Atlantic Monthly Volume 7, No. 40, February, 1861
Part 5 out of 5
streams near Gifford Hall.
The city of Glasgow, whither young Carlyle had gone to pursue his
studies, was at this time far inferior in point of commerce to what it
afterwards became. The tobacco-trade with the American colonies and the
traffic in sugar and rum with the West Indies were the chief branches of
business. Carlyle did not find the merchants of those days interesting
or learned people, though they held a weekly club, where they discussed
the nature and principle of trade, and invited Alexander to join it. But
he found life in Glasgow very dull, and was constantly complaining that
there was neither a teacher of French nor of music in the town. There
was but one concert during the two winters he spent there. Post-chaises
and hackney-coaches were unknown, their places being supplied by three
or four old sedan-chairs, which did a brisk business in carrying
midwives about in the night, and old ladies to church and the
dancing-assemblies. The principal merchants began their business early
in the morning, and took dinner about noon with their families at home.
Afterwards they resorted to the coffee-house, to read the newspapers
and enjoy a bowl of punch. Until an arch fellow from Dublin came to be
master of the chief coffee-house, nine o'clock was the hour for these
worthy mercantile gentlemen to be at home in the evening. The seductive
Irish stranger began his wiles by placing a few nice cold relishing
things on the table, and so gradually led the way to hot suppers and
midnight symposia. Towards the end of his college-session, Carlyle was
introduced to a club which gave him great satisfaction. The principal
member was Robert Simson, the celebrated mathematician. Simson was a
great humorist, and was particularly averse to the company of ladies.
Matthew Stewart, afterwards Professor of Mathematics at Edinburgh, was a
constant attendant at this club.
On the breaking out of the Rebellion of 1745, the young
divinity-student, having returned to Edinburgh, joined the Volunteers,
and entered warmly into all the bustle and business of those exciting
days. In the Battle of Prestonpans he took part, and was active to the
end. When Prince Charles Edward issued a proclamation of pardon to the
Volunteers, Carlyle went down to the Abbey Court to see him. The Prince
mounted his horse, while the young man stood by, and rode away to the
east side of Arthur's Seat. Charles was at that time a good-looking
gentleman, of about five feet ten inches, with dark red hair and black
One Monday morning in October, a hundred and fifteen years ago, young
Carlyle set out for Rotterdam, on his way to Leyden, to join the British
students there. Among them he found Charles Townshend and John Wilkes,
names afterwards famous in English politics. With Wilkes he became
intimate, and many a spirited talk they had together in their daily
But we cannot dwell upon the incidents of Carlyle's student-life on the
Continent. Soon after his return to Scotland he made acquaintance with
Smollett, whose lively, agreeable manners rendered him universally
popular. Thomson, the author of "The Seasons," and Armstrong the poet,
were also at this time among his friends. In 1746 he preached his
first sermon before the Presbytery of Haddington, and got "universal
approbation," especially from one young lady, to whom he had been long
attached. Robertson the historian and Home the dramatist were now among
his neighbors, and no doubt used their influence in getting the young
clergyman a living. He finally settled at Inveresk, where his life was
a very pleasant round of cares and duties. Hume, Adam Smith, Blair,
Smollett, and Robertson now figure largely in his personal record, so
that he had no lack of genial companions. Adam Smith he describes as "a
very absent man in society, moving his lips, talking to himself,
and smiling, in the midst of large companies." Robertson was a very
different person, and held all the conversation-threads in his own
fingers, forgetting, alas! sometimes, that he had not been present in
many a scene which he described as an eye-witness.
Carlyle went some distance on the way toward London with Home, when he
carried his tragedy of "Douglas" for examination to the critics. Six
other clergymen, accompanied the precious manuscript on that expedition,
and the fun was prodigious. Garrick read the play and pronounced it
totally unfit for the stage! "Douglas" was afterwards brought out in
Edinburgh with unbounded success. David Hume ran about crying it up as
the first performance he world had seen for half a century.
