TIT FOR TAT. A Novel. By a Lady of New Orleans, New York: Garret & Co. For sale by Taylor & Maury, Washington, D.C.
This volume, we presume, claims to be one of the most successful of the many would-be replies to Uncle Tom. The authoress, in her preface, professes to regard it in this light. It is a novel which aims to depict the oppression of the laboring classes in England, where it was first published. The occasion, we are informed, was to rebuke the expenditure and the sympathy of the Dukes and Duchesses and ladies of quality, for the negroes of this country, as manifested by their reception of Mrs. Stowe's book, and its author, in Great Britain. The Tit for Tat, then—and we might say, not much at that—consists in turning the tables upon the "Britishers," by showing them that they have need enough to do at home.
Now, in the first place, as regards the fact whether "Uncle Tom's Cabin is a correct delineation or not of American Slavery as it exists, and if so, whether there is not reason for reform," it does not touch the point; in the second place, we doubt the correctness of the position that, because there are misery, wretchedness, and oppression, around them, Christian people may not feel a sympathy, and do anything in their power, in reference to them abroad. We presume in New York and Boston, and other cities, might have been found some very lamentable cases of sickness, when the cry came up from Norfolk for those who were in distress. Possibly there might have been found cases of starving people in our own country, when we heard of the starving condition of poor Ireland; and we believe the Gospel of the Saviour does not confine sympathy and compassion to those who were ready to perish at Jerusalem, but the command was to preach the Gospel to every creature. The book, then, is based on a false principle, at the outset. To say, as it were, It may be so there are evils among us; but there are evils elsewhere, therefore we will quietly let the evils go on and increase, and if any one thinks about them, we will give them "Tit for Tat"—"a Rowland for their Oliver"—seems to us not the best kind of answer. But the authoress has given us a sad picture of the oppression of the chimney-sweeps and climbing boys, &c., in Great Britain, and the degradation and misery to which the lower classes there are subjected. We have read similar and yet more graphic and startling representations, in "London Labor and London Poor," and in various works published there. We are glad to see wrong and injustice rebuked in every country and in every mode. We like to have a manly public sentiment aroused, to take hold of reform. We have no objection to have those who disregard the cry of the oppressed held up properly to the condemnation of the world. They deserve it. And if it be so, that those whose feelings were more deeply moved by Uncle Tom, and welcomed Mrs. Stowe abroad, are wholly inattentive to, or less regardful of, the cry of sufferers around them, let the rebuke fall heaviest upon them, if it be administered. But is the fact proved in this novel? Is it proved that these enormities take place by law, and are sustained by public opinion?
A curious kind of question has been running in our mind while glancing through these pages. Reference is here made to authentic documents, no less than to the testimony taken before a Committee of the British House of Commons. But how came a committee to be appointed, if all are asleep on the subjects? And another query, which we cannot get rid of, but it will up again and confront us as often as we try to pass it over, and which we should like to propose to our authoress to answer, is this—Is there any record to be found of testimony before a Committee of Congress, or of any of the Legislatures of the slave States, in an inquiry as honestly and searchingly carried out as to the evils of Slavery as an American Institution? Have there been any such committees ever appointed to make a true report? Could there be such in any of the slaveholding States? If there were, would the picture to be drawn therefrom be any less revolting than that of "Uncle Tom's Cabin?" It is a sore subject, we know, but does not the very fact of such committees as have laboriously investigated with Wilberforce the miseries of the slave trade, and, with other philanthropists, the status of the poor classes, show that at least there is a willingess, and a desire, too, to have the various enormities brought to light? And what is the inevitable inference in the opposite case? And then, how is it with the "Tit for the Tat?" But, as the case is there, is it quite made out—"A Roland for the Oliver?" To us it does not seem so clear, and we do not see but the retort might be made—We are willing to know our true condition, and you are not; and to know is the first step towards being made to feel and to reform. We hope the authoress will clear up this point in the preface of her next edition. It certainly deserves attention. She ought also to pay the more heed to it, as she has an advantage in availing herself of the official documents of able committees, which Mrs. Stowe could not have, for the very proposal to appoint such a committee in our slaveholding States, with reference to a redress of wrongs and correction of abuses, would have been met with the loudest outcry, as a most outrageous case of interference with vested right.
