In order to understand how so great a moral revolution has been wrought we must return for a moment to the Middle Ages. We left the burgher class in alliance with the kings, possessing liberal charters, making their own laws, levying their own taxes, commanding their own troops. Their sons were not always merchants like themselves: they invaded the intellectual dominions of the priests: they became lawyers, artists, and physicians.
Then another change took place. Standing armies were invented, and the middle class were re-enslaved. Their municipal rights were taken from them; troops were stationed in their towns; the nobles collected round the king, who could now reward their loyalty with lucrative and honourable posts, the command of a regiment, or the administration of a province. Heavy taxes were imposed on the burghers and the peasants, and these supported the nobles and clergy who were exempt. Aristocracy and monarchy became fast friends, and the Crown was protected by the thunders of the Church.
The rebellion of the German monk established an idol of ink and paper, instead of an idol of painted wood or stone; the Protestant believed that it was his duty to study the Bible for himself, and so education was spread throughout the countries of the Reformed Religion. A desire for knowledge became general, and the academies of the Jesuits were founded in self- defence. The enlargement of the reading class gave the Book that power which the pulpit once enjoyed, and in the hands of Voltaire the Book began to preach. The fallacies of the Syrian religion were exposed: and with that religion fell the doctrine of passive obedience and divine right: the doctrine that unbelievers are the enemies of God: the doctrine that men who adopt a particular profession are invested with magical powers which stream into them from other men's finger ends: the doctrine that a barbarous legal code was issued vivâ voce by the Creator of the world. Such notions as these are still held by thousands in private life, but they no longer enter into the policy of states or dictate statutes of the realm.
Voltaire destroyed the authority of the Church and Rousseau prepared the way for the destruction of the Crown. He believed in a dream-land of the past which had never existed: he appealed to imaginary laws of Nature. Yet these errors were beneficial in their day. He taught men to yearn for an ideal state, which they with their own efforts might attain; he inspired them with the sentiment of Liberty, and with a reverence for the Law of Right. Virtuous principles, abstract ideas, the future Deities of men were now for the first time lifted up to be adored. A thousand hearts palpitated with excitement; a thousand pens were drawn; the people that slumbered in sorrow and captivity heard a voice bidding them arise; they strained, they struggled, and they burst their bonds. Jacques Bonhomme, who had hitherto gone on all fours, discovered to his surprise that he also was a biped; the world became more light; the horizon widened; a new epoch opened for the human race.
The anti-slavery movement, which we shall now briefly sketch, is merely an episode in that great rebellion against authority which began in the night of the Middle Ages; which sometimes assumed the form of religious heresy, sometimes of serf revolt; which gradually established the municipal cities, and raised the slave to the position of the tenant; which gained great victories in the Protestant Reformation, the two English Revolutions, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution; which has destroyed the tyranny of governments in Europe, and which will in time destroy the tyranny of religious creeds.
In the middle of the eighteenth century negro slavery, although it had frequently been denounced in books, had not attracted the attention of the English people. To them it was something in the abstract, something which was done beyond the seas. But there rose an agitation which brought up its distant horrors in vivid pictures before the mind, and produced an outcry of anger and disgust.
It had been the custom of the Virginian or West Indian planter, when he left his tobacco or sugar estate for a holiday in England, to wear very broad hats and very wide trousers and to be accompanied by those slaves who used to bring him his coffee in the early morning, to brush away the blue-tailed fly from his siesta, and to mix him rum and water when required. The existence of such attendants was some what anomalous in this island, and friends would often observe with a knowing air it was lucky for him that Sambo was not up to English law. That law, indeed, was undefined. Slavery had existed in England and had died out of itself, in what manner and at what time no one could precisely say. It was, however, a popular impression that no man could be kept as a slave if he were once baptised. The planters enjoyed the same kind of reputation which the nabobs afterwards obtained: a yellow skin and a bad heart were at one time always associated with each other. The negroes were often encouraged to abscond, and to offer themselves before the font. They obtained as sponsors respectable well-to-do men, who declared that they would stand by their god-sons if it came to a case at law. The planters were in much distress, and in order to know the worst went to Messrs. York and Talbot, the Attorney and Solicitor General for the time being, and requested an opinion. The opinion of York and Talbot was this: that slaves breathing English air did not become free; that slaves on being baptised did not become free; and that their masters could force them back to the plantations when they pleased.
