En fenomenal bok, som jag läste på Sydostasienresan 2012 (därför ännu kärare minne). Stor historia, med hoppande berättare, som har hög närvaro och guidar oss mellan de olika berättelserna. Beskriver slaveriet i kapitalismens hjärta (influerat av en viss KM/FE 1848?) – slaveriet i sig är det fula, inte hur det tillämpas. Vackert, trots de religiösa övertonerna (änglalika flickan) som skär sig idag. Men ändå inte blint religiös; beskriver slavarnas sorger som ingen gud kan trösta. Och den enigmatiske St Clare – boken är värd att läsas om bara på grund av hans närvaro i den. Vilken styrka, vilket språk! Älskvärd, att läsas för barnen.
”It’s natur, Chloe, and natur’s strong,” said Tom, ”but the Lord’s grace is stronger; besides, you oughter think what an awful state a poor crittur’s soul’s in that ‘ll do them ar things; you oughter thank God that you an’t like him, Chloe. I’m sure I’d rather be sold, ten thousand times over, than to have all that ar poor crittur’s got to answer for.”
”I’ve got a wife,” spoke out the article enumerated as ”John, aged thirty,” and he laid his chained hand on Tom’s knee – ”and she don’t know a word about this, poor girl!”
”Where does she live?” said Tom.
”In a tavern a piece down here,” said John; ”I wish, now, I could see her once more in this world,” he added.
Poor John! It was rather natural; and the tears that fell, as he spoke, came as naturally as if he had been a white man. Tom drew a long breath from a sore heart, and tried, in his poor way, to comfort him.
And overhead, in the cabin, sat fathers and mothers, husbands and wives; and merry, dancing children moved round among them, like so many little butterflies, and everything was going on quite easy and comfortable.
”But Eva somehow always seems to put herself on an equality with every creature that comes near her. It’s a strange thing about the child. I never have been able to break her of it. St. Clare, I believe, encourages her in it. The fact is, St. Clare indulges every creature under this roof but his own wife.”
[St. Clare ”reprimands” (tillrättavisar är fel, läxa upp likaså) sin kusin för sin hycklande inställning till svarta:] ”You would think no harm in a child’s caressing a large dog, even if he was black; but a creature that can think, and reason, and feel, and is immortal, you shudder at; confess it, cousin. I know the feeling among some of you northerners well enough. Not that there is a particle of virtue in our not having it; but custom with us does what Christianity ought to do,–obliterates the feeling of personal prejudice. I have often noticed, in my travels north, how much stronger this was with you than with us. You loathe them as you would a snake or a toad, yet you are indignant at their wrongs. You would not have them abused; but you don’t want to have anything to do with them yourselves. You would send them to Africa, out of your sight and smell, and then send a missionary or two to do up all the self-denial of elevating them compendiously. Isn’t that it?”
”Well,” said Miss Ophelia, ”do you think slavery right or wrong?”
I’m not going to have any of your horrid New England directness, cousin,” said St. Clare, gayly. ”If I answer that question, I know you’ll be at me with half a dozen others, each one harder than the last; and I’m not a going to define my position. I am one of the sort that lives by throwing stones at other people’s glass houses, but I never mean to put up one for them to stone.”
”That’s just the way he’s always talking,” said Marie; ”you can’t get any satisfaction out of him. I believe it’s just because he don’t like religion, that he’s always running out in this way he’s been doing.”
”Religion!” said St. Clare, in a tone that made both ladies look at him. ”Religion! Is what you hear at church, religion? Is that which can bend and turn, and descend and ascend, to fit every crooked phase of selfish, worldly society, religion? Is that religion which is less scrupulous, less generous, less just, less considerate for man, than even my own ungodly, worldly, blinded nature? No! When I look for a religion, I must look for something above me, and not something beneath.”
”My dear child, what do you expect? Here is a whole class, – debased, uneducated, indolent, provoking, – put, without any sort of terms or conditions, entirely into the hands of such people as the majority in our world are; people who have neither consideration nor self-control, who haven’t even an enlightened regard to their own interest, – for that’s the case with the largest half of mankind. Of course, in a community so organized, what can a man of honorable and humane feelings do, but shut his eyes all he can, and harden his heart? I can’t buy every poor wretch I see. I can’t turn knight-errant, and undertake to redress every individual case of wrong in such a city as this. The most I can do is to try and keep out of the way of it.”
St. Clare’s fine countenance was for a moment overcast; he said,
”Come, cousin, don’t stand there looking like one of the Fates; you’ve only seen a peep through the curtain, – a specimen of what is going on, the world over, in some shape or other. If we are to be prying and spying into all the dismals of life, we should have no heart to anything. ‘T is like looking too close into the details of Dinah’s kitchen;” and St. Clare lay back on the sofa, and busied himself with his paper.
[St Clare:] Talk of the abuses of slavery! Humbug! The thing itself is the essence of all abuse!
