SPEECH OF THEODORE PARKER
Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts A.S. Society, Friday Evening, Jan. 28, 1853.
REPORTED BY J.M.W. YERRINTON.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:—
. . . First, however, I will seek your attention to a consideration of the aspect of slavery in America at this time. . . .
Let me say a word as to the character of the Press. Since our last gathering here, in January, 1852, a work has been published in this city, which, as my friend Phillips said last night, is 'more an event than a book,' and has excited more attention than any book since the invention of printing. A year will not pass by, before there will be half a million copies of Uncle Tom's Cabin in the hands of the English and American public. (Great cheering.) Something more than two hundred thousand copies have already been distributed in this country. Nineteen editions are on sale in the United Kingdom; there are two translations into German in this country, and three in the father-land, the other side the sea; there are three translations publishing, at this moment, in the feuilleions of the Paris journals, and two more independent translations of the whole work that have already gone out to the French public. Such a triumph as that was never known before, since the sun began to shine. And the triumph is not due alone to the intellectual genius and culture of the writer; it is due to a quality far higher and nobler than mere intellect. Commanding as is the eminent genius of the distinguished author, she has won this audience because she has appealed to their Conscience, because she has touched their Hearts, because she has awakened their Souls. She has brought justice, love and piety to bear the burden which her genius imposed upon them, and well may her word run swiftly, and have great success. (Cheers.) New England Orthodoxy never did a better thing.
It is pleasant to see the comments that are passed upon this production the other side of the water. In France, the most accomplished woman—the woman of the greatest genius that France has ever produced—a woman who writes with the vigor and ability of the golden age of French literature, and at the same time with the humanity you shall vainly seek for in the pages of free-thinking Voltaire or Catholic Bossuet—humanity as wide and deep as that of Fenelon—she heralds this work to the French public. And it is a little remarkable, that Madame Dudevant, with the great and universal reputation for talent and humanity—scoffed at and scorned, at one time, by the British and American people, on account of her free-thinking—it is remarkable that she should take the daughter of a New-England clergyman, the wife of an Orthodox Professor of the day, by the hand, and introduce her to the public of France. (Loud cheers.) It is a beautiful thing. It is the 'extreme left' joining hands with the 'extreme right.' There is one and the same womanhood, the same humanity in the two.
Georges Sands has trod under her feet many doctrines that are dear to you and dear to me; but she has devoted the latter days of her life—and it has been rather a grand life, on the whole—to humanity, in its noblest forms, though they are forms despised. It is a beautiful thing to see a woman, who has electrified all Europe in behalf of the down-trodden and prostrate humanity, reach her hand across the Atlantic, and take Dr. Beecher's daughter by the hand, and ask her to plead with the French people for three millions of men, trodden down and oppressed by the Democracy of the Western world. (Cheers.) Said Pagan Cicero, two thousand years ago, 'Literature is a common bond amongst men and amongst nations.' It was never a common bond that reached so wide and held men so strongly as now; and I know not so fair an evidence of this as the union of these two women in this great and proud work.
You know the comments that have been made on this work in England and America. It was curious to notice the tone of the Hunker press when the book first appeared. With one ear turned North, and hearing little, and with the other ear turned South, and hearing a great deal, some of the Hunker editors did not know exactly what to say. But, true to their instincts, they have lent a willing ear to the South, and obeyed the words they heard in that quarter. Soon, tidings of great applause came over the water. You know the commendations bestowed on the book by Chief Justice Denhman, by the Earl of Carlisle, and by Archbishop Whately, in England. No American book, no English book was ever so much honored there in so brief a time. It was curious to notice the comments of the Boston press on this book. I will read one or two.
You all do know the Daily Advertiser. (Laughter and applause.) I thank you for the applause to the Daily Advertiser! (Roars of laughter and cheers.) The Daily Advertiser announced that the Duchess of Sutherland, with some other ladies of England, had published a letter, calling on the women of America to do their part towards enfranchising their fellow-citizens held in bondage. The letter was published here; and with marvellous promptness—within less than a week—(laughter)—the Daily Advertiser had a comment upon it. And what is remarkable, the comment was in poetry—what is called poetry in that journal, every line beginning with a capital. (Laughter and cheers.) I cut the comment from the paper, and pasted it in a book, and it is a singular coincidence, that on the other side of the poetry is the 'Annuity to Daniel Webster,' and I must hold the paper between the light and myself, for the annuity is so think, I can hardly read the poetry. (Great laughter.)