Carlyle's visit to Shenstone is very graphically described in the
"Autobiography." The poet was then "a large, heavy, fat man, dressed in
white clothes and silver lace." One night in Edinburgh, Dr. Robertson
gave a small supper-party to "the celebrated Dr. Franklin," and Carlyle
met him that evening at table. They came together afterwards several
But we must refer our readers to the book itself, our limits not
allowing more space for a glance at one of the most entertaining works
in modern biography.
_The Laws of Race, as connected with Slavery_. By the Author of "The Law
of the Territories," "Rustic Rhymes," etc. Philadelphia: W.P. Hazard.
1860. 8vo. pp. 70.
There is no lack of talk and writing among us on political topics; but
there is great lack of independent and able thought concerning them.
The disputes and the manoeuvres of parties interfere with the study and
recognition of the active principles which silently mould the national
character and history. The double-faced platforms of conventions, the
loose manifestoes of itinerant candidates for the Presidency, the
rhetorical misrepresentations of "campaign documents," form the staple
of our political literature.
The writer of the pamphlet before us is one of the few men who not only
think for themselves, nut whose thoughts deserve attention. His essay
on "The Law of the Territories" was distinguished not more by its sound
reasoning than by the candor of its statements and the calmness of its
tone and temper. If his later essay, on "The Laws of Race, as connected
with Slavery," be on the whole less satisfactory, this is to be
attributed, not to any want in it of the same qualities of thought
and style as were displayed in his earlier work, but to the greater
complexify and difficulty of the subject itself. The question of Race,
so far as it affects actual national conditions, is one of the deepest
and most intricate which can be presented to the student of politics. It
is impossible to investigate it without meeting with difficulties which
in the present state of knowledge cannot be solved, or without opening
paths of speculation which no human foresight can trace to their end.
This is, indeed, no reason for not attempting its discussion; and Mr.
Fisher, in treating it in its relation to Slavery, has done good work,
and has brought forward important, though much neglected considerations.
He endeavors to place the whole subject of the relations of the white
and the black races in this country on philosophic grounds, and to
deduce the principles which must govern them from the teachings of
ethnological science, or, in other words, from natural laws which human
device can neither abrogate nor alter.
From these teachings he derives the three following conclusions.
"The white race must of necessity, by reason of its superiority, govern
the negro, wherever the two live together.
"The two races can never amalgamate, and form a new species of man, but
must remain forever distinct,--though mulattoes and other grades always
exist, because constantly renewed.
"Each race has a tendency to occupy exclusively that portion of the
country suited to its nature."
If true, these conclusions are of the utmost importance. They are higher
laws, which "must rule our politics and our destiny, either by the
Constitution or over it, either with the Union or without it; and no
wit or force of man is strong enough to resist them." It is to the
exposition of the results which follow from these conclusions, assuming
them to be true, that the larger part of the present essay is devoted.
That these propositions express, or at least point the way to essential
truths, we are fully persuaded. But we are not ready to accept all the
inferences which the author draws from them, or to admit that they
afford sufficient basis for some of his minor assumptions.
Arguing from his first conclusion, the author draws the inference that
"slavery is the necessary result" of the nature of the black and of the
white man. "The negro is by nature indolent and improvident." "He is
also ignorant." "He requires restraint and guidance"; "otherwise he
would sink into helpless, hopeless vice, idleness, and misery." But in
these words, and in others to the same purport, Mr. Fisher assumes that
the nature of the black is incapable of such improvement as to make what
he calls the necessary condition of servitude needless in the interest
of either race. We are surprised that so good a reasoner should speak
of the ignorance of the black as a natural disqualification for
independence, and the more so, because, in another passage, Mr. Fisher
says, with truth, "We darken his mind with ignorance." That some form
of subjection of the negro may be necessary for a time that extends far
into the future is a point we will not dispute; but that slavery, as
that word is generally understood, is the necessary result of his nature
and of our nature we believe to be utterly untrue. The whole history
of American slavery, far from exhibiting the negro as incapable of
improvement, shows him making a slow and irregular advance in the
development of intellectual and moral qualities, under circumstances
singularly unfavorable. It is the plea of the advocates of the
slave-trade, that the black is civilized by contact with the white.