The planters, finding that the law was on their side, at once acted on their opinion. Advertisements appeared in the newspapers offering rewards for runaway slaves. Negroes might be seen being dragged along the streets in open day: they were bought and sold at the Poultry Compter, an old city jail. Free men of colour were no longer safe; kidnapping became a regular pursuit.
There was a young man named Granville Sharp, whose benevolent heart was touched to the quick by the abominable scenes which he had witnessed more than once. He could not believe that such was really English law. He examined the question for himself, and, after long search, discovered precedents which overthrew the opinion of the two great lawyers. He published a pamphlet in which he stated his case; and not content with writing, he also acted in the cause, aiding and abetting negroes to escape. On one occasion a Virginian had disposed of an unruly slave to a skipper bound for the West Indies. The vessel was lying in the river; the unfortunate negro was chained to the mast; when Granville Sharp climbed over the side with a writ of Habeas Corpus in his hand. James Somerset's body was given up, and with its panting, shuddering, hopeful, fearful soul inside, was produced before a Court of Justice that Lord Mansfield might decide to whom it belonged. The case was argued at three sittings, and excited much interest throughout the land. It ended in the liberation of the slave.
Several hundred negroes were at once bowed out by their masters into the street, and wandered about, sleeping in glass-houses; seated on the door-steps of their former homes, weeping, and cursing Granville Sharp. It was resolved to do something for them, and a grant of land was obtained from the native chiefs at the mouth of the Sierra Leone River: a company was formed; four hundred destitute negroes were sent out; and, as if there were no women in Africa, fifty "unfortunates" were sent out with them. The society of these ladies was not conducive to the moral or physical well-being of the emigrants, eighty-four of whom died before they sighted land, and eighty-six in the first four months after landing. The philanthropists thus produced a middle passage at which a slave trader would have been aghast. In a short time the white women were dead, and the Granvilles, as they are traditionally called upon the coast, adopted savage life. But the settlement was re-peopled from another source. In the American Revolutionary War, large numbers of negroes had flocked to the royal standard, attracted by the proclamations of the British generals. These runaway slaves were sent to Nova Scotia, where they soon began to complain; the climate was not to their taste, and they had not received the lands which had been promised them. They were then shipped off to Sierra Leone. They landed singing hymns, and pitched their tents on the site of the present town. The settlement was afterwards recruited with negroes in thousands out of slave ships; but the American element may yet be detected in the architecture of the native houses and in the speech of the inhabitants.
In the meantime the slave-trade was being actively discussed. Among those who felt most deeply on the question was Dr. Peckard, of St. John's College, Cambridge, who, being in 1785 Vice-Chancellor, gave as a subject for the Latin essay, "Anne liceat invitos in servitutem dare?" -- Is it right to make men slaves against their will?
Among the candidates was a certain bachelor of arts, Mr. Thomas Clarkson, who had gained the prize for the best Latin essay the year before, and was desirous of keeping up his reputation. He therefore took unusual pains to collect materials respecting the African slave-trade, to which he knew Dr. Peckard's question referred. He borrowed the papers of a deceased friend who had been in the trade, and conversed with officers who had been stationed in the West Indies. He read Benezet's Historical Account of Guinea, and was thence guided to the original authorities, which are contained in the large folios of Hakluyt and Purchas. These old voyages, written by men who were themselves slavers, contain admirable descriptions of native customs, and also detailed accounts of the way in which the man-trade was carried on. Clarkson possessed a vivid imagination and a tender heart: these narratives filled him with horror and alarm. The pleasure of research was swallowed up in the pain that was excited by the facts before him. It was one gloomy subject from morning to night. In the day-time he was uneasy; at night he had little rest. Sometimes he never closed his eyes from grief. It became not so much a trial for academical reputation as for the production of a work which might be useful to injured Africa. He always slept with a candle in the room that he might get up and put down thoughts which suddenly occurred to him. At last he finished his painful task, and obtained the prize. He went to Cambridge, and read his essay in the Senate House. On his journey back to Lon don the subject continually engrossed his thoughts. "I became," he says, "very seriously affected upon the road. I stopped my horse occasionally, and dismounted and walked. I frequently tried to persuade myself, in these intervals, that the contents of my essay could not be true. Coming in sight of Wades Mill, in Hertfordshire, I sat down disconsolate on the turf by the road-side and held my horse. Here a thought came into my mind, that if the contents of the essay were true, it was time that some person should see these calamities to their end."
