Page images

ference to human life and to human suffering which belongs to Paganism. But its oppression was less degrading, less systematic, less unrelenting. It deprived the slave of liberty, but it left him hope. It gave to the master full power to illtreat his slaves, but it also gave to him full power to benefit them. The slave might be instructed, he might have his peculium, he might have his freedom..

• Et spes libertatis erat, et cura peculi.' Republican America has elaborated a tyranny such as no democracy, no aristocracy, no monarchy, no despotism, ever perpetrated, or, as far as we know, ever imagined.

But how is the alteration of these laws to be effected ?

With few, we fear very few, exceptions, the minds of all classes in the Slave States seem, on the subject of slavery, to be perverted. The higher elasses, the workers and breeders of slaves, are blinded by their interests. The lower classes, the 'poor white trash,' whom the want of education, the want of employment, and the disgracefulness of labour, have degraded below the level of the lowest European proletaires, are ferocious partisans of every law which keeps another class below them. It is some consolation in their misery, that they have a right to trample on the majority of their fellow citizens. They constitute the ferocious mob which the slave owners and slave traders let loose on all who are suspected of being abolitionists.

As for the clergy, the most powerful body in the United States, the body through whose influence slavery was gradually extinguished in Europe, they are utterly corrupted by their subserviency to their employers. Some of them are members of the vigilance committees, who form an Inquisition, differing from that of Rome only in that it persecutes abolitionists instead of heretics, and that its proceedings are illegal, and consequently that it employs mobs for its instruments instead of officials. All of them have prostituted their knowledge, and the respect due to their functions by indiscriminate defence, not only of slavery, but of the very laws which, as we have seen, while they last, render slavery irremediable.

There is not a Slave State in which an attempt to repeal these laws would not be worse than fruitless, in which it would not expose its proposers, and all who were suspected of approving the proposal, to insults, assaults, and perhaps death. Such a repeal must be imposed from without, there is no tendency towards it within. The slavery of the British colonies was softened, and finally abolished, by the central Government. If it had been left to the local legislatures, it would have been still existing, probably unmitigated, perhaps exasperated. The United States possess a central authority, which has power to declare all these laws unconstitutional and void; which can repeal them and prohibit their reenactment; but such enactments could be made binding on all the States only by being introduced as amendments into the Constitution. The Constitution of the United States, as is generally the case with the constitutions of nations which have created them de novo, instead of gradually evolving them, can be altered only by a slow and difficult process. Congress cannot make amendments in it. without the consent of two thirds of both houses, and cannot call a convention to make them without the concurrence of the legislatures of two-thirds of the States, and when made they require ratification by three-fourths of the States.

The Free States are now sixteen, the Slave States fifteen. To obtain the requisite majority of three-fourths, six of the Slave States must join the Free States. We do not believe that this is to be hoped for now. If, under the operation of the Nebraska and Kansas Act, two or three more Slave States are added to the Union, it will become obviously impossible. That Act, however, is not part of the Constitution. Congress, by a simple majority, can repeal it, and arrest the territorial progress of slavery. It can also repeal the Fugitive Slave Act, and relieve the Northerns from the hateful liability to become slave hunters for the Southerns. But it can do no more.

Beyond the repeal of these Acts, what can an American statesman, anxious to free his country from this intolerable load of misery and crime, effect? He may indulge the hope that the ameliorating influence of knowledge and religion will induce the inhabitants of the Southern States themselves to amend gradually their atrocious slave codes. He may console himself with such a hope. We should be sorry to deprive him of it, but we do not share it. Public opinion in the Slave States instead of improving is deteriorating. There are no instruments by which it can be enlightened or shamed. The press, the pulpit, the legislative bodies are silenced. Any man "tainted,' to use the language of a Southern Presbyterian clergy

a man, with the blood-hound principles of abolition, or even suspected of being so tainted, is ruined, outraged, and exiled, if he is allowed to live.

That Providence will, in its own way and in its own time, work out a cure, we believe ; because we believe improvement, progressive, though always slow and often interrupted, to be among the laws by which this earth is governed. But we do not venture to hope that we, or our sons, or our grandsons, will see American slavery extirpated from the earth.

[ocr errors]

ART. II.-1. Travels in Siberia. By S. S. HILL. 2 vols.

1854. 2. Revelations of Siberia. By A BANISHED LADY. 1853. SIBERIA is seldom visited by travellers. A book about it is a

rarity, and genuine information scarce; we have consequently read with pleasure these two volumes of Mr. Hill, who, with great perseverance and endurance, crossed the desolate region between the Ural Mountains and Kamschatka, and has written an intelligent, unpretending account of his journey. Although he published his book after the commencement of the war, it was written in, and relates to, times of peace, and he does not pretend to afford details of special and immediate importance; nevertheless, all accounts enabling us to form an accurate judgment of the condition of any part of the powerful empire with which we are now in conflict, have certainly a peculiar interest.