The plea is not without truth. It is the universal testimony of
slave-owners, and the common observation of travellers, that the city
and house slaves, that is, those who are brought into most constant and
close relations with the whites, show higher mental development than
those who are confined to the fields. The experiment of education,
continued for more than one generation, has never been tried. The black
is in many of his endowments inferior to the white; but until he and
his children and his children's children have shown an incapacity to be
raised by a suitable training, honestly given, to an intellectual and
moral condition that shall fit them for self-dependence, we have no
right to assert that slavery is a necessary condition, if in the meaning
of necessary we include the idea of permanence. It is not needful to
present here other objections to this sweeping assertion. They are old,
well-known, and unanswerable.
But leaving this and other points on which we find ourselves at issue
with Mr. Fisher, we come to what we regard as the most important part of
his pamphlet,--the results which he shows to follow from the law, that
"each race has a tendency to occupy exclusively that portion of the
country suited to its nature." In the States that lie on the Gulf of
Mexico the negro "has found a congenial climate and obtained a permanent
foothold." "The negro multiplies there; the white man dwindles and
decays." We should be glad to quote at length the striking pages in
which Mr. Fisher shows the prospect of the ultimate and not distant
ascendency of the black race in this new Africa. The considerations he
presents are of vital consequence to the South, of consequence only less
than vital to the North. But by the side of "New-Africa" are States and
Territories in which the black race has little or no foothold. Free,
civilized, and prosperous communities are brought face to face, as it
were, with the mixed and degenerating populations of the Slave country.
In the Free States the white race is increasing in numbers and advancing
in prosperity with unexampled rapidity. In the Slave States the black
race is growing in far greater proportion than the white, the most
important elements of prosperity are becoming exhausted, and the
forces of civilization are incompetent to hold their own against the
ever-increasing weight of barbarism. Shall this new Africa push its
boundaries beyond their present limits? Shall more territory be yielded
to the already wide-spread African, race? It is not the question,
whether the unoccupied spaces of the South and West shall be settled by
Northern white emigrants with their natural property, or by Southern
white emigrants with their legal property,--and there an end; but it
is the question, whether New England or New Africa shall extend her
limits,--whether the country shall be occupied a century hence by a
civilized or by a barbarous race. Every rood of ground yielded to the
pretensions of the masters of slaves is so much of the heirloom of
freedom and of civilization lost without hope of recovery. Slavery is
As an institution, such as it has developed itself in our Southern
States, it has already, given tokens of decay. But the qualities of race
are so slowly affected by change as to admit of being called constant
and permanent. The predominant influence of the blacks in the Cotton
States is already (even putting aside the results of slavery) exhibiting
itself in the lowering of the whites. These States are becoming
uninhabitable for the whites,--not by reason of climate, or of slavery
as an institution, but by reason of the operation of the inevitable
increase of the slaves. They must have the land, and the stronger race
will be driven out by the weaker, on account of the preponderance of
their numbers and the _vis inertice_ of their natures. There is no room
in the United States, or in any of their unsettled territory, for the
expansion of this transatlantic Africa. Where the black race is now
settled it will stay, but it must be confined within its present limits.
We do not look upon the simple secession of the Slave States, or of
any one of them, as dangerous, so far as the extension of slavery is
concerned,--rather, on the contrary, as likely to end the great debate
by securing all unoccupied territory to the North, to freedom, and to
the white races. It is only, if an attempt should be made, for the sake
of what is miscalled peace, and for the sake of the Union, to conciliate
the misguided and unfortunate people of the South by compromise or
concession, that we fear the consequences.
The responsibility under which we are to act is not for our own moral
convictions alone, but also for the happiness of all future times. There
is no room for concession, no space for compromise, in the settlement of
the question of the prevalence of the black or of the white race on this
continent,--in other words, the prevalence of liberty and Christianity
and all their attendant blessings, or that of ignorance and barbarism
with their train. "We will decide this question," says Mr. Fisher, whose
words were written before the necessity for decision was so distinctly
presented as at present, "we will decide it, if we can, as a united
people; but if we cannot, if cotton and slavery and the negro have
already weakened our Southern brethren by their spells and enchantments,
so that the South cannot decide according to the traditions and impulses
of our race, then we of the North will still decide it, as by right we
may,--by right of reason, of race, and of law."