On arriving in London he heard for the first time of the labours of Granville Sharp and others. He determined to give up his intention of entering the Church, and to devote himself entirely to the destruction of the slave-trade. At this time a Committee was formed for the purpose of preparing the public mind for abolition. Granville Sharp, to whom more than to any other individual the abolition of the slave-trade is due, became the president, and Clarkson was deputed to collect evidence. He called on the leading men of the day and endeavoured to engage their sympathies in the cause. His modest, subdued demeanour, the sad, almost tearful expression of his face, which the painter of his portrait has fortunately seized, the earnestness and passion with which he depicted the atrocities of the slave-hunt in Africa and the miseries of the slave hold at sea, secured him attention and respect from all; and among those with whom he spoke was one whose fame is the purest and the best that parliamentary history records.
William Wilberforce was the son of a rich merchant at Hull, and inherited a large fortune. He went to Cambridge, and was afterwards elected member for his native city, an honour which cost him ?8,OOO. He became a member of the fashionable clubs, and chiefly frequented Brooks', where he became a votary of faro till his winnings cured him of his taste for play. He soon obtained a reputation in the House and the salon. He had an easy flow of language, and a voice which was melody itself. He was a clever mimic and an accomplished musician. He possessed the rare arts of polished raillery and courteous repartee. Madame de Stael declared that he was the wittiest man in England. But presently he withdrew from her society and that of her friends, because it was brilliant and agreeable. He also took his name off all his clubs. He was travelling on the Continent with Pitt, who was his bosom friend, when a change came over him. In the days of his childhood he had been sent to reside with an aunt who was a great admirer of Whitfield's preaching, and kept up a friendly connection with the early Methodists. He was soon infected with her ideas, and "there was remarked in him a rare and pleasing character of piety in his twelfth year." This excited much consternation among the other members of his family. His mother at once came up to London and fetched him home. "If Billy turns Methodist," said his grandfather, "he shall not have a sixpence of mine." We are informed that theatrical diversions, card parties, and sumptuous suppers (at the fashionable hour of six in the evening) obliterated these impressions for a time. They were not, however, dead, for the perusal of Doddridge's "Rise and Progress" was sufficient to revive them. This amiable and excellent young man became the prey of a morbid superstition. Often in the midst of enjoyment his conscience told him he was not in the true sense of the word a Christian. "I laughed, I sang, I was apparently gay and happy, but the thought would steal across me, What madness is all this: to continue easy in a state in which a sudden call out of the world would consign me to everlasting misery, and that when eternal happiness is within my grasp?" The sinful worldling accordingly reformed. He declined Sunday visits; he got up earlier in the morning; he wrestled continually in prayer; he began to keep a common place book, serious and profane, and a Christian duty paper. He opened himself completely to Pitt, and said he believed the Spirit was in him. Mr. Pitt was apparently of a different opinion, for he tried to reason him out of his convictions. "The fact is," says Mr. Wilberforce, "he was so absorbed in politics that he had never given himself time for due reflection in religion. But amongst other things he declared to me that Bishop Butler's work raised in his mind more doubts than it had answered." Now if that was the character of Pitt's intellect we must venture to think that the more he reflected on religion the less he would have believed in it.
Superstition intensifies a man. It makes him more of what he was before. An evil-natured person who takes fright at hell- fire becomes the most malevolent of human beings. Nothing can more clearly prove the natural beauty of Wilberforce's character than the fact that he preserved it unimpaired in spite of his Methodistic principles. It would be unjust to deny that after he became a Methodist he became a wiser and a better man. His intellect was strengthened, his affections were sweetened, by a faith the usual tendency of which is to harden the heart and to soften the head. He endeavoured to control a human, and therefore sometimes irritable, temper; he laid down for himself the rule to manifest rather humility in himself than dissatisfaction at others; and so well did he succeed that a female friend observed, "If this is madness I hope that he will bite us all."
