Page images
[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

The agriculture of the West Indian settlements has always been of a nature nearly allied to mercantile ad. venture. The persons who emigrated thither, have accordingly been either those who wished to derive vast profits from a large capital, with considerable risk; or, those who, without any substance, and ruined perhaps at home, wished to catch, by other arts than laborious industry, some of the overflowings of the wealth accumulated by the former class. The spirit of adventure, which has for its object either the rapid increase of stock, with proportionate risk; or, the acquisition of some fortune, without the ordinary means of toil and hardship, is unfavourable to morals and manners. In the class which possesses capital, it is allied to the love of deep play; in the class which has nothing to lose, it gives birth to meanness and dishonesty.

A colony, composed of such adventurers, is peopled by a race of men all hastening to grow rich, and

eager to acquire wealth for the gratification of avarice or voluptuousness. It is an association formed for one common end, which, in the eyes of all, justifies any means; and that indulgence which every one requires, no one is disposed to refuse. The continuance of the members in this society is as short as possible; and the same prospect of soon leaving the spot the same views which induce a sacrifice of present ease to future luxury, and a neglect of the common conveniences of polished society-leads also to an indifference about those higher ornaments which become the mind, and, when once given up, cannot again be assumed.

6. Let us make money, that we may spend it in London, Amsterdam, or Bourdeaux. We are now in the mine: though it be unpleasant and unwholesome, we shall soon repose on beds of down; only let us get wherewithal to purchase them, and the object may justify the means, as it reconciles us to the toil. What, though our conduct is incorrect, and our manners dissolute, we shall accommodate them to those of our European countrymen when we return, as we threw off the hampering trammels of European maxims when we crossed the Atlantic. Let us but make money now,

and we shall afterwards have time to build churches and endow hospitals." Such, I fear, is the natural language of men in those circumstances. But their manners are affected also by other peculiarities in their situation : the want of modest female society; the necessity of gratifying the desires engendered by a burning climate; the abundance of unhappy women, whose blood boils with still stronger passions, and renders them, in the European eyes, only an inferior race formed for the corporeal convenience of their masters; these are other causes of dissolute morals. The want of female society, while it brutalizes the minds and manners of men, necessarily deprives them of all the virtuous pleasures of domestic life, and frees them from those restraints which the presence of a family always imposes on the conduct of the most profligate men. The wite

nesses of the planter's actions are the companions of his debaucheries, who reek with the same lust, and wallow in the same glutinous mire; or, the wretched beings who tremble at his nod, while they minister to the indulgence of his brutal appetites, and impose no more check

upon his excesses than if they wanted that faculty of speech, which almost alone distinguishes them from the beasts that surround them. The kind of industry which forms the occupation of the lower orders, is of a very different nature from that which clears the forests of the continent. The unfitness of European constitutions to endure the heat of a tropical sun, renders all work in the open air fatal to health: the honest exertions of the inferior whites are, there. fore, confined to superintending the labour of others, by a delegated power over the slaves; and to certain details of commerce, which give a very different occupation to the mind from the employments of tillage. The labour of the husbandman is unremitting and exhausting; it leaves no moments, nor strength, nor desire for pursuits of vicious indulgence, even if the scenes of its exertion were favourable to the gratification of the looser passions. The shepherd, whose life is more idle and easy, has not the opportunity of indulging those passions, to which the neighbourhood of a city and his own idleness would give birth; his solitary occupation, therefore, begets habits of contemplation, coupled indeed with indolence, but not unfavourable to purity of mind. The needy adventurer, who strives to grow rich by superintending herds of human cattle, or by managing the easy and subordinate branches of a divided business, without any continued exertion of

[ocr errors]

mind, and with little or no bodily labour, has all the idleness of the shepherd, without his solitude and contentment; all the temptations to vicious excesses, which constant interruptions of employment, uniform bodily ease, vacancy of thought, and the opportunities of indulgence can hold out.

But the labour which is not performed by Europeans, or creole whites, is devolved upon Africans, from whom the coercion of a master's arm can alone extort the necessary portion of work. The whites form a class of superior men, proud of their palpable distinction, and viewing their slaves as creatures of a subordinate nature, made for their use or their pleasures, and bound to move by the impulse of their will. Hence arises the most disgusting contamination with which the residence of the new world stains the character of the European : a love of uncontrolled power over indivi. duals; a selfish reference of their situation to his own wants; a disgraceful carelessness about the happiness of a race with whose enjoyments he cannot sympathise; a detestable indifference to the sufferings of his fellow creatures; and a habit, no less odious, of indulging, at their expence, every caprice of temper or desire. Such seem to be the necessary effects of that unnatural state of society, which allots the sweat and dust to the African, and reserves to the European the fruit and the shade.

In situations far less unfavourable, the same consequences appear to have attended the institution of domestic slavery, among the most polished nations of the ancient world; although their minds were cultivated, and their manners embellished by all those happy com.

binations of circumstances which gave splendor to the the meridian height of human genius; although the slave was of the same race with the citizen, his equal in civilization, sometimes his superior in accomplishments; although the master was surrounded by his family, watched by the severities of republican virtue, and either taught the lessons of wisdom, or received them from the sages, whose precepts have guided the conduct of succeeding ages. This union of profligate and in human manners, with the elegance and general worth of the classic times, affords indeed no palliation of the evil; but it may teach us how inseparable those consequences are from the institution itself, when all the virtues and accomplishments of antiquity, however much they may have been obscured, could not counteract them.

If, then, the universal prevalence of speculation mingles with the character of the West Indian colonist that spirit of gambling, which forms the justly contemptible habits of the horse-jockey, and numbers among the unfortunate men who devote themselves to this occupation, the dominion over negro slaves adds to the same turn of mind, that odious cruelty which renders the cock-fighter as much an object of detestation as the jockey is of contempt*.

* We think the cock-fighter an object of the greatest de. testation; all amusements, which arise from the torment of inferior animals, render their promoters objects of contempt; and the more elevated the rank of those who patronise them, the greater is the disgrace which they incur. We have often heard the defence of that barbarous sport, called bull-baiting, by one or two celebrated characters, whose patriotism we do

« PreviousContinue »