UNCOLORED VIEWS UPON COLORED SUBJECTS.*
WE have seldom prejudged a book so unjustly as the volume now under our consideration.
From the date of its first advertisement in our columns we had set it down as a catchpenny of the most impudent description, and a cursory glance at the book itself and the consequent recognition of sundry plates from a late edition of Mr. Kennedy's "Swallow Barn," did not operate much in its favor.
An idea that the book had been "written up" to second-hand plates, and the title and form of publication so arranged that a false Dromio might be passed and sold for the true, had become firmly fixed in our minds, and it required the perusal of some dozen chapters to convince us that the supposed catchpenny was a work of great merit and equally great moderation, in which the all-important subject is treated with the strictest fidelity and impartiality, and that the descriptions of negro life and negro character which it contains are as true to nature and free from exaggeration as those in Mrs. Stowe's volumes are unreal and distorted.
The object of the author is to show the exact situation of the slaves, the usual treatment they receive, the manner in which they are seduced from their masters and their homes to seek for freedom, what ideas they entertain of it, and how they enjoy it when obtained.
The "Uncle Tom" of Mr. Smith is a faithfully drawn portraiture of an old plantation negro. Deluded by the specious representations of a Northern schoolmaster, and irritated at the punishment lately received, he determines to reach that blessed land of liberty—"Canada," a country that he, poor fellow, fairly confounds with the "Canaan" of which he has heard and sung at the Camp meeting and at the fireside devotions from childhood.
Other slaves are drawn into the plot, but "Uncle Tom" alone remains firm in purpose, and abandoning wife and children, hearth and home, peace and plenty, sets forth upon his Utopian expedition.
Our author then transports us to the Canada shore, and we see
UNCLE TOM IN HIS NEW HOME.
"No person was visible about the public house; a large dog lay on the stoop, half asleep; but the tramping of the horse aroused him from his lethargy, and after considerable effort he rose up, although not upon "all fours," for he was too lazy to do that. The door was wide open, but no host in attendance, save Jowler, to welcome the guest. The posts designed to support the roof of the stoop seemed to be tired of their position, and were quietly but unceasingly at work to get away; for their tenons, and the mortices with which they had been in close companionship for years, had rotted out and silently taken their departure; the small doors that were used as barricades to the windows, stood ajar and dangled upon their rusty hinges; the sign, which hung from a joist nailed to one of the posts, was almost illegible, so much battered was it by the weather; and many a clapboard on the exterior of the main building had parted company from its fellow, and those which still remained appeared lonesome and anxious to be on the move. * * * A black man soon stood in the doorway, rubbing his eyes. He was scantily dressed, although he did not appear to have been abed. He had on a pair of pantaloons made out of towcloth, much soiled with dirt; an old, tattered satin vest—the pocket linings having worn through, and hanging out conspicuously; a hat made out of very coarse straw, and saturated pretty much all over with perspiration—that is to say, what was left of it as originally made, for the rim was gone, except a small piece directly over the eyes as it was now worn, and the top was entirely gone—and a thick, red flannel shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows."
Here was poor Tom, and here he vegetated,—Heu! quantum mutatus ab illo. Upon making enquiries, Mr. Allgood—the traveller, a great negro philanthropist—discovers that Mr. and Mrs. Brown, the proprietors, are absent from home, being at Buffalo attending a convention, and that, in all probability, Mrs. B. will there deliver a speech for the especial benefit and guidance of her benighted neighbors of Uncle Sam's dominions, and thereupon Mr. A. comes to the conclusion that women appear to much better advantage at home, and that negroes sometimes do not gain much by running away—
THE PHILANTHROPIST'S NIGHT THOUGHTS.
"The traveler was restless and uneasy. If he got into a doziness, the inclination was more to dreaming than to sleep; and slavery, and how its victims, if perchance they escaped, in nine cases out of ten, only got out of one fire to be presently in another, were the principal features of his thoughts. He rolled, tumbled, and tossed, and wished the tavern-keeper all sorts of destiny, for attending to other people's business and not his own.
"His wife, of course, has gone with him to the convention, and why shouldn't the bed be filled with vermin, and the sheets unfit even for Tom to lay in? I ought to have known better than to put up at such a place. But I have met Mr. Brown frequently, and really thought the accommodations, although plain, would be comfortable at least. It is always so; I never knew it to fail. Let a woman make up her mind to appear in public, and she is never at home; eternally looks out, and never looks in. Confound that flea! It's too dark to stick a pin in it. There comes that long-bill musketo! Well, Mrs. Brown is not responsible for that nuisance. I'll give her a quit-claim of that pest. How infernal hot! I wonder if Brown thinks of anything else but niggers?"
Advised by Mr. Allgood, Tom abandons Canada, and endeavors to earn a living in Buffalo. During the summer months he manages to keep body and soul together, but winter finds him without money, clothes, food or fuel.
Here we have a vivid picture of
UNCLE TOM'S SAD ESTATE OF FREEDOM.