Yet there was a flaw in Wilberforce's brain, or he could never have supposed that a man might be sent to hell for playing the piano. He soon showed that in another age he might have been an excellent inquisitor; and inquisitors there were not less pure- hearted, not less benevolent in private life than Wilberforce himself. He desired to do something in public for the glory of God, and he believed it was his mission to reform the manners of the age. When a man of fashion was always a gambler, and when all the clubs in St. James' Street were hells; when speeches were often incoherent in the House after dinner; when comic songs were composed against Mr. Pitt, not because he had a mistress, but because he had none; when ladies called adultery " a little affair "; when the Prince of Wales was a young man about town, grazing on the middle classes, it cannot be questioned that, from the royal family downwards, there was room for improvement. The reader will perhaps feel curious to learn in what manner Mr. Wilberforce commenced his laudable but difficult crusade. He obtained a royal proclamation for the discouragement of vice and immorality; and letters from the secretaries of state to the lords-lieutenant, expressing his Majesty's pleasure, that they recommend it to the justices throughout their several counties to be active in the execution of the laws against immoralities. He also started a society, to assist in the enforcement of the proclamation, as a kind of amateur detective corps, to hunt up indecent and blasphemous publications. And that was what he called reforming the manners of the age!
Happily, the slave-trade question began to be discussed, and Mr. Wilberforce obtained a cause which was worthy of his noble nature. The miseries of Africa had long attracted his attention: even in his boyhood he had written on the subject for the daily journals. Lady Middleton, who had heard from an eye-witness of the horrors of slavery, had begged him to bring it before parliament. Mr. Pitt had also advised him to take up the question, and he had agreed to do so whenever an opportunity should occur. This happened before his acquaintance with Clarkson, to whom he said at their first interview that abolition was a question near his heart. A short time after, there was a dinner at Mr. Bennet Langton's, at which Sir Joshua Reynolds, Boswell, Windham, and himself were present. The conversation turned upon the African slave-trade, and Clarkson exhibited some specimens of cotton cloth manufactured by the natives in their own looms, the plant being grown in their own fields. All the guests expressed themselves on the side of abolition, and Mr. Wilberforce was asked if he would bring it forward in the House. He said that he would have no objection to do so when he was better prepared for it, providing no more proper person could be found.
The Committee now went to work in earnest, and held weekly meetings at Mr. Wilberforce's house. Clarkson was sent to Bristol and Liverpool, where he collected much information, though not without difficulty, and even, as he thought, danger of his life. A commission was appointed by the Lords of the Privy Council to collect evidence. It was stated by the Liverpool and planter party that not only the colonial prosperity, but the commercial existence of the nation was at stake; that the Guinea trade was a nursery for British seamen; that the slaves offered for sale were criminals and captives who would be eaten if they were not bought; that the middle passage was the happiest period of a negro's life; that the sleeping apartments on board were perfumed with frankincense; and that the slaves were encouraged to disport themselves on deck with the music and dances of their native land. On the other hand, the Committee proved from the muster rolls which Clarkson had examined that the Guinea trade was not the nursery of British seamen, but its grave; and they published a picture of an African slaver, copied from a vessel which was lying in the Mersey, and certain measurements were made, which, being put into feet and inches, justified the statement of a member in the House, that never was so much human suffering condensed into so small a space.
Lord Chancellor Thurlow and two other members of the Cabinet were opposed to abolition, and therefore Mr. Pitt could not make it a government measure; and so although it was called the battle between the giants and the pigmies; although Pitt, Fox, Burke, Sheridan, Windham, and Wilberforce, the greatest orators and statesmen of the day, were on one side, and the two members for Liverpool on the other, the brute votes went with the pigmies, and the bill was lost.