[Pratar om sin äldre bror Alfred, som han en gång i tiden hjälpte driva en plantage:] ”… -no, he stands, high and haughty, on that good old respectable ground, the right of the strongest; and he says, and I think quite sensibly, that the American planter is ‘only doing, in another form, what the English aristocracy and capitalists are doing by the lower classes; that is, I take it, appropriating them, body and bone, soul and spirit, to their use and convenience… He [the laborer] is as much at the will of his employer as if he were sold to him. The slave-owner can whip his refractory slave to death – the capitalist can starve him to death. As to family security, it is hard to say which is the worst – to have one’s children sold, or see them starve to death at home… [slavery] sets the thing before the eyes of the civilised world in a more tangible form, though the thing done be, after all, in its nature, the same; that is, appropriating one set of human beings to the use and improvement of another, without any regard to their own.” [Betydligt radikalare än vad boken framställs som…]
[Pratar med sin bror, om att jämlikhet – mer specifikt konstitutionens ”all men are created equal” – syftar på de bildade, intelligenta, rika och inte patrasket.] ”That is past praying for, ” said Augustine; ”educated they will be, and we only have to say how. Our system is educating them in barbarism and brutality. We are breaking all humanising ties, and making them brute beasts; and if they get the upper hand, such we shall find them.”
”They never shall get the upper hand!” said Alfred.
”That’s right,” said St. Clare; ”put on the steam, fasten down the escape-valve, and sit on it, and see where you’ll land.”
”Well,” said Alfred, ”we will see. I’m not afraid to sit on the escape-valve, as long as the boilers are strong, and the machinery works well.”
”The nobles in Louis XVI.’s time thought just so; and Austria and Pius IX. think so now; and some pleasant morning you may all be caught up to meet each other in the air, when the boilers burst.”
And if you should ever be under the necessity, sir, of selecting, out of two hundred men, one who was to become your absolute owner and disposer, you would, perhaps, realise, just as Tom did, how few there were that you would feel at all comfortable in being made over to.
”And how long do they generally last?” said the stranger.
”Well, don’no; ‘cordin’ as their constitution is. Stout fellers last six or seven years; trashy ones gets worked up in two or three. I used to, when I fust begun, have considerable trouble fussin’ with ‘em and trying to make ‘em hold out,–doctorin’ on ‘em up when they’s sick, and givin’ on ‘em clothes and blankets, and what not, tryin’ to keep ‘em all sort o’ decent and comfortable. Law, ‘t wasn’t no sort o’ use; I lost money on ‘em, and ‘t was heaps o’ trouble. Now, you see, I just put ‘em straight through, sick or well. When one nigger’s dead, I buy another; and I find it comes cheaper and easier, every way.”
”Where, then, shall I look? On the shores of Africa I see a republic,–a republic formed of picked men, who, by energy and self-educating force, have, in many cases, individually, raised themselves above a condition of slavery…”
[Concluding remarks:] …the comment that one often hears made on them is more shocking than the thing itself. It is said, ”Very likely such cases may now and then occur, but they are no sample of general practice.” If the laws of New England were so arranged that a master could now and then torture an apprentice to death, would it be received with equal composure? Would it be said, ”These cases are rare, and no samples of general practice”? This injustice is an inherent one in the slave system,–it cannot exist without it.
For many years of her life, the author avoided all reading upon or allusion to the subject of slavery, considering it as too painful to be inquired into, and one which advancing light and civilization would certainly live down. But, since the legislative act of 1850, when she heard, with perfect surprise and consternation, Christian and humane people actually recommending the remanding escaped fugitives into slavery, as a duty binding on good citizens,–when she heard, on all hands, from kind, compassionate and estimable people, in the free states of the North, deliberations and discussions as to what Christian duty could be on this head,–she could only think, These men and Christians cannot know what slavery is; if they did, such a question could never be open for discussion.
And now, men and women of America, is this a thing to be trifled with, apologized for, and passed over in silence? Farmers of Massachusetts, of New Hampshire, of Vermont, of Connecticut, who read this book by the blaze of your winter-evening fire,–strong-hearted, generous sailors and ship-owners of Maine,–is this a thing for you to countenance and encourage? Brave and generous men of New York, farmers of rich and joyous Ohio, and ye of the wide prairie states,–answer, is this a thing for you to protect and countenance? And you, mothers of America,–you who have learned, by the cradles of your own children, to love and feel for all mankind,–by the sacred love you bear your child; by your joy in his beautiful, spotless infancy; by the motherly pity and tenderness with which you guide his growing years; by the anxieties of his education; by the prayers you breathe for his soul’s eternal good;–I beseech you, pity the mother who has all your affections, and not one legal right to protect, guide, or educate, the child of her bosom! By the sick hour of your child; by those dying eyes, which you can never forget; by those last cries, that wrung your heart when you could neither help nor save; by the desolation of that empty cradle, that silent nursery,–I beseech you, pity those mothers that are constantly made childless by the American slave-trade! And say, mothers of America, is this a thing to be defended, sympathized with, passed over in silence?
[Undanröjer alla tvivel:] This is an age of the world when nations are trembling and convulsed. A mighty influence is abroad, surging and heaving the world, as with an earthquake. And is America safe? Every nation that carries in its bosom great and unredressed injustice has in it the elements of this last convulsion.