Aside from its subject, we presume the authoress would not presume to claim any equality of merit of her tale with that of Mrs. Stowe's. It never rises above mediocrity, and, indeed, hardly to that, as a literary production. There is nothing like Mrs. Stowe's descriptive power, there is scarcely any regular, well-conducted plan. Fictitious and real personages are intermingled in a strange sort of confusion. The object seems to have been, by embracing a wide range, going back as far into history as the time of Cromwell, travelling abroad, voyaging on the ocean, to gather in everything that might set forth the social evils of Great Britain. The main interest is made to centre around a sweep boy, son of Lord Hardheart, stolen from his father at three years of age, and the oppression to which he is subjected. And, as drawn, it is oppression—deep and damning oppression. But does not the authoress see that if the conduct depicted in his case is wrong and outrage, it can be no less so, inflicted on a colored boy? If whipping, nakedness, the loss of limbs, or various sufferings, endured from cruel treatment, is misery, and calls loudly for redress in the case of a chimney-sweep, as we admit, does not the same treatment demand exposure among the States of this Republic? Did she do right in laying open the foul injustice there, and does a citizen of the United States then trespass upon right or decorum in doing the same in this country, where is guarantied to every such one, by the Constitution of his country, freedom of speech and of the press? We regard, then, the re-publication of this book, coming (as it is said) from a lady of New Orleans, as an admission that the full development of the evils of Slavery by Mrs. Stowe, or any one else, is a fair and legitimate object for the employment of such talents as God has blessed any one with; and, with such an example, we trust no more complaint will be made of officious intermeddling by our Southern friends. There is one paragraph among others on page 194 which we feel disposed to quote. We suppose it was written in 1854, and is reprinted as published in Great Britain, but it sounds a little queer now, and we somewhat wonder that, if the book were at all revised, it stands as it does. After alluding to the practice of stifling or postponing unpleasant measures in the British House of Commons, the authoress goes on:
"Not so in Congress; there, whether in the Senate or House of Representatives, respect is shown to the Speaker, and his measure at least listened to. Again we are beginning to believe that the merits of our institution are being better understood and less feared, and its interests promoted by free discussion."
"What errors and grievances now remain in the system can be heard as well in the Halls of Congress as in a Massachusetts House of Representatives. Our SUMNERS! and our Sewards, and our Giddings, and our Chases, of the North, are heard with the same patience and respect claimed by our Butlers, Soules, Berriens, or Stephens, of the South; nor does the institution of Slavery, as it now exists, lose any of its strength by the respect shown to free discussion."
The italics, capitals, and exclamation point, are ours. But where could the authoress have been for some months or a year past? What do our readers say to such a book?
There is yet another very queer thing about it. Our copy, perhaps, is a defective one, or what does it mean? In the Table of Contents, there are two paragraphs on subjects; referring to various members of Parliament, &c., as preceding Chapter 1st, and which must have occupied several pages, not one line of which appears in the book. Were they cancelled in the American copy, and the contents left? If so, it betrays not a little carelessness of preparation somewhere. We do not know how to account for it.
Labelled on the outside, we find likewise the words, "A Reply to Dred." How is it a reply to Dred? There is not the slightest mention of Dred in it; and so far from being anything like an answer to it, or a refutation of that book, it is a confirmation of the aim it has in view; for surely, if such are the abuses of fellow-creatures, and such the effect on the heart of man, in spite of existing laws, then unlimited power, protected by law, and where there is nothing to interfere in its exercise, must be still worse, and just such as Dred assumes to exist and exhibits in its actings out. The book professes to be written by a lady, but portions of it--as, for example, the anatomical terms used in one portion—seem to indicate it could hardly have had such an origin.