies” – their progeny. The negroes, growing up as they do in the same family, call its members, however old, by their christian name. Even a grandfather is “old Master Harry, or Willy," and the ladies are always “ Miss Molly," or " Miss Sue." They were Master Willy and Miss Sue when children, and marriage does not change them in the eyes of the old servants. The scene on arrival at this first home in the South is peculiarly characteristic :

Several little Topsies and Carlos came running down to the gate on seeing the carriage approach, the younger ones climbing upon it for a swing, and to peep in at the windows to greet “Mi’ Cinta" with a grin; setting off again for another run back to the house, where they all stood round the door with eyes and mouth agape to stare at the new comer. They are soon dispersed by an elderly negress, very black, and very ugly, but dressed with extreme neatness, even to the gay yellow turban which covered her wool with the exception of two stray locks on the temples, wbich were unmercifully braided into two stiff tails, and left to hang in imitation of ringlets. We enter a large hall which ran entirely through the house, opening into rooms on either side, and with a large open door opposite the entrance. The yellow turbaned dame is accosted as “ Aunt Ailsey," who curtseys to me, and takes my parasol, &c., which she gives to one of the Topsies to carry up-stairs. The Doctor has already arrived before us, and meets us with another welcome to me, hoping I have enjoyed the ride to Forest Rill. Mrs. W. proposed to conduct me up to my chamber, whither we were followed by the “aunt” and several negro children, leaving Cinta screaming after one of the Topsies, who were all too intent on their observations of the stranger to think of their young mistress's claims on their attention. “Aunt Ailsey” again drives them off, sending one for wood and another for water, and a third is to tell somebody to come and “build" a fire. Mrs. W. invites me to feel at home and ask for what I require, and appoints the eldest Topsy to be my especial waiting-maid. On leaving the room she said supper would soon be ready, and no doubt a cup of tea would prove very refresbing. Immediately appears another negro woman, with three or four huge logs of wood upon her head and a lighted stick in her hand, followed by Topsy No. 1, with a great basket of “chips," also poised without holding upon her head; Topsy No. 2, with an apron full of “corn cobs," and Topsy No.3, with a pitcher of fresh water, also on her head. The woman dropped a curtsey, with “ How'dy, missus ?” which salutation, not comprehending, I could only nod in return. She tumbled the logs on to the capacious hearth, and knelt down before it to arrange them upon the andirons, the two assistant Topsies squatting down on each side of her to get rid of their burdens, and then fix their great black eyes again on me, as if they had no other business on earth to occupy them. The log fire, aided by the contents of basket and apron, soon sent its roaring flames and sparks half up the chimney, and lighted up the room quite

« EelmineJätka »