The brilliant quote below comes from Chapter XIX of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book turns 160 this year. For a quick jolt of interest, let’s remember Lincoln’s famous quote: “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” Ah yes, the power of the fictive pen…
February is also Black History Month. You might not think so given the month was dominated by Charles Murray’s white angst book Coming Apart. If anyone wants proof that the Great White Race is in decay please point them to the Republican Presidential Debates. All the candidates deny science and birth control. Q.E.D.
First, a bit of plot to set up my long Uncle Tom quote:
Uncle Tom, as pure a Christian as Jesus, has been sold downriver by his debt-ridden master who had promised him freedom. While traveling to New Orleans on a Mississippi riverboat Tom befriends a white child. Tom saves this child after the boat lurches and she spills into the river. Tom is purchased by the child’s father, St. Clare who is returning home with Miss Ophelia, his Vermont cousin, who is to be a sort of guardian to his young child.
A female slave named Prue delivers husks to St. Clare’s manor. Shortly afterwards, news comes that Prue has been whipped to death by her hard owner. Prue was a drinker. We are told she drank to escape her pain, and was whipped for bring drunk.
The conversation begins with Miss Ophelia expressing her outrage to St. Clare.
"An abominable business,—perfectly horrible!" she exclaimed, as she entered the room where St. Clare lay reading his paper.
"Pray, what iniquity has turned up now?" said he.
"What now? why, those folks have whipped Prue to death!" said Miss Ophelia, going on, with great strength of detail, into the story, and enlarging on its most shocking particulars.
"I thought it would come to that, some time," said St. Clare, going on with his paper.
"Thought so!—an’t you going to do anything about it?" said Miss Ophelia. "Haven’t you got any selectmen, or anybody, to interfere and look after such matters?"
"It’s commonly supposed that the property interest is a sufficient guard in these cases. If people choose to ruin their own possessions, I don’t know what’s to be done. It seems the poor creature was a thief and a drunkard; and so there won’t be much hope to get up sympathy for her."
"It is perfectly outrageous,—it is horrid, Augustine! It will certainly bring down vengeance upon you."
"My dear cousin, I didn’t do it, and I can’t help it; I would, if I could. If low-minded, brutal people will act like themselves, what am I to do? they have absolute control; they are irresponsible despots. There would be no use in interfering; there is no law that amounts to anything practically, for such a case. The best we can do is to shut our eyes and ears, and let it alone. It’s the only resource left us."
"How can you shut your eyes and ears? How can you let such things alone?"
"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.
Miss Ophelia sat down, and pulled out her knitting-work, and sat there grim with indignation. She knit and knit, but while she mused the fire burned; at last she broke out—”I tell you, Augustine, I can’t get over things so, if you can. It’s a perfect abomination for you to defend such a system,—that’s my mind!”
"What now?" said St. Clare, looking up. "At it again, hey?"
"I say it’s perfectly abominable for you to defend such a system!" said Miss Ophelia, with increasing warmth.
"I defend it, my dear lady? Who ever said I did defend it?" said St. Clare.
"Of course, you defend it,—you all do,—all you Southerners. What do you have slaves for, if you don’t?"