'Ye noble English lades,
The black man does not feel any woes! Peter Still, who was here the other day, asking our aid to help him buy his wife and children, after he had bought himself— his woes are all unfelt! When the stripes came on his back, he did not cringe; and the flesh did not quiver when the lashes tore!
The black men are very happy:
'On Georgia's broad savannahs,
The slaves don't want to be set free, O no!
'Hold back the stone, fair ladies;
The letter of these ladies is to be like
—— 'the fruit
The English ladies are the new Eves, who are to bring down the American Adam to the ground, and turn him out of Paradise by abolishing slavery! (Laughter and applause.)
That is the beginning; but the Daily Advertiser goes further. Having begun with rhymes, it goes on to reason. Here is another communication, of which the lines do not begin with capitals. (Laughter.)
'May I not suggest to your Grace and to your fair associates, without discourtesy, that it may be possible for the kindest and most sympathetic beings to be so sadly immersed in such a mephitic moral atmosphere as to be unable to discern that all their benevolent exertions are as much needed at home, and that travelling three thousand miles for a field of operation is truly a work of supererogation?'
These women had acknowledged, at the first, their that fathers fixed the stain on America; and thus acknowledging, they travelled a little beyond the record, for Jonathan began it, a great while before John Bull ever aided him, or said a word about it. Besides that, they say, We have great sins at home to be repented of, and ask God's pardon for our weaknesses, and his aid in removing them. This this person adds—'The adage about glass houses and throwing stones is rather stale, yet I seriously commend it to your consideration'; and then gives an extract from a work of one of our own ministers to the poor, (Rev. Dr. Bigelow,) describing the sad sights of misery and wretchedness he saw in London. He then charges them that they should look at home first; and reminds them that charity should 'begin at home—and stay there'! That is a trick which I thought Charity had not yet learned. I thought Charity began at home, and then went everywhere. (Loud cheers.)
Then the Daily Advertiser copies from the British Army Despatch an article, which, it says, 'We quote almost entire, as showing the estimation in which the recent letter of the Duchess of Sutherland is held by at least a portion of the sensible people in England.'—Here are some of the remarks of the 'sensible' person:—
'Mrs. Stowe has libelled her countrymen; let them look to that. England need not back her with Holywell-street ignorance and Exeter Hall cant. If she do, she will sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. Every American in London is disgusted with the Uncle Tom mania here. If he go to a theatre, he is insulted and shocked. The English people, on the other hand, are deluded into the falsest notions of America. When the slave in the drama escapes into British India, there is a cheer. That cheer may cost us some day our best alliance. At this moment, the interests of England and America should be one. Why do not English ladies interfere on behalf of the enslaved French people? We believe, on the other hand, that Louis Napoleon is popular with them. If England interfere with American slavery, she will not effect her object, but the result may be, ere long, that she will be enslaved herself.' * * 'Yes, we are cutting our own throats with this hypocritical, lying sympathy. Let British ladies, if they want a safety valve for their hysterical emotions, as well as a means of notoriety, form a committee for the emancipation of the monkeys which afford them so much amusement on Sundays in the Zoological Gardens. A more touching and a more truthful work than Uncle Tom's Cabin might be written on the sufferings of these.
This is the comment, by quotation, of the Daily Advertiser on the Duchess of Sutherland's letter, and the reception of Uncle Tom's Cabin in England.
I have purposely avoided all extracts from the theological newspapers. They are commonly called 'religious,' but the word 'theological' describes them without a metaphor, and with no figure of speech. I give these from the Daily Advertiser. But that journal was not always of such a stamp.