But now the nation was beginning to be moved. The Committee distributed books, and hired columns in the newspapers. They sealed their letters with a negro in chains kneeling, and the motto, "Am I not a man and a brother?" Wedgwood made cameos with the same design; ladies wore them in their bracelets or their hair-pins; gentlemen had them inlaid in gold on the lids of their snuff boxes. Cowper sent to the Committee the well- known poem, "Fleecy locks and black complexion"; the Committee printed it on the finest hot-pressed paper, folded it up in a small and neat form, gave it the appropriate title of "A subject for conversation at the tea-table," and cast it forth by thousands upon the land. It was set to music, and sung as a street ballad. People crowded at shop windows to see the picture of the ship in which the poor negroes were packed like herrings in a cask. A murmur arose, and grew louder and louder; three hundred thousand persons gave up drinking sugar in their tea; indignation meetings were held; and petitions were sent into Parliament by the ton. Everything seemed to show that the nation had begun to loathe the trade in flesh and blood, and would not be appeased till it was done away. And then came events which made the sweet words Liberty, Humanity, Equality, sound harsh and ungrateful to the ear: which caused those who spoke much of philanthropy, and eternal justice, to be avoided by their friends, and perhaps supervised by the police; which rendered negroes and emancipation a subject to be discussed only with sneers and shakings of the head. When the slave-trade question had first come up, Mr. Pitt proposed to the French Government that the two nations should unite in the cause of abolition. Now in France the peasantry themselves were slaves; and the negro trade had been bitterly attacked in books which had been burnt by the public executioner, and the authors of which had been excommunicated by the Pope. Mr. Pitt's proposal was at once declined by the coterie of the OEil de Boeuf. In the meantime it was discovered that the French nation was heavily in debt; there was a loss of nearly five million sterling every year; a fact by no means surprising, for the nobles and clergy paid no taxes; each branch of trade was an indolent monopoly; and poor Jacques Bonhomme bore the weight of the court and army on his back. Chancellors of the Exchequer one after, the other were appointed, and attempted in vain to grapple with the difficulty. As a last resource, the House of Commons was revived, that the debt of bankrupt despotism might be accepted by the nation. A Parliament was opened at Versailles; lawyers and merchants dressed in black walked in the same procession, and sat beneath the same roof with the haughty nobles, rustling with feathers, shining with gold, and wearing swords upon their thighs. But the commoners soon perceived that they had only been summoned to vote away the money of the nation; they were not to interfere with the laws. Their debates becoming offensive to the king, the hall in which they met was closed against them. They then gathered in a tennis court, called themselves the National Assembly, and took an oath that they would not dissolve until they had regenerated France. Troops were marched into Versailles; a coup d'etat was evidently in the wind. And then the Parisians arose; the army refused to fight against them; the Bastille was destroyed; the National Assembly took the place of the OEil de Boeuf: democracy became the Mayor of the Palace. A constitution was drawn up, and was accepted by the king. The nobility were deprived of their feudal rights; church property was resumed by the nation; taxes were imposed on the rich as well as on the poor; the peasantry went out shooting every Sunday; the country gentlemen fled from their chateaux to foreign courts, where wars began to brew.
Such was the state of affairs in France when Wilberforce suggested that Clarkson should be sent over to Paris to negotiate with the leading members of the National Assembly. There was in Paris a Society called the Friends of the Blacks; Condorcet and Brissot were among its conductors. Clarkson, therefore, was sanguine of success; but it was long before he could obtain a hearing. At last he was invited to dinner at the house of the Bishop of Chartres, that he might there meet Mirabeau and Seiyes, the Duc de Rochefoucauld, Pétion de Villeneuve, and Bergasse, and talk the matter over. But when the guests met, a much more interesting topic was in everybody's mouth. The king at that time lived at Versailles, a little town inhabited entirely by his servants and his body- guards. The Parisians for some time had been uneasy; they feared that he would escape to Metz; and that civil war would then break out. There was a rumour of a bond signed by thousands of the aristocrats to fight on the king's side. The Guards had certainly been doubled at Versailles; and a Flanders regiment had marched into the town with two pieces of cannon. Officers appeared in the streets in strange uniforms, green faced with red; and they did not wear the tricolour cockade which had already been adopted by the French nation. And while thus uneasy looks were turned towards Versailles, an incident took place which heightened the alarm. On October 1st a banquet had been given by the Guards to the officers of the Flanders Regiment. The tables were spread in the court theatre: the boxes were filled with spectators. After the champagne was served, and the health of the royal family had been drunk, the wine and the shouting turned all heads; swords were drawn and waved naked in the air: the tricolour cockades were trampled under foot; the band struck up the tender and beautiful ballad, "O Richard! O my King! the world is all forsaking thee!"; the queen came in and walked round the tables, bowing, and bestowing her sweetest smiles; the bugles sounded the charge; the men from different regiments were brought in; all swore aloud they would protect the king, as if he was just then in danger of his life; and some young ensigns carried by assault certain boxes which expressed dissent at these proceedings. This was the subject of conversation at the dinner to which Clarkson was invited; and the next day the women of Paris marched upon Versailles; the king was taken to the Tuileries and the National Assembly became supreme -- under favour of the mob.