_The Conduct of Life_. By R.W. EMERSON Boston: Ticknor & Fields. 16mo.
It is a singular fact, that Mr. Emerson is the most steadily attractive
lecturer in America. Into that somewhat cold-waterish region adventurers
of the sensation kind come down now and then with a splash, to become
disregarded King Logs before the next season. But Mr. Emerson always
draws. A lecturer now for something like a quarter of a century, one
of the pioneers of the lecturing system, the charm of his voice, his
manner, and his matter has never lost its power over his earlier
hearers, and continually winds new ones in its enchanting meshes. What
they do not fully understand they take on trust, and listen, saying to
themselves, as the old poet of Sir Philip Sidney,--
"A sweet, attractive, kind of grace,
A full assurance given by looks,
Continual comfort in a face,
The lineaments of gospel books."
We call it a singular fact, because we Yankees are thought to be fond of
the spread-eagle style, and nothing can be more remote from that than
his. We are reckoned a practical folk, who would rather hear about a
new air-tight stove than about Plato; yet our favorite teacher's
practicality is not in the least of the Poor Richard variety. If he
have any Buncombe constituency, it is that unrealized commonwealth of
philosophers which Plotinus proposed to establish; and if he were to
make an almanac, his directions to farmers would be something like
this:--"OCTOBER: _Indian Summer_; now is the time to get in your early
Vedas." What, then, is his secret? Is it not that he out-Yankees us all?
that his range includes us all? that he is equally at home with the
potato-disease and original sin, with pegging shoes and the Over-soul?
that, as we try all trades, so has he tried all cultures? and above all,
that his mysticism gives us a counterpoise to our super-practicality?
There is no man living to whom, as a writer, so many of us feel
and thankfully acknowledge so great an indebtedness for ennobling
impulses,--none whom so many cannot abide. What does he mean? ask these
last. Where is his system? What is the use of it all? What the deuse
have we to do with Brahma? Well, we do not propose to write an essay on
Emerson at the fag-end of a February "Atlantic," with Secession longing
for somebody to hold it, and Chaos come again in the South Carolina
teapot. We will only say that we have found grandeur and consolation in
a starlit night without caring to ask what it meant, save grandeur and
consolation; we have liked Montaigne, as some ten generations before us
have done, without thinking him so systematic as some more eminently
tedious (or shall we say tediously eminent?) authors; we have thought
roses as good in their way as cabbages, though the latter would have
made a better show in the witness-box, if cross-examined as to their
usefulness; and as for Brahma, why, he can take care of himself, and
won't bite us at any rate.
The bother with Mr. Emerson is, that, though he writes in prose, he is
essentially a poet. If you undertake to paraphrase what he says, and to
reduce it to words of one syllable for infant minds, you will make
as sad work of it as the good monk with his analysis of Homer in the
"Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum." We look upon him as one of the few men
of genius whom our age has produced, and there needs no better proof of
it than his masculine faculty of fecundating other minds. Search for his
eloquence in his books and you will perchance miss it, but meanwhile you
will find that it has kindled all your thoughts. For choice and pith of
language he belongs to a better age than ours, and might rub shoulders
with Fuller and Browne,--though he does use that abominable word,
_reliable_. His eye for a fine, telling phrase that will carry true is
like that of a backwoodsman for a rifle; and he will dredge you up a
choice word from the ooze of Cotton Mather himself. A diction at once so
rich and so homely as his we know not where to match in these days of
writing by the page; it is like homespun cloth-of-gold. The many cannot
miss his meaning, and only the few can find it. It is the open secret of
all true genius. What does he mean, quotha? He means inspiring hints, a
divining-rod to your deeper nature, "plain living and high thinking."
We meant only to welcome this book, and not to review it. Doubtless we
might pick our quarrel with it here and there; but all that our readers
care to know is, that it contains essays on Fate, Power, Wealth,
Culture, Behavior, Worship, Considerations by the Way, Beauty, and
Illusions. They need no invitation to Emerson. "Would you know," says
Goethe, "the ripest cherries? Ask the boys and the blackbirds." He does
not advise you to inquire of the crows.
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