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A WINTER IN THE WEST INDIES, described in familiar
letters to Henry Clay of Kentucky. By Joseph John GurNEY. London : Murray. 1810.
The British West Indies have been recently the scene of one of the most important moral revolutions recorded in the history of the human race. A population of nearly eight hundred thousand
persons, descended from a long ancestry of slaves, and born to the possession of hereditary servitude, has been called by an act of the supreme government into the unrestricted enjoyment of freedom. It was an interesting problem, as regarded the immediate welfare of the West India Islands themselves, whether this change would, as had been confidently predicted by its opponents, be productive of effects the most disastrous and fatal —whether it would at once paralyze the entire social system, and, by destroying the only incentives to labour, involve the consequent loss of a great amount of capital employed in the staple manufactures of the country; or whether, as was hoped and believed by the friends of emancipation, motives of self-interest might be safely depended on, to arouse the exertion of the free man, and to furnish a supply of industry proportioned to the demand; and the result was expected by either party with intense anxiety and many misgivings.
It was recollected, that the subjects of this change were in a measure incapacitated for the use of liberty by the habits acquired during their previous condition of servitude; and it was feared even by the most sanguine, that their moral vision, weakened and impaired by a long acquaintance with darkness, would require a protracted training, before it could be rendered capable of enduring the blaze of light thus suddenly poured in upon it. One only hope of better things seemed to suggest itself in the fact, that the knowledge of Christianity had been widely disseminated among the Negroes, and that Christian principles were capable of an application to every emergency.
But there were other and more important interests at stake than the immediate welfare of the West India Islands. The attention of the Old and of the New World was fixed upon this experiment. Its success could not fail of furnishing the friends of Africa with another and a most powerful, because a practical, argument for the universal abolition of slavery. Its failure would rivet the fetters of the slave, and if it did not condemn him to interminable bondage, would, at least, crush his hopes for the present, and put off the consideration of his claims to some far distant day.
We ourselves felt intensely upon this subject. We had supported the cause of emancipation upon lofty grounds. “Fiat justitia, ruat cælum,' was the motto inscribed upon our banner when we joined this holy crusade. We believed that the word of God disallowed the right of man to hold his fellow in servitude ;-that the relation of master and slave was utterly incompatible with obedience to that commandment by which we are required to regulate our intercourse with each other: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself ;” and, believing this, we could not pause to calculate consequences, nor suffer any considerations of expediency to interfere with the performance of a positive duty. But we were fully aware that though Protestant England might be aroused to the performance of a tardy act of justice by an appeal to Christian principles, the objections of self-interest must be silenced, before the cause of emancipation could be expected to make much progress on the continent of Europe, or in the slave-states of America : and proportioned to the strength of our conviction is the joy with which we hail the actual fulfilment of our most sanguine hopes.
The little volume of Mr. Gurney, entitled, “A Winter in the West Indies, professes to give an account of the working of emancipation in the British Colonies. It is addressed, in a series of familiar letters, to Henry Clay of Kentucky, a well-known and influential member of the American Congress, but unfortunately one of those whose views on the subject of slavery stand out in strange contrast with the liberality of his sentiments on every other point. Mr. Gurney visited the West Indies in the capacity of a minister of religion, his mission from the Society of Friends in this country to the members of their body resident in the New World, being altother of a religious character. He found time, however, during an abode of four months in Tortola, St. Christopher's
, Antigua, Dominica, and Jamaica, to obtain much information from others, and to draw many conclusions for himself; and feelingly alive to the important question of American slavery, he hastened, on his return to the United States, to publish the result of his enquiries and observations, in the hope that a work addressed to a gentleman, generally regarded as a leader of the pro-slavery party, would attract some amount of public attention, and lead to the removal of many prejudices. Mr. Gurney has republished his volume in England, justly deeming that “the practical details of the working of emancipation in our West India colonies, must be as interesting to the friends of humanity in our own country, as to those in America,' and with the further object of upholding the maintenance of the present prohibitory duties on slave-grown coffee and sugar.'
We feel convinced that the expectations of Mr. Gurney, as to the
interest felt in England with regard to the actual working of emancipation, will not be disappointed; and that his calm and dispassionate view of the subject will be hailed by the majority of our readers with satisfaction and gratitude. The manner in which he has executed his task is beyond all praise. Setting aside his propensity to versification, we have not a fault to find with his book. Had he submitted his manuscript to our revision, we hesitate not to say, that we should have mercilessly run our pen through every one of his poetical effusions : but here our 'limæ labor' would have terminated. His views are those of the sincere Christian and the enlightened philanthropist, and not content with detailing the results of his own observation, he has further furnished us with practical details--the statistics, as we may call them, of freedom and slavery, which are invaluable, because the deductions to which they lead are conclusive, as regards the working of the two systems.
The amount of imports into a country always bears a ratio to the comforts of its inhabitants. Mr. Gurney shews us that the amount of imports into Antigua, where freedom has been longest tried, has increased seventy per cent in the short period of six years, and that in all the West India Islands it is rapidly increasing.