After several weeks Clarkson at last received a definite reply. The Revolution, he was told, was of more importance than the abolition of the slave-trade. In Bordeaux, Marseilles, Rouen, Nantes, and Havre, there were many persons in favour of that trade. It would be said that abolition would be making a sacrifice to England. The British parliament had as yet done nothing, and people doubted the sincerity of Pitt. Mr. Clarkson asked whether, if the question were postponed to the next legislature, it would be more difficult to carry it then than now. "The question produced much conversation, but the answer was unanimous -- that people would daily more and more admire their constitution, and that by the constitution certain solid and fixed principles would be established, which would inevitably lead to the abolition of the slave-trade; and if the constitution were once fairly established, they would not regard the murmurs of any town or province."
Clarkson was not the only envoy who was defeated by the planter interest on French soil. In the flourishing colony of St. Domingo there were many mulatto planters, free and wealthy men, but subject to degrading disabilities. When they heard of the Revolution, they sent Ogé to Paris with a large sum of money as a present to the National Assembly, and a petition for equal rights. The president received him and his companions with cordiality: he bid them take courage; the Assembly knew no distinction between black and white; all men were created free and equal. But soon the planters began to intrigue, the politicians to prevaricate, and to postpone. Ogé's patience was at last worn out; he declared to Clarkson that he did not care whether their petition was granted them or not. "We can produce," he said, "as good soldiers on our estates as those in France. If we are once forced to desperate measures, it will be in vain to send thousands across the Atlantic to bring us back to our former state." He finally returned to St. Domingo, armed his slaves, was defeated and broken on the wheel. Then the slaves rose and massacred the whites, and the cause of abolition was tarnished by their crimes. In England the tide of feeling turned; a panic fell upon the land. The practical disciples of Rousseau had formed a club in Paris, the members of which met in a Jacobin church, whence they took their name. This club became a kind of caucus for the arrangement of elections, to decide the measures which should be brought forward in the National Assembly, and to preach unto all men the gospel of liberty, equality, and fraternity. It had four hundred daughter societies in France; it corresponded with thousands of secret societies abroad; it had missionaries in the army, spies in foreign lands. It desired to create a universal republic; it grew in power, in ambition, and in bravado; it cast at the feet of the kings of Europe the head of a king; it offered the friendship and aid of France to all people who would rise against their tyrants. Thomas Paine, who used to boast that he had created the American Revolution with his pamphlet, "Common Sense," now tried to create an English Revolution with his "Rights of Man." In the loyal towns his effigy, with a rope round its neck, was flogged with a cart whip, while the market-bell tolled, and the crowd sang the national anthem, with three cheers after each verse. In other towns, "No King! Liberty! Equality!" were scribbled on the walls. The soldiers were everywhere tampered with, and the king was mobbed. Pitt, the projector of Reform Bills, became a tyrant. Burke, the champion of the American Revolution, became a Tory.
It was not a time to speak of abolition, which was regarded as a revolutionary measure. And such in reality it was, though accidentally associated in England with religion and philanthropy, on account of the character of its leaders. It was pointed out that the atheist philosophers had all of them begun by sympathising with the negroes; one of Thomas Paine's first productions was an article against slavery. The Committee was declared to be a nest of Jacobins, their publications were denounced as poisonous. There was a time when the king had whispered at a levee, "How go on your black clients, Mr. Wilberforce?"