The Daily Advertiser 'once was young,
I remember when the Daily Advertiser was the champion of freedom. (Some of you smile, but I am stating historical facts.) In 1810 and '20, the Daily Advertiser lifted up a bold, and strong, and manly voice against the extension of slavery beyond the Mississippi river. No newspaper in the North more steadily battled against the Missouri Compromise than the Boston Daily Advertiser—then under the charge of the more youthful Nathan Hale. There has always been a good deal of scholarly talent connected with that paper, and in its better days it did good service; but it has come to this complexion at last. Some few years ago, when there was a rumor of war between England and America, we were very glad—all the North was very glad—to receive the peace sympathies of England. You remember how old Boston, on the east coast of England, which still keeps the great church where John Cotton preached, and which he left to become minister of the first church in this Boston,—you remember how old Boston sent its greetings to the new Boston, and said, 'We are sister cities—let us love one another!' You remember how gladly the new Boston of New England answered to the old Boston of our father-land. When old Plymouth spoke to the new, old Bridgewater to the new, and when old Manchester sent greeting to its namesake on this side the water—you remember how glad all were, and what comments the newspapers made, saying that this was the beginning of 'the era of good feeling,' and our brothers beyond the sea were helping us to keep the peace! But now, when a word is to be said in England for the black man in America, it must be treated with contempt and with scorn! And yet, at the same time, when the Grand Duke of Tuscany imprisons some men because they had read the Italian Bible, America is roused; the ire of Dr. Cox knows no bounds; Dr. Bethune grows eloquent even; and Edward Everett, the Secretary of State, writes a letter—it must be a scholarly and a graceful one—to his friend the Grand Duke of Tuscany, begging him to interfere, and set the Madini Family at liberty. I am glad of this. I rejoice at any tie of humanity which binds the nations together. I should have been glad if the Secretary of State for China had written a letter, last summer, to the Governor of California, asking that the fifteen hundred Chinese citizens in that country might have the privileges of American citizens. It would have helped to marry the Caucasian and Mongolian into one family, and would have been another help towards Christianizing the four hundred million Pagans of China. I rejoice at this sympathy for the Madini family; but would it not be a very proper comment for the Grand Duke of Tuscany to say—'I have imprisoned a single family for reading the Bible, which the public law forbids. You have got three millions of men, and have passed laws prohitibiting any one of them from learning to read the Lord's Prayer, or to read any thing! Let your Bible Society give English Scriptures to American slaves, before you quarrel with me for not doing what your laws forbid at home.' I trust the Grand Duke will not do so foolish a thing; for, as the Advertiser says, 'Two fogs do not make a sunshine.'
As a general thing, the political press of America is strongly opposed to freedom—the freedom of the blacks. Liberty wanders among editors as a strange spectacle, and the eyes of men look thereon, not with approbation.
But there is one institution in the land, which just now, in Boston at least, is lifting up its voice somewhat in behalf of freedom. When I was a young man—no! before that—when I only thought myself a young man, and was merely a large boy—it was my privilege and my good fortune to sit at the feet of the venerable man whom I see before me now; and I remember very well when Dr. Beecher said, (applause,) in his pulpit, that he thought, before ten years were gone by, there would be a steeple on every theatre in New England! The venerable man set his feet forward in that work, and half ten years did not pass by, before there was a steeply on every theatre in New England. It did not mend the matter much. But now, theatres have come up again; and while the work of that venerable Doctor's daughter is read out of the churches, while its doctrines cannot be preached there, Mr. Kimball opens the doors of his theatre, and Uncle Tom's Cabin is played to large audiences, eight times a week. (Loud cheers.) I thank God that when Humanity is excommunicated from the Boston church, she can yet find a resting-place for the sole of her foot in a Boston theatre! (Cheers.) Some years ago, my friend brother Spear, (who sits at my side,) asked Mr. Kimball why he did not have some play that touched the humanities, and was moral and elevating in its tendency? 'Why don't you have an anti-slavery play?' asked Mr. Spear. Whereupon, Mr. Kimball said—'I can't get the audience; but as soon as you will get the people outside ready to come in and see an anti-slavery play, I will perform nothing else.' (Cheers.) Now Uncle Tom's Cabin has got the outsiders in favor of humanity, and Mr. Kimball opens his doors. In due time—when the wind blows long enough in that quarter—I suppose humanity will get in even to the churches. (Applause.) Says the theological student to the Devil, in the play, 'What! can the player instruct the priest?' 'By all means,' quoth Mephistopheles, 'if the priest himself is but a player!'
Well, putting all these things together, the present aspect is undeniably a sad one. The Federal Government is pledged to slavery. Efforts are making by the present Administration, by the Senate, by the Supreme Court, to make slavery national and freedom sectional, even if it be not, as somebody said, that 'slavery is to be national, and freedom nowhere.' It certainly is said, when you see States like Massachusetts in the hands of the enemies of human freedom; when you see bills like those I have named brought before the Legislatures of five millions of people in New York and Pennsylvania; when a man, representing the Democracy of Jefferson and madison, brings forward such a proposition as that to which I have alluded in old Virginia; and when South Carolina is doubly disgraded by the message of Mr. Means. It is a sad sight, when the press of both political parties seems resolved to tread every sixth man down to the dust, when the great meeting-houses have no prayers to offer for the sufferers, and when Humanity is read out of the 'sacred' church to find a welcome in the 'profane' theatre. The aspect seems indeed a sad one. But look at at again, and there are crumbs of comfort which have fallen from this pro-slavery table, and I suppose you and I may pick them up. . . .