"Time had run through all the holidays, and the new year was full a month old. Tom was in the depot at the foot of the hill, shivering with cold. He had been there all day, for the snow drove through the air unceasingly and furiously, and the footman could make but slow progress, so difficult was it to see, and so heavy and deep was the snow in every direction. He had been alone. Mr. Easy was ill with fever, and if well, would not have ventured out in such a blustering storm. It was after dark, and Tom had neither wood nor candles. He took every cent of money in his possession to Mr. Easy's house, the day previous, to satisfy the rent. He expected to borrow enough in the morning to purchase some wood, but the storm came on, and it was out of the question to get even a small supply. He had a fragment of a twist of bread, and a small bit of cheese left over, but that was gone now. If he was not moneyless, it might be worth while to make an effort to reach some bakery or grocery; but who would trust him? And if he attempted to beg, who would have compassion on a man so able-bodied, and apparently so capable of laying in his own stores? He ruminated upon his destitute condition, and such thoughts loomed in his imagination. He sunk back in the chair, and dropped his head between his knees. To say that he cried, and that the tears came gushing from his eyes 'thick and fast,' would be a tame description of his feelings. His mind was distracted, and memory carried him back to that lowly but comfortable cabin, which never seemed half so dear before. He thought of his wife, and those sweet, loved children, and the many scenes of domestic quietude through which he so often and pleasantly passed; and how much happiness he enjoyed, as he grew from infancy to manhood. His heart was sore, lacerated, torn with sorrow and grief, and he cared but little whether or no he gazed upon the light of another sun. And yet, thought he, if I should die, what, oh! what will become of Dinah! I promised to send her money. She will think me an ungrateful, cold-blooded monster, that I have delayed till now! I told her, as I flung my arms about her neck, and gave her that last kiss, if I lived to see the land of freedom, I would send her word by the post; and to this hour have I broken my most solemn promise. Can I add ignominy to perjury? No, no! Father in heaven! forgive me my sins, save me from starvation, and bless me with the light of another day. The recollection that there was a God, in this extremity, gave him courage and strength."
Tom nearly perishes in a snow-drift—is rescued by a benevolent merchant, and finds a temporary home with a poor negress. He finally seeks his old philanthropic acquaintance, and endeavors to borrow a small sum to set him up again in business—the profession of the brush—but soon discovers that giving is "not at all in Mr. Allgood's way," and is treated to
A PHILANTHROPIST'S VIEW UPON BENEFITING THE NEGROES.
"'You refuse to help me, then? Blast the white man's friendship! Down South, the poor negro would not be left to shift in dis way.'
"'Can't help it; I must husband my money.'
"'Are you not the friend of color'd man?'
"'Certainly; I lend all my influence to benefit their lowly,
down-trodden condition; but when it comes to giving money outright to
the slave, that's more than I contracted for. It's
enough for me to spend my time in getting up and attending meetings, and discussing the subject; that, let me tell you, costs money. No, no; if we are able to run you into freedom, that's all that can be expected. You must now take care of yourself.'"
Reduced to the verge of despair, the victim of Northern philanthropy exclaims: "If dis am Massa Bates's Kanon, give dis nigger ole Egypt, wid plenty o' corn and hoecake"; and we are very much inclined to coincide with his view of the case.
Returning summer brings Tom's old master and family to Buffalo, and with them a body servant, and the runaway's wife. Now that another negro is to be stolen, assistance is offered freely, and an attempt made to take the woman by force, but that failing, poor Tom is carried off bodily and landed against his will in Canada, for fear his experience in Northern milk and honey might tempt him to return again to Egyptian bondage.
The master proceeds to Niagara, and there, upon British ground, Tom meets his wife, and gladly accepts his master's offer to be taken back to "Ole Virginny."
The whole story is perfectly natural, exceedingly well told, and although entirely free from sentimental tinsel, is not only interesting, but in many parts truly affecting. The language of the negroes is generally well given, although, on this point, the author sometimes forgets himself, and places words in his puppets' mouths that have no business there.
The characters of the various slaves, their vacillating minds, their proneness to be guided by any one professing friendship, their infirmity of purpose, are sketched to the life, and we sincerely recommend the work to all classes of readers as an antidote to a certain overdose of fanatic poison, lately administered in anything but a homeopathic manner.
In taking leave of this subject, we would record two pertinent and suggestive facts which are worthy of all attention. But little more than a year since, Mr. Matsell, the Chief of Police, in his report of metropolitan crime, announced that of the six thousand blacks in the city of New York, over one third had been in the "Tombs," on "Blackwell's Island," or in the State Prison within the twelve months preceding.
During this very year, a gentleman, in obediance to the will of a deceased friend, endeavored to bring to the North fifty negroes, whose freedom had been bequeathed to them. A friend met him a few days since, and inquired how he had acquitted himself of his task. "I brought on thirty," was the reply; "the others ran away in New Orleans. On arriving here, I made application to the abolitionists to assist them, but could get nothing from them—no, not one dollar. They have scattered about. The men of them that I have seen since beg me to take them back and sell them; and as for the women, they are, most of them, inmates of the lowest dens of infamy.
Is is advisable to steal slaves, and bring them to the North to be converted into thieves and prostitutes?
It may not be amiss to state that the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin as it is," is by no means the man of straw he has been represented, but a lawyer of distinction, a late prominent candidate for the bench of the Supreme Court, and a scholar, who carried off the first honors of his college, Middlebury, Vermont, where he graduated in 1825.