But now the philanthropist was in disgrace at court. At this time poor Clarkson's health gave way, and he was carried off the field. And then from Paris there came terrible news; the people were at last avenged. The long black night was followed by a blood-red dawn. The nobles who had fled to foreign courts had returned with foreign troops; the kings of Europe had fallen on the new republic, the common enemy of all. The people feared that the old tyranny was about to be replaced, and by a foreign hand; they had now tasted liberty; they knew how sweet it was; they had learnt the joy of eating all the corn that they had sown; they had known what it was to have their own firelocks and their own swords, and to feel that they, the poor and hungry serfs, were the guardians of their native land. They had learnt to kiss the tricolour; to say Vive la nation! to look forward to a day when their boys, now growing up, might harangue from the Tribune, or sit upon the Bench, or grasp the field-marshal's baton. And should all this be undone? Should they be made to return to their boiled grass and their stinging nettle soup? Should the days of privilege and oppression be restored?
The nation arose and drove out the invaders. But there had been a panic, and it bore its fruits. What the Jacobins were to Pitt, the aristocrats were to Danton and Robespierre. Hundreds of royalists were guillotined, but then, thousands had plotted the overthrow of the Republic, thousands had intrigued that France might be a conquered land. Such at least was the popular belief; The massacres of September, the execution of the king and queen, were the result of fear. After which, it must be owned, there came a period when suspicion and slaughter had become a habit; when blood was shed to the sound of laughter; when heads, greeted with roars of recognition, were popped out of the little national sash-window, and tumbled into the sawdust, and then were displayed to the gallery in the windows, and to the pit upon the square. The mere brute energy which lay at the bottom of the social mass rose more and more towards the top; and at length the leaders of the people were hideous beings in red woollen caps, with scarcely an idea in their heads or a feeling in their hearts; ardent lovers of liberty, it is true, and zealots for the fatherland, scarcely taking enough from the treasury to fill their bellies and to clothe their backs (Marat, when killed, had elevenpence halfpenny in his possession), but mere senseless fanatics, who crushed that liberty which they tried to nurse; who governed only by the guillotine, which they considered a sovereign remedy for all political disorders; who killed all the great men whom the Republic had produced, and were finally guillotined themselves.
The death of Robespierre closed the Revolution; the last mob-rising was extinguished by the artillery of Bonaparte. The Jacobins fell into disrepute; there was a cry of "Down with the Jacoquins!"; stones were hurled in through their windows; the orators were hustled and beaten as they sallied forth, and the ladies who knitted in the gallery were chastised in a manner scarcely suited for adults. The age of revolutions for a time was past; Bonaparte became Dictator; Thomas Paine took to drink; the English reign of terror was dispelled; the abolitionists again raised their voices on behalf of the negro, and in 18O7 the slave-trade was abolished. That traffic, however, was only abolished so far as English vessels and English markets were concerned, and Government now commenced a long series of negotiations with foreign powers. In course of time the other nations prohibited the slave-trade, and conceded to Great Britain the police control of the Guinea coast, and the right of search. A squadron of gunboats hovered round the mouths of rivers, or sent up boating expeditions, or cruised to and fro a little way out at sea, with a man always at the mast-head with a spy glass in his hand, scanning the horizon for a sail. When a sail was sighted, the gunboat got up steam, bore down upon the vessel, ordered her to heave to, sent men on board, and overhauled her papers. If they were not in order, or if slaves were on board, or even if the vessel was fitted up in such a way as to have the appearance of a slaver, she was taken as a prize; the sailors were landed at the first convenient spot; the slaver was sold, and the money thereby obtained, with a bounty on each captured slave, was divided among the officers and crew. The slaves were discharged at Sierra Leone, where they formed themselves into various townships according to their nationalities, spoke their own language, elected their own chiefs, and governed themselves privately by their own laws, opinion acting as the only method of coercion -- a fact deserving to be noted by those who study savage man. However, this was only for a time. All these imported negroes were educated by the missionaries, and they now support their own church; the native languages and distinctions of nationality are gradually dying out; the descendants of naked slaves are many of them clergymen, artisans, shopkeepers, and merchants; they call themselves Englishmen, and such they feel themselves to be. However ludicrous it may seem to hear a negro boasting about Lord Nelson and Waterloo, and declaring that he must go home to England for his health, it shows that he possesses a kind of emulation, which, with proper guidance, will make him a true citizen of his adopted country, and leave him nothing of the African except his skin.