Important from the South.
Mr. THACKERAY opens his lecture on the third “of the fools and the scoundrels called GEORGE” with a story of his own childhood. He tells how the ship which brought him from his native land of India to England stopped on the way at an island; how he was then carried ashore by the faithful black servant to whom his father had entrusted him; how they two wandered through a little town, and were taken to see a simple country house, where, in a small garden, they beheld a small, stout, sallow-faced gentleman, in a broad hat, who was superintending some horticultural experiment and how this small, stout, sallow-faced gentleman was described to him by his guardian, speaking loud, and with bated breath, as “the terrible ogre, BONAPARTE, who ate three sheep to his breakfast every day, beside all the little children he could get.” This alarming story, adds Mr. THACKERAY, “was confirmed to me on my arrival in England by all to whom I mentioned the name of the formidable person that it had been my fortune to see.” There is but a little exaggeration in this picture of the English notion of NAPOLEON, as it existed forty years since in the juvenile British mind. Nay, the schoolboy’s frightful conception of this crowned and ravening beast, from whose devouring jaws Old England had so happily escaped, was hardly peculiar to the schoolboy. Grave men had their won monstrous ideas of the “Corsican adventurer,” less absurd, indeed, but not less atrociously false and foolish than the spectral fancies of the child. Diplomatists, in their correspondence with each other and with the Continental Cabinets—orators, great and small, in Parliament and out of it—stately reviewers and laureate poets—were all alike enveloped in the same mist of prejudices. The author of Waverley, in his maturity, was not less ready to swallow the slanderous lies of a GOLDSMITH, than the author of [Pendennis?], in his boyhood, to believe the tremendous legend of his Oriental protector. Nor is it easy, now, to estimate how much of blood and of treasure—how many wrongs and losses in the past—how many heart-burnings, jealousies, and possible disasters, in the coming time—might have been spared to England and to France, had it been possible for the Englishmen of the old régime to do justice to the Dictator of Republican France, and for the modern Caesar to comprehend the position and the character of his indomitable neighbor.
But it is, unfortunately, as true of nations as of men, that—
“Others’ follies teach us not,
Nor much their wisdom teaches;
And most of solid worth is what
Our own experience preaches.”
And so the mutual understanding, the interchange of common sense and common justice which would have converted the blundering deceivers of Amiens into honest negotiators, had to be learned by fire and sword, which though they be the best of arbitrators, are certainly the worst of teachers. The lesson which came so bitterly to the first NAPOLEON at Waterloo, and not much less bitterly to the grand-daughter of GEORGE III. in the Chapel of the garter at Windsor, and beneath the dome of the Invalides at Paris, might have been learned with less pain surely, and perhaps with not less profit, from monitors less severe than sanguinary defeat and smiling humiliation.
Wherever two great and apparently irreconcilable systems, whether of though, of society or of Government, are brought by the necessity of circumstances to face each other, their adherents have but one alternative, to understand each other, or to fight. The time allowed them for their decision may be longer or shorter, but to this complexion it must come at last. Arguments a priori and arguments a posteriori —the logic of feeling, and logic of facts, alike force us to this one conclusion. There is no escape from it.
The Northern and the Southern States of this Union occupy precisely this position. The South has long and ably asserted it; the North is slowly and unwillingly admitting it. Our systems of society, our modes of life, are radically and absolutely dissimilar. Are they, therefore, irreconcilable—are they, therefore, necessarily and inevitably hostile to one another? Here are the questions which we should have the courage to meet, before they meet us, and overtake us with a crash instead of a solution. We have not had the courage to meet them. We at the North have winked them out of sight. Our brethren at the South have frowned them out of sight. To enter upon the discursion of them at the North has been heretofore denounced as treason. To hint at the discussion of them at the South is now to invite disgrace and death. We do most earnestly deplore and lament this state of things. It is inconsistent with the self-respect of freemen. It is incompatible with the safety of the Republic.
The “Slavery Question” is the gravest question which any existing nation is called upon to solve. Are we in a way to solve it? It calls upon the people whom it confronts, for the utmost fairness; for perfect freedom of investigation, for mutual toleration, and mutual forbearance? Are any of these conditions very hopefully fulfilled in our private or public consideration of the matter? What mean do we at the North observe between a reticence which would be contemptible if it were not so dangerous, and a rage which would be ridiculous were it not so odious? Do we not seem to suppose that out of the most inevitable and the most complicated of national dilemmas, we can be extricated by the combined and counteracting force of ignorant or cowardly demagogues who deny its existence, and of fever-smitten fanatics who proclaim it insoluble?
And at the South what progress do we see towards such a condition of the popular mind as shall justify us in hoping for anything like a rational conclusion of this imbroglio? So little, that we find ourselves astonished at reading in the Charleston Courier so gracious an admission as the following: “It is entirely within the reach of our comprehension that an Abolitionist, in the sense in which that term is used in reference to the institution of domestic Slavery, may be an honest Christian gentleman!” Not much this to be thankful for! You will say—that one of the most grave and peaceful of Southern journals actually professes itself able to believe that a man may agree in opinion with three-fourths of the civilized world, without forfeiting his claims to common respect! And yet it is much to be thankful for. For the South has been and is in the habit of disapproval of the Institution of Slaver as proof positive that he in whom they appeared must have a bad heart, a worse head, and a sum not worth the saving. The man who should venture in a Southern city to suggest the most practical aspect of the controversy, would be howled against on the spot as savagely as if he had waved the red flag of revolt over the plantation of a dozen States. To aver that land in Ohio sells at a higher rate than land in Kentucky, is to be an “Abolitionist”—and to be an “Abolitionist” is to be a demon in human shape. You may be the veriest of Gradgrinds—you may agree with the Harvard Professor, who held “philanthropy to be the worst passion of our nature;” your objections to Slavery may be wholly lucrative—utterly immoral—it doesn’t signify in the least. An “Abolitionist” you are—for you hemp grows and grab-trees put forth their branches—for you North Carolina yields the adhesive life-blood of her pines—for you the bird of Michaelmas surrenders his downy robes.
While things are in this state, the true patriot may well tremble for the future of a people so angrily divided and so mutually unjust. And we cannot, therefore, withhold the expression of our satisfaction at the discovery which has been made by our Charleston contemporary. We hope it may be tested by all the intellects of the South. For if it is properly digested, and properly applied, it may result in the abundant production of the one sure panacea, yet discovered for all the diseases of emotion and of interest—the ancient “simples” of common sense and common justice.