The absence of the usual incitements to travelling—the hope of either pleasure or profit, causes strangers rarely to visit such a country. As pleasure is little looked for in so wild and dreary a district, so the severe obstructions to commerce which exist in the climate and physical character of the soil reduce to a very small number the traders who frequent it. Their visits are likewise obstructed by the regulations and restrictions of the government. And while foreigners are thus influenced, the European subjects of Russia have their own reasons for avoiding Siberia. They connect it with Asia, distinguishing it from Russia Proper, and hold even its name in abhorrence, from its associations with the miseries of exile. Thus, little visited, it is seldom described ; and the state of the country, though in many respects very singular and interesting, is rather guessed at than well known.

The western province of Siberia has a population of nearly three millions and a half, while that of the Eastern province reaches scarcely a quarter of a million : but though the climate is better towards the west, the darkness, the intense cold, and the length of the winter, are in both provinces insuperable barriers to any great social comfort and improvement.

There is likewise an invincible impediment to the advancement of the people (again affecting both provinces) in the physical aspect of the country Throughout its whole length, its highest levels are towards the southern, and its lowest to

wards the northern frontier. Three large rivers, comprehending the chief drainage of the continent, have their sources in the southern mountains, and receiving numerous tributaries, flow in broad channels to the north, into the ice-bound Arctic Ocean. Hence two vast and unconquerable evils arise, the prevention of a commerce which rivers would have facilitated had they flowed into an accessible and open sea, and the conversion of a vast territory into dreary swamps. For while the melting of the snows, which often takes place rapidly from a sudden increase of temperature, or through heavy falls of rain, is going on in the south, the more northern channels and estuaries still continue frozen. The floating ice is there arrested, and large barriers are formed, damming back the rolling floods, by which whole surrounding districts are rapidly overflowed. The dreary plains which are thus deluged have no fixed inhabitants, and form one of the most miserable parts of the globe inhabited by man.

Being thus, by the northerly course of the rivers, deprived of the ordinary means for the conveyance of their merchandise, the traders of Siberia are reduced, for the most part, to the employment of caravans. In the western province, goods are moved in carts or sledges, which travel in long trains, in order that the drivers may protect and assist each other. In the eastern, reindeer or packhorses are used, in similar strings. The horses, being nearly always white in colour, and small in size, are wonderfully active and enduring. At every season their labour is very severe. The loose snows of autumn, the intense cold of winter, the storms and swamps of spring and summer, entail struggles which none but the hardiest animals could attempt. Even of this sturdy breed numbers perish on their journies, from accidents, over-exertion, and the attacks of bears, which the nightly fires do not always succeed in scaring. The treatment by their masters also calls forth additional sympathy for these willing servants. When the day's march is over, and the exhausted drove is collected round the trees or bushes which are to form their shelter for the night, they are kept for hours without food. Though the grass around them is plentiful, or the pasture abounding in the wild rhubarb, of which these patient animals are so fond, the custom is never transgressed; the drivers assert that it is always injurious to them to give them food before they have had some time to recover from the exertions which they had made. Three, four, and sometimes five hundred horses forming one caravan, frequent losses attending their march, and a large number of men being required to conduct them, it is not to be wondered that the trans

port of merchandise is very expensive in eastern Siberia. The winter is the usual time when it is undertaken, for in this choice of evils cold is esteemed the least. When the snow becomes trodden, the horses follow the tracks most implicitly, very rarely treading on the adjoining loose snow, except on meeting other carts or horses. In winter, too, it is generally calm, but in spring and autumn the sweeping gales drift the snow to extraordinary depths, while in summer there are swamps and floods to be contended with.

But though traffic be difficult and expensive it is necessary to the very existence of the people. The soil itself, indeed, is fertile, but, except for four or five months of the year, it is always more or less covered with snow, while during the open months frosty nights often occur, so that only a scanty supply of native produce can be raised. When the ground is open no time is lost in preparing it for the crops; and a rapid growth is caused by the warmth of the sun and the moisture of the earth. Hay crops are chiefly harvested for the use of the cattle; the horses being longer able to scratch through the snow, are left to subsist


the grass which is buried beneath. Rye, oats, and even wheat of a Himalayan variety, are cultivated ; so are hops of an inferior description, and some flax. Mr. Hill, too, says that he found carrots and potatoes at Ikaterinburg, but they were very bad, and those that are grown to the eastward are no better.

Deficient in the supply of good vegetables, and having very limited means of fattening animals, the luxuries of the Siberian tables are chiefly confined to game and fish; and the quantity of salt provisions used by all classes gives rise to frequent scurvy, from which the suffering of the population is excessive. During his stay in some of the towns, Mr. Hill was entertained at dinners where the guests were feasted with various delicacies, including wines from France. These feasts, however, differ widely from the ordinary way of living, which is far from luxurious among the upper classes, still less inviting among the middle, scanty among the lower, and absolutely revolting among the semi-savages which form the lowest. Å stchee, or meat stew, was the repast to which our traveller looked forward when tolerably good quarters were in view. Once he detected a peculiar flavour, which was admitted to be that of horse flesh; and at another time hunger nearly compelled him to stew one of his own packhorses; but with these exceptions, more common meats were made use of. A samovar, or kind of urn, in which the tea is boiled, is found in all but the poorest houses; and he derived great consolation

« PreviousContinue »