160. Hint for a new species of History.
"The very knowledge of the opinions and customs of so considerable a part of mankind as the Jews now are, and especially have been heretofore, is valuable both for pleasure and use. It is a very good piece of history, and that of the best kind, viz. of Human Nature, and of that part of it, which is most different from us, and commonly the least known to us.—And indeed the principal advantage which is to be made by the wiser sort of men of most writings, is rather to see what men think and are, than to be informed of the natures and truth of things; to observe what thoughts and passions have occupied mens' minds, what opinions and manners they are of. In this view it becomes of no mean importance to notice and record the strangest ignorance, the most putid fables, impertinent trifling, ridiculous disputes, and more ridiculous pugnacity in the defence and retention of the subjects disputed." —Publishers Preface to the reader. Lightfoot's Works, vol. 1.
In the thick volume of title pages and chapters of contents (composed) of large and small works correspondent to each (proposed,).. by a certain omni-pregnant, nihili-parturient genius of the editor's acquaintance, not the least promising is "A History of the Morals and (as connected therewith) of the Manners of the English Nation from the Conquest to the present Time." From the chapter of contents it appears, that my friend is a steady believer in the uninterrupted progression of his fellow-countrymen; that there has been a constant growth of wealth and well-being among us, and with these an increase of knowledge; and with increasing knowledge an increase and diffusion of practical goodness. The degrees of acceleration, indeed, have been different at different periods. The moral being has sometimes crawled, sometimes strolled, sometimes walked, sometimes run; but it has at all times been moving onward. If in any one point it has gone backward, it has been only in order to leap forward in some other. The work was to commence with a Numeration Table, or Catalogue raisonnè, of these virtues or qualities, which make a man happy in himself, and which conduce to the happiness of those about him, in a greater or lesser sphere of agency. The degree and the frequency, in which each of these virtues manifested themselves, in the successive reigns from William the Conqueror inclusive, were to be illustrated by apposite quotations, from the works of contemporary writers, not only of historians and chroniclers, but of the poets, romance-writers, and theologians; not omitting the correspondence between literary men, the laws and regulations civil and ecclesiastical, and whatever records the industry of antiquarians have brought to light in their provincial, municipal and monastic histories.. (tall tomes and huge! undegenerate sons of Anac, which look down from a dizzy height on the dwarfish progeny of contemporary wit, and can find no associates in size at a less distance than two centuries; and in arranging which the puzzled librarian must commit an anachronism in order to avoid an anatopism!)
Such of these illustrations as most amused or impressed me, when I heard them (for alas! even his very title pages and contents my friend composes only in air) I shall probably attempt to preserve in different parts of the Omniana. At present I shall cite one article only which I found wafered on a blank leaf of his memorandum book, superscribed: "Flattering News for Anno Domini 2000, wherever it shall institute a comparison between itself and the 17th and 18th centuries." It consists of an extract, say rather, an exsection, from the Kingston Mercantile Advertiser, from Saturday, August the 15th, to Tuesday, August 18, 1801. This paper, which contained at least 20 more advertisements of the very same kind, was found by accident among the wrapping-papers in the trunk of an Officer just returned from the West India station. They stand here exactly as in the original, from which they are reprinted.
"Kingston, July 30, 1801.
"Ran away, about three weeks ago, from a penn near Halfway Tree, a negro Wench, named Nancy, of the Chamba country, strong made, an ulcer on her left leg, marked D C diamond between; she is supposed to be harboured by her husband Dublin, who has the direction of a wherry working between this town and Port Royal, and is the property of Mr. Fishley, of that place; the said negro man having concealed a boy in his wherry before. Half a joe will be paid to any person apprehending the above described wench, and delivering to Mr. Archibald M'Lea, East-end; and if found secreted by any person the law will be put in force."
"Kingston, August 13, 1801.
"Strayed on Monday evening last, a Neggro Boy of the Moco country, named JOE, the property of Mr. Thos. Williams, planter, in St. John's, who had sent him to town under the charge of a Negro Man, with a cart for provisions; the said Boy is perhaps from 15 to 18 years of age, about twelve months in the country, no mark, speaks little English but can tell his owner's name; had on a long oznaburgh frock. It is supposed he might have gone out to vend some pears and lemon-grass and have lost himself in the street. One Pistole will be paid to any person apprehending and bringing him to this Office."
"Kingston, July 1, 1801.
"Forty Shillings Reward.
"Strayed on Friday evening last, (and was seen going up West Street the following morning), a small bay
the left ear lapped, flat rump, much scored from the saddle on his back, and marked on the near side F M with a diamond between. Whoever will take up the said horse, and deliver him to W. Balantine, Butcher, back of West Street, will receive the above reward."
"Kingston, July 4, 1801.
"Strayed on Sunday morning last, from the subscriber's house, in East-street, a bright dun He-MULE, the mane lately cropped, a large chafe slightly skinned over on the near buttock, and otherwise chafed from the action of the harness in his recent breaking. Half-a-joe will be paid to any person taking up and bringing the said Mule to the Subscribers's house, or to the Store in Harbour-street.
"Kingston, July 2, 1801,
"TEN POUNDS REWARD.
"About two years ago, from the Subscriber, a Negro Woman, named
purchased from Alexander M'Kean, Esq. she is about 20 years of age, and 5 feet 6 or 7 inches high; has a mark on one of her shoulders, about the size of a quarter dollar, occasioned, she says, by the yaws; of a coal black complexion, very artful, and most probably passes about the country with false papers, and under another name; if that is not the case, it must be presumed she is harboured about Green Pond, where she has a mother and other connexions."
What a History! Horses and Negroes! Negroes and Horses! It makes me tremble at my own Nature!—Surely, every religious and conscientious Briton is equally a debtor in gratitude to Thomas Clarkson, and his fellow labourers, with every African: for on the soul of every individual among us did a portion of guilt rest, as long as the slave trade remained legal.
P.S. A few years back the public was satiated with accounts of the happy condition of the slaves in our colonies, and the great encouragements and facilities afforded to such of them, as by industry and foresight laboured to better their situation. With what truth this is stated as the general tone of feeling among our planters, and their agents, may be conjectured from the following sentences, which made part of (what in England we call) the leading paragraph of the same newspaper.
"Strange as it may appear, we are assured as a fact, that a number of slaves in this town have purchased lots of land, and are absolutely in possession of the fee simple of lands and tenements. Neither is it uncommon for the men slaves to purchase and manumize their wives, and vice versa, the wives their husbands. To account for this we need only look to the depredations daily committed, and the impositions practised to the distress of the community and ruin of the fair trader. Negro yards too, under such direction, will necessary prove the asylum of run-aways from the country."