In a prosperous state of society the population has a tendency to multiply. Mr. Gurney further shews that the causes which obstructed the operation of this natural law have been removed, and that the average of births maintains a wholesome excess over that of deaths, whereas under the baneful operation of slavery the contrary result was universal. The diminution of crime; the state of the gaols, all comparatively empty; the increase of churches, of chapels, and of schools, and above all the general prevalence of marriage, are evidences of an extensive moral improvement. On all these points Mr. Gurney furnishes abundant information. The one fact that in a single church the average attendance has increased “ from three hundred to sixteen hundred at least, the communicants from twenty-seven to two hundred and eighty-nine; that in 1835 the bishop confirmed forty-seven persons, in 1810 he confirmed in the same place six hundred and thirty-five, and that in the last six years of slavery the number of marriages at this church was four hundred and twenty-one, in five years and a half of partial or entire freedom, two thousand and fourteen," is worth a thousand assertions unsupported by such conclusive evidence.
The only dark feature in the picture--the only drawback upon this progressive amount of morality and happiness, is the admitted falling off in the staple exports of Jamaica, coffee and sugar. But here too Mr. Gurney comes to our aid : he informs us that in Antigua, where emancipation is of earlier date, and where its
effects have been more fully realized, the advantages derivable from free labour have been demonstrated in the production of a larger quantity of sugar, under the stimulus of moderate wages, than was obtained under the previous system of compulsion; the amount exported in the sixth year of freedom, after the fair trial of five years, nearly doubling the average of the last five years of slavery; and he ascribes, as we think with good reason, the contrary result in Jamaica “ mainly to causes which class under slavery, and not under freedom.” “ In the mean time,” he says, " the imports of the island are rapidly increasing; trade improving; the towns thriving; new villages rising in every direction; property much enhanced in value; well-managed estates productive and profitable; expenses of management diminished; short methods of labour adopted; provisions cultivated on a larger scale than ever; and the people, wherever they are properly treated, industrious, contented, and gradually accumulating wealth. Above all, education is rapidly spreading ; the morals of the community improving; crime in many districts disappearing; and Christianity exerting her sway with vastly augmented force over the mass of the population. "Cease from all attempts,” he adds, “ to oppose the current of justice and mercy-remove every obstruction to the fair and full working of freedom--and the bud of Jamaica's prosperity, already fragrant and vigorous, will soon burst into a glorious flower."
We hail the opening of this delightful prospect, and most unwilling should we be to see a shade cast over the sunshine which is beginning to play along the distant horizon: but while we concur with Mr. Gurney in deprecating any relaxation of the prohibitory duties upon sugar produced by slave labour ; while we hesitate not to say, that we should consider such a proceeding big with misery to unborn millions, and disastrous to the cause of humanity, alike as regards the extinction of the African slave-trade, and the final abolition of slavery; we cannot shut our eyes to the fact, that this country has paid to the West India proprietors twenty millions of money, by way of compensation for their supposed loss in the service of their liberated slaves, and that this large sum must be considered to have been granted mainly under the idea, that their labour as free men would not be equally available in the cultivation
It is clearly unjust therefore that the British public should be required to compensate the West Indian a second time, by purchasing sugar at a dear market; especially since this article has now become, if not one of the absolute necessaries of life, at least an essential requisite as regards the comforts of the middle and lower, as well as of the higher classes. Let free labour in the
East Indies be allowed to compete on equal terms with free labour in the West. Jamaica and Hindostan are both British colonies. In both it should be our object to call forth the industry of the native, while we attempt to ameliorate his condition and to improve his character; but in Hindostan the native population is incalculably the greater. The equalization of duties upon East Indian and West Indian produce seems to be demanded on a principle of common fairness : we believe it is a boon which would content the British public, and would prove to them, that, if they are still required to pay a somewhat higher price for the sugar which they consume, than that at which it might be obtained under supposable circumstances, the additional tax is imposed for an object which ought to be dear to every free man, namely, the exclusion of slave labour from our markets —the extinction of the African slave trade, and the universal abolition of slavery itself.
TUE NATURAL HISTORY OF SOCIETY in the Barbarous
and Civilized State: an Essay towards discovering the Origin and Course of Human Improvement. By Dr. W. C. TAYLOR. LL.D. M.R.A.S., of Trinity College, Dublin. In two vols.
Longman. 1810. Next to the progress of Christianity itself, the history of civilization, and of the great changes in the course of human society, has peculiar claims on the attention of the thoughtful Christian. The two subjects are indeed very closely related to each other. Civilization is the handmaid to divine truth, and the redemption of nature to the service of man advances by parallel steps with the redemption of man himself to the service of his Maker. The history of society is the stately porch-the history of the church of God the magnificent temple to which it leads.
The present work of Dr. Taylor is devoted to the former of these subjects. Its design is to trace the course of civilization from early times, to unfold the elements which compose it, and the conservative principles of which society, in its more advanced stages, stands in need. The first volume treats of the physical constitution of man, the nature of barbarism and civilization, of property, war, and indigence ;-the superstitions, usages, and arts of savage life; the marks of lost civilization in the New World; the scriptural accounts of its origin, and its patriarchal stage. The second proceeds with a brief review of Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian,